Whew! Another Midwest GameFest has come and gone, and what an experience it was! A big year of additions and changes with lots to talk about, so let's get to it!
First, let's get this out of the way. We have photos... lots of them! Check out our massive photo gallery over on Facebook for the big "picture." ;)
Note: The photos are public access, so no Facebook account is needed.
Everyone we heard from absolutely loved our venue this year, Stoney Creek Hotel and Conference Center. Not only was the facility first-rate with regard to amenities and services, but the hotel staff bent over backward to meet our every need. A great bunch of folks doing great work, and it showed. One of the benefits of hosting Midwest GameFest at a hotel is that the convention never really closes down: when the main hall closes, games can continue out in the pre-function or other areas of the hotel. We had some great feedback on this from gaming night owls.
We'll be back in 2017... watch for dates coming soon!
In 2015 we officially counted 400+ unique attendees. In 2016 we added a number of new event categories, featuring over 200 events ranging from tabletop role-playing and board games to cosplay events and panels. We also offered an assortment of kids-only events and even video games. It all added up to a growth rate of 12.5% year over year, with 450+ unique attendees: a record for us! We also had record exhibitor participation with a growth rate of 30% year over year, with 17 exhibitors. We managed to cover our expenses and break even, even after some unexpected expenses. We took a risk this year and invested in some permanent assets that we can use for years to come, including pull-up signs for wayfinding (registration desk, garage sale, benefit raffle, etc), a photo backdrop, more table number stands, etc. Here's to an even bigger 2017 as we seek to improve the mainstays we have and broaden our offerings to include even more new things.
Record Harvesters Donations
Another record for us was our food drive and benefit raffle for Harvesters Community Food Network. Attendees donated just over $1,300 and over 200 pounds of non-perishable food! Amazing, especially considering that every dollar translates directly into three meals served. That means the money alone provided 3,900 meals to those in need across Harvesters' 26-county service area.
Publishers, exhibitors, and others graciously donated over $1,000 worth of games and merchandise to stock the raffle. This might be another record, but we don't have a good accounting of past raffle donations. Hats off to the amazing efforts of Sponsorship Coordinator Peter Anderson!
Photo courtesy of Harvesters
Onsite and Nearby Food
McCoy's Whiskey and Wine Bar opened at 5pm each day, serving drinks and bar food like pizza and buffalo wings. The hotel front desk sold snacks, sodas, and other nick-nacks at good prices just down the hall. Los Cabos Mexican Grill, adjacent to Stoney Creek, served up some of the best flautas and other Mexican fair we've had! A little further down the street, there was Pizza Ranch, Slim Chickens, Cheddar's and even more!
Photo courtesy of Harvesters
New Event System
This year we used a third-party event registration system named Tabletop.Events. TTE offered us a number of advantages when compared to our own in-house solution or other free systems like Warhorn.net and ConPlanner.com.
First and foremost it allowed hosts/GMs to submit events directly into the system so that we could approve and edit them without the hassle of re-keying them ourselves. This has always been a pain point with systems like Warhorn, where there is no ability for GMs to enter their own events (still, somehow, after all these years).
Second, TTE offered us end-to-end convention functionality no other system came close to. Cash drawer management, user-level permissions, flexible slotting, auto-scheduling, automatic badge creation, and so much more. Much of this we already had in our own in-house solution, but much of it we didn't.
Thirdly, TTE offered us a world-class mobile-friendly user experience. Many attendees who backed us in 2015 through our Kickstarter campaign had issues that non-backers did not. This was because of problems we ran into marrying the Kickstarter data to our own event system's data. Reactions were so negative to this process that we promised never to do this again. We considered retooling our own system to be more user-friendly, but our tech staff is all volunteer, have families, and actual jobs of their own. There is only so much we can accomplish. And so we decided to go ahead with a pilot of the TTE system for 2016.
There were some things we needed to do differently than in the past, and some things we'd like changed going forward. But by far the system worked very, very well for us! We expect to continue using Tabletop.Events in the future.
Wham! Pow! Cosplay!
By far one of the coolest and most successful new features of Midwest GameFest 2016 was the addition of cosplay events. Cosplay coordinator Lothlorien Woods Cosplay, guest of honor Legendary Rose Cosplay, and guests Bad Ash Cosplay and Spiff's Nerdy Cosplay served up some great events for attendees. There were fun panels, how-to workshops, character-read storytimes for kids, and both Saturday and Sunday costume contests!
Our friends over at Pense Productions provided fantastic photo shoots for attendees with one free digital photo each. They had fun props and backdrops on hand, as well as an array of geek culture items for sale. Great folks to work with!
Check out the massive photo gallery over on Facebook for some great shots!
Photo courtesy Retro Hawk Productions
We added video games this year, as well, courtesy of Dave Berg at Cyberg Technologies. Folks were able to get passes to play all kinds of PC-based video games during open play periods. There was also a series of scheduled Artemis Bridge Simulator sessions, which everyone loved. So much fun!
Heroes of Rokugan
Heroes of Rokugan has long been a staple at Midwest GameFest, and 2016 was no exception. They experienced a new surge of energy and attendance with the launch of their new campaign. The Saturday evening interactive event was absolutely fabulous and amazing to behold. Great memories for those involved, and the slightly confused hotel staff! ;)
We had a real problem recruiting volunteers this year. Part of the problem was that some event hosts/GMs submitted volunteer forms thinking they needed to do so to get credit for hosting games. So that inflated our list of volunteers. It didn't become apparent until late in the convention cycle that many of those submissions were just GMs, and not folks interested in helping out at the registration desk, manning the board game library, etc. We'll be making some adjustments to our volunteer form and soliciting sooner and more often to help prevent this going forward.
The volunteers we did get performed above and beyond the call of duty, and the convention can't existing without them. To show our appreciation, we handed out batches of raffle tickets, Midwest GameFest dice sets, and t-shirts to those we could. And we'll make an effort to do even more going forward!
Poor Panel Attendance
Our new cosplay panels were fairly well attended. But our traditional tabletop gaming-related panels were not. This has been the case for many years at Guild-run conventions, as our attendees' interests lean more toward playing actual games rather than meeting the makers of those games. This is understandable and not a problem. We may tone down our efforts at tabletop gaming panels in 2017, emphasizing cosplay panels and workshops instead. More on this as the year progresses.
Photo courtesy Sterling Hershey
No Outside Food
Stoney Creek's convention space isn't licensed to handle food that they don't provide. Outside food is allowed in public hotel spaces like their breakfast area, lobby, etc., but this is a nuanced thing to communicate, and a hassle to enforce, so there is simply a blanket "no outside food" policy in place. This is a common thing at conventions, so no surprises, really. There is some great food in the area and at the facility itself, but the onsite bar isn't open all the time, and often there just isn't time to leave the building, have a meal, and come back. There were lots of reports of folks getting done with a role-playing event a little past the end of their slot and not having adequate time to leave to get food and get back. So some folks started bringing outside food into the facility. Some people may have just not been aware of the "no outside food" policy. But the facility quickly noticed this and brought it to our attention. To their credit, after discussions with staff, the hotel decided to let it go in the spirit of keeping attendees happy.
We are working with the hotel to innovate and provide better on-site options for 2017. This could take many different forms and a decision has not been made as yet. Some discussed options included: pre-ordered box lunches; having a caterer set up an in-con food kiosk; etc. We'll be making an announcement regarding this in early 2017, so stay tuned!
We mentioned our switch to Tabletop.Events above. The downside is that TTE is not free. It's a great project built from scratch by the folks who also brought the world GameCrafter.com. But there is a per badge fee in addition to credit card processing fees. Convention organizers have the option of paying these per-transaction fees themselves or passing them on to attendees. For consumers, these show up as fees during checkout, much like TicketMaster or other common ticketing systems.
In the past, Midwest GameFest has always covered credit card processing fees for attendees via PayPal. However, with TTE's added per badge fee, this cost was becoming material. An admission hike seemed the only solution aside from passing these costs directly along to attendees. The RPGKC board thought long and hard about how to handle this, over the course of several months, and with much hand-wringing. Ultimately, we decided it was a savings to attendees to pass these fees along, rather than to pay the fees as an organization but then have to raise admission prices.
This seems counter-intuitive at first, but consider the way pricing has to work. Our pricing has always been simple and in $5 increments. This allows us to take cash at the registration desk and make change easily. Any price increases would come in whole dollar or five-dollar increments, but as the fees were small and fractional, we couldn't simply add the fee to the existing badge price. Instead, we would need to raise prices in $5 increments just to keep things manageable. So, a Saturday adult admission that had stayed at $20 for years and years would cost only $22.19 with the new fee, but would become $25 in order to keep the pricing simple and easy to understand, communicate and manage.
We have yet to meet an attendee who would rather pay $25 than $22.19. So when faced with raising the price like this or transparently passing these small fees on to attendees, we chose to keep the price the same.
Thanks Where It's Due
From the comments we've received, most folks had a fabulous time and are looking forward to 2017. And so are we! We need to send love out to our volunteers, partners, and guests who helped make this annual event a great success. There's always someone who gets left out of lists like this, though, and if it turns out to be you, please don't take offense. =) Folks are listed alphabetically by first name.
Antony Fletcher, David Hart, Fred Woodward, Hazel Tripp, Melinda Peters, Mike Czerniewski, Richard Tripp, Ryan Perrin, Steven McRoberts, Wade Tripp, and Weena
Brian Beal, Ethan Parker, Jeremy Putnam, and Nick Seal
Charles Ryan, Jon Hook, Loren & Jamie Cunningham, Michelle Blastenbrei, Miles Tugman, Russell 'Redjack' Petree, and Sterling Hershey
Beth Perrin, Bill Michels, Brad Kelley, Dave Berg, Heather Anderson (Lothlorien Woods Cosplay), and Peter Anderson
- Platinum: Anthony Plumbing, Heating & Cooling, Double Exposure (Envoy), Cheapass Games, My 3D Print Club, and Macaroni Kid - Eastern Jackson County
- Gold: Atlas Games, and Miniature Market
- Silver: Board Game Bento, Brotherwise Games, Czech Games Edition, and Slugfest Games
- Friends of Midwest GameFest: Asmadi Games, Gamewright Games, Looney Labs, Renegade Games, Rio Grande Games, and Z-Man Games
We had a blast putting on Midwest GameFest 2016 and the new 2017 team is rearing to go. We'll get our dates finalized and posted, and start the planning process in Janurary. Watch for planning meeting announcements via Facebook to get involved and help make the fun a reality!