Game Publisher Training Camp

Michael O. Varhola

It has been more than a week since I got home from Comicpalooza, Skirmisher Publishing's big convention of the year, and I am still physically exhausted. That, however, is not a surprise, and has been the case with every major convention I have exhibited at for the past 12 years and it usually takes about two full weeks for me to completely recover. As I always say, our main con is the toughest week of the year and, ideally, also the best week of the year. 

And that is simply the way it has to be. As a mid-sized game company, we expend a lot of resources not just to be on the ground but to bring in as many of our authors and other affiliates as we can to run events and meet face-to-face with us, one another, and our fans. This year we had at various points as many as two-dozen people running our activities (some 27 staff members total), including 10 out-of-town people came in from six states (Texas, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina) and two foreign countries (Canada and Mexico). We collectively did game demos four days straight in what is known at the convention as the Skirmisher Game Pavilion, operated a double-sized retail booth, ran two late-night live-action role-playing games, did two "d-Infinity Live!" webcasts, hosted the convention's official Saturday night party. (I also personally ran the convention's 10-session "Paranormal Track" in addition to my role with Skirmisher and d-Infinity). Most of our out-of-town staff worked from about 9 a.m. one day until about 2 a.m. the next and then spent a couple of hours a day chatting and brainstorming on future projects and related things. 

Even if they tried, a convention attendee would have trouble conceiving just how much effort goes into being a major player at a large national-level convention. I come in two-and-a-half days before the convention begins and am the first one on the ground for the Skirmisher team and oversee prep work for it, serve as head of operations during the convention, and stay on the ground until the last person from our team has headed home. During the second day of Comicpalooza this year, one of the fans playing in the Skirmisher Game Pavilion whimpered at me as I walked past, "Mike I am so tired!" I almost laughed and — after suppressing the urge to slap him — simply made some sympathetic noises while contemplating that I had been on the ground four days at that point and was pretty tired by the time the convention opened its doors to the public. 

What struck me this year is that participating in a convention the way we do constitutes an annual training camp that gives our staff members some insights into almost every aspect of game development and publication, tests people's physical and mental limits, moves them out of their comfort zones, and builds camaraderie among colleagues. Every one of our staff members who came from out of town to participate in the event lived together during it, ran games, spent time in our retail booth, served as a host at our party, played a role in our LARP, helped promote our activity through social media, and jumped in to put out fires when and wherever necessary. Everyone's strengths were highlighted and their weaknesses revealed, a better understanding of everyone's place in the venture was gained, a handful of people who could not cut it dropped away from the heart of our operations, and everyone else got a clearer sense of new opportunities for them moving ahead. 

As one might guess, being in decent physical shape moving into an event like this is critical and something I have emphasized the importance of many times in the past. A number of friends and associates have, in fact, been inspired to follow my lead on this so as to better cope with the rigors of convention season (one of them, Wayne Walls, has even taken his pre-con fitness regimen way beyond what I have managed to do and help keep me on track with my routine). That said, no one in our group conformed to the stereotype of the out-of-shape gamer and they ranged from genuinely athletic to tough and resolved to enduring the rigors of the convention (all of us over the age of 40 falling into the latter category). 

As I sit here achy, spent, and mentally reviewing everything we did this year, however, one more thing is on my mind and bears mentioning, and anyone who knows me likely knows what it is: We have already started getting ready for Comicpalooza 2016. It is critical that we do so, in fact, while the lessons of this year and the many ideas we brainstormed late into the night during the week of the convention are still fresh in our minds. And with all that I mind I can be pretty sure of one thing: Even as this year's convention was our best one yet, next year's will be even better and will go ever further toward refining us as a company and as individuals in the crucible of game publishing.