Monday, April 25, 2011

Need Your Opinion: A New Model for Celebrity DMs at Cons

I am asking for your opinion about whether it's appropriate for a con to sell individual seats for games run by celebrity DMs. For instance, would you pay $50 or $100 to be guaranteed a place in a game run by your favorite DM / designer of all time? Do you think this is ethical?

I am asking this because I am trying to figure out a financially sustainable model to bring out-of-town celebrity DMs to our Los Angeles gaming events. L.A. isn't Lake Geneva - I can't just call up Jim Ward or Rob Kuntz and invite them to come out and run games for a day or two in exchange for free dinner. We gotta fly people out and keep them fed and sheltered for several days. This costs a lot of money.

The tricky thing, of course, is that only 6-8 people can play in a typical session run by a celebrity DM, so it's not really feasible (or ethical) to charge a lot for con registration fees across the board to finance bringing in VIPs. It doesn't make sense for general con-goers to underwrite sessions they won't even get to play in.

As a solution to this problem it makes a lot of sense to simply sell individual seats in VIP games in order to make just enough money to pay for the DM to be there. There wouldn't be any judgment made about how important the VIP is or about making a profit. Prices would NOT be scaled to a DM's reputation - only to how far they have to travel. The bottom line would simply be that there are enough players willing to fund that DM's presence.

You might say "Well, the traditional model seems to work for North Texas RPG Con... They only charge $30 for registration and they bring in all kinds of out-of-town VIPs!" Well... I hate to say this, but it's not working for NTRPGCon. The organizers have said publicly that they consistently lose money on their event. Quick math: $30 x 90 registrants = $2700 coming in. Even if you count other little stuff like souvenir sales, raffles, etc. ~$3000 is NOT paying for much - it probably barely pays for the venue and one or two guests (this is all speculation on my part, I don't have the actual numbers). NTRPGCon must have an investor with a very long horizon, or who doesn't mind shelling out lots of money for a really really fun weekend. I have to admit I don't really understand the short- or long-term NTRPGCon financial model, and I don't see how they will be able to continue to offer the VIP list that they do year-after-year. I assume GaryCon can pull off what they do because they can easily draw on the unusual concentration of local (Wisconsin) VIPs.

Lots of people will pay $80-$100 to go to an Ozzy concert. I would happily pay this much to play Gamma World with Jim Ward. I don't really see any other practical way of bringing out VIP DMs for gaming events...

Do you?

Seriously... let me know...