On No-Shows in RPGs
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Posted by watchdog

(I also posted this on the Gen Con Indy Facebook page.)

Last week someone posted on the unofficial Gen Con Indy Facebook page. They were angry that players weren't showing up for an event they had purchased tickets to, and wanted to know why people would no-show an event. 

While a few of the comments agreed that not showing up for an event you signed up for was rude, the majority of the response seemed to be blase' about it. "Life/stuff happens." "I do what I want."

I'm not writing this vilify anyone who doesn't show up for an event, and I can't speak for all event GMs.  I just want to tell you about our group's experiences running single table RPG events at Gen Con: what we do to put an event together, how no-shows can affect an event, and how those no-shows influence our decisions about running future events. 

I'm with Evil Fleet Productions, and 2018 will be our twentieth year running events at Gen Con. One of our GMs has been running events for almost thirty years. We've qualified for Premier Event Group status every year Gen Con has awarded that designation.

We're not part of a gaming company. We don't have "GMs for hire". We're a bunch of friends who have home campaigns in a variety of RPGs, just like a lot of you. 

We start planning for next year's Gen Con before the current Gen Con is over. We have a traditional lunch the Sunday of Gen Con to review how our events went, and start brainstorming on what to do for next year. The first weekend we're home, we expand this discussion with the other members of our group that weren't able to attend Gen Con that year. 

We'll start writing our events in September. By January we're just a couple weeks away from the beginning of Event Submission. By early February we need to finalize our slate of events if we want to qualify for Early Bird Status which gets preferential location placement. 

We usually start playtesting after the hotel registration melee has subsided. The number of new events we run varies from year to year, but double digits is not uncommon. Work and family commitments make many weekends unsuitable for playtest scheduling, so some years we don't finish until July. But we playtest every event we run at Gen Con - no exceptions. We need to find out what works, and more importantly what doesn't. If the GM needs to makes enough changes, sometimes we'll even do a second playtest of the same event.

Months  of preparation go into each event: the writing, the playtesting, creating the characters, doing the maps, miniature figures, other props. I like to say that when your run games at Gen Con, it becomes a year round experience.  

It's never cheap, and can be really expensive when we pull out all the stops. One time one of our GMs wanted his Cthulhu event to have a scene where the players hear "Silent Night" sung in German with creepy sound effects. I knew a professional singer who spoke German and had access to a recording studio, but it would cost a few hundred dollars. Our GM's response: "You know what? Let's do it." 

Despite the expense of the events and the prizes we give away at them, we've never charged more than the minimum for any event. "Recoup our costs" has never been part of our mission statement. 

We do all of this because we love to run the kind of events that we would want to play in. Nothing beats the rush of happy players thanking you for your game, or telling you that your event is the reason they come to Gen Con. 

 The events that we run are almost all single table RPGs for six to eight players. One no-show is not a problem. Two no-shows can make it challenge for six player games. Three no-shows means you probably have to make major changes for seven and eight player games, and you have to consider cancelling your six player game. Four no-shows is an almost definite cancellation for six and seven player games, and possibly for eight depending on the scenario. In general, the more roleplaying driven (as opposed to combat driven) the scenario is, the more likely it is that the event will have to be cancelled. 

We'd never expect anyone to show up if they weren't feeling well, or had some emergency or crisis to deal with because yes, life does happen. But you can really affect a single table event when you just blow it off. And if you and a couple of friends all signed up for that event and just decide to skip it, you can cripple it or even force its cancellation. 

It's especially frustrating when there was very high demand for the event. GMs can request wishlish data to find out how many people were trying to get into the events they were running. We ran four Paranoia games this year that had a total of 31 slots. There were a total of 326 requests for those slots. They sold out in seven minutes.

Ten of the event ticket holders were no-shows. It's unlikely that a third of the players all had unavoidable issues that caused them to miss the events. A lot of people would have been happy to take their place.

"Then they should show up with generic tickets and try to get in!" You might think. That's not as easy as it used to be. They probably already purchased tickets for another event. And even if they left this spot on their schedule free, they have to weigh the time it takes to get to our game (which can be considerable with how far the convention is spread out amongst locations now) in what might be a fruitless attempt. If "life/stuff happens" is enough to keep an event ticket holder from showing up, it's even more likely to keep someone away when they aren't guaranteed a seat. 

"What about when GMs don't show up? That's even worse!" I agree 100%. When the GM doesn't show, there's no game. However, Gen Con can track the GMs who no-show and take appropriate action as long as even one player reports it. They can't track players since tickets can be bought for and/or given to other people.

So where does our group go from here? Last year I told our GMs that our twentieth anniversary was two years away, so if they had any big events in mind we should pull out all the stop for 2018. Yesterday at the brainstorming lunch I told them I was having second thoughts. Why risk spending a couple hundred dollars or more to make your event better if it might get cancelled? I really wish we didn't have to take that possibility into consideration.

I don't think there's a solution to this and I'm not looking for one. I don't think this post is going to start a change in the Gen Con culture. I just hope that if you stuck with this post this far, you'll carefully weigh the decision to skip an event. 

And if I may be so bold as to suggest: Ask yourself "Would the reason I'm blowing off this event be a satisfactory reason for the GM to not show up?"

Posted by garhkal

Our group's had to canx a few events each year, especially on sunday mornings, cause of so many no-shows, which means those who DO show up to the event, woke up early, paid to get in etc, wind up either not getting a game, or having to play in some other game. 
No shows DO hurt.  Especially the other players.

Posted by chef pandakage

I agree. No shows do end up hurting those involved. I got lucky for my first year and didn't have any no shows but I expected I might since I ran games during the opening hours of the exhibit hall. Glad I didn't. It's a really good introspective question to ask oneself. +1 to that.
Quick question aside how would one go about requesting data for their events?

Posted by watchdog

Chef: Email Derek Guder at [email protected] and ask for the wishlist data for your events. (Give the appropriate info.)

Posted by chef pandakage

Thanks watchdog really appreciate it.

Posted by father bloodlust

Question: if people return their event ticket during the convention, do the event organizers get some kind of notice that says "Hey, someone cancelled at the last minute" (or near the last minute)? Or do they not get a notice and just consider that person a no-show?

Posted by watchdog

Father Bloodlust: We don't get an automatic notification. You have to sign into the system and search under events to see if your events are still sold out or if any tickets have been returned. 

Posted by father bloodlust watchdog

watchdog wrote:
Father Bloodlust: We don't get an automatic notification. You have to sign into the system and search under events to see if your events are still sold out or if any tickets have been returned. 

Makes me wonder how many "no shows" were actually returned tickets.

Posted by watchdog

Well, if they didn't return any tickets, it will still show up as sold out. We had to cancel one event this year where that happened. Only two players showed up for a sold out event.

if they return tickets, it shows how many were returned (at least to me as an EO). That's why I made a couple of posts in the events forum when I discovered that formerly sold out events had seats available.

Posted by hawkeye

I wonder why the system doesn't email the EO when a ticket it returned. It will email the player to confirm that the ticket was returned and applied to system credit. I would think that it should also notify the EO that a ticket to their event was returned as well.

Posted by soulcatcher78

9AM Friday morning we had 2 no shows for an RPG tournament game.  One was unable to make the con at the last minute (so not ticket refunded) and one was just MIA.  The slot for the confirmed no show was filled pretty quickly but we had to wait until the last minute to find someone to round out our 5.  Playing a person short might have hurt our chances in the tournament but we still had a blast playing.

9AM Saturday morning 5 people from a game moved forward in a tournament due to a no show team.  This was a bit disruptive as it left a Judge 5 bodies short for a 6 person game.  Some scrambling later he pulled at least a table to 4 from people waiting to get into a game on generics.  There was much rejoicing at that table and fun was had.

I had a close call Sunday morning for a 9AM RPG slot.  I was early, the Judge was early, but 3 players had to check out of their hotel causing them to cut it really close.  2 players didn't show but I think that made the game better (4 players vs. 6) and we all had extra generics to help out the EO so that he had a "full" table to report.

Things do happen but are salvageable in some cases.  For smaller groups of players (independent GMs, niche games, etc.) this can be a killer though.

Posted by father bloodlust hawkeye

hawkeye wrote:
I wonder why the system doesn't email the EO when a ticket it returned. It will email the player to confirm that the ticket was returned and applied to system credit. I would think that it should also notify the EO that a ticket to their event was returned as well.

Yeah, that's my feeling as well.

Posted by helenbb

One suggestion to the OP: when people register for an event, they can be sent an automated message from the GM. Perhaps in that message you could explain why it is so important that your games run full, and ask that if the person cannot attend, that they cancel their ticket well in advance, to give others a chance. Include your contact information, so that if there is a last-minute emergency, they can let you know.

And for GenCon: maybe there could be a way for the people on the waitlist to be notified if the GM sends out an 'open spaces' message an hour before the event? That way, at least if people cancel last minute, there would be a way to notify others who might want to come.

Posted by nikas zekeval

As a recent returnee to Gencon, well I think I can offer some insights into some no-shows.

Last year, well things lined up in my life for Gencon.  One, I was now only a few hours drive out, and I recent had an increase in vacation time so I didn't have to give up other things to fit in Gencon.

And the first time back was overwhelming.  Particularly if you add in being in an offsite hotel and daily trips into and out of downtown Indy.  I did miss one game last year because I sorely underestimated the time I'd need on Friday to find a spot (six blocks or so out IIRC), to park, and rush to the convention center.  People used to other game cons, I don't think get the shear scale of difference Gencon is.

Many get worn down, and first timers and others without a lot of experience are unlikely to be lucky enough to get a downtown hotel.  So it is possible some overestimate what they can do, and overcommit on games.  Till either their bodies go "Nope, you are NOT getting up on five hours or less of sleep to be at that 8AM game for the third day in a row!"  Or they try to shave their safety margin closer to squeeze in more sleep and hit a problem with traffic and parking.

And it's not just cars, congoers add to the traffic snarls too.  Look, I know you have the right of way, but please, a little hustle or wait for the next light to let a car or two actually turn before it goes red again?

I will say, parking was less hectic this year, perhaps more people using Lyft and Uber given what they heard about the attendance?

Posted by garhkal father bloodlust

father bloodlust wrote:
Question: if people return their event ticket during the convention, do the event organizers get some kind of notice that says "Hey, someone cancelled at the last minute" (or near the last minute)? Or do they not get a notice and just consider that person a no-show?

Only if they ask iirc.  In years past when we were in the Sagmore rooms, close enough TO the event booths to ask, i would each morning get an updated "TIcket sale list" For our games.  Just to see.. 

 

Posted by rhone1

This is why I always post, "buy generics and show up to any event you want to play in, even if it is sold out."  I have always been able to get in almost every event I show up for, even without a ticket and especially RPG's.  People "no-show" all the time, especially as the Con is going for a few days.  Buy generics and show up, you'll get in.

Posted by bobvilla

This year I got a ticket to Alien Artifacts, every slot was sold out. I was the only person who showed up to my slot on Friday afternoon but the slot after me had 7 people show up for the 4 person slot.

This was the explanation I was given, apparently it was a 'demo' game so no charge then for some reason I didn't understand Gencon made them charge 2 bucks for the event so they cancelled the entire 130 odd tickets and resubmitted them about a month out. It seems some people didn't get the message so some times both ticket holders (the zero charge and the 2 dollar charge) showed up to the event and sometimes some people saw there ticket cancelled and didn't get the 2 dollar one. I ended up playing with two generic ticket holders and the guy teaching the game.

Posted by tdb rhone1

rhone1 wrote:
This is why I always post, "buy generics and show up to any event you want to play in, even if it is sold out."  I have always been able to get in almost every event I show up for, even without a ticket and especially RPG's.  People "no-show" all the time, especially as the Con is going for a few days.  Buy generics and show up, you'll get in.

You very well might.  But you might not, too.  And you've probably committed a one-hour time slot to finding out.  The convention is so spread out that the chances are any other games you'd like to get into is in another hotel, and you won't have time to get to it quickly enough to get in if you're turned away at the first one.

 

Posted by meldh

I was planning to post something along the lines of "can EOs please get an email if people drop tickets?" as well. We had to cancel one (of two) games on Friday afternoon as we only had two people show up from six. Looking at the checkout times from the other four, looks to me like they'd booked as a group and then no-showed as a group. *sigh*

Sure, for larger groups that might be a _lot_ of emails -- make it optional -- but knowing ahead of time that people had dropped out would have meant we could have put a sign up at Event HQ or similar to let people know we had space. No point putting a sign on the table since we were in the a**e-end of nowhere (314 at the JW Marriott)

Posted by belltowerben

Just a thought that I have seen used elsewhere. How about twitter.  If people know an event is full you can send out a tweet right at start time saying you have x openings and will start in 5 minutes.

I know this means people need to follow you on twitter but if they know about these possibilites then I think they would.

You might be 15 minutes behind schedule but if people know who you are and are willing to follow you on twitter they could get there and get in. Its a win for everyone.

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