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.

2016 Conventions!

We can now announce our first two conventions for 2016: Ikkicon and PAX South!

Ikkicon
When: January 1-3
Where: Austin, TX

PAX South
When: January 29-31
Where: San Antonio, TX

We’ll be running games at both events in their tabletop rooms. These won’t be our only cons, either, just the first.

We’ll announce plans for February when things are determined. We’ve submitted panels and events to two cons and are waiting to here back. March looks like it’ll be clear, but April through November next year all have events that interest us. It’s going to be hard choosing!