Monday, November 28, 2011

Houston Gaming Conventions - Discussion

Owlcon XXXI will be awesome. I hope I will see you all there?


So I want to start a long-tem discussion with the Houston Gaming community, and I admit I don't know the place best for that. If any of you own/host a blog and think we could borrow some chatter space, I'm all for that. Also, I'd like a place to pull in those who you know, who have an opinion, but who I didn't know how to reach...

As many of you know, I've been involved in Comicpalooza 2010, 2011, and looking towards 2012 as Gaming coordinator. I've done in-store game days, D&D Encounters, and now getting into helping with Owlcon too. I want more. I want bigger & better. That's not to demean those other events--far from it! Owlcon has been amazing year after year, and the response to Comicpalooza trying to figure itself out, has also been awesome. Yet, my education in marketing and sales, my years of experience, yearn for something more. I've been trying to get "names", Gaming celebs, if you will, to Houston, to put us on the map. I don't want to re-invent the wheel, but I do think we have desire and potential for at least one [more] major Con in this city, per year.

Last year, Comicpalooza put Gaming way down on the other end of the building, and a lot of you rightly jumped on me for that. No worries, although not my decision, it was necessary to hear all your feedback. I took that back to the board and let them know we had a lot of frustration with placement, promotion of events, and a lack of communication with local stores (for example, Asgard had a big Privateer Press tourney and we worked against each other, without meaning to - I had the state guys from Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio here, but no one came to their events). Comicpalooza 2012 has a whole new set of challenges. The floorplan right now is merely rooms A1 and B1.

I'm frankly really worried that this might work great for a comic book / pop culture con, but might be too noisy and uncomfortable for Gaming. Which leads my brain around to those people who suggested hotels, other venues, conference centers, and so forth. For example, would most of you consider attending a Gaming convention at Moody Gardens in June or July, if something like that formed up? Here are some of the many points I'd like to earnestly hear your long-term input on, since I don't plan to withdraw from Houston Gaming until I can celebrate with all of you, whatever monster awesome epic convention we finally give birth to. To be very clear, I am not talking about anything "against" Comicpalooza. Yet, Gaming is not currently the core of that con, no matter how much I wish my segment was better represented.

- What forum can best be used to exchange ideas and archive these discussions?

- What venue(s) do you recommend, and how better to use them?

- What can a/the convention do / do better that it has not done before?

- Should the con be more like Comic-Con, or PAX, or Gencon....or....?

- What can YOU contribute to such an undertaking...should I consider you part of the team which wants to be involved?

- What time of year works, works best, and doesn't work? (For example, I've heard some grumbles about Memorial Day, but some think Labor Day would be better)

- Does anyone have hotel, conference center, city of Houston, Reliant Park, Woodlands, etc contacts?

And stuff like this. I know there is a lot of small press publishers and game companies in Texas. I know we have writers, creators, designers, artists, sculptors. We have tons of gamers from tabletop RPG, to minis, historical, LARP, card games, board games... we have companies like Steve Jackson and Dark Skull, Dark Nova...just to throw out the bare three names I know well. Maybe I am just a dreamer, but I figure, if we dream a little together? Imagine being host to the US or world Pathfinder or D&D or Warhammer 40K tourney, or the international White Wolf Southwest Masquerade Ball. Again, just a tiny few ideas which could be pebbles in the avalanche.

Thanks for listening. At your leisure, please don't just read and delete. Help me and your fellow Gamers out...give us some feedback?

PS - Yes, there is a business opportunity here. I'd like to hear from you privately if you have that kind of interest, in being a partner, contributor, potentially profit-share volunteer, etc. BUT that's not the main topic of this discussion. Brainstorm first.


  1. Organizing a convention in Houston hotels has been difficult because, unlike other towns, we have to pay for the use of the space. Normally, the convention space is free and hotels make money back on room occupancy.

    As far as ComicPalooza, let's not give up on gaming in a large area. Last year a group was able to play Battlestar Galactica in the dealer hall. We can plan ahead for games that will work in a large area.

  2. @Longhorn - I don't want to sound like I've given up! That fan group did a great job!

    I just know that (maybe we've spoiled them) the gamers of every kind enjoyed the breakout rooms we had and the relatively relaxed/quiet place to play. Can you imagine if we're gaming right next to the Roller Derby gals whizzing around a ring!

    If what you said is true of other towns, I wonder if there is any hotel in Houston which does give such space...hmmm...time to call Sherlock Holmes...

  3. Since some people can't seem to comment, I'd like to share...

    John Doe said:
    What motivated this rearrangement, and whose idea was it? Last year's space was nigh-perfect, and it isn't just gaming that needs dedicated space. Movie-viewing, panels, Neko Neko Maid Cafe, Steampunk Ball, photo shoots, etc., pretty much all _need_ their own room. Putting everything in two big open halls seems untenable, and a definite step backward.

    Gamers won't be the only people unhappy with this change. Spreading the word to other constituent groups may help us garner the awareness necessary to bring TPTB around to our view. It seems to me that we would be better off working to improve (or at least retain) the setup of an already-succesful, extant, growing con than to attempt to create our own competition.

  4. And my response was:

    To answer you honestly, last year's Comicpalooza was the co-operative effort of several hard-working, dedicated people. Some of those were volunteers and some were a little more inner circle. Whatever success it was is due to say, people asking forgivess instead of permission, because they went forward with their segment and made it grow. Gaming is such an example. I have never said (and I will never go into full detail) about what behind-the-scenes agony I went through to get gaming where it was for 2010 and 2011. Every inch, every gain, was made by stress, sweat, blood, begging, pleading, and asking over and over and over...until I got maybe 1/2 the things I asked for.

    For 2 years in a row, I gave up my hotel room so I could bring in a guest, while people who did much less got a free room. At the end of C-Pal 2011, a group of tired, frustrated, sometimes angry people walked away. There are still ripples of that going through various subgroupings of those folks.

    Originally, C-Pal was offered Memorial Day weekend by GRB since it was supposedly "never full and always very available". Then, just around the time C-Pal 2011 ended, we were told "oh well, not much available in 2012" and yet we kept the date. NONE of that was a board or group decision. It was 99% one person. A volunteer can't really give more than advice, and when your advice is not followed, the volunteer must decide whether to stay or move on. Thus, George is still hanging in but lots of people left. If I did not believe that a con like this should exist, I might have also departed.

    First organizational meeting of 2012, I was told (not asked) that this is it. Deal with it. Budget for Gaming is cut a LOT and I get maybe 1 guest. Meanwhile, everyone and game companies and stuff is emailing looking for floorplans and schedules and hotel rooms for 2012. Guess what? We have none. Yep, even the hotel is almost out of space. Yesterday, game company asked how to find a room and how much the rate is, since none is advertised and if you call the Hilton, they have no idea what you'd be talking about. So, yesterday, on email, I hear that we will have a "sister" hotel with a shuttle service.

    Part of the reason I began this discussion on many levels, is so people will realize, I have no choice and no say. Basically, I either have to work with what I am given (and complain a lot) or I can evaluate other options. As a volunteer, I have a freedom to do either. Also, since as you said, a large convention with multiple events was a lot of fun, if we don't see that happening with people A, we find people group B who may make it happen. The Con is not a democracy. We can't "vote out" people who don't share our vision, if they control the planning, contracts, and budget(s).

    I must be brain dead. Who is TPTB?

  5. So here's part of my creative thinking for cons in general. I will repeat what I said earlier, that this is not about "throw out Comicpalooza and start from scratch"... unless that proves to be, in the long run, a better option. To entertain the idea of a games-only con, we really would go the route of Gencon or especially PAX. We had lots of video/computer game contacts and yet, Comicpalooza did not choose to develop those relationships, instead giving lots of space to a local--albeit interesting--company to run our video game room. Some of us think Houston could wholly host a huge electronics/video/console/PC/handheld/tablet/whatever expo, and those tend to be higher dollar, much cooler/well attended. In some ways.

    Comicpalooza is trying to build on Comic-Con, to become a place where companies send celebs and launch movie previews, make announcements, etc. Well, Gaming segment had that last year, with Steve Jackson, and some small press release. Hopefully you met Dark Nova or Dark Skull Studios or some of the Steampunk folks. Several of those want time in front of cameras and a mic to do the same thing in 2012 that Steve Jackson did. In no way do we think we can have some giant "Game Day" like I did twice at the Mall, which would make any kind of con profitable. However, networking events like that would be in place maybe every quarter, so we had Owlcon, Comicpalooza or Con-X, and maybe 2 game days in some nice place, every year.

    Some of us want to be more like DragonCon. I personally want some 4-day Con which sprawls all over a bunch of *connected* rooms and gives you plenty to do, yet will be so personal where we sit down on tables and chairs, and roundtable with celebs. I want parties. We had 2 clubs offer to sponsor after-hours and give us people to work security and promote us and host pre- or post- con events. But Comicpalooza barely responded to them and ignored them, so they were left in limbo.

    Do I have gripes about Comicpalooza? Yes. My education, skill, experience, and job are in marketing, sales, promotions... I do this stuff for a living, and I've more or less been in that all my life. My brain thinks "promote promote promote, grow grow grow". If I don't get 75% - 90% of my desired plan of marketing in motion, I get frustrated... and I don't mean my ego. I mean, falling short of every component of the plan.

    Here's an example: You got my flyers for our Gaming guests. I sent a master copy our artwork folks made a B&W, and this was supposed to go out to every comic and game store in Texas. I'm not kidding. Two weeks before the Con, I went out one night and drove to Asgard, Nan's, Third Planet, Heroes... and guess what? NO ONE "officially" from the Con (except me) had come to say hello, talk to them, get them involved. No flyers. No chance to buy an ad. No cross promotion.

  6. So when Phil says, one voice matters... yes, absolutely. However, as a volunteer, my health does not need to be strained and stressed pouring blood, sweat, and tears into something which resists me.

    You should see how wonderfully and warmly Owlcon embraced my contacts when I offered Keith Baker (Eberron) and Chris Sims (now at WotC). Again, it's not to say "George did _____". It's so we can hang out. Chris Sims gave me a condition-- he "only" would come to Owlcon if he could hang out with all of us he'd met in Houston (probably that night, drinking with Phil...). So guys, get ready for Owlcon, where again you get to game with celebs. Owlcon took my crumb and ran with it and boy, do they understand promotion. They have a pretty awesome team. Why do you think I've gotten involved?

    I had dinner a few months ago with "The Gamerati" and the really awesome, super-nice folks at Dark Skull (New Gods of Mankind). People are hungry to get their foot into Houston and make it grow. People want to be part of something big, something Texas-big. Dark Nova is building electric-light power-suit costumes for their sci-fi game. Look at those wonderful smaller press (by no means lesser) who come to Owlcon. Look at the talent in Austin, Texas, which wants to come down here. Reaper is in Texas. Companies like APE Games... I could go on from my lists of emails and contacts.

    Aside: Not too many votes yet in the poll, but people seem to like Labor Day and ignore Memorial Day. Hm. Comicpalooza is [always] Memorial Day. That's a little discouraging...

    Now, I want each of you with fervor and zeal to look foward 6 months, 12 months, 2 years. Ask yourself if you want to be part of, to own, to fund, to sponsor, support, promote... whatever kind of Con in Houston. S**** made a great point about small cons withering, but heck...what if we embrace those folks, get together under a huge roof (say, Reliant Park?) and did some Houston Mega-Gigantor Con? lol My marketing brain, on the purely creative side (and not the practical side) wonders out loud about such possibilities...

  7. Enrique says:

    I love the idea of selling "booth space" aside the gaming.. think of it, both Gencon and Origins typically have a couple of stores with cards next to their TCG area, I can see the same working, buit you need to have gaming closer (not necessarily next to) other events, not so far away.

    As you say, promotion is key , you have to be able to say: these celebs are going to bring you x many more people but it will cost you a hotel, their meals, etc...

    You may also want to leverage/contact the folks at in Dallas, they actually had some LFR going over Thanksgiving (blackFriday con on their left side of their page).

  8. Quad says:

    I wish SanCon were still around. I can't remember who exactly put it all together, but if you want to know how to run a local or community based gaming convention (granted, it is small time, but the number of tables were probably on par with C-Pal, smaller than Owlcon) then you may want to get in touch with the people in charge of that in the past.

    Another thing I miss is just having game days where a DM or a few DMs get together and host 3-4 tables a slot for 3 slots on a few Saturdays a Summer or year. Rob Love put most (all??) of those together. I think he still does so for Pathfinder out at San Jac Central.

    Perhaps I'm simple, but my gaming doesn't have to be big time.

  9. @ Quad,

    I did my best with those 2 Game Days out at West Oaks Mall with JJ from Midnight Comics. We had 75 - 100 people (focused on D&D) and we had a lot of fun. The promotional side was handled by Wizards, basically, since it was a World Wide Game Day, and we paid $100 insurance to the Mall, did not charge to play, and allowed Midnight to sell new D&D product.

    If ANY of you guys can find me a space, like a big parish hall, a Shriner's hall, something with tables & chairs and access to food nearby, where we don't have to pay (much or none), I will organize those Game Days with anyone who wants to help, again. Those are great events and allow us to network!