Producing Fun is a podcast about making tabletop games from a product perspective.
Duncan Cowan is a convention director of Tabletop Scotland – a mid-size UK tabletop game convention that launched to a hugely successful debut in 2018, garnering more than 1000 unique attendees. In this episode we talk about creating a convention designed to reach out to new audiences, how to best use space to craft the ultimate convention experience, the impacts of Brexit and Covid and what practical things the game community can do to support conventions in a difficult time.
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TranscriptionI'm James, and this is producing fun, a podcast about making games from a product perspective.
Welcome to Producing fun. My guest this week is Duncan Cowan, one of the convention directors of tabletop, Scotland, a mid sized UK tabletop gaming convention taking place in Perth. If I had to pick a single favourite game convention, it would be this one. Table Top Scotland isn't yet a big show. In their first year back in 2018, they managed around 1000 unique attendees, but it was run like a big show. Rather than being focused on open gaming, as many of the UK smaller events are. It has something of everything, places to try games, places to buy them, design seminars, miniature painting events, and even an epic role playing adventure, where a throng of different dungeons and dragons groups all participate in a single, huge, interconnected story. What makes it best of all, though, is its atmosphere. Many of the UK conventions are great places for core hobby crowd, where serious gamers can hang out with their friends from the circuit. But tabletop Scotland is different. It's just as much about families, children, casual gamers, people from a rather wider background than usual as someone who tries to make games with quite broad appeal, that made it a fantastically useful testbed back in 2018. But more than that, I just felt really at home there. In a way I have never quite censored another show. Speaking to Duncan made it all click. Unsurprisingly, fostering this incredibly welcoming, open and accessible atmosphere was a deliberate choice by the whole team. From the start, they wanted to make a show that would grow the hobby and reach out to people who don't even think of themselves as board gamers, let alone the kind of people that would attend a board game convention. I learned so much in this conversation, from the clever use of space to tapping the untapped potential of local advertising. From the way different UK conventions collaborate for mutual advancement to how the community can best support these events going forward in a difficult time, from the impact of Brexit and COVID, to the viability of the online convention, this conversation was jam packed with interesting discussion. And behind the scenes peeks into creating just such a show. If you're interested in running a convention, exhibiting at a convention, or just how they work, I guarantee it will be of interest. We join just as Duncan is discussing his own game collection, and why it wasn't destined for the show.
It's the third bedroom of the house. And it is entirely filled with games, every wall. In fact, I have aisles within the room of calyxes back to back, because I ran out of space just going around the walls.
Oh my god. So it's like stacks basically like yeah, like an archive. It's
according to board game geeks. My collection is currently about 1300 including expansions probably about 650 base games alone. And obviously with within that the remix of obviously you can have smaller card games and so on, but then also be Terraforming Mars big box as an example. Wow, Imperium and some of the, you know, the kind of more space consuming Kickstarter projects as well. So yeah, essentially, it's an entire room, it'd be fair to say it's probably starting to creep into other areas of the house as well. So as I look to my left, and notice an entire shelf of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective Game sitting there, so yeah, so So yeah, there's there's a lot there.
It's spread outside even of that. That's amazing. So actually, if you wanted to run games library for a convention, you've already got a complete collection.
In theory. Yeah. But I'm one of those people. Yeah. And one of the all No, you can't be eating Doritos, and playing my game, dude. Yeah, because we had that discussion. Actually, before, before, we kind of decided what we're doing for games library at tabletop, Scotland. And, you know, one of the early suggestions was essentially, we just use our own collections. And sort of the internal alarm bells went off quite early. Okay, maybe some games but though that one, not that one, not that one. And that's not for you.
And probably not this one. And that was valuable. And very quickly. It's like, actually, actually, Duncan, you don't want to lend any of
your games. Do you? Use pandemic Herbert that? Yeah, exactly. I've played I've played this copy of Pandemic Legacy already. Maybe you can put those cards together. Don't worry about
that. Yeah, yeah. Oh, completely. Well, it's very interesting when I spoke to Nick of the looter quest A couple of episodes ago, I think that's very much his approach was just to treat the stock of the cafe as just, it's disposable. You have to treat it as something that's ultimately just going to going to be destroyed. Yeah, and especially anything that's like more accessible and family friendly, a child will destroy it at some point. So like, I think you can't really use your games like that. I think to be honest, if you have any intention of keeping them,
I think I probably take it too far the other way in all fairness. But I mean, yeah, I mean, I think, I think games that are intended, I mean, I listened to the episode with Nick and I thought those, I was actually taken by quite how many similarities there are, and his approach to, you know, how we lease things out within within Looter quest to how we sort of laid things out within the convention initially, in terms of that, Oh, interesting, you know, I guess what you want is the stuff near the door is, the less I get to stuff, it's not going to put people off and have them run into the hills if they're not dyed in the wool gamers. So if you want family, and if you want kind of your people new to game, and to stay longer, you are not going to put an 18 XX game on a table right at the front door of a convention, you know, whereas the people who are going to be interested in that will will go to the back corner of a convention hall, you know, for that experience. So actually, what Nick was saying, was actually bringing everything in true with a lot of the decisions that we made, in terms of which areas of a convention hall, you put the family friendly stuff, you know, the kids games, where you put the gateway sort of areas where you put play testing, where you put the retail area, and then where you put the stuff that you know, people are basically just going to want to go and get the way everyone else to play in there. The complex games in the forecourt.
Yeah. Oh, that's really interesting. So I mean, because I think this is exactly the kind of thing that anyone who's curious about how kind of conventions are organised as probably often uses of conventions, but not people who don't have the experience of running them of exactly kind of thing. Must be questioning to work out, like how exactly do you plan out the shape of it, because you have, even tabletop, Scotland, which is not the biggest convention, but also by no means the smallest convention around, you've got a lot of space, right? I think in year two, you had two halls, at the Perth convention centre, as I understand it,
so the venue that we use the juror centre and pair essentially, it has two large halls, it's got lots of other little spaces around the sides of that, and you know, an upstairs area and balconies and whatever, but two large halls, which when they're not being used for conventions, like ours, one is a curling rink, so it's generally a donut, and the other is an indoor bowling hall. So in year one, we took only half the space because really, we didn't know what the appetite was going to be what was the demand for a convention of a scale and size and duration in Scotland, so we only took one of the two halls. The second year, we managed to expand it into the second hole as well, which was, you know, kind of testament to how well your one had gone. Yeah, we actually, we actually found that the heat that was actually generated by the convention happening in the one hole that we took, was having a knock on effect in terms of the ace in the curling hall next door, because they were in the process of just laying the ACE and they do it in layers on a certain level of humidity that's required has to be kept within certain parameters. And so much heat was being created by all the gaming and all the people in all we had it skewed that completely cause condensation, which then dripped from the ceiling on to the esos it was forming completely warped it so they had to go back to the drawing board and actually start that all over again. So that's the power of gamers for you, we can help a
lot of heat generated the amount of condensation in the room just oh no
oh my god QQ sweaty nerd jokes almost immediately
so that first year that that first hall obviously you know, we hadn't done it before. So we had to kind of make some decisions in terms of you know, what we put where and so on. So we were going very strong and as a family friendly, kind of encouraging new people into the hobby as well as actually catering for those who are already in it. So have a sponsored area kind of families on so we wanted that to be quite close to the main entrance we wanted that to be you know, families coming in for the first time immediately seeing something bright and yellow and you know, something familiar and kind of friendly about and Riot, we actually even and this was pure chance, but the running of chairs were more would actually sit in the hall up and the venue also owns a swimming pool next door that went to the swimming pool next door got some extra chairs which happened to be bright yellow plastic chairs. So I've set up in the habit area and it just worked absolutely perfectly from that kind of visual perspective.
Oh wow. A lot of people really thought that was completely deliberate. It's like very much on brand for the for the game.
So if you're listening to this, you know the truth. That's very interesting. Give it to yourselves. And then what we also wanted to do for those that weren't necessarily come in as families, but really maybe didn't have kind of experience of exactly what it was to tip Scotland was going to provide was something someone that you know, people Walk in kind of completely bewildered in terms of what do I do? Where do I go? So we set up a gateway area, close to the cost of but not immediately at the the main entrance into that hole, where we set up it games that are so I guess your traditional sort of gateway style games. So we had things like splendour, we had pandemic, we had ticket to raid, we wanted things that had that were sort of easy to get into easy to explain, had table presence had a bit of pop, that, you know, people would walk past and go, Whoa, look at that. And so bring them in. And we had, we really overdid it in terms of the volunteers on that area, we had pretty much one volunteer per two games happening. So that essentially you could sit down with people, talk them through how the game works, play a couple of rounds with them, and then sort of back off and let them continue the game themselves, and then go on to the next table to teach another game to someone else. And that was it was it was kind of a risk to do that. But I think it definitely sort of paid off
in a lot of staffing relative right to just being able to do that to having just one person per two games. Yeah, I mean, I know running demos on stands like that. It's a very intensive exercise. Yeah,
no, absolutely. And, you know, it's about the right people as well. I mean, you know, conveyances just cannot function without volunteers. And one volunteer is not the same as another volunteer. So some people, they're 40 is shifting tables and chairs, and they're brilliant at it. And they, you know, they've got that kind of logistic element to it just off Pat. But there may be some people who are less comfortable either kind of handling cash, or being sort of Front of House and having that sort of, you know, direct interaction with attendees as they come in. So it's actually being able to not just say, great, we've got a list of 20 people have 30 people who want to volunteer, it's actually scratching the surface and finding out what are your strengths? What are you familiar with, are you the type of person who is going to be at ease with essentially opening up a cold conversation with someone as they walk in to convention for the first time in their life, and not put them off and attract them to, you know, try something that they maybe wouldn't have tried this gateway table or in the habit zone, or whatever it may be. So, you know, it's there's a particular skill set that we were looking for, for those people that were going to staff the gateway section, so that
that's a completely different skill set. You know, being willing and prepared to shift huge numbers of tables and chairs around and just having the patience, just getting all that stuff done. And thinking about those logistics, and often in a tight space. As someone who used to run a volunteer organization, the thing I would ask is, that must have been difficult right? To find those people. It's hard enough to hire the right people when you've got money to pay people. But if they're volunteers, because there's not really enough money generated by the convention to actually have a fully paid team, How'd you even go about doing that about identifying those people than to do those jobs?
I think probably you're one different from Year Two for that. So that the first time that we did it, I mean, to a large extent, we sort of identified people that we knew who were our friends, or who were members of gaming clubs that we were in, or family members, in a lot of cases that Dave, my fellow director, his two brothers were shoehorned into the library, in both year one and two. So essentially, we had a smaller number of volunteers in that first, that first year that we're essentially press ganged into it, by virtue of knowing us as organisers, year two, what was really interesting is that within, I would say, within days, if not weeks of the first event, haven't finished, we had people who had attended, as you know, as gamers, get in touch with us, you know, without us asking to basically see loved it had a great time, put me down, I want to come back and I want to kind of contribute next year, I want to volunteer, you know, the things that I'd be interested in, do it when it came to you to potentially we had more people than we needed. But you'll always have to look at these things. As you know, if 50 people tell you they're going to do something work on the assumption 25 actually are. Yeah, there's always that little bit of kind of attrition of intention, by the time that actually comes to the event. But But certainly, we had no shortage of people who were kind of volunteering themselves literally to come forward, before we had even put out any sort of clarion call to to ask for people. So I mean, you know, give us a warm, fuzzy feeling that would obviously done something right in year one that people wanted not just to return in year two, but actually so many wanted to be part of the event and actually kind of contribute to it as well.
Yeah, I mean, as you say, I would say that is exactly testament to that. The fact that you before you even had to put a call out, I mean, even to put a call out and get a huge amount of response back would be a hugely positive sign. But if genuinely, people actually were just prepared to offer their services before even knowing that it was definitely gonna be right. And I'm number two, and how that would work. I mean, that makes a lot of sense to me. I mean, we've had this discussion I know before, but it really was one of the best conventions I've ever been to. And and it was really, really fantastic. And so in some ways, it doesn't surprise me that that people did that. And I think it's really interesting thinking about about why that is, I've got some theories as to why I think tabletop Scotland is, was just such a good show back in 2018, which was obviously the first one as well as your first year that I went to. But I'd really like to know, with a little bit of kind of self analysis from you, your thoughts as to why it was so successful? And why did it go down so well, as a convention? Yeah, well, I
mean, I think, you know, as you know, haven't been to a number, I think every conventions kind of got its own its own character, and its own sort of depends of what it does, you know, the, you've got the bigger trade shows, you've got the ones that are more. So it's all about the gaming, and there's not really a kind of a retail or a trade element. There are some that are really play test events to a large extent, some that focus on a particular type of game to another. And I think if I look at tabletop, Scotland, in terms of what we intended it to be in year one, and I think it sort of was the demography of the convention attendees was a little different than you would find in, you know, even any record, which was really one of the things we're aiming for, in that you had a great mix, I think of the gender balance, I think, that seemed interested in a lot. And I think there was also potentially that the family element of it. I mean, some of our probably best targeted advertising budget was a local magazine, which is distributed to all schools and libraries in and around the Perth area. And essentially, that allowed a lot of people who maybe wouldn't have thought about coming to something that was called tabletop, Scotland didn't even know what tabletop gaming was to actually, you know, take upon basically, and come along. And, you know, I remember on must have been the kind of the Sunday morning of the first tabletop, Scotland, I happened to be walking past reception there, my wife and was actually she was kind of front of the judge in front of house. So she shows me the family who had literally just walked in off the street, because they saw the banner outside the convention centre. And and basically came and said, What is this? You know, what am I doing? And I thought, well, rather than me just standing and given them the chapter and verse, well, here's what tabletop gaming is. And I said, Come with me. So this was like, mother, mother, father, and like two kids of about, maybe seven, eight years old, took them into the hall, there was an initial sort of like, whoa, you know, this is this is bigger than I thought it was gonna be. Yeah. And immediately, I took them over to the habit area, we just stood at the side, and just watched a couple of people playing kuruva watched a couple of people play in like a couple of other habit games, you know, renal, renal, Ido, and you know, games like that. And you could just see the kids immediately kind of go, what is this? I've never seen this before. This is brilliant, and immediately pestered, and mom and dad to go, Oh, we've got steam, I've got to do this. And it was, that's why we did it. I think, you know, it's to try and get those people who are so far outside the normal, I guess catchment of that type of event that actually bring in those in, you know, those kids that may be the only games ever played, but it may not, they may have bought rain or hail from the shop, they're gone home and played it talked about it with their mates in the playground, and there's a few more gamers to the future. So I think our ethos was about trying to grow, grow the hobby, be a focal point within Scotland for bringing together what are a very disparate and geographically distant set of gaming groups. Also, you know, the the kind of the shops that are around Scotland, that are pretty tight network, there's a small number of them. But you know, again, just people knowing that they actually have these on the doorstep, and they didn't before. So I think there's a good gender balance, I think there was a different balance of kind of family versus experienced kind of grognards. Yeah, yeah. But the old blended, and, you know, you actually saw people who did not know each other, that were sort of experienced gamers sitting down at tables next to families, and the families were asking them, What is that, you know, they're sitting down a Euro game, what is that? You know, what would you do that, what's all these wooden pieces, and they got talking to one another, and ended up actually getting a game over the library and certain play in that with one another. So, you know, see, when you see experiences like that, that is that, lets you know, that's what we were aiming for. And that's, that's kind of what the events sort of delivered, and often haven't spoken to you after the event as well. But, you know, when you when you're a play test and magnet there, and I think you had some kids, you know, kind of Yeah, some of those play test groups, which potentially give you a slightly different view on how people approach the decisions in the game sometimes compared to what you may have been used to before.
Oh, totally. I mean, I think for me, there's this really interesting question about the family kind of atmosphere. And I think it was it's more than just even it's like attendance I would say it's atmosphere was something I just I really noticed. It's so fascinating to hear that you actually advertised in kind of local media, right? Because this element has is so cool. quickly gone from lots of what we think about board games, you think, well, this is this ultra niche thing. It's something that the nerds are into. And the nerds will find each other on the internet and they'll meet up. But there isn't like a space for, but no one else is going to be interested, right. And that can sometimes be the attitude and you've gone well Now hang on a minute. Let's advertise this to local people and see what happens when that happens. And I think it's interesting. They're talking about your idea about the accessibility as well, because it sounds like to me to make that work. Sounds like there's an advertising strategy. But there's also a kind of how you structured the room as well has to feed into that. Because presumably, if you put Twilight Imperium at the front, when people are coming in, they're not that that's not going to sell that to the kids, perhaps in quite the same way.
Absolutely. I mean, I think one of the things that we did in year two that you you wouldn't have seen because you didn't need to make it to your to sadly, but we we had the media game walk the plank, which you may be aware of. So yeah, yeah, that's a small, you know, really small kind of card based game, really, we made a life sized version of that fantastic. So we had like a big ship, and we had bits of plank to take away and we had a big crack in on the floor and all the rest of it, and basically join one of our fellow directors as well, he, he basically said, if we did that, and nothing else, it was worth it. Because we had people gathered in teams before, they didn't know each other in some cases, before they got together in these teams, and basically had giant cards, one person filling the cards, the noise coming from that coordinate was brilliant, I'm sure some of the people sit and play in the 18X Games maybe weren't so keen on that, again, from from an atmosphere perspective, you know, everyone was looking at going, Whoa, what's up what's happening over there. And I think that's what a convention gives you that just a game doesn't, you know, you wanting to do something that you wouldn't be able to just do by, you know, putting a game down the table and playing it with your mates, you could, you know, you want that you can just book any church role in the country. And, and that's what you get, a convention has to give you something over and above that, and whether that's access to, you know, interesting, you wouldn't, you wouldn't have access to anywhere else, whether that's been able to try out a new game that's either not hit the market yet. It's in development, or, you know, something that is hard to get hold of, you know, or whether it's bringing buy, or whether it's, you know, any of the different types of zones that we've set up. These aren't necessarily things that, you know, you could get every day of the week. And that's what makes it you've got to give someone a reason to pay their, you know, their 10 quid or the 15 quid to come along to pension. But you know, for a lot of people that I've spoken to, it's about meeting up with people that they've not met up with all year, or only conventions, for example, and that's a big reason for a lot of people.
Just to say that, that strikes me that that's probably one of the big motivations particular behind a show like aircon, I think it's so interesting. You mentioned that as an inspiration, because obviously, we did that as well, on the kind of campaign trail for magnate, we went to air con. And it was absolutely brilliant place to meet loads of people who are already kind of quite big in the hobby space, like I met loads and loads of really cool people, lots of reviewers and people like that, who were just hanging out having a good time playing games. But it had a very, very different atmosphere to something like tabletop Scott, as you said, like because it did seem very much more like it's about getting together just just a play lots of play things. It's very open gaming focused. I mean, very deliberately. It's not like that's an accident in terms of the design of the show. But yeah, that seems like that's very, very different to kind of what you were trying to try and
try. Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, I've got to seal it. Yeah, of course, as I said, it was very much sort of the inspiration for kind of what we were aiming for in year one. And Mark and Ben have been absolutely brilliant in terms of kind of support and advice for us, when we were initially kind of setting things up and actually have supported in terms of some of the tech as well that we've we've kind of introduced in terms of the library and the bringing buy and so on
is really like you share technology, as well.
So we've collaborated on that. And you know, obviously that's important as well that UK games export the amount of support the gift conventions like year corn and like tabletop, Scotland's fantastic, you know, there's a number of things that we really were able to do in year one and year two, that financially would have probably been beyond us had we not had support in terms of you know, the loan of cat. So even just things like Cafe barriers, printing, but for roll up banners, and so on your things like that, that you don't necessarily think about because they're just background dressing from an attendee perspective. But actually, they make a difference in terms of the visibility of, you know, split out different areas of a whole, for example, UK games export are very, very proactive in terms of support and like local shores around the rest of the UK, because it's it's a two way street. They promote us, you know, it helps us increase potential attendance, but actually, you know, speaking to, you know, speak to you know, Richard and Tony, basically there are people who live in Birmingham, who are gamers who don't know that UK games Expo happens in Birmingham every year. Yeah. And so you make assumptions all the time that Oh, well. It's the biggest show so everyone knows that. vote at all. So actually having UK games export, I guess, advertised across, you know, tabletop, Scotland and aircon kind of merchandise and the programme and so on, you know, it helps them massively as well as us. And having a strong network of good quality conventions across the UK helps everyone and it helps it helps this hobby to grow, and to reach new people. And and to kind of make sure that, you know, we're still going to have conventions in 5-10, 15 years.
Yeah, that's really interesting. That's fascinating. I don't think I'd realised the extent to which there wasn't that level of support in the thing I've always noticed, of course, is the lanyards. Because you get the UK games Expo lanyards as a kid, as an attendee, you're like, Aha, there's some kind of cross promotion going on here. But actually, not to that extent. So when you so those are the printed things like the banners, so they actually they were paying for the printing of materials.
So So I mean, essentially, you know, we've kind of worked with them and advanced it to essentially look at what our requirements would be, even things like technology. So obviously, you're running a games library, you run the bring and buy, if we're doing that in a kind of technological way, as opposed to literally just pen and paper. One and that was,
that sounds like a nightmare, to be completely honest.
But actually, you need that kit. So actually just having, you know, barcode printers, scanners, laptops to operate everything from, you know, that kit, if we're going to have to fork out ourselves for that, that's a huge cost for us to have to absorb, particularly in the early years of a convention. So being able to borrow that that sort of equipment from UK games, export, use it, you know, and allow us to kind of grow our convention, and ideally, to the point where we no longer potentially need to borrow that kept from them. We've grown to a point where we can be kind of self sustaining as a convention, but you know, you need you need help to get there in the first place. And, and having that level of support from you know, a convention of their size is absolutely fantastic. And be a bit beyond the kind of the actual physical stuff. And the financial savings. The advice is absolutely invaluable. A number of conversations we've had with Richard Tony, you know, with Mark and Ben from the year couldn't see the things as well about things that they did wrong in the early days or things that they would have done differently if they could go back really massively helped us to essentially skip the front steps. You know, I've been going to every aircon you know, since the since the one that was in Mark's house with 20 of his friends have been at everyone since that point, you know grow from a church hall in Bradford Yeah, with our retailer, all the way up all the way up to what it is now you know, taken up however many different floors of the convention centre.
It is about if I'm if I'm right in saying it just just because I think it's maybe useful for the listeners understand some of the scale of these conventions, so aircon, that's about 5000 attendees, the four or 5000
rooms. I think if you're looking at the turnstile as in like, everybody, I think you're probably about 5000, or certainly certainly over sort of 2002 and a half 1000 unique attendees for aircon right? To put that in context. Our first year at tabletop, Scotland, we had just over 1000 unique attendees, which was it blew our minds. Second year, we managed to grow that to over 1500 unique attendee Wow. Which is why we could manage to have the two halls. Yeah. But yeah, we, when we were first initially trying to look at things, we had a sort of a kind of gold, silver bronze sort of plan. You know, if we only sell 300 tickets, here's what tabletop Scotland looks like, if we only sell, you know, 500 tickets, here's what Scott looks like, if we sell 600, here's what it looks like and 600 reserve sort of, that's a great result point. And we ended up with over 1000. So you know, we just use, you have to be flexible in terms of the planning, you have to have a kind of fallback plan. And you have to work on the assumption that you're not going to grow based on what you did the previous time. So although we grew by 54%, in that second year, in terms of attendance, we had to plan on the basis that we were not going to sell a single ticket more than we did in year, year one, even though our costs significantly increased by us taken additional space within the venue. So and we also had a few kind of sunk costs in that second year as well, which, you know, are one off costs, which, you know, will will benefit us when we eventually get back to doing conventions again. Yeah, you know, there were some things that, you know, because we knew this was not just going to be a one off show, we could take that leap to say, you know, okay, we can buy like a five year licence for this. So we can, you know, we can invest in this kit, because we know we're going to be using this for 3456 years to come. But yeah, and then in terms of scale, obviously then you've got your UK games export around, you know, I think they were like 20 to 30,000 kind of unique people over over a number of days that 20 to 30,000
unique people because this is one of those things always thinks we're interesting about how conventions are measured, right is that there's there's kind of two metrics You've got turnstile which understand that this is like entrance and exit on a day. Yeah. Which is that what Spiel use as well?
Basically, if I've got a ticket for three days and I go in every three days, I count as three and the turnstile. Right. Okay, okay, there's one in uniques. Right? Okay. Make sense? Generally unique is unique is probably the more useful measure to let you know generally how many people have come to your convention. turnstile has its uses, though, because the turnstile figures will allow you to know who's come back, and will allow you to know how many people have maybe bought a ticket for one day and then upgraded to come back for the next day.
Ah, interesting. So quite useful for you internally to kind of work out. Okay, is the convention hitting the mark is it making people want to come back for multiple days?
Lindo, who's who's who's coming for Saturday only who's coming for Sunday only who's there for the entire weekend, who has bought a ticket for Saturday only, but then upgraded it to a full weekend ticket, because have enjoyed themselves on the Saturday. So these types of things will can assure us what we're doing right. And also what point of a weekend is the right team to target certain activities. So while it's something that is maybe going to attract more people in, don't necessarily do a time when you're already going to be busy. You need a team where actually you've got a bit of a lag. And actually, if you put something on that's going to kind of attract more people to come for that thing. You have a more I guess you have a flatter sort of curve.
And you know, you've known but the peaks and troughs of activity, Saturday is always going to be busier than Sunday, that Sunday doesn't have to be kind of, you know, hangover morning, and then you know, people are into the afternoon. If you have the right things on at the right time to attract the right people, then you'll you know, you'll you'll have a busy enough buzz over the entire event.
So that that presents another interesting distinction for me about how you plan those events out. And because you obviously another aspect of your show is that you seem to have quite a few things where there's there are like set piece things going on. So for example, you mentioned the walk the plank, life size version of this game, something like that. So how would you go about planning those those then you said that it's obviously you can see the effect of them somewhat in the turnstile data. But how are you then planning that out?
So that I guess there's a few factors too. So I guess probably the first thing to say is that kind of our convention is not purely a board gaming convention, try to kind of kick many different elements of the tabletop hobby as we can. So actually,
this is why tabletop Scotland, not for example, board games, Scotland.
Exactly, exactly. And role plays a significant part of that. So Dave, the other day to have not spoken about so far, he basically is really into his role playing. So of the four of us who are sort of the directors, they're really each of us are into everything, that we all have our own particular bit of focus. So for me, it's the element of it is really a role player at heart join as a Wargamer, which is probably the one area of the tabletop hobby that we've we've sort of struggled to sort of integrate fully so far. Interesting. Why do you think that is kind of interesting. Space is a large part of that, because I think if you're looking commercially at, you know, how do we make this a viable, you know, financial endeavour, you know, we're not looking to make a profit from it, we're not looking to become rich from it, we're looking to basically allow it to wash its own face. And if you have got the size of table that you need to have a game of Warhammer 40k, or, you know, ages Sigmar or something like that with two people around that that table. Oh, I see. Yeah. How much is that space generated? versus how much does that space cost us? As opposed to if you have, you know, eight people at two different tables playing Euro games there, there's a people for the same amount of space. So it can come down to a fairly brutal kind of commercial decision. Now, you know, for you know, whether we stay in the same venue and just know, forever or not, or whether we are able to sort of move elsewhere and sort of have additional space, I think that then opens up more opportunities in terms of the Wargaming part of the hobby. Yeah, you know, we've had, you know, talking about the events we've had, you know, Warhammer underworlds event a couple of times, right, yeah. Games work. It's
a kind of adventure, kind of more board game from memory. I never played it.
It's really kind of two player small scale skirmish. Okay, makes sense. teams of five miniatures against teams of five miniatures card basically played relatively quickly. And so So John, who I mentioned, who's, you know, particularly into the Wargaming, part of the hobby, and he had a number of contacts at Games Workshop who'd spoke to so we actually had a grand clash, the first first and only Evergrande flash that's happened in Scotland for this event. And we did that for both of the events that we've had there. So it was sort of a dipping the toe into the kind of the Wargaming because it's not the, you know, three feet by three feet table size, it's small scale, but it's still Games Workshop is still Warhammer. So there's elements of that in there as well. But yeah, so in terms of the event schedule, Dave, you know, really led that in terms of kind of At the end element to it, because obviously that's going to be your the bulk of your interest, but also making sure that other role playing systems had, you know, had events and we had hundreds, you know, across the two of us were hundreds of sessions, you know, three and a half hour sessions split across the day in five different slots each day that we had them there. We had an epic event for Dungeons of dragons, which I don't feel we're where
it is, but I'd like to know more. It's essentially
a linked event. It's something that very rarely happens with.
i Sorry, I think I remember this actually. Yeah, please go on. Explain. I think it's a convention concept.
So Dave, Dave was aware of this from sort of his his d&d background, and he managed to kind of speak to some of the guys at Wizards of the Coast when he was in GenCon. A convention he goes to every so often and never mentioned. So essentially pestered away. So we got first of all, we got some scenarios for d&d written by Wizards of the Coast writers, specifically for tabletop, Scotland. Wow, no officially available in scenarios
written for tabletop, Scotland, extraordinary.
We were essentially the premiere event for these these scenarios, and they're now available there in the wider world. So that was a bit of a feather in our cap to start with. But then the epic event is essentially, you have multiple different kind of tables, all playing the same game at the same time, but they're linked. So you have sort of one grant so every table will have its own its own dungeon master and the players as you would expect for any game of d&d. But there's sort of a room dem as well. And occasionally, something will happen on one of these tables, and the game will stop. And something something will be spoken about that's happened on one table that affects what's happened on every other table. Now, I don't know if I'm spoiling in this view. Oh, wow. I won't say spoiler alert before I see anything. Yes.
Spoiler alert. If anyone wants to play with these, these scenarios that was that the ghost wrote for this? Yeah,
there's one of these tables one of these groups found a magic tomb of some description. And for whatever reason, one of the characters decided to destroy this magic tomb. Raider book,
typical d&d players smashing stuff up stealing things from friendly NPCs we know how this works. Yeah, pick up the reader
or the reader or burner. Yeah. So basically, that went for went for destroying the book, The DM then flags to the mean room DM, every other game had to stop. And from that moment on, all magic had been drained from the world because this book was the source of all magic. So anything magic related, immediately stopped across. Someone in the middle of a chain lightning spell, just gone. Someone with a cloak of invisibility sneaking past someone suddenly visible. You know, some, you know, someone trying to cast a fireball spell, nothing happens for the rest of that game. So that's an example of the type of thing that these events can do. And that, you know, that was, well, we know that was 2018. So, you know, that's almost three years ago, and I remember vividly people coming out of that room talking about that, raving about that. Yeah, by the fan. So again, we had another epic that kind of the next year as well. And, you know, I think that's, it's so becomes a self fulfilling, you know, self fulfilling event. Having that type of thing. People talk about it to other people, people then booked it for the following year. And we had, we ensured that basically, with the exception of the epic, which we needed to have a certain number of people for, we had pre sales for every event that we did. So whether it was board game tournaments, that it was role playing events, or whether it was other events, or seminars or anything like that, a certain proportion of the tickets could not be booked in advance. So there was always a chance that you could rock up on a day and kind of decide I want to try d&d, or I want to play Warhammer Fantasy, or I want to sign up for that shade spire tournament or that ticket to a tournament, and you could just sign up there. And then and then that went down really well, because I think sometimes at some of the bigger conventions, everything, you know, everything goes on sale on the same day. And it's basically first come first serve. And if you miss out, tough, you've missed out. Whereas I think having that opportunity to, you know, see what was still available on the day, maybe try out a new system that you've not tried before. You know, we had a few people that you know, you know, dads who had played d&d, when they were in their teens or early 20s came along with their kids. And they were sitting at a table playing d&d with their kids and experience all these things. And like the dad was loving it, because it was bringing up all these good memories. The kid was loving it because the dad was, you know, involved in something that was fun and a bit wacky, and you know, and you know, on the back of that they were coming away having like bought books and day snow, the rest of it and these people came back the next year to take part in that haven't had a year of actually playing d&d themselves at home. So you know, wow, really cool. It was just like that it came over when we asked for feedback. And you know, just, you know, there were people as they were leaving on the end of the second day of the first convention, coming up to you know, those that were sitting of the front desk, you know, unprompted, just saying, we had a great time, you know, here's the thing that we did. Here's an experience that we had. And you know, you don't you don't do that unless you genuinely have had a good time. You know, no one's asking them on your way out. You're not allowed to leave the building unless you tell us what we like what your best experience. Yeah, so that was that was being as I said, we had some seminars in year one, but only maybe one or two. And then we looked in year two to try and sort of build on that. So we had we had of life painting seminars that Okay, right. It was like painting miniatures, that kind of thing. Yeah, exactly. So, so we had, we had that we had a number of kind of panels in terms of game design, you know, a number of terms of advice on Kickstarter and other means of essentially getting your getting your game out there.
So would it be fair to say then, that it's sort of like you're, it's like you're deliberately building the more you talk about this, like a sampler for people to some extent, right? The conventions almost like this. It's this playground where you've got all of these different opportunities all going on. So you've got this. Firstly, things that just impossible to do, because there's a big group like the links roleplay. And you've also got some interesting topics to learn about subjects. And you've got these kind of accessible set piece kind of games. So it's almost like it is like a truly a fairground.
Yeah, that's a good description of actually, there really is a plenty of clones there as well. It's got to be said, Yeah. But yeah, no, definitely a little bit of everything. And, you know, there's a lot of things we would have loved to have been able to do. You know, either space or time, you know, constrained us, for example, we really wanted to have a mega game.
Oh, right. Yeah. So just just anyone who's not certainly clear on what mega game is, this is just to describe that if you wouldn't mind what Yes,
generally invited once this one was called watch the skies. And basically what it is, you're going in teams, and essentially, this particular particular mega game, each of you represents a country of the world, and one of your country's prime minister or president, someone's like the Minister of War, you've got a science, or, and you've, you've got a foreign secretary type person. And essentially, it's an alien invasion scenario, that thing cool. So you have a team, who are you're basically kind of running the game, they know all the secret stuff that's about to happen. One team is of aliens and everyone else's their countries, that you've got kind of real world stuff happening. So like espionage and warfare, and kind of the United Nations sort of thing. All this is happening. And at the same time, you've got this layer of weird things are happening, and not everyone knows about. You also have a team who are basically the local media, and they're going around getting quotes from people, usually when they're not particularly guarded, and what they're seeing. So this person could just say, like, Who do you think was responsible for you know, selling humanity badly to the aliens and UK, people will probably go over the French. Next thing, you know, they've printed out today's newspaper with UK blames French for such and such, and then they get distributed around the entire either the entire place. So it's, there's not really a winner and a loser. It's just a really good experience that's different from anything that I've really kind of participated in before.
It sounds to me like, it's almost like a gigantic role playing experience.
Yeah, absolutely. But I mean, the amount of kind of effort that can have goes into it in terms of kind of the preparation and the running over again, that that's something that, you know, we wouldn't have run ourselves. But we, you know, the event that took part, and, you know, the the group who ran that are, they're the experts in that they have their people who have rights, if we were able to put that on, you know, tabletop, Scotland, we would ask them to run it for us, as opposed to us have to find volunteers and train people up. And you know, they know what they're doing. They know how to make it an engaging and enjoyable experience for everyone.
So part of making this successful, it seems like there's another common thread that I'm noticing throughout this conversation is you've got to find the right people to support you, right and where and you could have gone down your own right, we're gonna learn digital system for the game library management and actually very sensibly relying on UKG. Which, the more you describe it, it's almost like it's dead. It's almost like the mother church, as it were, of the of the UK conventions, has actually provided that Yeah, it makes a lot more sense to get these get people in who know what they're doing for
these things. Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Marshall, obviously the actual system and was on the back of a conversation with Mark via con. Oh, right. Sorry. Yeah. Get the technical kit is was what was provided by by export.
Ah, okay. Right. Yeah, that's a subtlety. That makes sense. Yeah. Yep.
So yeah. So as you say, it's the people to do the particular different parts. So you know, essentially get the experts who know what they're doing to run that part of it. So space was really the main reason why we couldn't have that make. Again, we could have found a corner of one of the halls do it in that an echoey space in a hole is not the perfect environment for an experience like that. You would ideally want a separate room that you know, is off the beaten track, essentially, in order to do that,
do you think we're going to potentially see that then in will hopefully, tabletop, Scotland? 2022. Would that be an Miam?
Yes, well, it's one of several things in the mix several things in the mix, but there's a, there's a lot of things that we'd have to fall by the wayside in order for that to happen. But it's, it's not like we want to just continually always do the same things. We want to kind of rotate a little bit and have some things that I mean, one of the things we introduced in the second year was a starship simulator. Oh, interesting. Obviously, a UK games Expo have had a starship bridge simulator, where essentially you've got a captain's chair, you've got various different stations with the screen, you've got the big monitor, you know, big screen at the front. And essentially, everyone is part of that crew. And there's various scenarios and they're run and so on. And basically it was a Nigel and Sarah Kennington of one free elephant, right? Yep. Nigel also kind of worked with Edinburgh College. So it was a it was essentially Edinburgh College and one free elephant who were running that for us. And to be honest, we could have sold out spaces on that for a week, they were one of the most sessions that we've had. And it's again, for them, it's a lot of effort for them to run it because they're, you know, there's a lot of care. There's a lot of kind of technical expertise required. And also, it was the hottest weekend of Scottish history. I think, when we had tabletop, Scotland 2019. Yeah, hold 10 degrees.
It's good. It's good to say what was that? 10 degrees? Yeah, exactly.
They were stuck in a room with all the windows shut. Everything kind of covered the kind of black cloth. It was a roasting hot room. We had fans everywhere. And it was still roasting. But there were at that every, you know, every sessions, five sessions over the weekend, with a full crew and every single time with deeply things and so, so yeah, they did a fantastic job. And again, that's something that we didn't do in year one, that we found a way to do in year two. But yeah, so yeah, back to your point in terms of a lot of kind of sampler of everything. I mean, seven seminar as you have, you know, role playing, we had tournaments for board games, you know, we had the pandemic survival, you know, an official qualifier.
Yes, yes, yes, yes, is that
essentially, everyone appears playing a game of pandemic at the same time, but there is only one deck of cards, which was myself actually ran that particular job. Oh,
I didn't realise that's how it worked. So everyone's working into the same deck.
Yeah. So that the only things that are different in the game are the decisions you make in terms of where you go, which is very clever. But it's the same cities that have been infected everywhere. So essentially, it's last team standing, wins, and we had to settle as best we had won one final only in the first year, the second year with the two semi finals and a final. And the winner of that goes through to the final UK games Expo. And then the winner of that gets through to the World Final, which i Wow, yeah, mystery destination. So it's been in the Netherlands, it's been in the US. It's been in Spain. So essentially, if wherever there's been a special edition of pandemic, they've held a world champion giant.
Yeah, it was mostly things like there's Hollywood movies, where there's the plucky underdogs are going to make it through to regionals and nationals, and that kind of thing is, is that it's really interesting. Oh, wow, I find this very compelling, you clearly have a kind of really clear vision for this. So this accessibility point, I find, I find really interesting, because it seems like everything you've decisions you've take her and making this sample everyone can kind of enjoy, it's very easy to get new people into you've deliberately advertised to kind of local people, not just your kind of core hobby nerds, how do we go further than that? My question to you is like, what, what do you see is like, I drive accessibility even further, are there other people that still not reaching? Like, how would you go about expanding the kind of board game franchise, so to speak almost to more people?
It's, yeah, it's a fair point. So I mean, you know, the, as you say, the geeks will find the geeks, you know, the, the true hardcore of the hobby will will, you know, will find its way to us at some point, that the family element is something where we have to work a little bit harder to kind of bring in disability is something that we can have thought long and hard around. So I don't know if you remember from the year you were, there were quite big spaces between a lot of the tables. Yeah. And you know, so there was, you know, clearly like a metre and a half space between chair backs in rows of tables. And that was a very conscious decision. You know, we could have packed those tables in much tighter and potentially had more people in and a for it to feel like a more kind of spacious environment to play games, people will bump into each other and want to stand and talk. We don't want to block with, you know, block areas that you know, people potentially in wheelchairs might want to get through with any other kind of, you know, mobility issues. You know, we wanted to make sure that it you know, it was as inclusive, innovative From that perspective as possible, you know, obviously the venue had certain physical restrictions that would prevent, you know, wheelchairs going into certain areas. But we always tried to make sure we had a sort of a workaround for that for exam, right. Make sense? What I mean, actually, one of the things that were a bit disappointed with potentially in the first year was the the quality of the wheelchair ramps. So as I mentioned, the come the hall had reserved a bowling Hall. So the actual floor of the Convention Centre was actually slightly sunken from the level that you would walk into the room from, so only six inches or a foot. Yeah, so we needed to have, you know, a means for for wheelchairs to go down. And they technically did provide ramps, but we'd argue that they weren't necessarily fit for purpose, in terms of kind of how sturdy they were, and so on. So that was part of our feedback to the venue was around, look, if we're going to be continuing to come back and bring in this crowd in here. Yeah, we really need you to think about these things a little bit more, and we need you to kind of, you know, ensure that that, you know, what we asked for is sort of provided from that perspective. It's also a venue over two floors, as well. So there was a left to allow for sort of the food and drink areas upstairs that I mentioned, we had a bar. Yeah, you know, that was something that we, you know, early on in day one, we, you know, discovered that we're storing some, you know, food boxes and things like that outside the lift doors upstairs. And that's not good is it, you know, wasn't our accessibility left so that, you know, there's there if they have to punch their way through packets and quavers to get into that. So yeah, so when we look through it from that perspective, one of the other things that we try very hard to do in the second year was look at the makeup of our panels for seminars. So we're very aware of that. As for organisers, we are a pretty homogenous group of sort of, you know, mid 40s, balding, slightly Tubby beard, white men, and, you know, so we, you know, we really wanted to make sure that we could have, you know, sort of, in a representation of, you know, some women in the industry and, you know, some people of colour and industry to actually kind of talk to us from their perspective, as opposed to just us talking about the experience, that's going to be the lived experience of 95% of the people in that in that hall. And that actually, you know, it was very difficult to find, certainly within Scotland, that level of diversity that we would ideally want. So, you know, we did manage to have, you know, in some of the roleplay and panels, you know, we have a few guests to come over from Europe to kind of talk as part of that I mentioned Siena, Cannington, earlier on from one free elephant, you know, so she took part in some of the the kind of the crowdfunding stuff based on some of their their own experiences, you know, and you know, that, that that was great, that you're still conscious that even having made a deliberate effort to increase that diversity of what the seminar kind of panel looks like, we're still sure of, you know, a large part of the population that, you know, we would want to hear from you know, your work, or even if it's like, why are you not there? Love it? Yeah. I mean, what are the barriers, you know, admittedly, Scotland is, you know, 90, probably 98%, of White country, but, you know, there's still, you know, 2% of people who live up here, and there's a lot of people who don't live here, who will want to come to tabletop, Scotland, and we want to kind of make it as inclusive and environment as we possibly can. But, you know, without knowing what it is that blocking that from happening at the moment, it's quite difficult to, you know, kind of get to that point
completely. Well, I think, as you you know, having listened to the episode with Nick, that's something he talked about was very much about like that, because obviously, Croydon particularly is very, very diverse. So it's an area where and there was probably quite a relatively big mismatch between the number of people who were kind of coming in, versus certainly the local area. And I think actually, I could understand some people being being cynical on this conversation. But I just think that they forget that that really important part of this is that is that you know, games very much are for everyone. And I think what's really cool is, is that actually, the evidence is when you it seems to be I mean, just just from what you're saying about families, you advertise the local area, you'd say, Hey, there's this tabletop thing going on, they've not even heard about before. And actually straight away, you're getting people who aren't the usual suspects, because as you said, the top a slightly bald head men in their 40s. I mean, that is you are describing lots of people in board games there. Right. Okay. And certainly, we're talking about, you know, people from certain social demographics or whatever, very much like there's that there are certain groups that are more commonly historically associated with it. But I think that is something that's changing all the time, partly just because as board games become better known, more broadly, I think, I think that's a no, that's a really important point in terms of doing everything you can to bring people on, I mean, that that's how I feel about board games. And there's an essay which I keep meaning to write, for ages about the use of language and board games, and one of the big ones is the use of the phrase, our hobby, and how much I actually intensely dislike this phrase, because to me, it seems like very strongly like you look at human history. I only discovered recently to my shame that backgammon dates back to Something like 3000 BC. And that, you know, that's such a key part of the human experience. And they've got really, really good in the last 20 years. And there's a huge opportunity to like massively extend that to lots of people, it feels to me like we shouldn't be biting off every chance we can to do that. So I think that's, that's one of the reasons why I really like I found myself really, really liking your show, because it did feel like that. And to your point you made to me earlier about magnet, I thought that was really interesting in terms of it did give me play test feedback with children very directly, that other shows would have been, you know, some really great people that were definitely bought my products who like got really interesting feedback about design, they paid like hundreds of games, but they're not going to give me the feedback that children are going to in terms of the bits that they're zeroing in on. So I think that seems like to me, that seems like a really, it's a really important point, what you're trying to do there, I think is a really valuable thing to do. Okay, well, we've got a couple more questions I want to ask you. And I want to make sure I got some listener questions, because actually loads of listeners sent in tonnes of questions this time. And I promise some of them are serious about about what we did. But before we move on to that, I'm kind of really interested to hear about kind of where you think first things are going in terms of in terms of the industry in general, because obviously, you're on the forefront of this trying to expand the franchise extend more people to get get more involved into games. So where are conventions going next? So the question I'd ask and maybe the much bigger, broader question of where do you think board games are going next?
So yeah, so conventions? I think there's still going to be an appetite for I guess, COVID. happens when the other side of COVID have to talk about this one? Yeah. Yeah. Because, you know, I mean, clearly, it's been a great couple of years to be a convention organiser. But you know, how will COVID affects people? You know, will we see, you know, we momentum is really important in terms of tabletop conventions, you know, so I mentioned that kind of the move from year one to year two, you know, we obviously started ticket sales for year three, when when COVID sort of kicked in, and things were looking really good. We'd actually, you know, we're at a point of ticket sales early on in that year, that, you know, we were fairly confident we're going to see, you know, another significant growth on what we've done in year two, but do we have to reset our expectations? No, in terms of attendance levels, you know, do we, you know, we were thinking, year three, for us was going to be a three day convention, then suddenly, we're like, even at the point where we thought we might still be able to do tabletop, Scotland, 2020, we then started to think is that a good idea to go three days and increase our financial risk with great uncertainty in terms of what the restrictions will be? How many people would even be interested in coming at that point? And, you know, you ask online, and we did, we did survey people, in terms of, you know, what we just thought to be in terms of coming to a socially distanced tabletop gaming convention, you know, what sort of things would put you off from coming? What things would you be happy enough to accept? You know, as always, with these things, it's the it's those are the most entrenched positions that will get back to you. Is the silent middle are the ones that you really want to hear from, but
yeah, the hardest to get, as well, as doable,
I, you know, I don't care if you know, my head's fallen off, and everyone around the boat is on fire, I will still go to a convention. And then the other side of things you have those that are, look, I'm too nervous about this. Just know, you know, maybe in a year maybe into yours, certainly not no. And, you know, do we have to plan on the basis of kind of flat attendance for a couple of years, do we have to plan on the basis of a reduced attendance potentially, you know, for a year or two, and then build back up from that point. You know, it's interesting to look at what UK games export going to have to do this year. So obviously, the event is later in the summer than it would normally be. And obviously, there's a restriction in terms of the capacity of the venue, they don't have the Hilton Hotel element of it this year, which they would normally have. And obviously, they've got the potential barrier to entry of, you know, testing and so on to, to get into the venue. So, you know, obviously, they're going to take a significant hit in terms of their attendance level this year. But they'll probably be looking over the next couple of years to build back up to the point that they were at the last physical convention they held, as opposed to expecting that they'll grow from that point, because you're still gonna have that nervousness. Understandably. You know, I think you may find more people would visit as a a day trip as opposed to necessarily encamped themselves for a two or three day convention. Are people willing to go as far for those things, you know, how many would still think nothing of you know, going to Essen for, you know, three, four days, you know, we'd people go from from Kent to tabletop, Scotland as as they do when people go from Scotland to Kent, as we have done, you know, it's a long trip for something that if you have concerns about, you know,
yeah, it changes the kind of maths in people's head write about like overall as a proposition, even if it's something where it's not that someone is particularly frightened on it, but just that they're thinking out When you add up all the things, and I guess, this classic what's I guess, technically a collective action problem, which is that if other people suspect other people might not go, maybe that's good to go. Which compounds? Obviously,
it's a fair point. Absolutely. Fair point. But yeah, I mean, again, I think, you know, some some tabletop conventions are probably slightly better placed than others for this type of kind of post COVID environment. So, you know, we've talked about different types of convention, probably the larger ones with the larger convention centres, and the ones with the biggest risks financially. There's, you know, kind of two or three year deals, there's probably penalties for things being reduced at the last minute and things like that. Oh, yeah, a different one more flexible, you know?
Yeah, essentially, question. So one of the additional questions Oliver was asking this, he was sort of asking two things, I guess, if it's an international convention, which touches on the point of like, where the tabletops Scotland attendees from because obviously, I don't live in Scotland, but I very much was very keen to come to the first one, which I think is interesting touch on, firstly, what the impact of the reduction international businesses is, probably, I'm guessing less of a problem for you than say, for example, for UKG, and certainly less of a problem than for Essen. And then also, how do you insure yourself against it? Because I think he's thinking partly also financially like that, that is a bit of a problem, right?
Yeah, I'll answer the second question first. So in terms of insurance, to be honest, it's just one of those annoying costs that you just have to take a bath, and that you can't run an event without that. And, you know, I think we got a call early on and in COVID, for what our insurance would be relative to what we had before and it was it was virtually double, in fact, actually was more than double. And that was with a kind of loyalty discount as well. So you know, the insurance industry doesn't really know what it's doing, whether at this moment in time, either. But, you know, as an organiser, these events, if you want to insure yourself, for every potential outcome, you have to just pay whatever the you know, shop around, obviously, but if that's what the industry is telling you, that's what you have to pay to insure against this type of cancellation, then, sadly, you know, very sadly, that's. But I mean, again, it comes back to every convention is different. And, you know, every, every venue is different as well. And, you know, we've been really lucky, I mean, it took a long time to find the juror centre, but we've been really lucky, that venue really works with us, you know, we've all grown, they've wanted us there. And I mean, at the end of the day, I think we're, we're the most profitable event they've ever held. Because what they're used to is sort of, you know, trade shows and model real issues where people come along for an hour and a half, maybe grab a cup of tea, have a sandwich, and then off they go. Whereas tabletop gaming codes will turn up at nine o'clock on day one, and they're there till midnight, and then they'll turn up at nine o'clock on day two, and therefore, and they drink and they spend money. And, you know, we are good for them, they are good for us. Very flexible. So and actually, when it comes to the contractual arrangements, they've actually been quite flexible in that as well. Where is that? Oh, that's
So you know, I mean, we've had to kind of, you know, change things, both in year one and year two, between what we originally kind of asked for, and what we ultimately needed. And the level of flexibility they've shown with us, you know, allowed us to do all these sorts of things. Whereas, you know, potentially, if you're, you know, I don't know how it works with a venue like the NEC or you know, the Messer in Essen, or whatever it is, but I would imagine the T's and C's of that are pretty watertight in terms of any changes having a financial cost. Again, it's down to how I guess how good that relationship is, with your venue in the, in the first instance, for the first part of the question, again, that was around
just about the international visitors international element. Yeah,
it's a difficult one to answer because obviously, we've not put on an event since either a, you know, either COVID or Brexit for that matter.
But oh, well, that eventually asked that, because because that's not the question that Ian had was this was this one about how Brexit affects exhibitors as well.
So I think so we were starting to have some conversations with some of our exhibitors around Brexit, and how that might complicate things slightly before COVID happened. So we have a small number of kind of international exhibitors, and you know, from Ireland and some from mainland Europe, but you know, we're having conversations around how it was going to work in terms of, you know, stock being moved across the borders of things, and because we just didn't know at that point, essentially, more pencilling things in but you know, being really flexible in terms of look, if this turns out to be completely impractical because of cost or because of, you know, what things look like at the border because we just don't know that then. You know, we'll take a decision on that. I mean, I think, you know, given what I've just said about flexibility of a venue I think we'd be quite cheeky if we were inflexible in turn with without examine. Yeah, and I think one of the things that we've always prided ourselves on is being quite easy to work with and quite easy to deal with. In terms of kind of that exhibitor side of things. So we've always had, you know, a good common goal, we've been really clear about what our costs are, we've been, you know, really upfront in terms of options. So you'll find it for exhibit a stands, for example, for us, we've never charged extra for tables and chairs, and so on, we essentially include our cost, whatever is required in terms of tables and chairs for the space that you have that you know, you bought. Yeah, and which in a lot of conventions, sort of, you know, you buy the space, and then you buy the tables, and then you buy the chairs, and you buy the access to electricity, and you're buying the right for Wi Fi. The major approach we just visited, our cost per square metre, is including anything you require in terms of furniture, power, Wi Fi, that type of stuff. So again, it's that level of flexibility of tell us what you need. And we'll we'll do it if we can basically make sense. But yeah, so in terms of kind of, you know, kind of COVID impact in terms of Brexit impact, you know, we've not seen that because we've not actually held an event since kind of those those sort of come too late. But I would imagine from a retail point of view from an exhibitor point of view would be more of an issue than it would from an attendee in a visitor point of view, you know, certainly the last event that we did have, which again, bear in mind is pre COVID. We had North American attendees, we had people from Australia, New Zealand. Come in like Europe, we had some people from European retailers and publishers, who came as guests with a view to sort of scoping out, you know, is this is a good idea. Yeah, me too. Because, you know, you don't know, do you? I mean, if you're, if you're sitting in Germany, some random people, and here we're tabletop, Scotland. Yeah. You don't know what it is. But if you've gone on holiday Scotland anyway, why not? Kind of yeah, check it out. Right. convention. So yeah, so So you know, definitely got a lot of kind of positive, positive kind of noise from that type of thing. But, again, as with everything else, that's, you know, how does, how does Brexit actually shake down because I don't think even though we're anywhere close to knowing what the the kind of final shape of how that UK kind of interaction is going to look?
So more painful seems to be the only the only certainty. But as you said exactly how it will look very difficult to know, this raises an interesting question that Alex had just missed note, what about talking on the topic of the future of conventions, where you think they're going? How does the online thing fit into this online conventions? Are they something which is worth it? Is it a failed experiment? Is it A, is it something that's not really worth doing? I really keen to know your opinion on that.
I think, if I'm honest, I think it's a little bit from everything there. I mean, if I talk from my own experience, obviously, we when we cancel tabletop, Scotland, 2020, we did have the discussions about whether we do an online, an online version of it, knowing what other conventions had been had been doing at that point, we decided against it. And the main reason that we decided against it is everything that we've spoken about so far. Why did we create tabletop school? And what did we want it to be? We wanted to be that kind of inclusive, reaching out beyond the core of the hobby, yeah, to bring additional people in. And I think that is much easier to do in a physical event than it is in an online event by a guest by nature, it's going to be the people who already knew about it, and already in those Facebook groups and are already you're subscribed to those newsletters, who are going to be the ones who, you know, who gravitate towards that. So you become an echo chamber, you're not really doing anything to grow the participation in the hobby, you're not really to have that, whoa, moment of that, that eight year old kid suddenly seeing Reno heat or for the first time, you know, the bringing by kind of rifling through the shelves, as opposed to looking at online, you know, online thing, but a Facebook page, you know, all the things that kind of made us want to do it, and made us want to do it again and again. We felt we're sort of missing from that online experience. So for us an old ethos and what we wanted our convention to be. He decided not to do that. I should say that Dave did start an offshoot convention, specifically a roleplay. In books, because I think I think that's one of the things we lock down that actually RPGs on Yes, yeah, massively exploded. And it's been a really positive thing from a role playing perspective. So Dave started sort of as a splinter convention, if you like, with a few others called Alba con, which is that was last September was the first event and it's going to be happening again this September. And again, it's purely online at this moment in time, maybe when the world reopens it will become a physical event as well, but it's purely online. At the moment, and it's purely roleplay based, and it works for that, it definitely works for that. But that's very much a part of what we were doing in tabletop, Scotland, and the whole thing distilled into online, I don't think would work. I think it works better for the larger conventions. So I think, you know, whether it's UK games export, whether it's SN, for example, I think the has had, from the sounds of it pretty good, kind of online convention interfaces, but they're not really in the case of s, and particularly looking to kind of reach out beyond the people who would already know that. They're very animal in that regard. So I think for them, it worked pretty well Gen Con falls into that same, that same category, UK games export, you know, potentially fall somewhere between the two, in that, you know, yes, they've got that ready made audience but they also still do want to reach out beyond that, and kind of grow the participate. Well. And the other type of online convention is obviously your smaller scale stuff, which is essentially, you know, someone essentially moderating a discord channel and a Tabletop Simulator experience, that type of thing. And that can work. But again, you're you're focusing on a fixed crowd, as opposed to necessarily that network. And, and, obviously, of course, and they did a sort of aircon event which wasn't an online, they just have like, basically said, this is the weekend that air con would have been happening. So we're just going to do loads of stuff on our social media and discord. And, you know, like, if you want to do something, if you want to, you know, play a game at home, your mates just pushed your foot was on here. And let's see what everyone's doing on this weekend, where we should have all been meeting and how to get to have a great time. And you know that that's probably closer to if we're going to do anything, it's probably that's closer to what we would we would want to do.
It makes sense. I think, to my mind, it's always the the fundamental problem that it is, is ultimately an analogue hobby, right? We partly, let's be honest, partly We do this because it's nice to do things away from screens in isolation. So it's very hard to I'm certainly at that place, translating, as you said, when it comes to recruiting new people, which has huge success with close to impossible. I mean, the way the internet works is that by its nature, it's been very good at supporting existing niches, and growing those niches within kind of already very closely related connections, not really so much for kind of kind of reaching out. So that I find that really fascinating on that question, then of just if you can encapsulate that, because I noticed we're running a little bit short of time here. This is this has been absolutely fascinating conversation, but but on the future of conventions, where do you see them going? Do you? Do you see that the kind of COVID concerns are going to make people go in general being be nervous for a long time? Or is it something that's going to pass? And they're actually going to go back into crazy growth mode? Like they were before this happened?
Yeah, I think I think short term, you're gonna see that that stutter a little bit. And then and then I think in the medium term, I guess it really depends on whether this, you know, whether whatever, you know, comes after COVID. If there's another kind of equivalent thing, right. Yeah. That never happens. But, you know, yeah. Speak of the next time that there's a threat of that, you know, happening. Yeah, everything shuts down. Really? You know, do we do that? It's an interesting question. If I'm honest, I have no idea. And I think, uncertainty in the certainty of this moment in time, but yeah, we I mean, my, my day job, I work for a brewery. And, you know, obviously, over the last year and a half, that has been a very difficult kind of industry to be in as well. And the green shoots are there now in terms of the hospitality industry. But there's still this massive uncertainty of it will not take much for all that has to be shut down again. Yeah. And, and you have to live with that, that fear that it might happen. But you have to continue with the hope that it won't. And I think that's probably the same for conventions. Yeah. One on the basis that, yeah, the green fields are there in the future, we're going to be growing again, that momentum is going to reestablish itself, and we're going to be able to then kick on from there. Well, the back of your head knowing that, you know, we're not over the woods yet.
Yeah. And I guess, would you say very, maybe much the same way. My question about games in general, is that it's actually very hard at the moment to say because my last podcast, I spoke to David Weiss, he was very convinced there'll be there's pent up demand for people to get together again, which I'm convinced that there is, I mean, everyone I talked to seems like the same, but very hard to make predictions right now about the future,
right? Yeah, no, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, you know, and that's a really valid point in terms of that pent up desire to kind of meet up with others and and do things again. So obviously, in the last few weeks, I've finally been able to get round tables and play. You know, again, as I said earlier, I've got a collection of you know, now on 1000 Games upstairs. My wife is not a gamer, and we love the old episode of The Twilight Zone, was going to talk about this called time at last Burgess Meredith. Forget it. I think I know which one this is. Yeah. So basically, it's a librarian who never has enough time to read books. And there's an apocalypse And he's the last last man alive. And he has all these books around them. And he's delighted because actually no has all the time in the world to read all of these books. And he drops his glasses and he smashes them and he can see a thing. That's how I feel.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, ha.
They're all up there. Yeah, yeah. Got played. Wow. Oh, wow. Yeah. That, that, that that desire to meet up and play again, is absolutely there. And I talked about the survey that we'd kind of sent out to kind of former attendees and our kind of newsletter subscribers. And that was, you know, loud and clear, people want it. The only question mark was, when do they want to how soon do they want to be able to kind of do that, in that in that kind of school again, you know, going around their friend's house, you know, five or six of them around a table is one thing, walking into a convention hall with, you know, 1000 2000 3000 other people in there? That's a different level for some people, you know, the ball, how quickly people will, you know, feel? Yeah. And that level of exposure, if you like,
Yeah, completely makes total sense. Okay, then we'll just to kind of finish up to two final questions then. So one, which is, I think, a very naughty question from Janice, which is, how do you really decide who goes where in the convention in the convention, or come on now, spill the beans, who gets the prime slots, we've added this all the chat about kind of vision for accessibility. But come on now, who decides this one,
being pleased and easy to deal with? A long way? That's all I'll say that, uh, ya know, that I did, to be honest. I mean, there are elements of, you know, sponsors will get the praise of sorts, because actually, they're, you know, they're putting their hand in their pocket. And so we've also like, for tabletop, Scotland, we've also got a bit of a soft spot for those who, you know, basically took a risk on us in year one. So, you know, we gave a sort of a discount in terms of the the cost of exhibiting and year two to those who took that punt on us in the first year before we were a known entity. And so you know, if they want something, they tend to get it a bit more. Yeah. But yeah, so So kind of sponsorship year one exhibitors, I guess, eyecatching stands as well. So if you've got like a demo table, like, you know, common during games, and Sterling always bring along like a demo table for miniature games, that's the sort of thing that you want visible so that people react to it and spend a bit of time there as well. So, you know, it's trying to get that mix as well. You don't want all kind of makers in one area. And then all of your kind of publishers another, you want a good mix so that you're walking from someone demoing a game. And then next is someone making, and an artist at the next table, you want that kind of mix of stuff, as opposed to having a an artist draw. And you know, all the all the stuff of miniatures is up the back corner, actually, you want to encourage people to walk around. And in the second year, when we had the two holes, there's a wall between the two halls and three doors. And we made sure we put the retail area in the middle of the two hallss. Oh, nice to get from one hall to the other, you had to walk through the retail area, and you're passing stuff that you maybe would have not seen otherwise. And that seemed to go down quite well.
From what I can imagine. Yeah, I can imagine that we work really well. Yeah. Oh, great. Oh, fantastic. And then the kind of the last question I have this week is from Oliver, who asks, What can we as the community do to support UK conventions?
Attend would be would be the the obvious answer to that question. But I also think And seriously, one of the challenges that we always have, is knowing exactly how many people are going to turn up. And the earlier that we can have tickets purchased the Brett the better idea, we have an interesting shape of what we can do. You know, if everyone's leaving it to the last minute to buy their ticket and then show up on the door, a there's a chance that you may not get in. And if it's a particularly popular year, and secondly, we might have been able to put a bet or Shawn or allow more space for something or or set up a room differently if we knew in advance that our ticket sales were x level compared to y level the year before. So yeah, pre pre pre sales is a massive thing. And I think any can a convention we'd like to have as much entail in terms of who's coming as far in advance as possible.
Right. Makes sense. So So buy those tickets early to support your local convention. And I guess, share as much as you can. So for me to get other people to buy their tickets early as well. And it gives you great data about who's going to come to do that. That's absolutely fantastic. Well, before we finish up, I just like to know a little bit more about anything we should be looking on the lookout for from you in the tabletop Scotland team, or what it's looking like for 2022 Anything which are on the lookout for websites to go to that kind of thing.
Absolutely. Well, the first thing I'd like to say I'd love to be able to give you the dates for tabletop, Scotland, 2022. But at the moment or venue can't guarantee dates because they're still there for COVID At the moment, so Oh, okay, make sense. What point that's going to end so as soon as as soon as we know, we expect it's going to be in one of the last two weekends and August 2022. Right? That's as much as we can kind of see. But nothing's actually booked in yet. But WWW.tabletopScotland.uk will give you as many updates as soon as you know, as soon as we know more, that's where you'll find it. And you can have a look on there in terms of some photos and some information about previous events as well give you a sense of exactly what's happening. Our Facebook group is actually pretty active considering there's not been a convention since August 2019. So it's the small but vocal. And so there's there's a lot of good chat and a lot of them have actually kind of met up in real life, you know, since since meeting at conventions initially. So that's been good sort of Facebook group against just tabletopScotland, or Twitter pages @tabletopScottland, and we're tabletopScottland on Instagram as well, which have nothing to do with cars. Photography in me is not yet not good bedfellows. So yeah, so So the full scale planning for 2022 will start kicking off later this year, we have been toying with do we do a sort of a satellite event, a smaller scale event, at some point early next year, just to sort of bridge that gap between 2019 and 2022 years, three years is a big a big void to have nothing. So again, it really depends on what venue availability is and exactly what we would want that to look like. So it's very much just a sort of a spitball idea at the moment. We're not committing to that at this moment in time, but ya know, certainly, certainly our kind of Facebook group is the hub of the activity at the moment. And our website is where we will put up any information as soon as we have it.
Right. Fantastic. Well, I'm glad that people know where to go to find those things. Well, Duncan, thank you again, so much for joining me today. This was absolutely brilliant. It was great to learn a lot more about it. And it really makes sense to me now. Why I think that came off so well and why I like that that way. I enjoyed your convention so much that kind of that clear, accessible vision. Really fantastic. Well, I hope we get a chance to chat again, maybe as we get closer to 2022 That would be great to have you back or even to reflect on the event maybe when and when it when it finally comes around. But thank you so much again.
thanks very much.
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