Con Sponsorships: Choosing a Con

Earlier this year, we posted about some of our first hand experiences with convention sponsorship. Since then, we’ve had many more cons reach out to us, several very good and one incredibly bad (to the point of needing legal intervention due to theft). One topic we didn’t get into with the previous article was how to select a con in the first place.

As indie game devs, you have limited resources. You want to get the most bang for the buck with your marketing resources. Proper con selection is a crucial element. Throwing thousands in marketing materials at a con that doesn’t do anything with them wastes time and money. It’s a risk roulette whose lever you need to pull. Here’s what we’ve seen as factors that contribute to whether a con will “payout.”

Homework

First, this is good behavior for you. Do your homework on a con before you send in your materials. Have they delivered? Are their vendors and sponsors happy? Who owns the con? Is this their main source of income or a hobby? What about the staff?

Look at who has sponsored them in the past and see if that changes a lot or if the same people keep coming back. Have they grown their sponsor base over time, stayed the same, or lost them? If they use crowd funding, are they meeting their goals? If they’ve ticked off their base, they’ll fail them or set them low. If they’re doing great, they’ll be hitting stretch goals.

Good Signs

1. Determined support levels

This seems obvious, but a convention that knows how to accept donations is more likely to use them well. Look for cons that have a published sponsorship packet. If they don’t, ask via email and clarify as much as possible. You want things in writing.

2. Size

Big cons are attractive – lots of people, lots of eyeballs. But you’re a small dev. Big cons attract big devs, like Wizards of the Coast. You’ll run the risk of both being overshadowed and having to spend money to get the con to advertise you.

It’s much better to go after a small convention within your target demographic (at least starting out). They’ll be more grateful and might offer extras if you’re nice to work with. Plus, you’ll be more likely to be the only advertiser attendees see, ensuring they won’t confuse your game for a release by someone else.

3. Material Donations

Indie devs are big on creativity – and light on wallets. A lot of advertising options involve money. You’re going to spend a bit on promo materials, like it or not. The best advertising has you distributing materials to attendees directly. Tactile connection vastly supercedes a simple banner.

Even better is if you can make the materials being handed out the entirety of the donation. A con that will let you give them your handouts as payment for distribution is the best. You only have to pay once, not twice, for those materials.

4. Tabletop Schedule

Sponsoring a convention is great – and even better if you can demo and attend in person! For this, there needs to be a) tabletop space and b) a way to get a table for product demos. There are times when you can promote with a con lacking tabletop, but that does mean the folks there aren’t going to be as interested. Having dedicated space for gaming means some of the people there love gaming – and they’re your customers.

Assuming they have tabletop, what game stores do they work with? Does the game store help promote the con? We have one huge store locally that a few cons tap for their board game library – but they do very little to promote the events. Having a store that helps signal boost can help you in turn. This can also help you get a relationship with a FLGS, necessary when you want to launch and want people to carry the game.

Bad Signs

1. Art as Sexual Harassment

A new trend with some conventions is to treat art – such as prints or in books – as a form of harassment. You can find this in the rules conventions post (and those that do this will post it). They’ll say that they reserve the right to ban art they feel depicts women badly.

What a con will say is that overly sexual art harasses female attendees. They try to make it a safety or diversity issue. The truth is the opposite.

In reality, conventions that have this rule use it to ban LGBT artwork and generally be sex negative. For example, we had prints of 2 of our main characters embracing. They were fully clothed and nothing was touching other than hands on arms. Yet a con ruled that this piece of SFW artwork depicting a same sex couple was “harassment.” It wasn’t because the art was sexual – it’s because the art positively represented a same-sex couple.

Do not promote or support any convention with this clause. It’s a huge red flag that it’s run by anti-expression sorts who want to police art to suppress what they personally dislike.

2. Prop weapon bans

We’re a steampunk game. So if a con bans prop weapons, like modified costume NERF guns, they’re telling every steampunk, “Don’t bother with our con.”

Apart from the direct relevance of making a convention a terrible for us in particular, this kind of ban – like the ban on depicting same-sex romance in art – indicates a bad kind of leadership culture. Prop weapons cannot hurt others (apart from being blunt instruments). Banning them does nothing for safety nor does it solve any issues. Yet it does make many feel unwelcome and increases instances of “gotcha” con attendees can have with security. A leadership that doesn’t care about the enjoyment of those who attend is one that isn’t building a healthy environment worth associating your brand with.

Note that we’re not referring to bans on actual guns or swords. Those are in place because of liability and insurance. Don’t fault a con for that.

3. Serial Con Running

This ties back to doing your homework about a con. Look at the folks running it. Have they been running the same con for a while? Or do they keep starting new ones and letting prior cons die out?

It’s okay for a convention to have new leadership. People move on and new people ascend. But if you have a group constantly jumping from one new con to another, they lack commitment. That can also mean they don’t have the skills to ensure a steady, loyal audience – something you need among those you promote with.

4. Potpourri Vending Hall

Ideally, you’ll be able to personally attend the cons you sponsor. If so, look at the vending room. Are the vendors there geek oriented, or do you see the odd presence of mundane stuff? For example, do you see mainly comic and anime retailers? Or are there people selling insurance or time shares?

This has become an issue in recent years as some cons – mainly comic cons – struggle to make ends meet so they allow anyone and everyone to vend, just so they can stay in business. This is a warning the con is circling the drain. If the con is doing well, they’ll attract enough vendors they can afford to be picky and turn down a car insurance company.

Don’t associate your brand with cons in trouble like this. You’ll risk being seen as irrelevant to attendee interests as the vendor trying to sign people up for a condo in Aruba.

Summary

To conclude: go after small cons that accept material donations and have defined sponsor levels, preferably with an established track record. Avoid cons of any size that ban “sexy” art, prop weapons, are one of many in a string of serial convention startups, and that will let just anyone vend.

Hopefully these tips help you. Ask us any questions that we might answer in a future post!

 

Advertisements

Con Sponsorships: Do’s and Don’ts

Are you a fellow indie developer looking to get brand recognition and attention? Sponsoring local (and not so local) conventions can be a great route to take. However, be warned that the kind of treatment you get can vary wildly from con to con. It all depends on their staff and culture.

We’ll focus here on three examples from three actual cons we here at Aes: Brass Revolution interacted with. The names of the cons are left out, since the focus isn’t on chiding or praising them, but to learn about what makes for good and not-so-good sponsorship handling.

Our goal with this article is to highlight the kinds of reactions you can expect so you know whether you’re being treated with respect or getting snubbed. We also want to provide tips to convention runners on how to make sure they’re doing a good job with handling their sponsors.

Example 1: FailCon

Let’s start with the negative, since it’s good to go from low to high. Sometime back we donated about $1000 to sponsor a small gaming con. The arrangement was simple: we give them prizes and giveaway goodies and they’d promote Aes. Specifically, they promised to promote us on social media and had us send an ad for their convention guide.

The result? …Nothing. After we mailed them the items, we never heard anything back from them. In the weeks to the con, no social media posts about Aes. We sent a few check in emails – no reply. The con comes ago, still nothing.

It isn’t until 2 months later we hear back from them. They give us a tracking number and tell us they’re returning the donations that weren’t given away. We were genuinely worried they’d run off with what we sent, so this is good news. The box we got back had nearly everything we’d sent. It looks like they’d completely forgotten to hand out our donations and simply didn’t want to admit it. To this day, we still have no idea if our ad was even published in their guide (probably not).

Example 2: PassableCon

For another gaming con, we donated $750 of material, with the same content as FailCon. Same arrangement: social media promotion, website listing, at-con distro of the prizes. They even threw in some extras like our logo on the volunteer t-shirts.

Pretty soon, they proved better than FailCon: our logo was up on their website! Yay! Actual promotion as promised!

And then…nothing. We sent the ads and t-shirt logos. But no idea if they made it in. Sadly, much of the promise social media boosting didn’t really materialize, either. Hopefully their con went well? At least we know they did help promote us. They met the bare minimum expectation.

Example 3: StellarCon

Our best experience with a con was also one of our first. This was in the early days of the game when we were just starting to produce items we could donate. We gave a con maybe $100 worth of stuff during the weekend. No advance notice. No prearrangement.

What happened? We got a shout out at the closing ceremonies. We were invited back next year, this time as staff to help with tabletop. We had the owner liking our page and following the development. There was communication, there was enthusiasm, and there was a real feeling of being welcome. All for very little! We’ve made sure to stay with this con ever since.

Takeaways

  1. Communicate! Every bad experience can be defined as not keeping in touch or sending out updates. Consider adding sponsors to mailing lists, at least, so they get the same updates as attendees. Let us know you’re alive. Definitely don’t wait 2 months before writing back – but understand that’s still better than nothing. And don’t be afraid to admit you screwed up and forgot. It happens.
  2. Photos! If something is donated, show us! Take a picture of the prize table or the swag bag. One picture will do for multiple sponsors. Show proof what we donated was put to its intended use.
  3. Have defined packages and stick to them. One thing PassableCon did that not even StellarCon had were defined tiers of sponsorship that clearly outlined what we’d get for X amount of donations. It meant we wouldn’t donate too much and get things we didn’t need for promotion and that we could have items – like the convention book ad – ready beforehand. If PassableCon had held to what they promised, they’d be our StellarCon example.
  4. Accept material donations. Money is great, but attendees love STUFF. Free stuff, especially! Getting sponsors to provide things to give away saves you having to buy it yourself. Allow material donation in lieu of monetary ones. That will really benefit indie folks – like us – where that’s mainly what we have to offer.
  5. Consider a variety of promotional avenues in your con. A few were mentioned here: con book ads, giveaways, shout outs at closing ceremonies, t-shirt logos, website placement, social media boosts. Think of more. Banners, bag inserts, and other outlets are all great to have. Just make sure that what you offer, you can deliver. FailCon and PassableCon both fell short because whoever was managing those aspects dropped the ball.

In a separate post, we’ll focus on what makes for good items to donate, how to go about choosing a con (hint: don’t aim big at first), and how to reach out to them.

April and May Events – Fundraisers!

April and May return Aes: Brass Revolution to activity, ending our 2 month break.

HavenCon

From April 22-24, we’ll be at HavenCon! We’re helping to run Tabletop (and we’ve pitched in with scheduling). Aes: Brass Revolution sessions will be happening all weekend. It’s version 8’s big premiere!

The big centerpiece? A fundraiser for TransLifeLine! Taking place Saturday, April 23rd at 7 PM, the event will be something new: an audience driven RPG session. We’ve expanded beyond the $1 re-rolls used for Extra Life and introduced a means for the audience to influence the world the players inhabit. We’re hoping we can add to the money HavenCon has already raised for TLL. Players include DJ Sephi Hakubi, RainFay (head of Ooples’ Anime Club), and EB Roxas (Austin indie game developer).

Speaking of Extra Life, we’ve formed Team HavenCon! This will be the second year HavenCon has sponsored a team for Game Day. We’ll post more about it later, but it’s on November 5th and we have two stores on board: Ooples Anime and Wonko’s Toys and Games! We’ll be promoting the team at HavenCon by routing people to the Extra Life booth and getting them to sign up.

International Tabletop Day

The week after HavenCon, we’ll be at Ooples Anime in Austin for International Tabletop Day! It’s Saturday, April 30th from noon to midnight with tons of games.

What sets the Ooples event apart from the others? We’ll be fundraising for the Innocence Project of Texas (IPTX). This is an incredibly important organization. With baseless accusations, false arrests, and wrongful convictions on the rise, IPTX stands for people the system has tried to destroy to offer them hope. The executive director and deputy director will both be there to collect donations and join in, making it a great chance to meet people who work for justice and liberty everyday.

We’ll also have a presence in San Antonio. Through GamExpo, we’ll be sending materials for them to distribute to participants at their event. It’s always great to support gaming cons.

ChupacabraCon

Lastly, we have another con! May 13-15 in Round Rock, ChupacabraCon is a great local gaming con. We’ll be running 4 sessions of Aes there: 1 on Friday, 2 on Saturday, and 1 on Sunday. This will be a great weekend where we get to hang out with other game developers. The feedback we’ll receive should go a long way toward version 9.

After this, our next con isn’t until July. We’ll be using the time to get version 9 together, as well as finish the first iteration of the Expanse for testers. Anime Austin, ArmadilloCon, Anime Overload, San Japan, and RealmsCon are the current cons on the list.

Spring and Summer Conventions

We’re making plans for our next round of cons to feature Aes. Here are what we have so far:

HavenCon
When: April 22 – 24, 2016
Where: Austin, TX

We’ll be running the tabletop room for HavenCon! There will be several RPG’s there, but Aes will be run the entire weekend. There’s even a special event planned for Saturday evening – more on that later.

ChupacabraCon
When: May 13 – 15, 2016
Where: Austin, TX

This one is tentative until we get final confirmation on the game times, but we’ve submitted four games to run during the con. Hopefully we get to do some of them.

Comicpalooza
When: June 17 – 19, 2016
Where: Houston, TX

We’ve been invited to participate in the Indie Game Alley at Comicpalooza this year. We’re still debating if we can afford it, but if so, we will attend.

Anime Austin
When: July 15 – 17, 2016
Where: Austin, TX

We’ve been invited by the owner to participate in the tabletop room and demo Aes. We will likely be attending and submitting panels.

ArmadilloCon
When: July 29 – 31, 2016
Where: Austin, TX

Game submissions aren’t up yet, but when they are we’ll be submitting to attend this SF and gaming con.

Anime Overload
When: August 5 – 7, 2016
Where: Austin, TX

Tabletop isn’t very large at AO, but we’ll likely submit some panels.

February Conventions

Two more cons to announce for 2016!

Ushicon
When: February 5-7, 2016
Where: Round Rock, TX

We’ll be hosting two panels there: “Tabletop Game Design 101” and “What is Steampunk?” This will be the first time for both panels we’ll try to record them for posting online later. We’ll also be running games in tabletop the whole weekend!

OwlCon
When: February 19-21, 2016
Where: Houston, TX

We’ll be running three games at OwlCon: 10 AM Saturday, 8 PM Saturday, and 10 AM Sunday. Each will last 4 hours. Unlike other cons, there isn’t a lot of open game space, so we’ll try to have pre-made characters handy for those who don’t want to make them ahead of time.

We hope to see you there!

2016 Release Schedule

We like to think ahead and we wanted to share that with you. Here’s a tentative release schedules for Aes: Brass Revolution in 2016. Note that several of these events have not been confirmed yet, so Aes being there isn’t guaranteed.

Version 7

Release: January 1, 2016 at Ikkicon
Expansion Pack 1: January 29 at PAX South
Expansion Pack 2: February 5 at Ushicon (TBD)

Version 8

Release: February 19 at OwlCon
Expansion Pack 1: March 17 at SXSW Gaming (TBD)

Version 9

Release: April 22 at HavenCon

Version 10

Release: June 17 at Comicpalooza (TBD)

The 2-month interval between version 6 and 7 gave us a lot of time to develop and polish things, so sticking to that size interval is something we’ll try and hold to when possible. We may add or remove events as time permits and will update you all when things are determined.