I’ve been vending at Midwinter Gaming Convention since the first year they opened up a exhibit hall in 2011. I missed two years, 2013 and 2014, when I had stopped sewing for a while. It has been a pretty family friendly event. My family and I have LARPed and played games there so that it was a bit of a mini-vacation while I worked. All that said, this is my last year vending at the event. I’ll be moving out of state in a few months, although even if that weren’t the case I doubt I’d be back.
It comes down to money, really. The first two years I vended I made a great profit, enough to pay for the trip and then some. My gross was never spectacular. But it was a nice first of the year convention, and again, I treated it as a gaming retreat that I could enjoy with my family.
However, over the last three years I’ve made less and less each year. I attribute this to falling attendance. It’s hard to judge membership numbers from exhibit hall traffic, but this year’s lack of attendees was painfully obvious. The trickle of people strolling through the hall was never more than twenty at a time. There wasn’t even the usual rush of people between events.
With a lack of traffic, vendors and exhibitors had plenty of time to gossip. Scuttlebutt was that some of the larger LARP groups hadn’t come back. Last year a largish vampire LARP group had set up their own event the same weekend, which happened again this year. One game developer said she shut down demos in the game room at 8:30 pm both nights because no one showed. Wandering outside the exhibit hall it was much the same. Lots of empty tables that were set up to host pick up games and a game room that was only half full every time I peaked my head in.
The lack of marketing didn’t help, either. In year’s previous links to vendors have been posted on the Midwinter Gaming Convention website, as well as blurbs posted to its Facebook page in the run up to the event. This year none of this happened. There was a new vendor room director, although I don’t know if their job duties included online marketing or just onsite organization. Either way, the running of the exhibit hall left a lot to be desired, too. There was never a final call to inform people that the exhibit hall was closing each day, so people were still wandering around as vendors were trying to shut down to go eat. Similarly, people were allowed in early on Saturday and Sunday before the official start time.*
I didn’t lose money on this weekend, but that’s just because I was there on my own, I was able to crash in a friend’s room, and people fed me all weekend long. As it was I made a third of what I did that first weekend in 2011. And as disappointing as that is, I’m upset with the way that the whole exhibit hall is being run.
From talking to other vendors I found out that the convention is charging $200 a booth for new vendors. I am a legacy vendor so I only pay $50, which is what a booth cost in 2011. Seeing the drop in numbers, I don’t feel the new charge is justified. Especially when it seems that the convention is inflating its number of attendees. I have e-mailed the convention a couple times in the last few years asking what the end number of attendees was for that year’s event. The answer has been a steady “thousand”. This year I heard that the convention was telling some people that this was their best attended event to date. The highest badge number I saw was in the 960s and was a Sunday day pass. Yes, technically, one could round up and claim a thousand attendees, but that then leads me to question how this can be the best attended event.
Look, I get the semantic tricks one can employ to make an event look larger than it is. But for vendors and game developers, having accurate information is essential in deciding which events to attend. Travel, hotel and food costs all have to be taken into account along with the booth fee. When you are told that an event gets a certain amount of attendees, you can figure how much you expect to make and decide if it is worth your time to go. You can’t do that if conventions mislead you.
Charging $200 for a table at a general gaming convention that gets less than 1,000 members is too much. Midwinter Gaming Convention has just announced it will be expanding the exhibitor hall for 2019. That announcement makes me nervous because I doubt they’ll lower their booth fees, and so they’ll be making more money off the wallets of vendors. If this expansion isn’t met with increased outreach and marketing on their part, it will hurt future vendors even more.
Honestly, I want Midwinter Gaming Convention to succeed and grow. It would be great if they played up their family friendly atmosphere; perhaps offered some sort of family pass. Reaching out to the Gothic Lolita and steampunk crowd would help as well. I know that at least one year they had a Lolita fashion show. I also hope they reconsider their booth pricing. Otherwise, I suggest other vendors take a pass on this show.
*I’m not referring to the early hour on Friday when VIP are allowed into the exhibit hall and hour before official opening. Instead I’m talking about coming in ten minutes before the hall is supposed to be open on Sunday and finding members browsing.