Wednesday, April 11, 2012

NatCon - A Tired Old Lady?

Prior to Natcon I posted my thoughts that I was disappointed with the numbers attending this year’s event. In the end there were 104 people who attended the event, a figure well down on previous NatCons.

Since I returned to wargaming in 1998, I have attended five NatCons – two in Hamilton (2000, 2012) and three in the Hutt (2004, 2007, 2010). I have played three different systems – 15mm Ancients (2000), 40k (2004) and Fantasy at the last three I attended. I think that gives me a reasonably solid basis on which to comment.

This year’s NatCon was the smallest and least “impressive” as a spectacle of the five that I have attended. Participation compared very unfavourably to the others I attended, all of which had 150+ competitors. What struck me most was that the major participant numbers were in the genres that least needed NatCon as a vehicle – the GW games, Warmachine/Hordes and Flames of War. Each of these games has a plethora of tournaments over the course of the year and to be frank NatCon (as it played out) was just one more event they have the option to attend. In this, the other gamers – largely historical, have more to lose than the participants in the systems named.

For me this year, while the gaming was great, the NatCon experience left a bit to be desired. There was one (possibly two) trade stands, no food on offer at the venue and extremely poor lighting in the hall. The inability to take drinks (other than water) into the venue and the prohibition on any food in the hall made for a pretty disappointing environment. When this was backed with plastic sheeting taped to the floor – surely more of a hazard than a few food wrappers – well, colour me less than impressed.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a good time but that was in spite of the gaming environment and the low level of participation. Certainly if the same environment was offered up again as a tournament venue, I would choose not to attend. I thought it was that unappealing.

With regard to the low numbers; well, it might be cyclical, it might be economic, it might be that there are too many alternatives on offer. In fact, it may be people have voted with their feet after attending previous conventions if they offered the same environment.

However I think there are two other things to consider. Firstly, $100 to attend from six weeks out is not going to encourage many people to make the decision to attend “close” to the event. Gen Y and Gen Z are renowned for long term decision-making so this might need to be considered in future. Secondly, are we seeing the death of either the 3 day or the long weekend event? People have more calls on there time these days and three days over a long weekend is probably becoming harder to reconcile. I suspect that there might be more appetite for a 2 day event with the opportunity of a third day gaming if you want it.

The key observation is, however, whatever the reason Natcon needs to be more appealing if it expects to remain relevant.


  1. Pete, I personally think that location makes a huge difference. You get this sort of event in, for example, a Workingmens Club (like they have in Chch), or similar, then it will attract many more people. Likewise a central location close to alternative eateries/entertainment/transport (so unlike NatCon 2012) will also increase numbers. Cost is, as you identify, also a huge issue.

  2. As far as I was concerned it was primariy the location that put me off. (plus my brother in law was out from the UK this year). Hamilton is an awkward destination to get to from outside the main centres and basically comes down to a 6 hour drive for me.
    Peter and I did attend once and took our wife/partner. We stayed overnight in Taupo and drove in in the morning. Our spouses were bored silly because nothing was open on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Sorry to the Hamiltonians - lovely gardens but we didn't find much else.
    The three day event once is year is nice to have and doesn't put me off.
    It is a shame that the other systems are not getting the numbers and you are not quite right Pete in that I just regard it as another tournament. Winning (OK coming 4th for me)the "nationals" has a nice ring to it.
    Nicon has suffered from the same low numbers once it is held outside Auckland and Wellington. Napier - only 8, Palmerston North - about 10 over the last few years.
    The $100 fee would have also put me off if I suddenly had a late opportunity to go, but the early bird rate was quite reasonable.
    I would be very disappointed with the lack of catering on site, the restrictions on food and beverages (what no cup of tea)and find the thought of plastic sheets on the floor both weird and uncomfortable.
    In summary though I think it is location and the Easter timing that are probably the main problems.


  3. I think by the time the venue requires you to tape plastic to the floor it's time to get a new venue. I'm assuming it's at the high school gym that Over the Top was at and I completely agree, no food or drink in the venue sucks. I don't mind going to Hamilton for tournies but the venue is starting to get old. The organizers tend to do a great job of it but there's not much else around there for a wargamer.

    The only store in the area (mark 1 i believe) does support it but with out much of a bring and buy table or other sponsors it's definitely not got much else going on.

    I have to say, I was quite impressed last time i went to Christchurch for a tourney. The workingman's club, the HUGE bring and buy table and the variety of games was pretty impressive.

    with my current job I simply can't commit to most out of town tournaments more than 6 weeks out (hence not being at Equinox) and 100$ is definitely too much, especially if the facilities are not up to snuff.

  4. I think that's the last event that I'll be going to at that venue for a while (ever). By the end of the weekend the blue plastic on the floor was more of a hazard than anything else, if you tried to make people work in those conditions you'd get an OSH complaint being lodged.

    No drink and food facilities is just ridiculous, certainly not value for money when you compare it to events held in Auckland/Wellington/Christchurh...

  5. The amusement generated by the blue plastic sheeting got very old, very quickly. I'm not most nimble of players but I tripped over the damn thing 3-4 times. I'm surprised Pete didn't break a hip.

    The venue is awful due to the draconian food restrictions, lack of nearby eating option and the lighting. I went to a tournament there last year (NiCon?) and don't recall the giant blue floor nappy but otherwise had a similarly poor experience.

    Highlights for me were the company of gamers and the games themselves (and seeing Vod and Philfy play Fantasy again). I took a one-day (Friday) option offered by the Warmachine system which was a self-contained tournament - drove down in the morning with Josh and Damian, played 5 games, finished by 4pm, dropped off the guys and home by 7pm so it worked out ok.

    I've played the 3-day Fantasy even before and I will NEVER do it again.

    I believe long weekend tournaments are under serious threat of extinction. NatCon and NiCon both failed to achieve leave pass velocity for me this year. Labour Weekend has been pre-emptively written off.

  6. I watched Pete trip on it no less than seven times, but I was genuinely disappointed to see that nobody tripped while carrying an entire army.

    If anyone other than Haydn Korach were to run the 40k, with their existing set up, I would not go simply put.

    1. I kept catching the wheel of my mobility scooter on the joins between the sheets

  7. Interesting so many people have complained about the lighting. I was at OTT and found the same thing, even losing out on my painting score because the judges couldn't see details on my models (asked Haydn afterwards why I'd scored so low, and he said they hadn't seen details like eyes etc. done). I really enjoyed OTT and I'll be back next year if at all possible, but the venue wasn't a great playing environment (did appreciate the free accomodation though).