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The Fate of Intercon Mid-Atlantic - A Discussion - InteractiveArts
Interactive Roleplay and other Events

Garko the Man-Frog
Date: 2009-08-06 13:19
Subject: The Fate of Intercon Mid-Atlantic - A Discussion
Security: Public

Last week I circulated this message to some of the people who were nominal leaders of the Community that has produced IMA in the past.  This week I am posting it for public discussion.  The short version is that after looking at last year's attendance, the economy, attendance patterns and falloff in other events, and the overall situation, I am strongly inclined to cancel IMA.  We have until 27 September to cancel without prejudice, and only about two refunds to issue.  My recomendation will ultimately be based on the replies here.

I want to get the tone of the message across.  This is not a "ZOMG my Con is dying please HALP!" message.  If anything the Con is dying largely because my other project, Threads is more wildly successful than I would have expected, and that an two other events, one of which I also organize, are making IMA obsolete.  So I'm not weeping here. 

What  I want is a calm, realistic Community Discussion to determine for how many people IMA serves a special need that is really not met by any other event. 



The Finances.

I ran two projections on IMA

 The first showed 85 attendees, with 45% GM attendees (comped) and 65% paid attendees, splitting to 35% at the post September rate.  This yielded $1425.  A better case, with a 33% split in every category and an attendance of 100 showed $1980 in revenue.

In running expenses, the Hampton, which we fortunately have good information on, yields a base cost of $2176.  This can be cut to $1688 if the Convention does not have any suite rooms in which to run.  With food the cost is $2776.  That’s using a very low food projection, about 2/3 of a Threads budget.  No money is budgeted for supplies of any kind, because Intercon uses Threads existing infrastructure.

So at best case:

shortfall  $608

worst case:

shortfall  $1653

My actual projection of the shortfall is $1165 which is a not inconsiderable sum. 


Intercon Mid Atlantic has 6 bids, all of which are good:

  • 10 Bad LARPs: C-Section  Nat Budin
  • Callahan's Continuum  Shane Amerman 
  • Limbo!    Aaron Vanek 
  • Office Party   Carolyn Grodt 
  • The Ducetown Diner  James MacDougal
  • Veteran's Day   Tegan Hendrickson

It’s worth noting that  Callahan’s has been seen at an Intercon before.  That leaves 5 original bids.

 

What is Wrong with Intercon Mid-Atlantic?

I want to do a little analysis of what is wrong with IMA, and what it would take to continue to operate it. 

1) It is nobody’s priority

I think we need to be realistic.  This Convention is nobody’s priority, including mine.  In practical fact it takes a backseat to Threads, other local Campaigns (not currently an issue but likely to be an issue with Source next year),  and increasingly the Roast.   Even though I am moving away from acting as the sole central administrator for Threads, I do not realistically see it becoming less of an issue for my time before the end of 2011.

I need to be blunt about the reason I began serving as permanent Chair.  It is no more helpful to have a “new chair” for Intercon than it would be to have a “Guest Executive Producer” for Threads.  It means the same things get done by a new person who doesn’t know how to do them, so they take twice as long, use about as much of my time (since Stephanie or I are the only available teachers), and often make the volunteer in the leadership role feel invalidated, when they cannot do the job as well as someone with 10+ years of experience.  I think this is a factor of learning curve, not of competence.  Perfectly competent people like Shelly Mohnkern discharged the job admirably.  Nevertheless, functionally, Intercon took no less of my time, effort, and money in that year than any other, because of the nature of the specialized work. 

The only time it has worked well to have Intercon under “different management” is when someone who already had a strong knowledge of event production like Mike Young stepped forward to be involved.  Otherwise “new leadership” has been little more than an exercise in having a “Ritual King.”

it would be very good if someone with 10+ years of event organization experience and a very strong understanding of LARP structure and promotion stepped forward to take over Intercon.  People with less experience could step forward in support roles, if their intent was actually mostly to do support work, not mostly to hold a title like “Vice-Con Chair.”  

I’m going to add one personal note here.  Since 1993, the losses for any southern Intercon, even when it was an “ILF” Convention have come out of my pocket and Stephanie’s when they could not be met at the con by volunteerism.  None of the Conventions since 1998 have actually been profitable, so much of the overrun came out of my pocket.  One reason I took over complete management of the Convention was to give myself more control over the overrun.  Before the early 2000s, I was in the position that Intercon came out of my pocket, but I was not always in charge and could not do anything to really ameliorate the hit that I took. 

Note that ILF dues were never substantial and that all dues money was lost on Metagame during the last two years of production, so I was at that point the sole financial backer for the southern convention.  LARPA was theoretically a partner, but it should be noted that from 2000 on, LARPA had exactly one source of income -  a tea at which I paid $500 for food to raise $280 or so in contributions. 

I don’t want to seem mean, or stingy, but like Threads, IMA must be brought into a situation of at least *controlled loss* and I am unwilling to surrender “final authority” to anyone who is not willing to accept “final fiscal responsibility.”  I don't want somebody generously running a disaster I then have to pay for, with me unable to do things to staunch the loss because I'm not in charge.

 

2) The recession

I do not think there is any question that the Recession is pounding us.  There is room elsewhere to investigate why the Northern Con had its biggest surge of membership ever in the teeth of the recession.  I think there are various really good structural reasons for that which unfortunately do not apply to IMA.  

Our losses last year in membership were actually less bad than might be expected.  A major local kink event in the same time frame was down 33%-40% on membership and revenues.  We were only down about 20-25%.  

The problem is that the recession is merely the straw that broke the camels’ back.  It is taking a convention that was never profitable and cost a lot of personal money to produce, and adding $400-500 to that price tag, taking it from “expensive” to “ridiculous.” 

Unfortunately there is no immediate sign that the recession is going to end and things go back to normal.  Maybe by next year, but not this year, and there is no really good projective data.

 

3) Local Crowd breaking up

I think we also have to look at the fact that events tend to follow a core audience.  If you look over the core attendance of IMA (or Millennium) at the turn of the Century, it is very much the core attendance of Dark Summonings, MMFC, or the first years of 1936.   Mixed with that is a crowd of graying 40-something LARPers who came out of the last four years of the heyday of TSFL, and never really bridged to campaigns.

The 40somethings are now 50something and staying home.  They’ve been out of touch with LARP so long that once a year doesn’t cut it to stay involved.  Unlike the Delaware crowd, their social group is not focused on IMA.

The group that was then the 30something core are now the graying 40somethings.  If you look around Threads, that core group has fallen off by about 70-80%.  There are a few attendees who entered 1936 as 30somethings but  by and large that is not the core demographic.

Threads, because it is an exciting and vital campaign, has picked up a new audience, driven by 20somethings and current 30somethigns,  and is doing very well.  But that momentum did not convey to IMA.

One of the big draws of IMA was that it was a place where the “Current” LARP crowd of 2004 could meet their friends who had been “out of the scene” for a bit since the death of TSFL in 1998.  Realistically this crowd can now be counted on the fingers of one hand.

 

4) Redundant to Threads

With the fading  of the “Crossover” Old-School TSFL crowd as a major driving force, that leaves IMA heavily dependent on the Threads Community for its core attendance.  If every regular attendee who went to Threads went to IMA, and we got a few more people, the con would be fine.

But Threads players, even locals, are not actually drawn to supporting IMA in any drastic numbers.  That may change this year with IMA back in DC, but I have concerns and doubts.

The core problem is this.   The heart of IMA is alive and well but it is Threads of Damocles.

At the turn of the century a typical 1936 or Dark Summonings episode would have a brief period to socialize Friday night, with players mostly working out IC issues.  The rest of the weekend would be an adventure, and Saturday night usually found the players hiding behind barricades and fighting monsters.

IMA was often billed as “the place you can come and actually meet and talk to the people who you game with all year.”

From 2004 on, through 1948, Brassy’s Men, and Threads, that changed.    Evenings were increasingly given to parties or socializing.  Brassy’s Men formalized that with the Texas Embassy, and Threads Oasis was designed specifically to fill the niche of the Texas Embassy.

So suddenly people have five chances a year to hang out IC/OOC without much pressure and talk, hang out, socialize and have a drink.

The Intercon Party drove IMA from Millennium through 2007 – but now it has been replaced with the Oasis Party at Threads, and the extra chance to see a few people that most of the local crowd doesn’t know is not worth the extra expense.


5)    Redundant to Threads Ontology

I think it's also important to realize the extent to which Threads has sapped even the basic premise of Intercon.  Through 2007 if you wanted to play a game in the Washington Metro region that wasn't about Adventure in the Mid-20th century, you came to IMA.  Now someone who is really excited about running an event about Pirates or Cyberpunk Corporate Wars can do that just as easily through Threads as not.  And the efficiency is stunning.  Producing a module takes 40-80% less time than an Intercon Four Hour.

While there are a dwindling handful of players for whom this flexibility and tradeoff is not sufficient, to the vast majority it satisfies the need not to be 'stuck in one genre.'  That has undercut IMA...and even travel to the Boston Convention...more than anyone would have anticipated.

It's hard for me to be sad about this.  The fact that We've designed a service model that is tremendously successful is something it's hard not to be proud of, even as it marginalizes an older service model.

 

6) Redundant to the Roast

To make matters worse, we’ve also created another LARP event which is a party which is drawing the old line LARP crowd together with newcomers.  The Roast, in the same window as IMA is clearly sapping some of the urgency of attending IMA.   Since the Roast is currently more successful, damning it to try to keep IMA afloat seems a foolish move.

 

7) INE and Splash

I think it’s worth also making a note on the impact of Intercon Northeast and Splash.  For three years the core LARPA staff gathered volunteers and pushed hard to make INE work, to bring Intercon into a major 1000+ attendee venue. 

We’ll never know if that would have been a success or a failure.  I am inclined to say that the experiment was already a failure when it ended.  There was simply no traction for getting more than a slender handful of new people involved in the LARPs.   We might have done about as well promoting without a major con – the 10-15 people who ever showed interest are about the number of random attendees the better attended Intercons usually got stand-alone.  To say the least the ROI was making it hard to justify the expense and effort.

But the INE experiment ended when personal issues caused the Dexcon proprietors to choose not to continue to work with some of the LARPA staff and discontinue their support. 

Along the way, during three core years for promoting and transiting IMA, the LARPA staff was putting heroic effort into pushing INE, and letting IMA get the dregs of attention.   During those years IMA might have built a new audience to replace the graying crowd, but it was not heavily promoted because INE simply required too much time and labor to allow IMA to be focal.


Intercon Splash

Intercon Splash becomes no more than a nail in the coffin.  Last year, the proximity of a large cruise event damaged IMA attendance which was already bad.  If it continues, Splash will draw the graying 40’s LARPer crowd completely out of IMA.  At this point however, that would seem to be the “least of our problems," and we can consider that it is a good destination for that group, giving them a firm home.

Splash has troubles of its own, and is currently postponed but not cancelled.  If IMA is withdrawn, it has a better chance at success. 


7) Northern Convention

I’m very reluctant to mention the Northern Convention for reasons that become obvious, but I think we need to look at a few things realistically.  I expect that 90% of the comments this gets on my blog will be people waging a "defense" against something that is no more than a bland statement of fact about a minority of people.

Marketing Position – it’s worth realizing that everything that is promoted needs some sort of marketing position or marketing message.  This describes the niche it fills to people who are looking for a product.  Nobody markets a Boffer game as “just another bunch of people running around with PVC fighting generic monsters.”   The only basis for marketing generica is in a market where rate is important enough that “lower prices” is a convincing marketing tool.  Thus generic medicines and grocery store brands prosper.

I’ve experimented with several marketing positions with IMA that spoke to the niche it already occupied.  To market the Convention as very party-heavy (at a time when big parties were popular and a major attraction) and to market the Convention as a focal con for intellectual activity and writers.  Overwhelmingly we’ve tended to market the Convention as being risqué, edgy, and friendly .  During the early 90s this was a very successful marketing position for us.


Impacts of the Northern Convention

Artificially Low Rates - The Northern Intercon charges much less than we do for Threads, and we cannot raise the price of our Intercon to meet the actual cost of our site, and still attract any custom from that direction. 

We run in a Threads venue, for Threads rates, at “everybody come as cast” prices.  CCP and SWC carry Threads budgetarily.  Intercon can be run more cheaply than Threads, but not *infinitely* more cheaply than Threads.    We could cut expenses by offering less hospitality in terms of food, and drink.  Unfortunately if we do that we are undercutting what is left of the audience from our early 90s marketing position.

People are not generous.  People may say they “understand” if Intercon cannot provide the meals that Threads does.  But if “low end food” like dogs and mac and cheese falls to “chips and dip” and they end up having to go to Bob Evans for dinner, they are going to hold it against the Con, and they are going to consider it a problem. 

When we looked at hotels closer in and within walking distance of food, we generally saw a really substantial markup in function space.  So we are in a “Catch-22” in regards to space.  If we could get a site near a good selection of fast food, we could probably cut back on food expenses.  But if we did that, we’d still get complaints from our core audience and we’d pay higher function space bills, offsetting our gains.

To make matters worse, 300 can eat more cheaply than 100.  A LOT more cheaply.  Originally IMA served much better meals than the Northern Convention.  But the work of Renee Cyr and eventually a focused staff, experience, and economy of scale have begun to allow the Northern Convention to do more with less money per attendee.  Renee improved the food drastically and made the Con Suite something to be proud of.  Because the Northern Con is bigger, it has an economy of scale that IMA simply cannot realize.


Promotion  - the Kiss of Death

I had some interesting interactions at the recent Northern Con that reinforced a theory I have had for several years.  The New England Convention is tiny by “real convention” standards (where 700-800 are threshold) but is huge by LARP standards, reaching 300 recently.  Thus to LARPers the New England Convention is “the big LARP convention” and the Northern Convention markets that way.  In ten years, I have heard a number of superlatives used in Shameless Plugs promoting the New England Convention.

The problem we have is that the 300+ audience of the Northern Convention is the largest target group of recruits in the country for our event.  We are in front of a group of people probably 25% of whom have travelled a considerable distance to attend a LARP con.  That’s target.

Unfortunately it is difficult to promote the Convention there.  Obviously when we say “We have a great party” (I’ve been very careful never to actually use a superlative), we are trying to set up marketing position.  In terms of how focal it is, the Party at the Northern Convention does not occupy as prominent a place, often not starting until 12:30 as opposed to our 10:00 start.  There is no formal Friday night party. That's just realism, not being mean.  It’s not that there is anything wrong with the Northern Party.  It's simply not as focal.

Unfortunately when we say “ours is good” I might as well say “best” because that is what sensitive ears hear.  In fact it’s another Catch-22.  The more effective we are at identifying places where our con is different and has a unique marketing niche the more likely we are to hit a “sore spot” with someone in the North, because if it really is an area where IMA is stronger that provokes resentment.

The result is that to mention IMA in the north is to risk about a 1 in 10 chance that someone will “bristle and snort” indignantly.  It's not everyone, it's not even most people.  But that doesn't matter.  It's a small and noisy minority that are consistently offended that we dare to say anything positive at all about IMA, becuase to do so is to implicitly criticize the Northern Convention.  

Now, if you have a cause that is not of burning importance to you, that is not your bread and butter or life and death, and about once in ten times that you mention it you get a negative vibe back…what do YOU do?

In most cases, stop talking about it.  Because…why would you?  It is what I would do. Most mature people don't seek confrontation.

So it’s my considered opinion that except for a few core fans, IMA gets very little “word of mouth” in the Northern Community.  Because one in ten people is prickly about it and considers talking up the other con to be treasonous, and while most people wouldn’t agree with that point of view, it’s widespread enough to make it more convenient just to dodge the issue.  Few people voluntarily bring things up that are going to cause them grief and the ones that do go out of their way to seek confrontation  are possibly not the best promoters.  Speaking in a cheerful, friendly manner to attendees at the Northern Convention and suggesting they try Intercon Atlantic, I encountered belligerence from about 1 in 7 persons I talked to, ranging from mild negativity to active antipathy.  In all cases the reason was clear.  Support for IMA somehow implied disloyalty to the Northern Convention.

The ideal marketing pitch there would be “Just like this con, only not quite as good and smaller.”

Which will probably net us about the attendance we are already likely to get…which is “slender.”

There are other subsidiary and administrative issues that also make it more difficult to get a promotional message out, and make having a "Sister Convention" more a liability than an asset. 

The Official Leadership of the Convention has been supportive in all but a few areas, however Mike Young has correctly determined that LARP sells by word of mouth.  All the Official Help in the world doesn't do any good if giving IMA good word of mouth in the North has a one in ten chance of some hothead perceiving it as "treason" and being negative.  And that's sadly just the case.

 

What Can be Done?

Should IMA be Saved?

I think we need to very seriously ask if there is a reason to continue to operate IMA.  My personal vanity says “continue.”  The con is heavily identified with me, and I’ll lose prestige if it shuts its doors.  Unfortunately I need to think about things other than my personal vanity.

Even if I could easily afford to drop $1000+ (and the actual cost to me is higher…remember that’s just con losses, not my personal expenses the same as everyone else has), on IMA, I need to consider if that is wise.   Am I actually BENEFITTING anyone.  $1000 could do a lot for Threads of Damocles.   In practical fact, most of the people who I am looking to directly benefit play Threads.   To pay $1000 to invite a few older LARPers and stray New Englanders, who often feel “dragged” down to the Con to a party that is like a Threads Party but smaller seems bordering on senseless. 

The LARPA contest is the one major thing which IMA produces which is an unquestionable “Good.”  That said, I am not aware of any single individual on the planet other than the contest winners and myself and EMJ who has ever vocalized that.  Because it’s been run privately and OOP at no great strain to the public, it is also a “good” that happens without much public attention or notice.

Part of me feels that even if an event similar to IMA were to be created, it ought to drop the Intercon name.  The issue of “competing” in the Northern Intercon’s promotional area may be stupid, but it’s very real.  As long as IMA promotes as an Intercon it is hamstrung from doing any serious self-promotion that might actually net attendance.

To be fair, I am not sure that the opposite would help.  INE tried bribery, a heavy push, and a very strong full court press and got roughly nowhere promoting in the north.  There is no reason to think we’d do drastically better.

A final issue is “things that IMA provided that the northern Convention didn’t”  These are things that might stand as reasons for IMA to exist, in order to fill a need not being met in New England.

The Northern Convention in the early 2000s was an artistically repressive environment.  Risque or “in your face” art was frowned on, and repressed in various ways directly or indirectly, mostly through peer pressure.  In the mid-2000s a host of artists including Alleged Entertainment were a leader in changed that.  I still think that some of the people at the Northern Convention may not welcome such challenges as much as they welcome other games, but there is no meaningful barrier to the production of “bleeding edge” or risqué material that I can see in practice.  This means that IMA is not necessary as the "only place" that such work can be produced.

IMA had some excellent roundtable discussions, and in the early 2000s was without question an intellectual center for LARP design.  But with the addition of the ”Thursday Thing” sheer numbers seem likely to make the Thursday of the Northern Convention a more widely known and recognized focal point.

Finally, IMA is not the only regional hub for small LARP.  Relaxicon, run in Wilmington DE by Wilmark Dynasty is a 2-4 hour format event which could benefit from greater promotion and attendance.   In pragmatic terms, if my own vanity was not taken into consideration, there might be more *benefit* to the Philadelphia-Baltimore-Washington LARP crowd that is core to Threads if Relaxicon were to receive the energy that has gone into IMA.  

I have to ask, with the existence of the NEIL Intercon, Thursday Thing,  Relaxicon, The Roast, and Threads of Damocles … “is Intercon Mid-Atlantic really a useful thing to have around,” and I’d like reflections on that. 

If not, then I think that much of the effort that has gone into IMA could be put into:

a) Finding a more permanent home for the LARPA  contest.

b) Producing Threads Season IV

c) Producing and promoting the LARP Roast more widely and at a better venue.

d) Promoting Relaxicon

Personal Angle

While I have undertaken to heavily support it the last ten years, IMA is not all about me.  It is a regional Convention.  The question for me is “is this a Regional undertaking that Gordon manages to benefit other people in the Region or is this increasingly a regional undertaking that Gordon manages for no other reason than his own stubbornness and vanity.”    To that extent I need to honestly ask “who cares about this convention.”  I’m not looking for a sugar coated answer.  I think it is a very real possibility IMA has simply outlived its usefulness.

 

Can IMA be Saved?

If Intercon Mid-Atlantic is to happen, several things must occur

1) The prospective 2009 losses need to be trimmed to a sustainable 200-300 dollars. 

2) IMA needs to generate at least another 7 bids.  Most of these need to be exciting new bids by credible authors not either “unlikely to run” bids, or “mercy bids” where experienced authors dust off an archaic work to re-run.

3) IMA needs to sustain a near-100 attendance, and show reasonable promise of expanding

 

Cost Cutting/Fundraising measures

Intercon cannot dramatically cut its food service at the current venue, because there is no place to send people to eat within safe walking distance.  Intercon can hold its schedule to the three available run spaces, and not book additional suites, cutting the venue cost somewhat.

Intercon cannot cut its “subsidiary” expenses because it doesn’t have any.  Every sticker, label, bag, or staple used by IMA is already bought and in stock for VIA/Threads.

One problem with holding “fundraisers” at the Convention is that since it is more clear than ever that I am the Producer/financial backer, it is more clear than ever that it is not “raising money for IMA” but in fact “raising money to cut my losses.”  While this seems fair to me, I honestly don’t think it sells well or plays well, and I try to avoid it.

That said, we can cite the recession and go with fundraisers we have not seen in some time, including:

  • Pieing
  • Thermometer/contributions
  • Heavier Raffle push

A heavier raffle push means “better prizes.”  This becomes a critical action step.   If IMA is to continue, we need individuals willing to say “I will call this specific place and try to get prizes donated.”  Or “I will donate this prize which is a thing that is not junk or a joke that someone might want to win.”

Attendees

The other question that really needs to be answered is “what makes the target audience of IMA different from Threads.”  One theory has been that the “College Park LARP Crowd” or a larger "Virginia/Maryland Crowd," would converge on IMA.  For the last few years, the theory has been that they have not, because IMA was not local.  And we have drawn out a few people like Jon L. who do not play Threads.

But we need to ask… “how do we promote to those people.”  There is presumably a target audience among the 10-20% of players of local campaigns in the last three years who would like to play something other than a campaign in the genre they did.  It is also the case that most of the local campaigns have shut down.  There are regional Vampire and Garou games, but in general the tendency of those specialized players to “cross over” has never been very high, and we lack charismatic people to carry a strong promotional message into the core of those groups.

Also, in regards to regional LARPers,  If IMA did not really gain any significant traction when events like AGOT, et. al. were running with IMA attendees going to them, why do we think it is going to gain traction with that crowd of people now, when they are spread out and harder to reach?

The question is not getting these people to come out and have mercy on poor IMA.  The question is “does IMA have any meaningful role as a local nexus/feeder event.”  If the answer is no, then it is very hard to see that it has an audience left at all that isn't better served by Threads, the Roast, and Splash.  If the answer is “yes” who are they and where do we contact them.

 

The Myth of the General Public.

I’m going to take a moment here just to debunk a myth that has wasted more Southern Convention Committee meeting time than everything that Adam and Jamie ever explored.  The Myth of the General Public and “putting signs up on college campuses.”

For years it has been an instant panacea that if only IMA would “promote to college gaming groups” and “put signs up on college campuses” we would be awash in the attendees the Northern Con has.  This despite the fact that our big regional schools are laid back commuter schools like GW and Mason. 

Let’s understand something for starters.  The Northern con gets students because their area has more higher learning institutions than any other part of the nation per capita, and overwhelmingly they are not commuter schools.  “ Although Brandeis has a commuter lounge, there are almost no commuter students (understandable given the terrible parking shortage), so most students actually need to live on campus.” 80% of Brandeis undergrads live on Campus. 

62% of GMU students are commuters, and the other schools in our area aren’t much better.  The result is that except for one school – UMD – there is really none of the energy that makes up the membership of the northern Convention.  A full court press at George Mason is not going to net the same results as a full course press at WPI or Brandeis.

What people do not understand is that the percentages also lie.

At Brandeis, where approximately 0% of students are commuters, all life is structured and organized through campus.

At GMU, you would think that 48% of life would be structured and organized through campus.  But that's not the case. It's probably (I attended GMU, and also UNC-G which was a less commuter-based school) about 5%.  The reason is that at GMU, 50% of the students have transportation. Typically in social groups one in four or one in ten people are ringleaders or transport providers.  At GMU that is a high enough percentage that almost ALL social life can take place off Campus.  Parties are at suburban group-houses, and other than needing to "hitch a ride" most students simply integrate into the social life of the suburbs.  UMD is the only school of any size at all big enough that this is not true.  GWU might provide a better focus, but in addition to being a very unusual school, it also benefits from a nightlife that really spills into Foggy Bottom and DC proper. 

So the percentages don't tell the whole truth.  DC probably has only a tiny fraction of the percentage of "participatory" student population as Boston, even when the numbers look roughly equal on paper.  Given the structures of our schools, our turnout - which is to say any at all - is probably about the best we can reasonably hope for.

There is not some magical talisman where we can go to a campus put up a couple of signs and get attendees.  Signs usually have to be approved by student organizations, and the places they can be put up for free (coffee shops, etc.) are not overwhelmingly likely to generate a lot of traffic.  What has worked in the north is sustained contact with well organized student groups that are the heart and soul of student life on the campuses they occupy.  In our area, the heart and soul of campus life is taking 95 home to dinner.

I’m not against the idea of on campus promotion.  But let’s bear in mind the realities

  • It takes someone in the local student organization to sponsor most promotions or postings
  • Only with full support of the local student club is any really strong attendance going to happen.
  • That requires cold calling if we don’t already have the contact
  • It requires time investment to follow up, maintain the contact, and promote involvement.

If anybody has the time outside of Threads to do this, let me know. 


Inroads Locally

In twelve years of contact with XPI and three with ARC, I can count the number of people who crossed over and came to Intercon…despite aggressive promotion by myself, and others, on the fingers of one hand.

Likewise, despite multiple promotions, I am not aware of anyone from the Wilmark Dynasty Crowd who has ever come to an Intercon without first passing through Threads. 

Promotions to standing groups are just hard.  Again, I am not saying not to do them.  But I am wondering why they would work now if they didn’t work in 2004.

 

Word of Mouth

Mike Young has said that LARP is sold by word of mouth.  That’s basically true.  Shameless plugs can create awareness, and push word of mouth, but nearly every individual who comes new to Intercon comes because a “Friend brought them.”

What we need to see to make IMA sustainable is any substantial commitment to a “word of mouth” campaign.  Blog mentions, Twitter mentions, and direct contact.  We need to see people saying “I will bring at least one friend.”

 

Summary

If Intercon Mid-Atlantic is to continue it needs the following things:

a) Some evidence that there is actually regional support for it.  That it continues for any reason other than that I hold it and pay for it.  That it is meeting a need

b) Individuals to volunteer to get raffle prizes.  By calling, using connections, or donating things that are not trash or junk, or blatantly obsolete surplus.

c) Individuals to volunteer to do promotions to narrow, targeted audiences.  This means “I will carry fliers, make an announcement, and personally get invested in IMA at X specific event.”  Basically we need the kind of promotion where someone stands up and says “I am going to this great event.”

d) Mention on Twitter, IM, and lists.  Very few people ever pass along the IMA promotional mails because it is “awkward.”

e) Individuals to promise to bring a friend or two.  Period.  Nothing says “I am promoting” like actually bringing a new person.

f) I need other people who are involved in Intercon who will go to bat if I ask the Northern ConCom to actually play nice and send at least one or two messages out for us.  It needs to be somebody other than *me* putting pressure on them.

g) Sponsors for the LARPA contest.  I need to see at least $200 or so dollars of it sponsored by people other than me.


I’m interested in thoughts, offers, opinions…I'm not interested in condolences or general hand wringing.  This is a business matter and needs to be discussed in cool and detached terms.

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Loki
User: xiombarg
Date: 2009-08-06 18:05 (UTC)
Subject: Mary Celeste's Wedding
You'd have one more bid if I got off my ass and big my LARPA contest game like I'm supposed to, but that really just underlines what you're talking about.

I like IMA. I like having a local non-Threads LARP con that's cheaper for me to go to than the Boston con. I like the variety and the atmosphere, and the fact that it's less frenetic than the Boston con.

But I have a tough time getting people to come. I got some of my old Salisbury friends to come, but almost no one from the DC/MD White Wolf crowd came despite my word-of-mouth promotion attempts. I think it's less the Boston con "bristling" in this case than the fact that those people are real insular and don't go outside their genre/comfort zone.

So, I've given you A, and in the past I've done C, D, and E... But I'm only one person. And I can't do B or G. I can maybe do F.
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Spiderbabe
User: arachne8x
Date: 2009-08-06 19:19 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Mary Celeste's Wedding
There is something else here that bears mentioning. Many of the people who travel to Threads might otherwise come to IMA, but the cost of the travel, and for some, the hotels, to go to threads games can be considerable. So IMA is the event that falls out for Aaron and me. We already dedicate a lot of vacation and money to going to Threads. I think what you are seeing here is not as much that people from the North aren't willing to travel, but that other campaigns in the same area (Threads, Lullabye) may be emptying people's 'budget for traveling to far away cons'.
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Andrew Zorowitz
User: zrealm
Date: 2009-08-06 18:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think there's at least one more factor which you missed, but contributes to IMA's problems. Most conventions are already starting to have their programming information available 10 or 11 weeks before the convention opens. This is especially important with LARPs (because there's an expectation that both attendees and GMs will prepare before the game). I was talking with Tegan about the numbers, and she pointed out a lot of the LARPing community are procrastinators. This isn't really the convention's fault or something it can control, but it certainly can hurt the numbers.

Having said that, I think your analysis is mostly spot on. I did a similar one with Foam Brain earlier this summer, which has led to us drastically changing our practices for similar reasons. It sounds like, in some ways, Threads is the dramatic change that is working for Maryland\DC\etc area LARPing.
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Nat Budin
User: natbudin
Date: 2009-08-06 18:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Wow. I'm sorry to see the situation is this dire - I honestly had no idea things had gotten to this point.

I think you're correct that without a strong base of local support, the convention is as good as dead, and I also think your analysis of college recruiting is spot-on. To add to that, I would say that the first and foremost reason the Brandeis LARP scene is as big as it is today is Chad Bergeron, who kept it going through what otherwise would have been some quiet years. Colleges are (sadly) very insular communities, and without a campus insider like Chad to promote LARP at a college, there's no way I know of to get a foothold in the student community.

The problem is even more daunting given that at most colleges, you'd be promoting either an entirely new concept (LARP) or a very different style of LARP than they were used to (whether it be battle games, campaign boffer, or White Wolf). Both are definitely solvable problems, but someone with influence on campus is a huge help either way.

As to IMA itself... well, you asked for unvarnished opinions, and here's mine. Important distinction: I am not speaking in any official capacity whatsoever, and these are purely the views of me, Nat Budin, and not the views of Alleged Entertainment, NEIL, the BSCF LARP Conspiracy, or any other organization.

Personally, I like coming to IMA. I think the crowd there is really cool, and it's nice being around so much of the LARP cognoscenti in one place. If it hadn't been for IMA, there are quite a few people I wouldn't have gotten to know as well as I have, and I'm very thankful for that. I've also very much enjoyed debuting games at IMA over the last few years - it's a great first-run audience to have, since they are generally very experienced players and most of them have an understanding of what it is to run a game for the first time.

I also personally don't mind the drive to and from IMA. I know some people who look at it as a chore (and, frankly, it can be), but I've actually had some great conversations on the way to and from IMA, and made some great friends that way.

But (and you know there had to be a "but"), I've never felt really comfortable socially at IMA. I basically don't drink, and I'm basically not poly, which, taken together, seems to constitute not a lot to do when not playing a game. Last year was actually a much better time for me, but I have a feeling that was because, as chair of an upcoming Intercon, people had a reason they needed to come talk to me about stuff, basically nonstop.

I realize this is more or less a "me" problem, since I had a lot of the same feelings during Arisia '08 and DexCon 9. As someone coming in from out of town, I don't expect to be part of the local social groups. IMA does provide things to do during downtime, like a dance party, and board games. Frankly, I'm quite sure that people who come to Festival of the LARPs must feel this way too, probably a lot more so than I do at IMA, because Festival does a lot less than IMA does for its attendees during downtime. I don't think the same thing necessarily applies to the Northern Intercon, because people tend to come in larger groups from out of town, but I'm obviously not in any position to know about that.

And, obviously, it doesn't stop me from coming to IMA, because on balance, it's a very positive experience for me. The reason I say this at all is because I think that at some level, the social scene is the lifeblood of a convention. If the social scene is moving Threadsward, then perhaps it's time to move Threadsward as well.
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User: kmusser
Date: 2009-08-06 19:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think your ideas on what is wrong with IMA are pretty spot on. I think your things that need to happen for it to be saved are unlikely to happen, especially with the current economy, but will offer some commentary from the perspective of running gaming events.

On what IMA has to offer:

I think one of the biggest things is as an incubator for new GMs or let established GMs try out ideas that don’t fit another framework. Obviously this only works if you have players, and maybe other venues are now serving this function?

As a player it lets you play/try many different types of games without the commitment/learning curve of joining a campaign. Anyway I would think that would be a draw, but it is theoretical, maybe that’s not what players want.

I think it makes a great "intro to LARP" event, but I agree that you aren’t going to get a horde of LARP newbies.

If other venues are doing all of those than it may be time to let IMA die, conversely if they aren’t I’d consider redesigning/focusing IMA on those elements.

On marketing:

I agree that trying to compete with Intercon is a losing proposition – really you’re not offering anything they aren’t. I think the main part of your potential audience are those locally who would be interested in Intercon but don’t want to make the trek to Boston. Ditching the name is not a bad idea.

The ones you need to reach are the LARPers or at least the LARP-curious that don’t know that IMA exists (and probably don’t know that Threads exists either for that matter). Folks playing in WoD LARPs would seem obvious, I’ll admit to not really knowing how to promote to them though or why the crossover is so low. Part of it may be cost, which there isn’t much cure for, it’s also possible that even Delaware was too far for many of them to consider. Other area gaming/sci-fi/anime cons would be another group to target, many of which have at least one stand alone LARP running at them so there are LARPers there, and they aren’t already attached to a permanent group, though again the how to promote question needs to be pondered, just putting out a stack of flyers might get you a couple of people but probably not enough to help your bottom line significantly, a personal appeal would be better but I don’t know if the crossover would be much better than the WoD crowd. Regarding campus promotion – I would only bother on campuses that have an active gaming group and I think the thing to do would be to attend one of their meetings and do a personal pitch to the club rather than messing with signs.

As far as me personally, I’m not planning on going and am not really your target audience as I much prefer board games to LARP. If you do decide to continue though I can help with promotion, I’m involved with both the Games Club of Maryland conventions and TCEP and can put out flyers and make a pitch at those events (for that matter if you let IMA die and want to focus on promoting Threads or the Relaxicon – which I’ll confess I hadn’t heard of - than I could promote that instead). You already get plugged on the blog.
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Jason
User: jadasc
Date: 2009-08-06 20:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Folks playing in WoD LARPs would seem obvious, I’ll admit to not really knowing how to promote to them though or why the crossover is so low.


A couple of reasons come to mind: the lack of "character ownership" that characterizes World of Darkness roleplay (and many other continuing character chronicles), bid guidelines that discourage campaign episodes and BYOC games, and the fact that the critical mass/cultural moment for WoD LARPing passed some years ago.
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Dybbuk
User: emp42ress
Date: 2009-08-06 21:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I am very sorry to hear this, but what you are saying makes a lot of sense. I have had a great time at IMA over the years. The first year I went, at the end of the drive I said "I am not driving to this again." On the way back I started considering plane tickets, and the next year I did it again and did not regret it even though I was stuck in a car. I will miss it if it goes away. I find that I do spend a lot more time talking about LARP at IMA than at New England.

However, last year, while I had a great time, the Threads focus really detracted for me. I spent much less time talking about LARP, because most of the conversations about LARP were about Threads, which I don't play. I would never play a campaign game I had to commute long distances for, I hate being confined in cars far too much for that.

As for helping with IMA:
B. I'm sure that Alleged Entertainment could donate a couple of books to a raffle. 10 Bad certainly seems appropriate.
D. Most of my LARP friends already go to IMA, and this year in particular I have fewer people I can push on than usual, but, if it is confirmed to be happening, I will try.

Not on your list, but mentioned earlier: If you need more games, I would be happy to rerun anything in our catalog, but it would be a rerun.

I hope IMA manages to continue, but what you are saying makes sense. However, I'm considering flying this year if it does happen, so the longer the decision waits, the more inconvenient that will be.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
monster kitten girl
User: monster_girl
Date: 2009-08-07 13:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
At Threads, we are provided with three solid meals and snacks... inclusive to game cost.
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aaronjv: poker
User: aaronjv
Date: 2009-08-06 21:55 (UTC)
Subject: Part one
Keyword:poker
Wow.

Hello

First, let me introduce myself.

I haven't met any of you, nor have I ever been to a game convention in the Eastern Standard Time Zone (unless you count NecronomiCon, the Lovecraft convention held in Providence, RI, every other year until mismanagement and economy drove them out of business).

I was born in, and lived almost all my life in California, the current and latter half here in Los Angeles.

I started LARPing about 25 years ago, as an extension to my D&D games.

Since then, I have mostly run and played LARPs with Enigma, UCLA's 22-year-old science fiction, fantasy, horror and gaming fan club. We've run a little over 100 LARPS since 1988. 90% of these were one-shots (not continuing campaigns), lasting about six hours (Saturday nights), theatrical style (combat certainly, but representational, not physical), and our topics/themes were usually not Tolkein-esque fantasy nor World of Darkness. We've run pirate games, cyberpunk games, historical games (all periods), Call of Cthulhu games, westerns, adaptations of works like Harry Potter, Sandman's Season of Mists, Spirited Away, Patric O'Brian's Master and Commander, etc.

It wasn't until the LARPY awards in 2006, for which Enigma won four out of five of our nominations, the most of any group, that I realized there were so many other LARP groups around the world. The event itself left much to be desired (though Enigma had a blast, and it cost us nothing because it was here in LA), the opening of my eyes to the larger LARP world was invaluable, and I thank NERO and Joe Valenti and Mitch for putting it together (though it was a train wreck).

For many reasons, I have really gotten heavier into the Live Action Role Playing community, or at least I want to.

I wrote a long essay on LARP as an art form that is being illustrated as I type, and which I hope to release to creative commons in a few weeks. I hubristically hope that it will be like Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics in terms of explaining and marketing what I consider to be an art form to both veterans and novices (tall order, I know).

I found out about Intercon/Mid-Atlantic while researching this paper (as I also discovered Knutepunkt, which I still haven't fully digested). Despite its cross-country location, I am very interested in attending a LARP-only convention, as I don't know such things existed. It seemed like IMA was the best one to try for, in terms of subject matter (4-hour games of any type) and timing (when my wife and I can afford to fly out, both in terms of dates and cost).

I very much would like to meet other LARPers, discuss what I have learned about the art form, see what the east coast Americans have been doing, and promote what we're doing here on the left side.

My wife and I (she really wrote the Limbo! game, she just wants my name attached to it) were preparing to fly out for IMA, and have been talking it up here with Enigma, and I am almost positive I could bring at least one other person out, if not more (not much more, maybe a half-dozen at best). I could probably get one more game bid for you, too (not mine).

But we out here don't know anything about this, so reading this post is like watching the season finale of a 24 year old soap opera. I'm a little confused. ;-)
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aaronjv: poker
User: aaronjv
Date: 2009-08-06 21:56 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Part two
Keyword:poker
I guess my questions and comments are:

1. Whatever you decide, please do it soon, so I can make plans (purchase airfare or look for another LARP convention to attend--any recommendations?)

2. Have you thought of making IMA a national larp convention, and marketing as such? (Or is there already one?)

3. Have you contacted LARP Alliance, here on the west coast, at all? I'm on the board of directors, and when I mentioned this, I heard crickets. And I may be violating an NDA I don't know about, but LARP Alliance is looking to do its own national LARP convention. Maybe we should take over Intercon? I have no idea of the politics between LARPA and LARP Alliance, but I have a feeling the fate of American larping hinges on what these and other, similar organizations, do in the next year or so. I hope we can work together instead of at odds.

4. I, too, have seen the graying of LARPs, and am doing my level best to stop that. In my essay, I talk more about this. I think we're on the cusp of a huge LARP explosion...actually, it's already here, we're just not calling it that: ARGs, murder mystery dinners, and anything calling itself an "interactive experience" has elements of LARP in it, but it's not recognized as such (IMHO). So I would really love to come out and have long late night talks with you folks on the east coast with ties to the first American larp groups (Assassin's Guild, SIL, etc.) about how we can being to unify and promote LARP to all.

5. To help this specific convention, I think that the games and programming need to be announced and advertised. That's what I am waiting for. I haven't really turned on my marketing campaign because I didn't know if Limbo! would make the cut. If it didn't, I will selfishly declare, we (or at least my wife) would probably not attend.

A) I can beat the drum for west coast regional support, but do you want it?
B) I can probably get some raffle prizes, depending on what you're looking for or need. What do you recommend, what have you done in the past?
C) Have you been in touch with the Cthulhu Live! people? Robert "Mac" MacLaughlin is on the east coast. Have you contacted any local WoD groups? (I don't know any, alas)
D) I'd do a ton of this if I knew IMA was happening and if Limbo! was a part of it. Sorry to hold my participation hostage, but I gotta get something out of this as well. Which is why I entreat you to decide quickly.
F) Can't help you here.
G) If you could, say, make sure every IMA attendee gets a copy of my essay (via PDF email or printed and handed out at the con), I'll donate $100 (maybe a little more because I'm a sucker for underdogs).

6. Note, my wife and I are not "poly," and I am really shocked to see that even mentioned in regard to a LARP convention. I thought this was about geeking out, not sexing up.

A more detailed bio of me is here, on the EnigmaWiki.

I hope it works out, I was looking forward to this. But if not, there's extremely valid reasons for it not to. I already had to cancel a big LARP I was going to run earlier this year (the haunted house I rented was gutted two weeks before the game), and a Barcamp-style game con has also been back-burnered (I was only helping, not running that one). I'm sick of these delays and cancellations. (Sorry for my emotional reply there.)
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toothlesshag
User: toothlesshag
Date: 2009-08-06 23:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I like IMA, and I have never been to the NE one because Boston is far away. I have never been to Boston - and right now, I feel like if I was going to fly to Boston. . . I'd go see Boston.

So - the college park LARP crowd - I can't speak for all of us. Heck, I didn't even go to college park, I joined later. But people are getting older and people that are committed to LARP still LARP, and lots of people got busy and don't. There are lots of complaints that we have no big LARPS running right now, so much so that people are poking around OBWN. Now AGOT and Vampire Requiem had population because we invited people from OBWN to play with us. They're great! They did not stick around for the changeling game, however - not really - when the GM from OBWN stopped coming, and the vote was made to not have the Changeling campaign join OWBN, the OWBN players left the game. And now, the Changeling game is over, and I can't get anybody around here to run a game - (maybe people are figuring out - like I did - that it can be thankless hard work!) So right now, the core 15 from the college park LARPers are going "SOMEBODY RUN A LARP I'M BORED." and if we ran one, I bet we could pick up 10 more people, but I can't say if they would stay or not. I find that they key is to get somebody from a different social group to team GM. Also, as a latecomer to the college park crowd, I notice that the group started with White Wolf, and then has kinda floated towards indie games as the influence of things like Drink Deep and IMA. So that's what I see going on now.

Me, I hope you get to run IMA.

What if we could get the Anime LARPers invested? That's a whole new crowd! I've got some email lists...
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09 f9 11 02 9d 74 e3 5b d8 41 56 c5 63 56 88 c0
User: laura47
Date: 2009-08-07 12:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
hi,

what are AGOT and OWBN?

Thanks!
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madamruppy: Ruppy
User: madamruppy
Date: 2009-08-07 03:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Ruppy
I would be sad if IMA went away. We can only afford a couple events a year and IMA has always been one of them. It is our chance to visit with friends and to LARP. Unfortunately I can offer no substantive help or suggestions as we are fairly isolated here.

It is small but we are indeed planning on bringing a new person to the con, we hadn't registered yet because of recent financial shit. Jim and I would be happy to pay for his membership even though he is a GM.

And while I might not be the most favored target for such a thing I'm always happy to be a target for the throwing of cream pies.
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monster kitten girl
User: monster_girl
Date: 2009-08-07 13:06 (UTC)
Subject: On Advertising
A few years ago you, me, and others made circuits to other events. There was a small cadre of folks who hit Jersey Cons, Origins, Gen Con and a few other locations to advertise. I dont think that the leadership for IMA has been doing that anymore. You advertised IMA at last years IMA and at Intercon. I understand how you feel that is your target audience.... but really its not. The poor immobile college kids are less likely to come visit and play games than the poor immobile college kids here. :)

Every game store in the area I've been to allows you to advertise games by posting flyers. I havent found any for IMA anywhere. Bringing in the anime folks might help too.... there are gazoodles of them! I know that we've got some friends in Delaware who are generally gung ho for carpooling to awesome games...but they have to hear about them.

I'm bad at making blurps and even worse at making a spectacle in front of large groups. However, I'm awesome at copying advertisement text from a given location and spreading it around the internet like a wildfire! XPI gave me business cards to hand out to people as I talk to them. Those are pretty friggin handy and I can keep them in my purse.

I hadnt signed up for IMA because of my wedding.... though I did look at the list of games... that showed nothing... but I had considered coming by for a few hours on Saturday... even if I couldnt make the whole con, I was going to attempt to make it for a few hours.

If you armor me with a stack of flyers Id happily drive about to game stores and stick them there for you.
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Loki: weeface
User: xiombarg
Date: 2009-08-07 13:43 (UTC)
Subject: Re: On Advertising
Keyword:weeface
Anime LARP is a very different animal... There's some crossover people like Linda, but most consider us too "serious"...
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Citabria
User: citabria
Date: 2009-08-07 14:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
First, thank you for the compliment about improving the level of the New England Con's food. I'm going to send that thanks right back to you, though -- the food at the first IMA I attended (I think it was the last one at the Day's Hotel) impressed me greatly, and I strove to bring the food at New England up to that level. I've gone a bit overboard since then, but it's all thanks to you and Adrienne and your example at IMA.

I agree about economies of scale, even beyond the ways you've mentioned. Not only am I able to get a wider variety of foods when budgeting for 300, but the Con can also easily eat the costs of the inevitable leftovers. It also has the human resources to send someone to the store if we ran out of anything crucial (since underpurchasing is also pretty much inevitable). Those are incredibly important areas to have leeway in when you're feeding people only for a long weekend (as opposed to restaurants, whose supplies carry over indefinitely).

Second, I'm disturbed at the reactions you said you've received from New England con attendees upon talking to them about IMA. There's plenty of room for more than one LARP con on the east coast, especially since not everyone has the luxury of being able to travel to MA to attend one. Plus, for those of us who help run the New England con, IMA is a chance to actually play as well as to relax and enjoy spending time with other LARPers. These are the sorts of reactions that I wish I'd known about. Even though I'm not on the NEIL board (or even on ConCom this year -- I decided that I deserved a year off), I'd still feel comfortable talking to these people and letting them know why their reactions aren't actually serving the New England con, much less LARP in general. Unless we know about this sort of thing, we can't do anything to combat such misconceptions.

I'll address your actual question in another comment.
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Moira: redhead
User: moiramisu
Date: 2009-08-07 14:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:redhead
I know me pulling didn't help, and I am sorry. But yeah, I admit it fell in priority - I'm busy with a new job, stressing on writing for XPI, and then this family thing came up that admittedly gave me an excuse.

But - I have run stuff at almost every past IMA, and will very likely run more in the future. I enjoy IMA - I like having a local con, and don't want to lose that. I know a lot of factors have gone into it not being very successful this year, but I don't think that means it has to go away forever - just take a year or two off and recalibrate.

Ultimately, from folks I have talked to - it's the games. IMA needs to show it has great games, what they are, and advertise *games*, not a convention, almost a year out. Then people will come. While I know many folks do enjoy the social and party aspects (as do I), games have to really be a focus to get the majority to come to this con.
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Citabria
User: citabria
Date: 2009-08-07 15:02 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Now, my personal thoughts about IMA, as in how my recent experiences affect my feelings about it. I'm torn.

I love attending a LARP con that I'm not working at. I love being just an egg and playing or relaxing to the extent I desire. Because of that, I would miss having IMA as my LARP vacation.

On the other hand, I've been playing in fewer games recently. Some of that is because I've learned that I don't enjoy rushing, trying to change mindsets and costumes while still making time to eat and sleep. As I get older, having enough sleep and eating healthy foods have become more important, even if it means that I play less.

The other reason is because fewer games at IMA appeal to me. Even when they do, sometimes they're pulled (as happened last year). That isn't a problem I have in New England because of economies of scale (of a sort). More attendees and hotel space mean there's room for a wider variety of games -- which, of course, means there are more that I'd find appealing. (Of course, that won't happen this year because I'm not running Con Suite, but I digress.)

Socially ... things have changed. I could give you a list of the people I used to enjoy seeing and spending time with at IMA, most of whom don't go any more. There are still people I enjoy seeing, but it's not as large a group as in the past. When you add that sometimes other commitments keep the current regulars from being able to attend ... well, that just lessens the social draw for me.

Yes, there are parties, but honestly? I'm 44 years old. I've never liked loud music or having to yell to be heard across a table. I rarely drink anymore, and when I do it's generally at most 2 drinks in the course of a night. Last year I had some great conversations on Friday, though not for all that long -- games end late-ish and I go to bed relatively early. On Saturday, because the music was loud, I spent most of the evening in the quiet room talking with people from New England because they were in that room. Again, not so great for socializing with people I rarely see. Plus I don't find it enjoyable, amusing or at all pleasant to spend time with people who are drunk. Buzzed, fine; drunk, as generally happens to quite a few people at IMA? No thanks. I'm also not interested in watching people make out in public.

All of these things are my own personal choices -- playing less, socializing less, not taking advantage of the food and drink IMA provides. But I wouldn't be any happier (and might be less so) if I chose otherwise. Yes, perhaps I've become an old fuddy duddy, but ... well, that's where I am right now. And so the appeal of IMA is less than it used to be.

Plus ... the way you "announced" game sign-ups opening last year didn't exactly endear IMA's management to me. We've discussed this, though.

If you decide not to hold IMA this year, will I miss it? Yes. If you decide not to have it ever again will I miss it even more? Definitely. But would I understand if you made either decision? Yes.

As for your list, the only thing I'd be willing to do is f, but frankly the assumption you've made in writing it makes it rather distasteful to me. The northern Con Com hasn't been playing nice up until now? How, Gordon? Name names and give examples, because statements like this come off as con-bashing.

More substantively, though, you (and most other folks involved in IMA) have access to the Intercon LJ community, so you -- or anyone on IMA's behalf -- can post plugs there. I'm pretty sure you've done that in the past.

The New England Con doesn't have an e-group for attendees, so any plugs for IMA would need to go through someone with Con email privileges. I'm not sure what we tell attendees about how we'll use their personal information, but that privacy guarantee may limit what types of non-New England information we can send to them. (I have no idea what we say and don't want to guess, but I'm a member of another group that has had that problem.) If that is an issue, might we want to modify the privacy statement in the future? Yes, and I'd support changing the policy to allow mailings for other LARPA events, but that would only apply to people who register for Intercon J subsequent to the change.
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Garko the Man-Frog
User: interactivearts
Date: 2009-08-08 20:26 (UTC)
Subject: Point (f) and SPAM
As for your list, the only thing I'd be willing to do is f, but frankly the assumption you've made in writing it makes it rather distasteful to me. The northern Con Com hasn't been playing nice up until now? How, Gordon? Name names and give examples, because statements like this come off as con-bashing.

I'm sorry. First, for reference, I'd written...

f) I need other people who are involved in Intercon who will go to bat if I ask the Northern ConCom to actually play nice and send at least one or two messages out for us. It needs to be somebody other than *me* putting pressure on them.

Honestly this comment should have been redacted from the final public version. It was private discussion with the other stakeholders in the con, and not intended for general public consumption. I failed to recall I'd left it in the end, and I'm sorry.

By way of explanation, this is not any generalized attack on the Convention. It expresses a long running frustration. Part of the original agreement by which NEIL was granted an Intercon license explicitly involved sharing e-mail lists with the other Cons. As early as XIII this was not happening, and the final agreement was supposed to fix that.

In practical terms we've never been able to benefit from the publicity generated by the Northern Con. While I send messages out on my campaign lists and to the Convention list when it existed, and am willing to make IMAs mailing lists available, any attempt to get direct mail through the northern con, including a direct plea to previous chairs, has always been stymied. It was dead ended after the last IMA with the suggestion that a link on the homepage was a rough equivalent, which from a promotional point of view is simply disastrous.

I don't think anyone is trying to be mean. I know very well what the situation is. Most of IMAs attendees are practical and suburban, and SPAM is an annoyance that we let G-mail take care of. Many of the Northern Con's attendees are activist students or academics with no need to be practical and plenty of time to pursue quixotic nonsense, who make SPAM into a religious issue, and have aneurysms over unsolicited e-mail. Nobody wants to face the flame war when these people go off because some of them subscribe to the "other con is treason" mode of thought, and can compound that with "unsolicited e-mail is a crime against God and my mother."

I sympathize with the Northern ConCom having to deal with nuttery like that.

My note (f) while expressing frustration, was about that specific point. But it was actually intended to supportive. My opinion was that the current Concom are good people who if they were made to understand the need strongly enough would do the right thing. My point privately to the other people who had been involved in organizing IMA was that I was going to have to get other voices in on it to make the case that this was important enough to weather the firestorm of stupidity it would probably provoke.

At this point it's something I'll have to take up if it seems we are moving towards organizing a run of the Convention, but I am not going to worry about it otherwise.




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Garko the Man-Frog
User: interactivearts
Date: 2009-08-07 16:35 (UTC)
Subject: Comments and Summaries 1 of 4

First of all I want to say I'm very pleased with the excellent level of feedback and commentary I've gotten here.

I'm going to go through and just comment on a few of the high points.

 I think what you are seeing here is not as much that people from the North aren't willing to travel, but that other campaigns in the same area (Threads, Lullabye) may be emptying people's 'budget for traveling to far away cons'.

I agree exactly and completely.  That's actually my point.  I don't think I even touched on the idea of people not being willing to travel.  I know that my musings about difficulties in promoting because of a handful of strongly negative people are going to get disproportionate attention, but I think you've hit the nail on the head and that's definitely my first and foremost point.

The success of other events is simply eclipsing IMA.  It's everyone's "Fifth Favorite" event.  Nobody hates it, many people like it.  But it's the low item on the totem pole for neary everyone.

Questions about Decision

I am planning to make some sort of post within the next week...I want to see how this discussion plays out and let people get a chance to find it.

RE: Garou games - I’ll admit to not really knowing how to promote to them though or why the crossover is so low.

Another poster suggested:

A couple of reasons come to mind: the lack of "character ownership" that characterizes World of Darkness roleplay (and many other continuing character chronicles), bid guidelines that discourage campaign episodes and BYOC games, and the fact that the critical mass/cultural moment for WoD LARPing passed some years ago.

I think if anything that the potential for crossover is getting higher as the energy ebbs out of these events.  However I've come to have a better set of windows into the world of WoD LARPing in the past two years, and I think the overwhelming factor is this.

WoD LARPs are big table games.  A person who does WoD LARP is precisely as likely to come to my LARP as a person who goes to a friend's parties is likely to come to my parties.  They will do it if they know the people involved, and get invited.  They will sometimes travel long distances to meet.  Threads has an active set of players who happened to make a connection through WoD LARP and now travel to Threads as they previously or still travel to other WoD games.  But the connections are all intensely personal.  They come because of Bob or Susan, not because of the Threads marquee.

There are big WoD events at conventions, it's true.  But the driving feel in regional WoD groups is that they are an extension of a social group and that participation has a 1:1 correlation to being welcome and involved in the social group either as a regular or as "Joe's friend from Albany who is very cool." 

What success IMA had on breaking into that scene was because it mimiced the concept of an extended Social Group. That's why its parties were a big deal.  However, I think Threads is just infinitely better at that.  IMA is in some ways feeling like a prehistoric animal...bigger, more ungainly, and less able to compete than its descendants. 


(CONT)

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Garko the Man-Frog
User: interactivearts
Date: 2009-08-07 16:38 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Comments and Summaries 2 of 4
</font>A few years ago you, me, and others made circuits to other events. There was a small cadre of folks who hit Jersey Cons, Origins, Gen Con and a few other locations to advertise. I dont think that the leadership for IMA has been doing that anymore. You advertised IMA at last years IMA and at Intercon. I understand how you feel that is your target audience.... but really its not. The poor immobile college kids are less likely to come visit and play games than the poor immobile college kids here. :)</p>

Honestly I haven't and I'm not willing to.   You can probably add to the catalog of issues "The collapse of Interactivities Ink."  Mike Young's need to organize group promotions to support his gaming business generated a fair amount of subsidiary publicity for LARPA.

Two years ago I worked with Eric Johnson to hit the entire Circuit and heavily promote Threads and IMA.  Looking back after a year, This is my honest opinion: 

I personally don't have any reason to go to Origins, GenCon, or DexCon other than selling IMA.  I don't own a gaming concern, I'm not selling table games, and I don't play table games.  I tried playing the WoD LARPs and other events at a few of these conventions and generally found them "disappointing and dismal" next to Threads, Lullaby, the games at the Boston Intercon.

With gas, food, and hotel most of these trips run in excess of $400.  In most cases, a much lower percentage of my social group goes to these events than any other.  I can probably see four times more people I know and want to hang with at Relaxicon. 

Most other people who go to these events are willing to hand out fliers.  They are going socially and to enjoy themselves, not to spend 24/7 organizing a slate of (probably dismally attended and running at stall speed) events to promote IMA and LARPA. 

I cannot justify the expense personally.  Next year I'll directly produce seven Threads Events, Green Fairy, and the Roast.  For each of these the work I will put into promoting it is proportional to the benefit.  In 2007 I spent upwards of $1800 on trips just to promote IMA.  Proportinately I think we got about six players which means that I was paying about $200 per player.  If you consider that Johnson and some other people spent roughly what I did, the actual cost per recruit may soar to $600.  At about a 50% continuation ratio, that means really you're paying about $1200 per permanent new attendee.   

That cost to benefit ratio is very consistent with what I experienced when we were road tripping to support LARPA and Intercon in the early and mid-90s.  A trickling handful of players many of whom only ultimately gelled as players because they were friends of a friend.

The road trips were fun.  But I have to consider that there are MANY things which are more fun and cost me less money. 

I think for an effort like that to be viable in the long term, one of three things would have to be the case.

a) There is an existing promotional concern like Interactivities Ink driven by someone who wants to attend, for whom attending these conventions is a primary hobby, and who is willing to risk losing money to promote their personal brand or product because they enjoy doing it, or has a substantial enough product that it defrays their expenses, who is willing to let LARPA piggyback on those effots.

b) There is a hobbyist who very much enjoys attending these events and has nothing in particular to do, who would enjoy picking up and running a promotional effort, and for whom the cost was no object, presumably because they were already going.

c) There was a group of people who were willing to devote "production of Threads" level time to producing showcase events at these Places, like Greg Agostini and PST.    That's great if someone wants to do it, but it's too much to ask.

Otherwise, I think honestly I could do better promoting IMA by offering $100 to people to come.  It would be easier on my pocketbook, and I'd probably double my attendance rate. 

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