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Before I ran TsunamiCon, my experience with gaming conventions was admittedly quite limited. I had a great deal of experience organizing other kinds of large-scale events – concerts, faires, home and leisure shows, wedding and trade shows, etc. – but one of the things that drove me to start a gaming con here in Wichita was that we would often see gaming and gamers at local and regional fan conventions, but the gaming was something of an afterthought. Like a fun thing to do for geeky attendees, but all the convention did was supply the space and maybe organize someone to manage it.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
A game con, however, is clearly a different animal. At a fan convention, the focus is exhibitors and guests. A hoppin’ con is filled to the gills with vendors, plying their trade, selling unique items and collectibles, and generally adding to the substance of the event. Oftentimes, convention organizers can even offer their space at a premium to bring in small vendors, because they are dedicating enough of their overall space to make it easy to cover the costs.
A gaming convention, however, is about gaming. This presents a unique challenge… the majority of the available space absolutely must be made available for gamers who come in, sit down, and spend an entire weekend at the table. This is another huge difference in this kind of con, as most smaller fan conventions attract attendees who browse for a couple hours, maybe meet a guest or catch a panel, and otherwise are just there to socialize and/or show enjoy their cosplay craftsmanship (whereas larger fan conventions have attendees attempting to pack as many panels, autographs and photo ops into three or four days as humanly possible).
So herein lies the challenge. As a merchant at a gaming convention, you have access to a fairly broad audience. But their interests are primarily oriented toward the activities at the con. So your wares, your presentation, and your salesmanship have to compliment this arrangement to be successful. Some opportunities are quite obvious… if you sell games and gaming accessories, it’s a good venue. If you sell collectibles that will appeal to gamers and genre aficionados, you’re also in good company. And if you’re a game designer, publisher, or demo team… you’re definitely in the right place. That being said, you still have to play the long game. Clearly, you get a mix of impulse buys and carefully considered selections, since they often have all weekend to decide.
It can also be enterprising to make the process of interacting with you about having fun. Use dice or games of chance, have drawings and giveaways, engage passersby with the enthusiasm you have for your product or craft, and so forth. One of the advantages over a fan convention is that there are fewer exhibitors, a more select market, which virtually guarantees that almost every attendee who walks through the room will take a look at your wares and perhaps stop to visit or ask a few questions. And it’s important to note that the smaller size of the marketplace is not a detractor, as your customers are there for the gaming.
It’s a unique experience, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know our vendors over the past couple years. I am certainly pleased at the number of returning vendors, and I love seeing everything from homegrown games and handmade items to top gaming merchandise and collectibles.
If you are interested in joining us, we still have a handful of vendor booths available for TsunamiCon 2016. Reserve your space now by pledging on our Kickstarter page.