Meeting of Minds – David Wright, Tabletop Scotland

One of my core aims with The Giant Brain is to promote designers and publishers in the UK gaming scene. To this end I’m establishing a new series of articles where I interview various folks from across the UK tabletop gaming scene to get an insight into their games, their thoughts on current events in the industry and anything else that pops into my head. I hope you enjoy it.

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David Wright is the head honcho of the forthcoming Tabletop Scotland convention and has worn the hat of a hobby retailer as well as being an active member of the Scottish gaming community.

He was good enough to answer some questions about the genesis of the event, what they have planned and the issues the team has overcome in getting to this point.

 

Tabletop Scotland is really shaping up to be a great event. What was it that drove you to establishing a new convention in Scotland?

Thanks Iain, it’s really taking shape now and we’ve more announcements to come too so continue to watch this space.

So, what drove me to establish a new convention in Scotland? That’s a big question.

It’s one of those things that gamers talk about isn’t it. “Wouldn’t it be great if…”. Having spent the past 4 or 5 years having people say to me “You should organise a convention” I decided about 3 years ago that I was going to do it. The thing is I didn’t want to create another event, I wanted to create a flagship event for Scotland.

In summary, a lot of factors drove me but I suppose the main reason is that I wanted to and knew that I could.

A lot of people would have expected an event like this to be held in Edinburgh or Glasgow. What was the reason behind hosting it in Perth?

About 3 years ago I almost launched one in Edinburgh but I pulled the plug on it due to a variety of factors. Back then I felt that Edinburgh or Glasgow would be the right location but I couldn’t find a venue that ticked enough boxes for what I wanted at a level of financial risk that I was happy with.

After that abandoned attempt in Edinburgh I looked at venues in Fife (where I live) and Dundee but couldn’t find something that worked and so I put it on the back burner for a year whilst I focused on the day job.

My wife owns a wool shop in Pittenweem and she was at the Perth Festival of Yarn at Dewars Centre in September 2017. She came back from that and said “You need to go and look at that venue.” So I did. Within 5 minutes of looking around I knew it would work. It’s a great location both in relation to the services it has on offer and the logistics of the venue mean that you can get there from almost any part of Scotland in less than 90 minutes. So you could say that Perth is a happy accident.

You’ve managed to secure a lot of different exhibitors. How difficult has it been getting businesses to come to a completely new event?

It’s been a challenge for sure but one that I think my team and I are well equipped for. As a former brick & mortar game store retailer, I have the luxury of knowing a lot of people in the UK gaming industry either directly or through friends. Where I didn’t have contacts either someone in the team did or we collectively knew someone who could help. That only gets you so far though and ultimately the event has to make commercial sense to the exhibitors for it to work.

So we made a short list and a long list and then another even longer list of potential exhibitors. We leaned on the expertise of Richard & Tony from UK Games Expo, who’ve been a fantastic support, and used that input to reach out to some of our priority targets.

Some of those targets couldn’t make it work for them due to a variety of factors including logistics, timing in relation to their business priorities and of course some were on the fence about us given a lack of a track record. All of those things I completely understand and I look forward to speaking to them about attending in 2019 in due course!

You’ve got a great team helping you out and I’ve seen the extent of the organisation that you are putting into the event. What has been the biggest hurdle you have had to deal with so far and what advice would you give to others looking to put on a similar event?

I don’t think there’s one hurdle that stands out as such.

Hurdles that we have encountered though include –

  • Getting the word out : For this we deliberately launched the Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram presences before ticket sales launched. This enables momentum and gives you a reach to see if anyone is interested. You do need to actively manage and promote it though on various places. Especially with the Facebook page.
  • Credibility : Probably not an actual hurdle but something we were very conscious of coming into this. There are people who know the team members and that helps but to make sure that the convention wasn’t “just” riding on our own credibility we wanted to make sure we had the right support. A large chunk of that support comes with the partnership we have with UK Games Expo who, amongst other things, have spent time on the phone and over email asking us questions and providing guidance which has been immeasurable help. Alongside that I personally made time to visit game stores across Scotland speaking with their owners about the convention to get their input into what we are trying to achieve. Not only to encourage them to exhibit but also to get their support in promoting the event to their customers. Using that network alongside the UK Games Expo support gives us a starting point on credibility. Everything else comes from trying to be professional in everything we do.
  • Venue / event logistics : By this I mostly mean how we decided to utilise the space available and how we made various financial / attendance models to make sure that the event will work. X number of attendees / exhibitors for the convention to break even, Y number of attendees to justify using the upstairs spaces etc etc.

There are more hurdles to come I’m sure and we’ll address them when they come up but those 3 are probably the ones that stand out.

In my day job I’m a project manager and I’ve applied a lot of the planning, risk assessment, documentation and financial tracking that normally comes with that job to this “project”. If nothing else it gives me a familiar way to manage what we’re doing. This was never going to be a “hit and hope” type of event, I don’t like that level of random risk taking!

Out of all the events and exhibitors you have secured so far, which one are you most proud of?

Just the one? That’s really hard. As I said I wanted to create a flagship event and so to do that we needed to provide a flagship offering. Something special that’s never been in Scotland before.

I think we’ve done that with Geeknson coming and with hosting the first ever Dungeons & Dragons Adventurers League EPIC event in Scotland.

That said the one I’m most proud of so far is probably securing HABA to run our family zone. From the outset we wanted this to be an event that attracted new gamers, especially families, as well as existing gamers. We looked at a number of different options for the family zone and it was one of those moments where I thought “Let’s ask HABA if they’ll do it. The worst that can happen is they say no.” As it turned out they said yes and I’m really excited by that.

Those are certainly some exciting things you have managed to secure, I’m a massive fan of HABA and their products. Looking at the smaller companies and independents have you had a lot of interest from that section of the games community?

I suppose it depends on your definition of small and independent really! We wanted to have a strong Scottish exhibitor presence and we have that in spades with the retailers that are coming and from the designers / publishers too. Similarly we wanted to be more than “just” a list of Scottish based exhibitors and we’ve had interest from all over the UK for the convention.

Again it helps that as a team we’re pretty connected to the hobby in general which in turn led us to speaking with people like Kerry from Tabletop Crafter who will be there showcasing her gaming accessories.

We actively approached people like Kevin from Inspiring Games, Justin from BadCat Games, Keith from Cardboard and Coffee Games and Mark from Dream Big Games (Wreck & Ruin) to get their input into the event. Harking back to my reference to credibility, this wasn’t an “easy sell” to them as we had to bring them to the table and give them confidence in what we’re doing. There are others that we’re still speaking to and we will have more announcements to make about their attendance in due course.

You’ve recently announced that you are going to delay event booking until 30th May. What led to that decision and do you think it will hurt perception of such a new convention?

I’ll take the 2nd part first. Will it hurt perception? Maybe. In reality I have no idea if it will hurt us in any way. Ultimately shifting the date brings us in line with the majority of other conventions that offer event booking and is the right thing to do for the following reasons.

At the time of writing we have tournaments for Carcassonne, Catan (UK Nationals 2019 Qualifier), Mega-Karuba x 2, Pandemic: Survival and ShadeSpire. We will also soon be announcing another tournament to add to that schedule. Right now, we are working with Asmodee and our Tournament Organisers to finalise the rules packs for these and I think that’s going to take a little bit longer than originally planned.

Excluding D&D we have 19 RPGs in the schedule already with more submissions expected. We want to give our GMs as much time as they need to bottom out their plans before we open up booking for their games. On the D&D Adventurers League front, Wizards Of The Coast haven’t revealed to us which EPIC we’re going to have and whilst we don’t know which Adventurers League storylines will be available to us we do know that we will have at least 2 Premier adventures which is pretty awesome.

Taking all of that into account the last thing we wanted to do was open booking for a partially detailed schedule which would likely frustrate attendees if they had to regularly check the schedule for updates and in turn revise their bookings. I know from personal experience that is exactly the sort of thing that would frustrate me!

So, we shifted it back 2 months. There is a risk that the specifics for the D&D AL sessions won’t be 100% clear by then but we’re working on an approach to help attendees plan their sessions if that situation arises.

What are your plans for future events?

Future events… If this is your way of asking if there will be a Tabletop Scotland 2019, I’ll give a caveated “Yes” to that question.

The caveat being this – 2018 has to, at the very least, break even financially plus given that none of us has run an event of this scale before, we have been honest and upfront about that, there is always a chance that we might not want to do a Tabletop Scotland 2019 event.

Have we already spoken to the venue about 2019? Yes.

Have we already started to think about what we’d want to do for 2019? Yes.

But we’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We need to make 2018 a success first and then we can look at 2019 in earnest.

Aside from Tabletop Scotland the team are also involved in a number of clubs like DWARF in Dunfermline and East Neuk Tabletop in Anstruther. In 2017, DWARF hosted 70+ people on International Tabletop Day including a number of the Scottish Indie Publishers. On Saturday 28th April we’re doing it again and hoping for it to be bigger than 2017’s event.

What game from a UK designer has you most excited in 2018?

That’s a tough one but I think it’s seeing the published version of Legends Untold by Inspiring Games. What Kevin and the team have created looks fantastic and I can’t wait to play it.

I’m also really interested to see the Worlds Of 2000AD RPG by EN Publishing. As a 2000AD fan I’m really intrigued to see how the varied worlds of the comic come together in one RPG.

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