|Posted by Rob Maerz on June 23, 2015 at 10:10 AM|
Behind the Scenes with Convention Organizers Chuck Whitby and Paul Truitt.
Originally published in Classic Video Gamer magazine
What do you guys do when you’re not organizing these conventions?
Whitby: Right now I'm working two part time jobs and just finished school and an internship for the local conglomerate of doctor's offices. During the week I work at Challenge Arcade, one of Pennsylvania's last standing arcades to feature classic arcade games. On weekends I work at Petco helping with inventory control and selling pets.
Truitt: I work at an art gallery in New Jersey by day and buy and sell classic games, toys, and other cool stuff by night. I sound like some sort of nerd vigilante! It is mainly an online business through eBay (http://stores.ebay.com/Video-Games-and-Clasic-Toy-Store) and a website that is a work in progress. I also sell at conventions.
When did you get interested in video games?
Truitt: Well, I have photographic evidence that I was into Atari as a baby! But, like anyone born in the late ‘70s or ‘80s, I really remember getting into video games at the age of five or six when my family got a Nintendo.
Whitby: I've been playing video games for as long as I can remember. Growing up we always had games: Atari 2600, Intellivision, Adventurevision, Atari 7800, NES, SNES and from there on up.
Which of those systems is your favorite?
Whitby: The Intellivision always has a special place in my heart because it's the first system I have real memories of playing - hours of He-Man, Astrosmash, Burgertime, Q*Bert, Frogger and tons of other games. NES started my life-long obsession with Nintendo and I've been a diehard Nintendo fanboy since 1985.
Do you still have the Adventurevision?
Whitby: Unfortunately the Adventurevision is long gone. You know how it is - when you're a kid a toy is just a toy. When you stop playing with it your parents get rid of it.
What games are you collecting currently?
Whitby: I used to collect games but I've slowed up quite a bit recently. I collect Intellivision games, NES games and SNES fighting games and RPGs (and some other games here and there). Unfortunately when I'm running my conventions I never have any money to buy games from our dealers - it's a constant torture.
Truitt: I mainly collect for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and Vectrex. I also collect systems and own roughly 50 unique! I collect games for other systems too, but just stuff that I like to play. As for NES and Vectrex, it’s my goal to own every game for those systems, whether I’m into the games or not.
How long have you been organizing gaming conventions?
Truitt: Two or three years now. My first was the May 2008 Too Many Games event, but I was doing behind the scenes stuff prior to that: helping with promoting the events, word of mouth and giving opinions etc. I was also a vendor at every event previous.
Whitby: I've been organizing gaming conventions since 1999 and maybe even earlier. When I was younger we used to hold small Magic: The Gathering tournaments where my friends and I would get local players together and put up prizes for everyone to play for.
In 1999 I paired up with David Newman, the original founder of Philly Classic, to help him with organizing and running Philly Classic. I worked on Philly Classic for the first two years then parted from the team. After a couple years off from Philly Classic I wanted to hold my own classic gaming convention in my area, started up East Coast Gaming Expo and held our first show in 2004.
Why the name change from East Coast Gaming Expo to TooManyGames?
Whitby: East Coast Gaming Expo is kind of long winded and not really accurate as Pennsylvania is Mid-Atlantic and not really on the east coast.
Another reason for the name change is that ECGXpo was really focused on classic gaming. As the show aged I realized that while my roots and the show's roots will always be in classic gaming, to expand the show and make it grow it needs to encompass modern gaming as well. TooManyGames.com was a domain I had registered ages ago so the con just became TooManyGames - simple as that.
What motivates you in organizing gaming conventions? Why are they significant?
Truitt: I love gaming in general whether I’m swinging my arms around with my wife with a Wii game or playing with 500 people at a convention - it’s just fun! I mean, someone has to do it right? I’ve been attending conventions as a vendor since Philly Classic 5 and always had a desire to get into this.
Whitby: I love getting gamers together to have a great time. There are so many different kinds of gamers. It's really amazing to see young, old, hardcore, casual, rich and poor get together and just enjoy the gaming culture together. It's awesome!
Truitt: Cons hold significance and value to me on a few levels. First and foremost, the communal aspect is essential to core gamers. A lot of us communicate on message boards or Xbox Live, but the chance to interact with one another in person builds lifelong bonds and strengthens our hobby and lifestyle. And while the new games can definitely be great, cons help expose younger gamers to the classics like Space Invaders or the original Donkey Kong. Kids need to know (and enjoy!) their history.
The conventions are not just about classic gaming, right? What can gamers expect from attending your shows?
Whitby: TooManyGames has always offered a great time for a great price. TMG always had a huge and diverse marketplace where gamers can buy not just games, but gaming art, music, clothes, novelties and tons more.
We're going to continue having great tournaments on classic and modern systems - games like Warlords up to Tekken 6 are always welcome events. Past TMG's have had live music and everyone's always loved that and we're going to start bringing more music to the show.
We're also expanding a bit into Japanese culture - beginning with our April 2010 show we're working with the Network of Reading Otaku (NORO) to bring anime and Japanese culture into the show. We've also recently teamed up with local comic and gaming superstore Golden Eagle Comics with them heading up our Magic: The Gathering events.
Why should a gamer attend a convention when they have eBay or GameGavel as a video game marketplace?
Truitt: For a collector it’s simple: a convention allows you to examine a game in person to ensure it’s right for your collection. What’s “mint” to you might not be “mint” to me.
Whitby: At a gaming convention you're right there with the item you want to buy. You can hold it, check it out and see its condition. There's nothing hidden, there's no risk and it's right there for you to see. You also get the opportunity to trade directly with the seller - maybe you have something he or she will be interested in and get a discount on the game you want. You also get the chance to haggle which is something you can't do on an eBay store.
What distinguishes your conventions from the others?
Truitt: With Game Core I am trying to incorporate all aspects of gaming including board games, arcade games, video games, collectible card games, miniatures, RPG's etc. We’re also trying to do celebrations of gaming milestones like last year when we did the 10th birthday celebration for the Sega Dreamcast.
Whitby: There's more gaming cons now than ever so it's tough to make sure that your con is more memorable than others. TooManyGames has kind of lost the ability to innovate over the years while we focused on offering a good value to both our vendors and attendees. I think we're going to start changing that quite a bit in 2010 as we start making plans for all our future shows.
Chuck, when you say “lost the ability to innovate” – are you saying that being innovative was cost prohibitive? Was the goal to keep TMG vanilla in order to keep costs down?
Whitby: Exactly. Gamers expect big bashes with lots of action and a party atmosphere. The backend costs of doing a huge gaming party are enormous (staggering really). We've always tried to ensure people have a fun time at TooManyGames, but really the show hasn't grown as much as I had hoped due to lack of funds from keeping the exhibitor and attendee costs down.
That's why starting in 2010 we're working at doing two shows a year: one that's less cost prohibitive with less flash and glam, and one where it may be a little more expensive to be a dealer at or attend, but will totally be worth the money paid. We'll have more info on that at the April show.
Roughly how many vendors attend your shows?
Whitby: We generally have around 30 different vendors at the show taking up from 50-65 tables selling all sorts of merchandise. I don't know if any of our vendors have come from outside the country (yet) but we have vendors from all along the east coast from New York to Florida.
Truitt: We get around 50 vendors on average and they come from as far away as the Southern United States, but mostly from the Tri-State area (PA, DE, NJ).
Have you attended conventions prior to organizing your own? Were they influential in any way that would have led you to organizing your own conventions?
Truitt: As I mentioned, I attended Philly Classic 5 and I was blown away that were all these other people into classic games like me. Then as a vendor, I started doing Chuck’s ECGXpo and TMG shows. I just wanted to help and have more say as I thought I had a lot of good ideas. Chuck has taught me so much about running a convention and how much actual work goes into it.
Whitby: I worked on Philly Classic (one of the best indie gaming cons ever) so I have that knowledge under my belt. I've also been to VGXPO and GameX, the two regional, more corporate events. Like other convention organizers, I visit other events to get ideas on how to improve our show, see what works for their show and see what doesn't.
Chuck, along with Paul Truitt as the Live Entertainment Director and yourself as the Executive Director for TooManyGames, you have Carlson Stevens onboard serving as the Marketplace Director. Can you discuss these roles in regard to the respective responsibilities that these individuals have in making these cons possible?
Whitby: I do all the backend stuff: getting the venue booked, handling all the money and the majority of the ideas and promotions. Paul's taking over live entertainment which is working on getting bands and guest speakers for the show. He's a lot better at talking with bands than I am.
Carlson is our newest TMG member. A long-time vendor, he's now putting on the organizer hat. He is a dealer at dozens of gaming and anime conventions all over the country and has made lots of great connections with other dealers at those shows. He's helping us expand our marketplace by bringing in new vendors that our attendees can shop at!
I have seen on both of your sites requesting volunteers to help out with the show. Roughly, how many volunteers typically lend a hand and what are some of things that they do?
Truitt: Volunteers do all sorts of stuff and are the reasons these shows can happen. We usually have five to ten volunteers (if we are lucky). It’s hard to get people to do work for almost free. They do anything from checking wristbands, setting up consoles, running tournaments, running out to grab lunch and running to Staples. There are so many things.
Whitby: Generally, no matter how many volunteers we get for TooManyGames, it's never enough. I'd like to have an army of twenty or so volunteers to help with everything during the show: setup, running tournaments, MCing panels, overseeing the game room, security, tear down, and any other miscellaneous tasks that pop up during the event. We usually have three or four people pitching in to help out (in addition to the organizers ourselves). That's a far cry from the number of people I'd like to work with at the show.
How far out do you have to begin planning the convention?
Truitt: A full year in advance would be optimal, but in my experience it takes between five and eight months.
Whitby: Ideally I'd love to have a year to plan a show, but that's never how it works out (and unfortunately sometimes it shows). Paul and I will actually be doing a panel in April about what it takes to put together a gaming convention so be sure to check it out!
How much setup time does the venue typically give you?
Truitt: That all depends on the venue that you go to. We have had as much time as 48 hours to as little time as 2 hours. It all depends on the hours of the show and what you pay for.
Whitby: For this April's show we can get into the room at 7 AM and the show starts at 10 AM - three hours. Sometimes we get lucky and if there's no event happening the prior day, or if it ends early enough in the day, we can get in to drop off equipment and get some of the heavy lifting done the day before, but that's the exception.
What are the biggest challenges you face in planning these conventions?
Whitby: Being taken seriously by some of the developers and publishers. As there are big gaming events that draw 50,000+ gamers it's tough to get big companies excited to participate in a show that draws under 5,000 people. There's nothing more that we would love than to have Activision, EA or Ubisoft there showing off new games that are coming soon, but it's an extremely tough thing to do.
Truitt: The right location at the right price is generally the biggest challenge. Since Philly is a pretty fertile market, you always have to keep the other shows in mind.
What are some of the mishaps that you may have encountered in organizing/planning or even on the day of the convention?
Truitt: There’s always something. For instance, the last venue Game Core was held at was unavailable on Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps and GPS devices. I didn’t think that was possible in 2009!
Also, there are always problems with vendors needing last minute items that they forgot at home, consoles for free play not working or we’re supposed to have a tournament on a certain game and someone forgot it at home. There are so many things that can and will go wrong but you kind of just take it at face value and figure out your way around it.
Whitby: Every show experiences growing pains. I think the biggest 'uh-oh' we had was not having our discount coupons printed for the May '08 TMG. For pre-registering on the website, we'd give a person a $3.00 discount coupon good at any vendor at the show. As we started letting the pre-registered people in someone asked 'When do we get our discount coupon?' We had 150 very understanding people accept the situation.
How were you able to resolve this situation?
Whitby: Really only a small handful of people complained (it was only $10 to attend and the discount coupon was for $3). But, those who did we made sure got a $3 discount coupon at the next convention.
How do you measure the success of each convention?
Truitt: First and foremost, did it look like everyone was having a good time? That’s my major goal for the convention. Then you need to make sure you got enough people to attend to cover costs and make the vendors happy.
Whitby: Two ways: attendance during the show and the amount of shit talk on various forums after the show.
But the forums can give you some valuable feedback on how to improve the shows, right?
Whitby: Oh, absolutely forums can give great feedback. The problem is that the people with the loudest voices often make it seem like mistakes were made maliciously and deliberately, which is never the case. TooManyGames constantly asks our vendors and our attendees for feedback, both publicly and privately. We want to ensure that everyone at the show has a great time with as few issues as possible.
Paul, how were you able to procure KITT and the DeLorean for Game Core 2009?
Truitt: Well, they were both not the originals from the actual movies. From what the owner of the KITT car told me there is only one actual KITT left in existence - all the others were destroyed. As for the DeLorean, it belongs to a buddy of mine and he made replica stuff for it like the flux capacitor and hoverboard.
One of the exciting features of the gaming conventions are the debut of new home brew releases for the classic consoles. In 2009, Prehistoric Times was released at TooManyGames and Shield Shifter debuted at Game Core. What is the process for a home brew author to get their title featured as a debut release at your convention?
Whitby: At TMG we actively look for home brewers who are going to be releasing their game near the same time the convention is. Sometimes you just luck into it. We're always looking to debut new games to the public, so any developers out there be sure to contact us if you want to release a new game at the show!
Truitt: Expect more from Game Core in 2010!
A few years ago, there was a 2600 home brew that debuted at a game con that a reviewer blogged as "the worst home brew ever." There was even a YouTube video that showed its monotonous game play and how bad the collision detection was.
Also, the blogger sited forum discussions where the home brew author was asking for help (only several months before the show) with Atari 2600 programming. Apparently, they were under the gun to deliver a product as a featured, debut home brew release for the con.
So, the question is: should the convention organizers be accountable for the quality of the home brews making their featured debuts at conventions?
Truitt: Absolutely not. If we only allowed AAA games to be sold at our events there wouldn’t be much to choose from! But on the flip side, we try to ensure the homebrew titles debuted contain finished code.
Whitby: While we have zero reason to be accountable, some of it does fall on our shoulders. People will relate the show to the game and if they see that someone released a poor game at a convention, they wonder why the convention didn't play a larger role in the game's development and release. Really, we're just a conduit for the promotion and sale of the game - we're not the developer.
But in the end, it’s a win-win for the con organizers and the home brewer. A fresh brew that debuts at the show is a little extra to lure collectors through the doors. The home brew developer gets the exposure and traffic to move the product.
Although the onus of the home brew product quality is not on the convention organizers, shouldn’t quality standards be established? After all, con organizers are in effect associating themselves with the product by promoting its exclusive debut release at their shows. In the example I sited where it was painfully obvious that it was not a quality product by any stretch, shouldn’t the convention staff have looked at the game, denied its promotion and looked elsewhere for a quality home brew to promote?
Whitby: Programmers are artists and as such many programmers don't want to reveal any aspect of their creation at all during the development cycle. At TooManyGames when we debuted Prehistoric Times, we had to beg to get a screenshot just so that we could show attendees that the game is indeed real and will be ready to purchase at the show. We don't get the chance to see or play the game until the public does.
Which gaming systems do you currently see as highly collectible today and which modern systems do you see as being highly collectible 25 years from now?
Truitt: Right now some of the most collectible systems are the NES, original Game Boy games complete and PS1 games.
Whitby: NES is still hot, SNES is picking up but I don't ever see it being as collectible as the original classics or NES. Prices on a lot of the golden age games have dropped significantly in recent years. Games which used to fetch $100-150 only bring $30-50 today.
Playstation collecting is starting to become hot and I think PS2 collecting might become hot soon.
Truitt: In the last five years, I have seen prices jump for PS1 games.
Whitby: I don't ever see Xbox or 360 collecting becoming popular. The main demographic for Xbox is concerned with the latest and greatest, not dinosaur games from generations past. As for Nintendo, I see GameCube, GBA, DS and maybe even Wii becoming collectible but never worth anything (except of course the rare short print run games).
Truitt: 25 years from now the system that will probably be most collectible is the Wii and one of the next generation consoles. The reason I say this is that the Wii is huge - everyone has one and plays it with their parents, grandparents, etc. There will be very fond memories of the Wii and that’s one reason why these things are collectible (as the NES is for me).
The reason I say one of the next gen consoles is because stuff usually becomes very collectible when people are old enough to buy back their old toys. Someone who is born today will be around five when the next wave of consoles come out. So, they will be old enough to buy back their old toys when that system is 20 years old.
Do you have any concerns with the current economic climate? Is there a potential for another correction in the video game industry as was seen in 1983?
Whitby: I don't see a crash coming this generation. There's already an enormous population invested in this generation of gaming and, while there are some turds coming out now, they're generally greatly overlooked for the real gems.
Truitt: I think games are pretty good in general as is the industry. But like I said before, games are lacking replay ability like Space Invaders has. That game is 32 years old and I can still play it for hours. Yet something like Borderlands, which I am currently playing, I don’t see going back and playing it after I beat it.
Whitby: My only concern with the current economic climate is our vendor base not being willing or able to put out extra money to participate in conventions. But I think that's something TooManyGames has always handled well - pricing our dealer space well below all the other conventions so that all our vendors are able to maintain a great profit margin.
After the show is over, everything is packed up and you're ready to call it a night, is there a sigh of relief? Are you anxious to get started on the next show or do you need to take a break?
Truitt: I think most show organizers will disagree with me on this, but I am always hyped with tons of new ideas, looking at how we could do things better and I want to get started. But I am just crazy - most people need a good month where they don’t even want to hear the word “convention.”
Whitby: It's a little of all three. At the end of the day we're absolutely exhausted - often times we set up and tear down the same day. There's always that rush of happiness after the show's over, it's like 'Whew, we made it and put on another great show. Everyone had a great time and the vendors were all happy with the turnout!'
It then turns into a little bit of depression - we say goodbye to our friends and fellow staff members and we all head our separate ways. Sometimes after the show is over we have our best ideas and we want to start planning right away. Most of the time everyone just wants to take a couple weeks away from organizing the show just to get some down time in.