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12.10.04  Things I learned at Gen Con So Cal

Gen Con So Cal has come and gone, and it was an exciting time. I was there from early early Wednesday morning to Monday evening, and I think I have enough stories from this event along to keep you in articles for the rest of the year and more. But doing several weeks of Gen Con reports is bound to get boring, so instead I decided to give you a list of the 45 things I learned at Gen Con So Cal, complete with annotations.

1.. California observes daylight savings time
We left from Arizona at midnight my time, going into the morning of Wednesday. I had a 9am meeting for set up, and figured this way I would get several benefits of having the kids asleep during the drive, and miss all the California traffic. I would like to say I succeeded in both of these things, but traffic was so good I arrived much earlier than I expected, getting in at 530am. No, wait, it turns out California has daylight savings time, and therefore I really showed up at 430am. With nothing to do for several hours, we ate a nice slow meal at Denny's, then headed to the hotel.

2.. Get a hotel confirmation
Well, we tried to head to the hotel. The hotel said we were not there, and we had no confirmation number to prove otherwise. The gentleman was very helpful, but simply pointed out that we had no reservation. We tried first to call the show manager Toby, but you know, it was like 5am, he wasn't awake. In a panic we called Dorcus, a Wizards employee and convention goddess, who, while slightly cranky, informed us that we had the wrong hotel information and we needed to "walk across the street to the other hotel."
Doh! We quickly called Dan Gray, our partner for this event, and had him send out an e-mail explaining to everyone the change of hotel. Somehow we had last years hotel info, not this years. Weird.

3.. The hotel reservations will still be wrong even with a confirmation number.
Of course, even when we checked in, our reservation was wrong,. Several hotels were missing names on them, and both our room and my wife's mother in law's room had us checking out one day earlier than we were supposed to.
When we finally did talk to Toby, he hammered this out quickly at least.

4.. Order Power Drops for your stage
We're going to skip right over the fact that my stage wasn't ready when I arrived, because that happens at every convention I have ever been to, so it's definitely not something I learned at Gen Con So Cal. What I could not believe, however, is that power drops were not ordered for the stage, so I had no power to run the portable and printers needed for the events. I'm not sure I really LEARNED that here, per se, as I already knew I would need power. What I learned was to no assume that it would be in the work order.

5.. Order signage for your stage
This was another big skip here. There were no signs, no easels, no tripods, no chalkboards, nothing. There was no place for us to post pairings or standings or announcements. Same as number four though, I knew we needed them, I just assumed they would be there, oops.

6.. Don't let anyone touch your staff's badges
This was one of the funnier issues all weekend. When we showed up for the event, the staff badges had not yet been made. Toby said he would pick them up when they showed up, so I was good, all under control. A few hours into set up, Mike Gills, a Wizards employee, came by and told me that the badges came in and that Toby asked him to drop them off at the hotel, so people could pick them up as they checked into their rooms. Not good.
First, there's the problem that at least two car loads of people I knew would come to the event site BEFORE they went to their rooms, because they had things to drop off on site for me. Second, I had people that weren't staying at the hotel at all, who now had no way to get their badge.
A quick trip to the hotel to ask for the badges back and things went from bad to worse. First, they refused to give me the badges because I was not the guy who gave them the badges, and they were afraid I was trying to steal them. Fair enough, but it meant I had to drag poor Mike Gills out of initial inventory to come request them back. Then they still didn't want to give them back to me so much as to have me write down a list of people who's badges I needed back because they had already sorted them into the hotel rooms, and had a small pile left of other badges.
I quickly wrote down the names I could think of off of the top of my head and gave it to them. They came back saying they had none of the badges for the names I gave them. This was scary for me, as theoretically it meant that not only were the badges gone, but since they "sorted them by hotel room" it meant some of the hotel room reservations were still messed up.
Short story long, it turns out that there were two sets of badges, one for the Wizards employees and one for my employees. The Wizards badges went to the hotel, and mine were not ready, so it turns out that all was ok, badge-wise and hotel-wise.

7.. Never believe that the schedule you got was the schedule you will be held to.
I'm not sure I should really call this one a lesson learned either, as it seems to happen every time for every convention. This time we knew it was likely, however, and grabbed a Gen Con program right off the bat to figure out which events had changed and try to fix our staff schedule to match theirs.

8.. Pokemon is a Non Tradable Card Game
It was while looking through the Program guide that we noticed this. For some reason, Pokemon was not listed as a Trading card game like all the the others, but a Non Trading card game, like "Brawl or Lunch Money." When I asked Karl, who was running the Pokemon events about it, he just shrugged and said he had no idea why the put it like that.

9.. There is always something last minute you will get handed to do
This is another one that I think is not a lesson learned for Gen Con So Cal, but a lesson reinforced. When we showed up at the event, we were asked to also run what is called a Convention league. In this league we have to log every match anyone plays for any of the Wizards games and give out daily and end of convention prizes. It basically became my job for most of the weekend, since I was in the judge table doing certification and had some spare time when I wasn't fighting fires.
A side note about conventions - while they may seem incredibly chaotic when you read my reports, its not as bad as it sounds if you have the right attitude. Basically, working a convention is like being a firefighter, and there are dozens of little fires everywhere. If you can keep your cool, no one fire is particularly hard to put out. Its all a matter of moving quickly and stopping any of them from raging out of control.

10.. The product order is always wrong
Its happened to me before, but I think this time I really learned it. We ended up with drastically less G.I. Joe product than we needed to run a tournament, and more Unhinged than was ordered. No biggie.

11.. You need a special tag to give product back
This one was entertaining. Our product came out on a palette. We took what we needed for the first day, then wanted to return the rest back to storage.
The forklift operator came out, then yelled at us that we didn't have a storage tag on our product, so he couldn't take it back. Now, in retrospect, this makes perfect sense as otherwise how would the guy know where to put the product, but why in the world I couldn't just put a big piece of paper that said WoTC on it was beyond me.

12.. The red status light means replace toner cartridge
During the first set of table number printings, my printer suddenly stopped printing, and the red status light started blinking. Unfortunately, I had no idea what a red blinking light meant, and we started trying everything, checking for printer jams, sensor problems, roller problems, and whatever else we could think of. It was finally my wife who figured out it meant replace toner cartridge, but not for hours after we had started.

13.. If you need two sets of table numbers, and only have one, the first group of tables goes 1,3,5,7,9, and the second group goes 2,4,6,8, 10.
During the time we were crying over the printer, I had to keep moving. But I needed to number up two sets of tables, and only had one set of numbers!
Then a revelation hit, and I realized that I could just set up the first group as even numbers and the second group as odd numbers. I feel so smart sometimes.

14.. Kids Play must mean something to somebody
One of the new things I had to do was provide staff for Kids Play, which is supposed to be a place where parents can leave kids while they go play games. My staff was supposed to be WoTC sponsored and would help babysit/teach kids some of the Wizards games targeted towards younger audiences. When we got there, however, we quickly found out that not only did no one know where the Kids Play area was, but also no one knew exactly what my staff was supposed to be doing there, and what product they were supposed to have. Fortunately everyone was very relaxed about it on the WoTC side, and on my side the Kids Play staff was very nice about being available to do whatever we wanted them to do.

15.. Give out an "appropriate prizes".
Working for several different companies, and several different games for those companies, it's always hard to understand what kind of prize pool they want to give out for different levels of events, so I always ask for a list of how the prize pool should be distributed for different events. The sheets I got for all the events this time stated that I should "Hand out appropriate prizes." Fortunately Scott Larabee was around to translate this into something real for each event.

16.. Board Game Rental policies exist somewhere, right?
Another new thing we were doing this year was Board Game Rentals. We were supposed to have some way to lend people board games for a one ticket
($1.50) fee, but it was a new thing, and we had no policies for it, nor did any arrive. Not a big deal tho, we made our own as we went along and things seemed to go fine.

17.. The "secure" lock cage has wheels, and can just be pushed away.
During this event, we would be holding product over night, so we requested a lock cage to store product in, and sure enough they provides us with one.
This monstrous green thing was brought out to us, which taught me three new things. The first is that it was on wheels. I'm not sure who had this idea, but we need to talk to them about it. So, with it next to the stage, if I put all of my product into the lock cage, someone would just push it away stealing all of my product easier. Fortunately this was easily solved by bringing the lock cage on the stage with a forklift so people could not wheel it away.

18.. The "secure" lock cage can be opened from the top as well as the doors.
The second thing we learned about the lock cage was its slight insecurity issue. If you locked the front doors of the lock cage, the top of it could still just be lifted up to access the cage, making the front locking area pretty much useless. This was solved with a big chain they used to look through the ceiling part into the front doors.
No, really, that's really what they did.

19.. The "secure" lock cage does not come with a lock.
The final thing I learned about the lock cage was that it did not actually have a lock. We had to go get a combination lock for it. Overall my review of the "secure" lock case was "not so secure."

20.. The older back up printer is not so good when your portable does not have a parallel port.
When my printer started causing problems, I had at first thought it would be no problem. After all, I brought my old printer just in case. But as I went to plug in my printer to the new portable, I quickly noticed something - my new portable does not have a parallel port. Oops.

Tune in next week when we finish off the 45 things I learned at Gen Con!

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