Forming a Gaming Community

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Seattle Gamers Assemble!

Seattle Gamers Assemble! (SGA) is a loose community of role-players centered around Seattle, Washington. After several years of operations, we thought it might be nice to share what we've learned about setting up a gaming community.

What is a Gaming Community?
In this article, we mean by "gaming community" a group of people that adopts a certain structure or organization to support game-related activities. At SGA, we focus on role-playing games but most of this advice is directly applicable for other types of games or even other activities.

STRUCTURE

What kind of structure fits the community you are forming? There is a plethora of models available, some more structured, some more informal or flexible. Although for brevity's sake we often lump all of these into one big category, here are some fine distinctions to support discussion and generate ideas:

ONLINE GROUP

That's the model for Seattle Gamers Assemble! We started out as, and still are, just a mailing list where people communicate to organize various events. We're as informal as they come: anyone who signs up or shows up is a member. We have few rules ("don't spam" and "don't troll" are about the extent of it), no officers, no assets.

To form an online group, all you need is a mailing list, a forum, a blog, a Usenet group, or whatever communication tool you prefer that will support discussions (but see Online Presence below for more discussion.)

Besides SGA, examples of online communities in Seattle include:

GAME CIRCLE

A game circle is somewhere between the minimalist organization of an online group and the much more structured game club. It may have a petty cash jar, perhaps some membership rules, etc. A game circle may also be more closely knit than an online group because it relies more on a network of people who know one another and bring in their own friends (a gaming pyramid scheme!) and less on a sign-up system. This may limit the size of this type of group.

We don't have clear examples of public game circles in Seattle, though we have countless small private ones. SGA may slowly be morphing into a large game circle; time will tell.

LOCAL CHAPTER

Local chapters of larger (regional, national, international) organizations have perforce more structure than your average mailing list. They generally have a formal registration process, often require a membership fee, and generally provide some support or services.

An example of local chapter in our area is:

GAME CLUB

A full-fledged gaming club is usually more structured because it typically owns or rents physical assets such as a meeting space, furniture, computers, supplies, games, terrain, miniatures, etc. In order to do this, a group needs money. As soon as you say money, you need to think about:

  • a treasurer and thus other officers (president, secretary, etc.)
  • hence a constitution or charter, by-laws, etc.
  • membership registration
  • a source of revenue, such as:
    • fees for events or services,
    • membership dues,
    • sale of club paraphernalia, used games, etc.

Gaming clubs are particularly suited to groups that need a physical location to store props, miniatures, or game components.

In the U.S., most true gaming clubs are associated with colleges and universities. In the U.K. private gaming clubs are more common. In Seattle, we have one private gaming club:

ACTIVITIES

Beyond having conversations (and/or flame wars) online, a group starts becoming a community when it organizes activities. Some may be recurring weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly, while others may be one-off events. Some are gaming events, some are purely social.

Pick and choose the ones that your group will be interested in having. Here are a few ideas:

Weekly games
A new game and GM every week. Requires a few people with enthusiasm and persistence. See our article on Weekly Short-Shots
Meetups
Call everyone to meet for pizza on a Saturday, then those who are interested break off to play impromptu games. Requires little prep beyond advertising.
Bring-and-battle
Particularly suited to miniatures games and card games; announce a point budget and simple construction rules, everyone builds their characters, army or deck according to those rules and meets on the agreed day to duke it out. Requires little prep beyond devising the rules and advertising.
Tournaments
Particularly suited to miniatures games and card games. Requires at least one dedicated organizer, some prizes, a moderator or host, probably some materials and a decent amount of advertising.
Mini-conventions/Game Day
Find a (free) location, organize a GM sign-up, recruit participants. Figure two to six months to organize, especially if this is your first event. Requires several dedicated people, regular meetings, a good deal of organization. For an example see Emerald City Gamefest.
Full-scale conventions
The whole deal -- a two- or three-day weekend, a hotel or other public location, a pre-printed program, panels, tournaments, sponsors, etc. Figure six to twelve months to organize, especially if this is your first event. Requires several dedicated people, regular meetings, good organization skills, a legal framework to handle money, a registration system, lots of promotion.
Social events
Everyone interested meets for for a meal or a drink. Requires little prep beyond picking a location and advertising, unless some brave soul wants to volunteer to host. In that case, you also need volunteers to help set up and clean up.
Newsletter
Physical or electronic. Requires a few people dedicated enough to write or draw, someone with decent edting skills, someone with decent graphic and layout skills, and a means of distribution. If it is going to be published regularly, you also need these people to have some persistence.
Swap meet
Everyone interested shows up with their used games to sell and trade. Only requires securing a location and advertising the event, but works better if people post in advance the list of games they're interested in buying, selling, or trading.
Painting, terrain or prop workshops
The crafty people in your group meet to work together and exchange tips on painting, building, etc. Requires finding a suitable location (and securing permission), assembling and transporting materials, and promoting the event.

LINKING UP

Online Presence

You're here and we're here on this wiki because we — you and us — are Web-savvy. Although not every gamer is a 'Net-head, the RPG community that doesn't maintain a strong Web presence is cutting itself off from a vast pool of gamers. There are two big reasons to have a well-organized Web base for your gaming community: promotion — it's your virtual front door and perhaps the only front door you'll have; and convenience — you have a toolbox available to help you communicate, organize, and rally.

There are many tools you can use to allow community members to communicate with one another, promote discussion, and help organize events.

E-mail list
Requires a list owner/administrator and possibly some support software or list server. Members have to sign up or register.
Web-based group
Requires registration with a provider (e.g., Yahoo!, Meetup or Google group), a list owner, and optionally, some moderators. Unless you open your list to the general public and potential spamming, all members will have to register.
Gaming blog
Requires a blog (e.g., LiveJournal, Blogger, Yahoo! 360, MySpace, WordPress, etc.); unless you plan on accepting anonymous comments and/or screening them individually, this requires every member to sign up for a blog ID. Many members may not want to make this effort.
Forum
Requires a host and some software, and a tech-savvy administrator. Optional: moderators are useful.
Wiki
Collaborative platform such as this RPG.net wiki or Pbwiki. Useful for shared writing, but a large number of members will never take the time to unerstand how to use a wiki. Can serve as a nice addition to a standard forum or list.
Web site
Requires a host and a Webmaster. New material goes through the Webmaster for posting, so this is best used as a supplemental presence, not as your main contact and discussion point.
Social bookmarking
Sites like del.icio.us, Furl, Simpy, and many others allow multiple users to share and comment links. This is a handy way to exchange good sites, discussion threads, online documents, etc.

See also our discussion of other online tools to promote weekly games; these can be used to organize and support all your game activities. You can of course use a combination of elements.

Whatever approach you choose, it is very important to keep your virtual front porch clean and welcoming. In other words, your Web portal should offer clear navigation, easy access to various sections and tools, and look inviting or at least unintimidating to newcomers. If people can't figure out how to post or where everything is, they won't visit you a second time.

Networking

A community is a fractal beast: communities can network into larger communities. Don't limit your horizons with a very narrow definition of what your group is about, at least not on first approach. Sure, if you play DnD or Exalted in a metropolitan area you can probably find enough players to get a game going and even to organize events. But why not start wider and meet more people? If the community is very large, it will sub-divide soon enough anyway. But most of the time, you will find the opposite problem: too few people rather than too many. So how do you build your local gaming community?

Ask yourself: Who else is out there that shares your hobby? Although our main focus at SGA and in this article is role-playing games, most of us are interested in many other related activities:

  • Board games
  • Miniatures games
  • Wargames
  • Card games
  • Console or online gaming
  • Live-action role-play (LARP)
  • Historical reenactment
  • Comic books
  • Science-fiction and fantasy
  • Creative writing
  • Game design
  • Theatre
  • Movies
  • Modelling (trains, planes, etc.)

So your contacts in the local community might include:

  • Gaming clubs and associations
  • Gaming stores (RPGs but also board games, card games, miniatures, hobby stores, etc.)
  • Comic book stores
  • Book stores, especially those specializing in science-fiction and fantasy
  • LAN gaming oufits
  • Recreationist societies such as the Society for Creative Anachronism, the Civil War Reenactment Society, RenFaire regulars, etc.
  • Writing groups and workshops
  • Improv theatre groups and workshops
  • Movie clubs
  • Local game publishers
  • High schools, colleges and universities

Approach these contacts and try to build bridges. Exchange links and posters. Organize demos and common events. Your most natural allies are other gaming groups and associations in the area. Participate in one another's events, coordinate so you won't compete for players, share resources.

Here in Seattle, we have had good success teaming up with board gamers, wargamers, card gamers, etc., and of course with other role-players, including several of the groups mentioned on this page.

PROMOTING

If other people who might be interested in participating in this gaming community never hear about it, they can't join it. You need to get people: (A) aware that your community exists, (B) interested so they'll want to join, and even (C) excited about it so they'll want to participate. That means you have to distribute information about what the group, club, list, etc. is all about, what activities you organize or support, and why it's fun and interesting.

Creating Buzz

Notice how every type of event your group may organize requires some form of promotion. It begins with posting a notice on your mailing list of course; but don't think for a moment that this will suffice. You need to get in contact with potential participants and get their attention!

  • Naturally, you best buzz is still word of mouth. Talk to your friends, your community members, the gamers you meet at the local stores, etc.
  • You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, we're told. Tell people what's in it for them! Why should they join your group, participate in your event, etc.? Surely you're doing this because it will be fun. Tell them how much fun!
  • A proven record is the best way to show folks your promises are not empty. Show them how much fun the previous event was, and why they should be sorry they missed it! Take a look at some of our suggestions for post-game promotion of weekly game events.
  • When promoting upcoming events, consider posting invitations on game forums such as RPG.net, EN World, theRPGsite, or Story Games, as well as more focused forums. Don't spam them! Simply introduce yourself and explain why you think this event is of interest to the gamer community. Be courteous and patient. Ask other members of your community to chime in and give their perspective.

Promotional Materials

POSTERS
Tutorial: Assembling the posters

If you have someone in your group who has graphic skills, consider putting together a poster to advertise your community.

  • What: Put an attractive, eye-catching image but do not clutter the poster with an overabundance of visual elements. Include a clear title and your game club's name. In smaller print, you can have a short description of your club events, just enough detail to get people interested. And, of course, include the club's contact information (URL is best.) Do not include information that is subject to change without warning, such as the location of any events. That's what your Website or forum is for. And for Heaven's sake, proofread the poster before finalizing! Typos in promotional materials are at best a turn-off and at worst a cause of problems (e.g., wrong contact info.)
  • How: We like to do ours on 11" x 17" "tabloid" format (A3 would be closest among international or ISO 216 formats), with tearaway tabs giving our name and URL. Tearaway tabs are printed on two rows length-wise on 8.5"x11" letter paper (use A4 for international format). Remember to bring thumb tacks and tape when you go a-postering. See a tutorial prepared by Demongg for our club's posters by clicking on the image.
  • Where: At the very least, hit all the gaming stores, comic book stores, LAN gaming spots, book stores specializing in science-fiction and fantasy, etc. We also try to hit coffee shops, Internet cafes, etc. that are located nearby. Ask the owner or manager politely whether they wouldn't mind you hanging the poster; be prepared to explain why it would be a good idea for them to have your poster around (e.g., building a more vital gaming community, promoting more different games, etc.) Other good places to post include college and university campuses, and high schools if you can get permission.
HANDBILLS
  • What: Although you should strive not to clutter your design, you can afford to put a little more detail than on posters if you want, because the reader has a little more leisure to read them. It's acceptable to put more "perishable" information because handbills have a fairly short shelf life. You can have more contact information, perhaps some location and schedule information for upcoming events. Still, don't overdo it; easy does it!
  • How: You can easily make handbills by printing four to a standard page: this yields four 4.25" x 5.5" handbills if you use American 8.5" x 11" letter paper, or four A6 handbills if you use international (ISO 216) A4 paper. For visual appeal, handbills can be printed in black ink on colour paper at modest cost or, if you're feeling ambitious, in full colour on white paper. Plan on printing at least 50 handbills per location where they will be available.
  • Where: Same places as the posters, but you may need a little extra diplomacy because you need to ask the owner or manager if you can leave a stack of handbills near the cash register. In bookstores, ask if they would be willing to add one to each purchase, just like they do with bookmarks. (You can be sneaky and make bookmarks in lieu of handbills — just size them appropriately and print them on cardstock rather than paper.) Be sure to replenish the stacks as needed, for the duration of your promotion effort (it can be on-going if you have the manpower and budget.)
STANDUP SIGNS
Example of standup sign used by Third Place Gamers

A standup sign can easily be made by folding a page in three and forming a little self-standing triangular sleeve.

  • What: About the same content as a handbill, but don't clutter!
  • How: Divide letter or A4 paper in thirds along its length and in half along its width. Print three sides to form the sleeve. Cut in half along the long direction, fold each in three, and tape shut. You get two signs per page. See the example illustrated, created by Kedamono for Third Place Gamers
  • Where: A little trickier yet — these signs need to be spread out on tables. Ask the manager of gamer-friendly coffee shops, and any location where gamers may be welcome to set up (local fast-food joint, college cafeteria, etc.) Here, we have the very nice Third Place Commons, a kind of indoor urban park. You should expect your little signs to disappear fairly rapidly as people clear them to make space when using the tables. Re-stock as needed.
ADS

Ads are a little tricky because they're so ubiquitous. We're deluged by ads everywhere around us. Where will you advertise? Will anyone notice your ad among all this competition for attention? How much will this cost?

Some of the logical places you might want to try first:

  • Exchanging ads with other gaming organizations in your area.
  • Free ads are sometimes available with some game publishers.
  • Free or reduced-cost ads in the program of local gaming conventions.
  • Pony up for a paid ad in a well-read gaming magazine — that's well-read locally, of course.
  • Paid banner ads on sites like RPG.net or ENWorld (mostly useful to advertise specific upcoming events).

RESOURCES

Tips and Ideas

Other Communities



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