Video and Computer Gaming
Running a computer gaming room at a convention
Purpose and Objectives
Historically, SF conventions were some of the earliest places people could find video/computer games (and role playing games, too). Today, many SF con attendees are interested in playing computer games. And since so many games have an SF theme, avid gamers may be interested in attending an SF convention in addition to the LAN Parties where they bring their gaming rigs for multiplayer gaming. To accommodate attendees interested in gaming who may not bring a gaming rig (or even have a good gaming rig), the SF convention can provide computers for attendees to game on. To accommodate a computer gamer who brings a gaming rig, the SF con should provide a secure facility with power, network and furniture appropriate for a LAN party. If the computer gaming goes well, the SF con should see increasing attendance.
Overview and References
The essential reference for information on running a computer gaming event is William Steinmetz’ book: LAN Party: Hosting the Ultimate Frag Fest Advance planning and organizing are critical to a successful computer gaming room, and numerous up-front decision need to be made. While Steinmetz directly addresses the planning and operation of a stand-alone computer gaming event, almost all of this is relevant to providing computer gaming as part of a larger conference or convention. Since Steinmetz has a depth of information and wealth of detail far beyond the scope of an article such as this, this article will focus on the differences between running a stand-alone computer gaming event and the convention computer gaming room.
video/console versus computer gaming
Almost all of the information for a computer gaming event is directly applicable to a video or console gaming room. The biggest difference is in the mechanics of multiplayer gaming support.
Budget planning for a computer gaming room
Budget? We don’ need no stinking budget! Most conventions are non-profit and have very tight budgets to begin with, so you shouldn’t expect any funding from this source until and unless you establish computer gaming as a popular event at your convention. Fortunately, Steinmetz has lots of great advice on how to plan small-to-medium size computer gaming events with little or no funding. If a significant budget is available from the convention for computer gaming, a serious tournament can be planned, and this will be discussed below.
Size planning for a computer gaming room
Introducing computer gaming to an established convention means you should plan to start small, and see if you can get participation and interest sufficient to justify growth. The most important thing is to get an appropriate room at the convention facility. The floorspace and available electrical power will dictate the maximum number of computers you can fit in. The good news is that many hotels and convention halls are renovating to accommodate computer-based training and workshops and thus are upgrading electrical and network wiring, making setup for computer gaming much easier.
Computers for a computer gaming room
BYOC stands for Bring Your Own Computer, which is one possible source of your computers for your computer gaming room. At one extreme, you can operate as a LAN party where all participants are BYOC. The problem is that at a convention there will be many members who would like to participate in computer gaming but who did not bring an appropriate computer. Thus, you should make plans to provide computers for their use. Since you likely have a miniscule to non-existent budget, you can’t afford to rent a bunch of computers, so you will have to seek volunteers and sponsors. You could ask your BYOC participants to allow other participants to use their PCs when they are not, but many LAN party enthusiasts bring gaming rigs which they have spent considerable time customizing and are unlikely therefore to be happy with strangers messing up their gaming settings. But many computer gaming enthusiasts will have PCs they bring to LAN Parties as “loaners”. These are likely to be older PCs recently replaced by the owner’s current gaming rig. With some thought and persistence, you will likely be able to borrow a number of PCs but they won’t be optimal for the latest games and so you will have to choose the games you feature very carefully so as not to be too demanding on computer hardware. So, you need to make a decision on the proportion of BYOC versus provided computers you will have.
A great placed to look for gaming PCs is to find sponsors who can provide a significant number of gaming-capable PCs. With the right approach, you can persuade a local gaming center or cyber café to donate the use of many of their gaming PCs and set them up in your computer gaming room. Local computer stores who cater to the PC gamer can be persuaded to donate the use of one or more PCs for your gaming room. You should also seek sponsorship for the donation of merchandise for prizes from vendors, publishers and manufacturers. Most potential sponsors for these types of merchandise are deluged with requests for prizes, so recruiting them for your event will take a lot of leg-work and persistence. You must take care to show the sponsor the promotional considerations for which the prizes are donated in the first place. Get the convention committee to give your sponsors free ads in the program book. Make sure you get them to bring a banner, then set it up in a prominent place. Get a picture of sponsor’s computers in use with their banner in the background and feature this on your web site and online forum. This will help persuade them to return next year, and to persuade other potential sponsors to join in.
If you charge a fee for use of computers, you need to make sure you are not violating some law or regulation. If you don’t set up the rules correctly and promote it properly, giving prizes to someone who pays-to-play could be considered illegal gambling in some jurisdictions. But, the fees could make it affordable to rent computers. This makes it easier to set up a formal tournament because if the computers are all the same, then you only need to go to the trouble of installing the games on one computer. The other PCs can be set up by cloning the hard drive of the first one since they are all alike. Having high quality gaming PCs and tournament prizes will make it more likely that participants will be willing to shell out hourly fees over and above their convention memberships. This approach of renting computers, charging fees, running serious tournaments and giving valuable prizes works for larger conventions, especially if the convention has the budget to subsidize the computer rental in order to keep the participant fees down.
Forms and disclaimers
Steinmetz has a great discussion on legal liability, and provides permission to copy his forms, along with his extensive list of ground rules. You should use these as inspiration for ground rules and disclaimers tailored for your own use.
Getting started organizing a computer gaming room for a convention
You should start small with just a few friends and their BYOCs and loaner PCs. To break the ice with a convention that has never had computer gaming, you should consider going in with a friend on adjoining hotel rooms and asking the convention to get the hotel to provide a few narrow tables in each room for the computers. Be careful about overloading circuits in the rooms. The typical hotel room has two circuits: one in the bathroom and one for the rest of the room. Account for everything else that uses power in the room: television, lights, refrigerator, etc. If you keep everything off except a couple lights, you should be able to run 4 computers on one circuit. You should also use the check lists in Steinmetz’ book to make sure you get everything you need in place by the start of the convention. Every year, you should try to grow the gaming room size by a modest amount. Recruiting staff is critical. You should also look for people who can loan equipment for the event such as networking hardware. Signing up an enthusiastic sponsor can give you a big growth spurt, and will make a good argument for getting a larger room assigned by the convention committee. And always try to maintain a good “customer service” attitude in which your primary goal is to provide an enjoyable gaming experience for your participants.