Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The Trouble with Triples

There's a definite advantage to having a wargaming show in your home city, let alone two. London has Salute, Edinburgh has Claymore, and Leeds is a sorry, has Fiasco. Sheffield puts on two shows a year at the minute - the 6mm-centric Joy of 6, and the scale-agnostic Triples. I attended the latter on March 19th and 20th, and came away a bit concerned.

Before I get onto why I'm concerned for the future of Triples, a quick apology - when I went on the Saturday, I wasn't expecting to write this piece, so didn't take my camera with me. On the Sunday, I just forgot. However, I can draw your attention to the picture in this post on the Pendraken Miniatures forum as to why Triples may be in trouble.

For those of you who aren't familiar, Triples has been run by the Sheffield Wargames Society (SWS) for over 30 years, and for a lot of that time has been a major feature in the wargaming show calendar. Originally run in a hotel in the city, the show moved to the Octagon Centre at Sheffield University - where I first encountered it - before moving to the English Institute of Sport outside of the town centre.

Being a relative newcomer to Sheffield1, I'm not sure when Triples became a hub of tournament gaming, but one of the major elements of the show I remember from the days at the University were the tournaments - DBA, DBM, and other games I only saw people playing there. I also have fond memories of really having to explore the show when it was at the University, as there was always a room you would otherwise miss that might have a hidden gem within.

While I didn't attend last year - due to a clash with another event2 - it is a show that I've made an effort to attend when possible over the years, both to help with the painting demonstrations the Sheffield Irregulars used to put on and as just another punter. Over the last few years there has seemed to be a decline in how busy the show is, and this year it was noticeable that there was less to do or look at than there had been the last time I was there. Having done some digging, I've seen reference to there being 21 fewer traders present this year than in 2015, and notes from several that they are unlikely to turn up in 2017 unless things change. Losing around a third of your traders is hardly a good sign, but with effort, Triples could be turned around.

This year, I got to the venue not long after opening on the Saturday, and had seen pretty much everything there was to see before noon. There were less traders than I expected - including some no-shows on the day, from what I could tell - and fewer games. Even the DBA/M event seemed to have fewer people at it than I remembered. There was low footfall even at what should've been peak time for the event. I returned on the Sunday, and it was pretty much a ghost town.

So, what needs to change? I don't claim to have all the answers, but here are a few things I believe SWS needs to think about.

The date
While originally a March show, for the last few years Triples has run in May. This year, the event shifted back to late March. The problem being that this meant it was the last of three shows in the North on consecutive weekends, following Hammerhead and the West Midlands Military Show. With the three happening within 80 miles of each other, they're all competing for the same audience, and generally feature a similar line-up of traders. When a trader from your city decides to go to a show in Newark because it is more cost-effective than one in his home city, then you have problems.

As things stand, I think the March date has slipped through SWS's fingers. I'd advise biting the bullet, and moving the show back to mid to late May - far enough away from any shows I know of in the North to avoid congestion, and enough of a gap after the usual Salute date for traders to be ready to go again.

There are three local games shops in Sheffield - Patriot Games, The Outpost and Wargames Emporium. I was in two of those in the month prior to Triples, and I saw no sign that the event was going on - Wargames Emporium may have had a poster up, but I don't know for sure. When I've been to other events in the past, such as Vapnartak in York, I don't recall anyone carrying fliers for the show. If you're going to get people to turn up, they need to know about the event - and SWS failed on that simple task.

The internet / social media
Much as certain large gaming companies might wish to pretend otherwise, neither the internet nor social media are passing fads which will go away in the near future. While they're not integral to an event's success, making proper use of them can increase the turnout at an event. I've had a look on Facebook, for instance, and while I can find a group for Triples 2012, I couldn't find a group or event created by SWS for this year. While there was a #SheffieldTriples tag on Twitter, I counted three posts using it, all by people asking who else was there. Social media can be invaluable, particularly for free advertising - and when advertising was one of the things lacking from this year's event, using this channel for next year would be a simple(ish) step forwards to take.

If I were SWS, I'd also consider getting someone to take a look at how they use the official Triples website. I only looked at it on the night before the event, but from people I spoke to obvious bits of information such as a list of traders and games wasn't made available to the last minute. While you obviously can't give a floor plan while things are evolving, as traders or games confirm their attendance you can add a news post to the site (triggering an RSS feed), tweet about and post about it in your group/event on Facebook - all things which will keep your event on people's minds.

While I don't have anything against the EIS as a venue, I've seen a number of comments from visitors expressing a desire to return to the Octagon. I can understand why a punter might want to go back there, as it was a more interesting, idiosyncratic venue, where each new room could hold a new treasure. The EIS, on the other hand, is yet another sports hall, and doesn't really have a soul. This lack of soul, though, is balanced out by better3 on-site parking and much better accessibility for traders and people running games to get in to set things up and take them down at the end of the weekend. If a cheaper venue with similar features could be found, then that might make for a viable alternative - though I can't think of anywhere off-hand where that might be.

Tournaments and other value-adds
The main reason I've heard for Triples being a two day show is the tournaments. When I had a look at the gaming area over the weekend, I'd doubt I saw more that twenty people at the tables. Given there is obviously space available, and a number of more modern games have vibrant tournament scenes, why not link up with The Outpost and run a couple of tournaments - Guild Ball and Dystopian Wars, say, or a Warmahordes Steamroller and an X-Wing event? These are generally tournaments which could be run inside a single day, so you could even offer a couple on a Saturday, and a different one on a Sunday.

Linked to this, in a way, is the idea that you need things at a show to get people to stick around - which, in turn, tends to get them to spend more - or even to return on the Sunday if you're running a two day show. Games where you can learn a new system4 are great for this, as well as participation games with clearly defined slots people can sign up for. I found it interesting that despite a number of traders selling models for X-Wing, there was no-one with a 3 foot table showing you how to play the game with a 20-30 minute demo.

Even with participation games, you need to make it clear that people are able to join in. I've seen this at Triples in years gone by, but a lot of the tables the plan made out to be participation games didn't give that impression. Display games are all well and good - and, with preparation, can look very impressive - but they tend to use up space without really engaging with spectators all that much.

There may be other things that Triples could introduce that aren't present at the moment, such as painting or sculpting demonstrations, or getting people in to demonstrate techniques. If there are rooms available, get sculptors or game designers to give a seminar. Anything like this can keep people's interest - and if you spread things out right, cause them to visit for two days instead of just one.

Sunday ticket
Passing thought - I don't mind paying £6 for a ticket that'll allow me into an event on both days, as it is good to have the option if I decide to come back on day 2. If I only attend day 2, however, it seems a bit off to charge me the same as someone coming on both days. Why not offer a Sunday-only ticket at a reduced cost, such as £4?

One day show?
This may be the most controversial suggestion for the SWS, if they read this - it may well be time to consider making Triples a one day show, instead of a two day event. I only returned on the Sunday because my ticket covered both days, a tram pass meant getting to the venue didn't cost me anything - and because I'd promised one of the Spartan Vanguards I knew that I'd give Planetfall a whirl. Other than that, and possibly seeing if anything new had turned up on the Bring & Buy, there was no reason for me to come back. Heck, having gotten there by 10am on the Saturday, I'd seen everything I wanted to see at the show by 11:30am.

Following on from this point is a good question I've seen in a couple of places - just what is the purpose of a wargames show these days? The internet has taken care of most shopping needs, while eBay (and other such auction sites) takes away a lot of the traffic from Bring & Buy type areas. there's still demonstration games and tournaments, as well as the social side, but this is certainly something I'd expect SWS to think about before deciding how to move forwards with Triples.

Finally, an interesting point to note - as I was trying to research the history of Triples, I found this post on the SWS's blog - a committee meeting with a week's notice may mean the society has finally twigged that there is a problem. I hope it doesn't lead to a decision to cancel the show in future.

1 - In Yorkshire terms, I'm pretty sure moving to the city in 2001 means I'm still some form of interloper.
2 - This may be a theme we return to.
3 - Or, well, any on-site parking.
4 - Credit to the Spartan Vanguards for this, running demos of Planetfall, Halo Fleet Battles and Dystopian Wars, as well as the people from Wargames Developments, who I believe were playtesting a game called Cursus Honorum.