Convention Report: Midwinter Gaming Convention 2018

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.

The Viking Dad Midwinter Gaming Convention Re-cap

So, you’ve seen the shield-maiden’s report of the Midwinter Gaming Convention held this past weekend in Milwaukee.  Now it’s my turn.

First things first, I recall attending this convention 4 years ago, a few weeks before Benjamin was born.  In fact, we incorporated that into the characters we played since the shield-maiden was very obviously pregnant.  It was a great time and even though we were utterly new, we were greeted warmly and treated to a warm welcome.  That first experience, four years ago, is the main reason we continue to return.  It’s how conventions should be run and they hit it on the head.

As the name suggests, this is a gaming oriented convention and that said, I did get to partake of one of the LARP events.  It was a great deal of fun and is one of the past times that I fully enjoy, but was only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to why this convention rocked!

I mentioned above the welcoming and accepting atmosphere at the convention.  No matter what your flavor of gaming, all were welcomed.  The convention and volunteer staff was helpful and friendly, there were a ton of things to do from video gaming to table top role-playing  to board gaming to collectible card gaming.  From live action to full contact immersion, there was something for everyone.  I can’t count the number of “Wows” I felt and uttered at this convention.

Ben versus the Bustle
Ben wanted to try on one of the bustles, but without a booty or hips, it didn’t really stay on.

I spent some time in the booth, but with the addition of two booth helpers, I got to spend time off on my own for a bit, or with Benjamin (trying on various wares to model as seen in the picture above), or (most importantly) with the shield-maiden, enjoying the convention.

The shield-maiden and I in costume, ready for Changeling: the Lost
The shield-maiden and I in costume, ready for Changeling: the Lost

I can’t stress enough the importance of having an accepting or welcoming atmosphere.  In relation to other conventions, and I’ve been to quite a few gaming conventions, this one is the best by far.  Let me show you an example of comparison:

October of 2009, the shield-maiden and I went to a convention (as our honeymoon) in Atlanta.  It was a national convention for the then titled Camarilla (now known as the Mind’s Eye Society).  We vended at that one as well and the first thing we noticed was that the vendor’s hall was tucked far away from any of the “action”.  This really limited foot traffic and for the number of attendees, the space was a fraction of the size that Midwinter had for its Vendor’s Hall.

I mean, the gaming track wasn’t that bad… I just wasn’t “wowed”, until the night game of Changeling: the Lost, which was the main thing both the shield-maiden and I were looking forward to playing. We were both very excited about it and she had spent the entire day working in the cramped vendor’s room on her feet with the hopeful expectation of the both of us getting to play this game together.

We get food, we eat, we change and then head down to the room that the game is being held at to find the doors locked. We knock, we hear people inside, but no one is coming to open it.  We knock louder and then an ST from a different game comes to us and says we can’t go in.  When asked why, he says that the doors locked at a particular time and after than no one else was allowed to enter.

Now, I should preface this with that the locking of the doors was not mentioned anywhere in the programming guide (because if it had, we would have been there at that time). It was something that, apparently, they had just decided upon.

So there we were, in full costume (which by the way, the shield-maiden glued sea shells to her face, so you know that our costuming was extensive) being told that we were out of luck.  We voiced our concern that this wasn’t right, but he said that there’s nothing he could do.

Needless to say we were very put off by this.  Not ones to sit idly by, we voiced our concerns to the Event Staff.   We were blown off with the words (paraphrasing), “Not my problem”.

That is an example of how NOT to do a convention.  Midwinter Gaming Convention was on the complete other side of the spectrum.  They have grown, steadily, each year and by being inclusive of all aspects of gaming, I believe, will see that trend continue.

So, to the staff of the Midwinter Gaming Convention, I salute you.  Well done and I look forward to many happy returns.

The shield-maiden and I in costume, ready for Changeling: the Lost
Awesome venue, awesome game, awesome job Midwinter Gaming Convention!