Pay to Play
by Todd VanHooser
by Todd VanHooser
Over the past year I have had the chance to become involved in the Arizona convention scene, and in some cases, have even been a fairly big part of it. As an author I have participated as a vendor, and as a game designer I have participated as a Game Master, or event runner. There is a great amount of work that goes into both of these roles, but recently I have become aware that some of our local conventions have cast a serious shadow over one of these roles in particular.
As a vendor, it makes sense to pay for your booth space. Its the equivalent of paying rent to hock your goods for the weekend. For the most part, these spaces are fair in price...even if the overall attendance (and therefore market) of the convention has been disappointing. Paying for vendor space, however, is not the point of this article.
Instead, I'd like to look at the role and the value of the game master at a convention.
I recently returned from a gaming convention where I literally spent twenty hours entertaining those in attendance. By "entertaining," I mean crafting complex and engaging stories, printing pre-generated characters for easy play, preparing miniatures and settings, and of course juggling a table full of eager gamers, each with the full expectation of being fully entertained for 3-4 hours at a time.
While visiting from out of state, my mother-in-law stopped by the convention for a few minutes just to see what all of this looked like. The next morning, before taking off for my hour drive to Mesa where the convention was being held, she said to me, "It's incredible how much work goes into all of that! How much do you get paid?"
"Paid?" I said with a laugh. "Actually, most game masters paid to be there."
She was stunned. And the more I thought about it, so was I.
All of this comes on the heels of yet another announcement that an upcoming local convention is, once again, asking game masters to pay for their convention badge. Sure its "only" half the cost of admission. In other words, you're looking at being out $20-25 in order to provide everyone else a good time.
That's exactly what I would like to discuss here. I'd like to address the notion of asking game masters to pay for their badge at conventions. Knowing first hand the amount of actual work that goes into this role, I find it...well, insulting.
This shows a serious lack of respect for the entertainment aspect of these events. And it is a troubling trend for this industry.
First of all, let's really break down the role of the game masters. During the actual convention hours, these people are slaving away doing their best job to show attendees a good time. If its a tabletop RPG, then more than likely, there were several hours worth of preparation that came long before the convention opened their doors. Any "recreation" on the part of the game masters likely occurred after the gaming hall closed.
Putting my own personal experience aside, I saw a number of familiar faces locked behind a table from the moment I walked in the door to the moment I left for the evening.
The people attending a gaming convention have come to have fun. They have come with the expectation to have a good time, lose themselves in a RPG, escape their normal lives for a weekend, and to see the full value of their convention badge. The convention coordinators are not the ones providing that entertainment. The game masters are. What would those attendees be doing if those game masters were not there?
Many of those attendees, in fact, only came for certain games. In other words, the only reason why they paid for their convention badge was to participate in a specific game.
You see, the game masters are the entertainment. They are storytellers and tour guides to a fantasy adventure. In fact, the game masters are the bridge to that weekend escape those attendees are looking for.
Making game masters pay is the equivalent of actually charging a band to play at a concert. Its insulting to those people who have put forth the hours worth of work in an effort to show someone else a good time.
I'm unhappy with this trend, and it's not the money that's the problem. It's the principle.
For convention coordinators, I'd consider an old saying: "You get what you pay for."
And for the record, all game masters will be getting in for free at the Laughing Moon Convention in September--each with our deepest debt of gratitude for taking time out of their weekend to entertain the crowds, and my personal thanks for the hard work that goes into it.