This weekend we went to Nine Worlds Fanfest in London. Here’s my thoughts immediately following, as a fan and as a creator:
As an attendee:
This con really demonstrated the best sides of fandom – people experiencing earnest joy in whatever their fandom means to them, while being mature enough in their perspective to have conversations about how it could fall short. Plus, everyone was just so respectful and interested in what other people had to say. They really promoted a feeling of equality: even when writers/creators were on a panel, it didn’t have that feeling of superiors and supplicants you can get at other cons; instead, you felt like these were peers of yours who were worth listening to due to their experience in the subject.
- Seb Atay‘s talk on the implied narrator/implied author in games was an interesting application of literary criticism to computer games in a way I hadn’t considered.
- Grant Howitt running Dr. Magnethands for a big room of increasingly drunk superheroes and villains. I got to play Postman Pat in deep cover on the moon, and what more can you really ask for?
- The costumes were amazing! I think my own Jesse Custer was a bit too subtle to be recognisable, but I was happy to give over my costume chips (also a very cool idea) in recognition of a hand-knitted dalek dress, a superbly-executed WicDiv Lucifer, and an ambulatory bowl of petunias.
- Getting recommendations for stuff outside my experience and comfort zone, both on the Chinese SF panel and the comics recommendation panel.
- Nine World’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Gender-neutral bathrooms, quite spaces, badge labelling for pronouns and willingness for interaction, and a constant awareness of the accommodations they may need to make to ensure all sorts of people fully enjoy the con. Really a glimpse of a better way of being.
Lowlights… pretty few, to be honest. The hotel’s food was overpriced and a bit poor, and it was a shame the final quiz filled up 15 minutes before it started and they had to turn people away – we were really looking forward to it and it meant our con basically fizzled out. Apart from that it was wonderful and we’re strongly considering coming back next year.
As an exhibitor:
It was our first con to sell at, and there were big lessons to take forward.
We should have printed more stuff! We ran out of physical copies of Legacy: Life Among the Ruins and Ultranormal Encounters, and I’m sure we would’ve sold out of Echoes of the Fall if there were copies of the core book to sell with it. We got some good advice that it’s perfectly fine to overproduce: that way you need to do less work next con.
Nobody wants to buy expansions without the core. Obvious in hindsight, right? We brought equal numbers of the core book and Echoes, and that was a mistake. For future cons, I think we’ll bring half again as many copies of Legacy as we do Echoes (and Mirrors I suppose).
PDFs: Great for physical stores
Selling PDFs worked really well. We had a sheet of labels with a DriveThruRPG discount code on them, and stuck those to UFO Press business cards (or inside books if people bought the book+PDF combo). Of our customers that bought a book, about 40% topped it up with PDFs, and 1/3rd of our sales were PDF-only.
It really reinforced my commitment to attractive and diverse art. I’d printed out a set of Legacy playbooks and laid them out on the table, and they were often the first thing someone looked at when they came up to our table. There were some very kind words about the diversity of the art, and I’m reminded of something Keiron Gillen said at the Dragons and Diversity panel: diversity isn’t an obligation for creators, but an opportunity. People’s reactions to seeing themselves as heroes in my game’s art where they had been ignored by other games made it completely worthwhile, and was legit one of my highlights of the con.
What are people looking for?
A lot of people reacted better to being pitched a group storytelling game than a dice-and-GM roleplaying game. Similarly, I got many comments that it was nice to have a post-apocalyptic game with more of a positive slant. A lot of this is due to the particular demographic at the con, I bet, but it’s got me thinking how to reach out to people outside of standard RPG venues who might have been put off by bulky rulebooks and grimdark settings. Cons, I guess, are a big part of that, but I’d be interested to hear about other suggestions.
Kickstarter backers are real people you can talk to
London has a lot of Legacy Kickstarter backers! Quite a few people came up to the booth after recognising Legacy as a game they’d backed, and it was great to reconnect with them and hear their stories of playing the game (or discussing how hard it is to get through a pile of Kickstarter rewards). Plus I got to hear about a London Indie RPG meet up that sounds fun and I’ll try and check out.
Selling as a supplement to the con experience
I don’t think I’d want to sell for the whole con; even if that got me 3x the sales it wouldn’t be enough to break even when the hotel fee, vendor fee and book printing are factored in. As a thing to do as part of a con I was already planning on attending, though, it let me jump between the creator and fan sides of the con and see what it’s like on either side of the line, get the word out about UFO Press and our games, and pay for the book printing and con tickets with a bit of money to spare. I can’t see us turning a profit on cons we go to for quite a while, so we’ll likely still only go to cons that have stuff we’re interested in going to and experiencing, but if you’re in a similar position I can’t recommend Nine Worlds highly enough.