Convention Planning: Date and Location

Are you thinking of starting your own convention? That is amazing! From my experience, it is a fun and stressful labor of love that becomes more rewarding with each passing event. While I am always learning and growing, I can share what we have learned so far. Hopefully, this series of articles can help you create something people will be excited about!  This post talks about the importance of the date and location.

Two of the most important aspects of running a gaming convention are the date and location. Pick the wrong time of the year or a poor location, and your attendance will suffer. It is important to note that there isn’t one answer to either of these decisions.

Date

The time of year you host an event is an important decision. There are three main factors we take into consideration when hunting for a date: weather, other conventions, and venue availability.

Mostly weather doesn’t come into play unless you live where it can affect the attendees’ ability to make it to the venue. Mostly this is snow and ice and only if your location does not have a great public transit system. Granite Game Summit happens in one of those kinds of areas. So we avoid hosting a convention in the winter. This isn’t the only large block of time we avoid.

If you plan on having industry, people come to your event then avoid clashing with any of the big conventions. These include GenCon, Origins, PAX Unplugged, GAMA, Essen, Toy Fair, and possibly BGGCon. The summer months are non-stop conventions for game publishers. And the lead up to those events. Overall, we try to give these big events a wide berth by at least a weekend on either side.

On the flip side of this, you could make your convention about one of those other conventions. For instance, running a convention at the same time as GenCon for everyone that can’t get to it. Another idea is running a convention that happens soon after, say Essen, that its main draw are the hot games coming out of a bigger convention. This would mean someone needs to get those games somehow.

Avoiding convention clashing is a big deal to us. Not only do we try to avoid clashing we the bigger events we also try to avoid clashing with any local events in the region. For the Granite Game Summit, that means most of New England. It is hard to do. There are so many events that we can easily miss one. We feel horrible when we accidently clash. We have the same rule as with the larger conventions; We try to avoid any local convention by a weekend on either side.

Depending on our venues’ available dates, we can get stuck with a limited choice set. To avoid this situation, we try to establish early on with the venue the event’s date. Once you establish a relationship with a venue, you can establish a more consistent time of the year.

Location

There are so many choices for types of event spaces you can explore. We look mostly at hotels with event space. There are multiple reasons we do this.

  • Multi-day events need easy access to accommodations unless it is an extremely local event where everyone can head home at night.

  • Hotels usually have food options close to their location.

  • Staff is usually available 24x7, which can make having an all night convention easier.

There are several other options for hosting events that can work very well. While I have never hosted an event at these places, I have attended events that have been.

  • Schools / Universities (May need staff or student organizers)

  • Churches

  • Dedicated event centers

  • Mixed event spaces (For instance, an art gallery that sometimes makes it space available)

  • Businesses with large spaces available (Helps to work for the business)

Any of these options can make a great venue. But it isn’t just the space that makes a good choice. There are several key features that you should be on the lookout for.

Ease of Access

The ability to get in and out of the event space should not be cumbersome. This could mean different things in different towns. Some might need good public transportation; Others might need free parking.

Another variable that can affect the perception of how easy it is to access the location is your attendees. If the attendees are coming from further away near an interstate or even an airport could be a major factor.

The culture of your event will dictate this trait of the location you choose. It could also change over time, so keep an ear to the ground to see what people are saying.

Food

When thinking of food for your event, you need to know your attendees and what is motivating them to come. Is it only to play games or is it more social interaction they are looking for? More than likely, it is both with some focusing on one more than the other. This will indirectly dictate what kind of food options will interest people.

Some will want the quickest food they can get and see it as a necessary evil that distracts from the games. Others will want to head out with a group and take a longer break to enjoy their friends. Being able to satisfy both very general buckets can be a good approach.

The greater the variety and the closer the food choices are, the better. Usually we try to have the venue provide some simple grab and go options like cold sandwiches and salad. Then we also try to pick locations where there is a good variety of food in a short walk or drive. One year we got two food trucks at the venue. This was the best of both worlds. When providing food in this manner, you need to think of two more demographics.

I used to be a vegetarian and one of my partners has celiac (can’t have glutens) so we think of making sure there are food options for everyone. When we have food trucks or the venue provides food, we make sure there is a gluten-free option and a vegan option to cover as many bases as possible.

Expansion

Having a venue that can grow with you can be valuable. Handling of expansion is a two-fold option. First is finding a good venue where you can grow from one event to the next. The second is a space that can help you grow if sales of a single event outperform your expectations. This can be super important for your first event since you have a limited frame of reference.

For our first event ever, we were at a venue that had multiple spaces. When we first signed up, we got a space that could fit about 80 people because we did not know how many attendees would sign up. We hit 80 people pretty quickly, and the venue could set us up in a bigger space. We opened up additional ticket sales and filled the new space.

The following event we grew even more because the venue had even more space. For our 3rd Granite Game Summit we needed to move to an even larger space, which meant finding a new venue that could handle the expansion. We did the same thing as the first time, looking for a space that had extra space so we could grow.

Nooks and Crannies

A big convention hall helps you seat a lot of gamers in one space. This is a great way to create an atmosphere of energy and excitement as the buzz of the crowd builds and builds. For some attendees, this can eventually get overwhelming.

While a big convention hall is a great thing, it is also good to have smaller spaces. These don’t have to be full on gaming spaces. A place where people can break away and recharge. Depending on the games being played having smaller spaces to play games in can be a good idea.

Accommodations

Having hotel access close is not 100% needed, but it can help. If you are running a multi-day event, having easy access to hotel rooms is very important for pulling in people over an hour drive away. It can also help with people that may need to fly in like industry representatives.

Water, Bathrooms, & Trash

Personally, I would not want to go to an event where the place felt icky so I definitely don’t want to put our patrons through that. The event space should look nice, be well lit, and have all the facilities needed. They should maintain things while your event is going on.

For our first event, the space was old and in need of a revamp. The hotel staff did not fill the water regularly, take out the trash, or resupply the bathrooms. We learned to put that into our contracts for all future events and really haven’t had a problem since.

Conclusions

Getting a great location is one of the hardest things to do when planning an event. There are so many variables and places where things can go wrong. Keep in mind the different types of locations along with the important features and type of event you are hosting. This should be a great start to finding a promising location.

The date isn’t as difficult but can be worse if you make the wrong decision. Keeping in mind the weather of your area and clashing with other small local and the larger conventions should be a step in the right direction.

Between selecting a great location and picking the best date you can, should get you off to a great start in creating an event that will amaze!