2012 BPA Survey Results—Open Gaming
Jan. 12, 2013

Our survey asked respondents to estimate how much of their WBC time was spent on various activities and, not surprisingly, it proved to be a two-horse race. Only 11.1% of the respondents purported to spend 5% or less of their time in tournaments while that figure rose to 23.3% for Open Gaming, 60.9% for vendors, 80% for demos, 72.6% for “excursions” and 96.1% for seminars. At the other end of the spectrum, the number of respondents who claimed to spend at least half of their time at those pursuits rose to 62.3% for tournaments, 28.2% for Open Gaming and less than 1% for all others. While I suspect Open Gaming adherents are somewhat under represented among the respondents, there is no doubt that they form a substantial and growing percentage of our attendees.

When I started running gaming conventions back in the ’70s, the main antagonism you had to worry about was the tension between role players (D&D was all the rage back then) and wargamers. Each genre was convinced it did not get the respect it deserved and were treated as second class citizens. That was replaced in turn by skirmishes with miniatures enthusiasts and Collectible Card Games, so by the time WBC came about I was determined to put an end to that and focus strictly on boardgames. And then came Euros. Well, keeping Euros and wargamers on speaking terms wasn’t quite as difficult because there was more crossover between the two. Aside from a few “Euroweenie” jokes made in jest, the criticisms were largely toothless because many a wargamer had to admit that he liked playing the occasional Euro. But the rivalry that may top them all is that between Open Gamers and Tournament players. Thus far, compromising middle ground seems to be elusive for many, if not all, of their respective adherents.

Make no mistake about it, WBC was created to be a convention about competition. It’s what makes it unique. I can Open Game at any convention in the world—or every week in my basement for that matter—but I can only aspire to being the best player of my favorite game once a year in Lancaster, PA. That’s always been my goal and one that seems to be shared by the majority of the current Board of Directors. So, while we have tried mightily to improve and expand Open Gaming opportunities at WBC, there are limits to how far we will go in that direction. Tournaments are still our raison d’etre and we will not sacrifice them for the sake of further expansion of Open Gaming. We value Open Gaming as an adjunct activity to be enjoyed between tournament rounds and/or to entertain significant others, but we have no illusions about becoming the best Open Gaming experience that can be had. Other conventions admittedly do it better and that is one of the reasons why you may prefer them if your tastes lie more in that direction.

That said, we will continue to provide an enjoyable Open Gaming experience for those so inclined. But you will have to forgive us if we hope to peak your interest in tournament play by mere osmosis and proximity to more organized fare. To that end, the majority of our expenditures of late have been dominated by support of Open Gaming upgrades. However, it has not been easy. Despite the all too frequent internet references to “win at all costs” types in tournaments, we’ve found keeping Open Gamers content can be every bit as challenging, if not more so. Whereas our GMs have proven generally able to police ourselves on the tournament side, more and more hired help has proven necessary to maintain order in Open Gaming where a different mindset seems to be in play.

What You’d Like to See… What You Want Not to Change How I See It…
More Support/Flexibility 4: I’d like someone to help encourage and semi-organize open gamimg—maybe an opponents wanted board, or a set of planned time slots. Projected Rotating Event Schedule 1 For years we’ve had a huge white metallic board at the entrance to Open Gaming for posting notices to find players. Can’t make people use or read it though. You can also ask the room monitor to announce game starts looking for players on the microphone. As for planned time slots, most have already figured that already exists in the form of the tournament schedule which is projected on the screen. Just get over being in a tournament, tell the GM you have no interest in advancing, and voila—instant game with people who actually know how to play—and no trouble finding a table either.
Food Service in Open Gaming 1   We tried adding food service in the Showroom and it was a dismal failure. Host cannot adequately staff multiple food locations so the more stations you have, the less variety and quality you can expect at each.

Bigger/Nicer Open Gaming Area 48: Free up two-three other rooms for just that. / I would like to see more or better designed space for open gaming—as the week progresses, it becomes harder and harder to get a table. / Less squatting in open gaming space by tournament players. / More space on the weekend.

Move Open Gaming to the Expo Center 3: I have to say the enormous ballroom setup can work much better than lots of small, disjointed rooms for maximizing space utilization (which is often uneven when rooms are reserved for events). If we do move WBC, I would say look for a place that has the equivalent of 2 Lampeter-sized rooms, and don’t worry about the other smaller conference rooms.

Showroom 33: Keep Open Gaming here as is. Perfect ambiance and size. / Open gaming on the weekends should not be a driving force for decisions. Organized activites for the entire week should be the driving force. / It gets better every year. / I love being able to look across that big room and see my friends playing and go and join the games. It is wonderful. / Don’t mess too much with open gaming in the theater. It’s so much fun. It’s one of the best vibes in any convention that I’ve ever seen. / Other conventions that I’ve attended feature gaming in huge, stale, cavernous convention halls. I prefer WBC precisely because it is different, and the smaller rooms facilitate tournament play nicely. / The room separation/layout is effective, I don’t think WBC could possibly work in one giant ballroom or expo facility, it would just be too much chaos. / Usually, ample space for open gaming. My experience: we always find a space somewhere to play the game we want. / Large convention centers are too big, take forever to carry games around, and ruin the close, social atmosphere and charm that the convention currently has.

There is only one option for more Open Gaming space at the Host; abandoning the 13,000 sq ft Showoom for the 23,500 sq ft Expo Center. Ignoring the greater cost involved for essentially doubling the space, this would mean trading the far nicer ambience of the tiered dining theatre for the gymnasium feel of what was originally a tennis barn. Playing there would involve a greater trek from your guestrooms through the elements and away from everything in the hotel—food, drink, vendors, demos and other events. I can almost guarantee that the reaction from some would be to condemn it as the Open Gaming ghetto and demand a return to the Showroom. In my opinion, the only improvement would be the lighting. And on smaller attendance days it would seem like an underused ghost town rather than the bustling focal point of the convention that the Showroom has become—especially if it rains and people don’t like the trek through the parking lot.

I believe adding the poolside pavillion to the Showroom and improving the table setup and lighting in the Showroom to be a better option than over-reacting to 2012’s air conditioning failure-induced overcrowding.

Table Nazis 4: Rude behavior of those who hog/confiscate tables. / Better policing of the Open Gaming area. Some people stake out a table, set up a game and leave for hours or even days. Parking Tickets 1: I was unaware of the process by which to kick off a “squatter"…i.e. an empty table that had a half-finished game set up on it. I find the term “Table Nazi” to be, at best, disappointing. And when used to describe our Room monitors doing their jobs enforcing the rules of the convention—well, that’s just entirely unacceptable. Those who are inclined to use such terms so carelessly are hereby invited to take their patronage elsewhere. Convention policy is that tables cannot be “saved"—but must be made available for others who are actually playing. Our monitors ticket such abandoned tables and if still abandoned one hour later, the contents are removed to Lost & Found in Registration. So, if you setup a game, and leave it unplayed—not just unattended—for more than an hour you have no one to blame but yourself. YOU are breaking convention rules and YOU are being rude. As for others concerned about such situations, do Not attempt enforcement yourself but point out offending tables to the Room monitors for their action. This policy has been in place for several years and is described in the program, the website, and the pre-convention newsletter.
More space for large wargames that can be left up overnight 1  

You must realize that table space at Host, while ample, is not unlimited. And that leaving large games set up that go unplayed for long stretches is a major irritant to those who can’t find a table on which to play during peak usage times. Our policy on this is the current Parking Ticket solution that requires no more than one-hour breaks be taken before a table is cleared for others waiting to use it.

If your plans include setting up such a game that needs to remain in place overnight, you need to contact the CD to make special arrangements before the convention. Said arrangements will include placement in areas other than the Open Gaming room and will still require the game to actually be played—rather than displayed. No one is entitled to table space that is not being used for actual ongoing play.

Table Rentals 2: I think Open Gaming is a great feature, but the current set up invites people to ’camp’ at tables for the week. I don’t recall if badges are required; if not they should be. Perhaps an addition could be to allow attendees to rent table space in advance by the half day or day…perhaps even rent space in unused smaller meeting rooms. / I appreciate Open Gaming. However, it’s grown to a point that it is contrary to the spirit of what WBC is—tournaments. Open Gaming areas should be a privilege for those who participate in tournaments, even just one. Otherwise, Open Gamers should pay a normal daily walk-in rate (no discounts for multiple days) AND a table useage fee (a buck an hour). However, there needs to be common ground with the Table Monitors. If I finish a game a/o just need to take a break to eat, visit the vendors, whatever; it would be my responsibility to flag down a Table Monitor, tell them my intention of taking a break/eating/vendor (still paying my buck an hour), at which time they put some sort of obvious marker on my table indicating my time of departure and time of return (no more than 1.5 hrs). After such time, if I’m not back, they may clear the table and it’s open again.  

We have no desire to charge Open Gamers extra fees for table use or membership. For starters, it violates our basic tenet of keeping things as simple as possible (although some think we already have too many rules). However, we would appreciate it if all Open Gamers paid their fair share like everyone else. We continue to encounter those who think Open Gaming should be free and only those who play tournaments should pay anything. As if the hotel charges us nothing for Open Gaming space and tables, the ac, etc right down to the advertising costs that got them there in the first place. Not to mention library storage, maintenance and upkeep, and the room monitors who attempt to maintain order.

Consequently, we’d appreciate it if everyone would wear their badge and bear with our monitors when they make their infrequent checks. We cut the red tape to a minimum and trust the honor system a lot more than we probably should to keep costs down and minimize inconvenience, and your cooperation would help us maintain those goals and what we consider to be a cordial and informal atmosphere rather than hiring guards to check admission at every doorway.

The Badge Police 1: I’ve been attending since 1991. The same guy asking me for my badge when I’m in Open Gaming every year got old ten years ago.   Perhaps if you wore your badge as required, he wouldn’t have to ask you for it. I’m sorry, but if wearing a badge is too much of a hardship, your gaming needs might be better served elsewhere. Good luck finding a large convention that doesn’t require a badge being worn or a security person who can remember 2,000 faces from year to year and instantly size up which of them may actually have a hidden badge somewhere on their person.
Reserve tables for Loners 2: I would add an Open Gaming area specifically for people to play with those they don’t already know (similar to what happens at the vendors demos). Because I attend the convention by myself, I always look for players to check out a new game from the library, but whenever I get to the Open Gaming area it’s always groups of buddies playing and they’re not really looking for outsiders to join in. I really liked the idea started 2 yeatrs ago, where players could put up a kiosk showing they are looking for new players or experienced players, or a private game, but the first year I only found a few kiosks looking for new players and this past year I didn’t see any. / someone that could help solo gamers find opponents. I’m not part of a game group. Hard enough to find friends or family willing to play games. Primary reason why I went to WBC. I was able to play many games in the Open Gaming area, but found it tough for a period of time to find players. Opponents Wanted Kiosks in Open Gaming 2

The Open Gaming kiosks still exist and can be checked out of the library as an aid to finding opponents. Setting aside tables specifically for loners is a solution worse than the problem judging by the vocal response from some quarters about tables set aside for exhibitors demonstrating games and enforcement of table squatting rules. Our room monitors have enough to do without trying to decide who are truly “loners” and who are a group of buddies that have ignored the “Reserved” sign and commandeered the table.

This problem is best solved by being less introverted and sucking up the courage to ask if you can join in. Don’t take a rejection seriously and move on to another table. Many folks welcome new friendships and would be glad to have you at their table. And just because you don’t see players wanted kiosks in use doesn’t mean you can’t put one in play for others to respond to.

Reduce Emphasis on Open Gaming 4: It’s not called the World Open Gaming Chamionships. Open Gaming is everywhere. Let us have our one convention for tournaments.

Increase Emphasis on Open Gaming 2: People don’t realize it is such a big part of WBC because of the concentration on tournaments.

  ’Nuff Said.
Ban Demos 2: Do not let game demos take up Open Gaming space. / I think demos in the Open Gaming space should be given by those in the hobby trying to grow interest in the games they enjoy, rather than by vendors trying to sell a product. They could be scheduled like the tourney demos so as to minimize disruption of gaming space. Add Demos 4: Move Cafe Jay and demos into the Showroom so people can eat in the BR Foyer. / More demonstrations in Open Gaming, with an experienced player setting up a game, and watching over it as others come in and try it. I think Open Gaming and exploration is one of the great strengths of WBC, allowing both veteran and new gamers to find games they enjoy or that pique their interest. But combining that with someone to teach the rules and help the first (always rocky) time playing the game would make it all even better.

The inclusion of demos in the Open Gaming area seems to be somewhat controversial. So what else is new? I would think it would be a natural fit, but due to vocal criticism of it by some, we will be prohibiting exhibitors in Open Gaming for the time being. That exclusion will not apply to Sponsors who are paying the freight for the room in the first place!

In general, we agree that demos are a good feature and encourage more of them by publishers as well as others. Willing demonstrators however are in short supply and we are hard pressed to keep even the Sampler Showcase stocked on Tuesdays. If you’d like to help solve that problem, please contact me. We’d appreciate the extra help.

Longer Hours 1: Keep some Open Gaming open until noon Sunday.   We actually keep Open Gaming open till 6 PM on Sunday—although it is little used on Travel day. You may be referring o the Library which closes at midnight Saturday so we can take inventory and pack it up. Aside from issues of available manpower to do so, were we to keep it open longer, the library loss rate would undoubtedly increase due to people forgetting the deadline. The present closing gives us a little leeway for those who ignore the rules.
Web-based Opponent Finders 2: I would like to see some sort of web based “opponents wanted” pools for specific games so that those who wanted to play a specific game could meet up easier than just going to the Open Gaming room and waiting for an opponent. I really didn’t investigate the most efficient way to find opponents, and may have missed it if something like this was available.   You can lead a horse to water … every year our pre-registration page is open months in advance of the convention and augmented with free roommate/ride/opponents wanted ads for just this purpose. Our frequent references to this resource on our website and newsletters however do not generate a lot of traffic so you might be better off just using our folders on BGG or CSW.
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