This past weekend I participated in Kobe-Kon, also known as Kobekon, Kobe Konvention, Kobe Convention, and Kobekon Seattle. It takes place in Everett, WA.
Kobe-Kon is primarily an anime convention, but the Seattle Indies got a room for indie development outreach and games demonstration, and wanting to participate I got a table to show off my games Refactor and CATcher. Fellow exhibitors were Laughing Manatee Games, djbeardo, Ashley Rivas, Masha and Dustin Soodak, cloverfirefly, kz, and the Buoyancy team.
Because of the experiences I had I felt it would be helpful to other people to provide a write-up for future reference.
Disclaimer: These opinions are my own and do not represent those of the other exhibitors or of the Seattle Indies organization.
This convention is put on by Anime World, an anime gift shop in the Everett Mall in Everett, WA. Like many malls, this mall is having trouble keeping itself at 100% tenancy, so quite cleverly the convention uses the mall itself as its venue. Vacant kiosk space becomes the vendor area and artist alley, and vacant storefronts become the rooms for panels, special events (such as the Seattle Indies), and the on-site arcade. The central courtyard became the site of the main event stage.
The con’s hours were rather aggressive; it’s a three-day con, which was open to the public for 11 hours on the first two days and five hours on the third. The marketing, on the other hand, was quite lackluster; very few artists I know had even heard of it, and the ones who did thought I was crazy to try it out (even for free). But I figured it gave me something to do for a weekend and an excuse to practice driving to Everett to hopefully help me with my driving anxiety.
The convention setup took place from 9 PM to midnight on Thursday, with additional vendor setup from 9 AM to noon on Friday. I opted to only come for the additional setup, as my own setup is pretty simple.
Seattle Indies were placed in a vacant clothing shop across from Rue 21; at first we all assumed it was a shoe store, but later during some of my copious spare time I did some digging and found out it used to be Madhatterz, a sports gear store that mostly sold hats until it closed about a month ago.
As is usual for Seatle Indies events, the Seattle Indies organization provided plenty of tables with tablecloths and power strips. Chairs were provided by exhibitors and the mall. The chairs that the mall provided for us were all very unstable and rickety. Eventually I explored the Madhatterz storage room and found some chairs in back which were at least suitable for sitting on.
The event stage was mostly used for music-related events, and there was seating for around 100 people. This was ambitious.
While driving up to Everett I had an anxiety attack. But then I told myself, “I’ve felt worse,” and felt better. So, new anxiety coping strategy.
Fittingly enough, as soon as I got to the mall, the first thing I saw was a Lapis Lazuli cosplayer.
Setup went pretty quickly, but I didn’t really need to hurry anyway. Pretty much all day, the only people in the room were members of the Seattle Indies, with occasional visitors from the public. I had plenty of time to check out the con itself. There were more vendors than attendees. Most of the cosplayers were either vendors or guests of the con itself.
The “arcade” they had set up (which ended up being a point of confusion for many, who didn’t understand that this was a separate thing from the Seattle Indies) was a pretty sorry affair, with piles of unused consoles and a large sheet of unwelcoming rules all handwritten on a large sheet of paper. At one point they set up some DDR pads, which were of course the $5 floppy mat types.
When I went inside the arcade the folks running it seemed angry at my presence and cared more about barking the rules at me than encouraging me to play games. They were also very offended about my phone being out so I wasn’t about to take pictures of the actual setup, in case they decided to revoke my badge for conduct violations (not that the badge really mattered, as it wasn’t being checked anywhere else, certainly not at the Seattle Indies room).
The plus side was that being at a mall meant the food options were actually affordable and varied, unlike at most conventions. I mean, it was mall food, but still, at least it wasn’t $10 for a sad hot dog. (Instead it was $5 and I got a smoothie along with my sad hot dog!)
Also, this isn’t the con’s fault, but I went to one of the coffee stands and asked if they had decaf (since it didn’t look like they did); the worker insisted they did, so I ordered a decaf Americano. What I got was absolutely not decaf, which I realized about a third of the way through it while sipping it slowly.
In the evening I was told that we were being provided food by the convention, which was pretty amazing! I thought, wow, nice gesture, thank you for taking care of us; that’s not something that any con had provided before.
They shuffled us into a tiny utility room where there were trays of food out. The food was all strange, being made of assemblages of croissants, pastries, and random meats and cheeses, as well as a tray of sticky rice loaded up with bacon and labelled “brisket.” There were also an assortment of packaged pastries, drinks, and bags of chips. Most of it was either expired, stale, or spoiled, and some of it even had ants in it. But at least the ants were dead, so there’s that. I am about 90% certain that the food was simply combinations of stuff that was thrown away by the food court vendors, and it may not have even been taken with their knowledge.
I had been sharing updates about the day so far with friends in various places; more than one person made references to DashCon, with someone even suggesting I ask the management for some “free ball-pit time.”
Still incredibly wired from the “decaf,” I drove home at around 9 PM, looking forward to the next day…
My bed gave me a sleep score of 68.
While I was assured on day 1 that things would pick up on day 2, Saturday was more of the same. My table with the Seattle Indies didn’t cost me anything, but vendor booths cost $150. I was annoyed enough at having to spend so much time at the con for very little reward but at least I wasn’t out money, just time. I can’t imagine any of the vendors being happy at all. (I also don’t know if this cost the Seattle Indies anything to set up, although given that we weren’t allowed to sell anything in our room I really hope this was free for the organization.)
For lunch I got a pretty good torta at the food court’s taqueria. If you’re ever stuck in the Everett mall, that taqueria is legitimately pretty okay.
In the middle of the afternoon a young girl (probably around 12) came in and was incredibly excited about everyone’s games and was relentlessly optimistic. She gave amazing feedback, both about the stuff she liked and the things that could be better. She even managed to find a bug in Refactor, and when I said, “Oh, that’s a bug, let me restart it” she wanted to try to play through it and I said no, I’d just restart it, and she was very hopeful that I could fix the bug and so incredibly friendly and I just wanted to hug her so much. She also was very excited about wanting to start up a gaming channel on YouTube and we talked a little bit about how to set up a capture setup and so on. She almost made the whole weekend worth it.
Most of the people who came around just had questions about the con itself; lots of people were particularly confused about the Seattle Indies being separate from the “arcade,” where there was apparently a Mario Kart tournament happening.
I opted not to have the con-provided dinner (other vendors who weren’t there on the first night didn’t know better and they seemed to have the exact same food). Instead I went to Subway; as it turns out, in Everett, you can still get a footlong Spicy Italian for $6. That would have been like $9 in Seattle. (Seattle’s expensive.)
It was nice not needing to get in until 11 AM, although I was still absolutely exhausted by this point.
At one point I just couldn’t even.
At around 2 PM a few people with Kobe-Kon attendee badges (the first I’d even seen – up until this point I’d only seen vendor badges!) arrived, and they were very sure to make sure we all saw their badges, even though nobody was checking; I suspect they had run into trouble with folks at the “arcade” and wanted to avoid any additional trouble.
Of course right at 3:45 (when we were about to start breaking down) a whole bunch of members of the public showed up and wanted to play my games and they were really excited by them and oh god why couldn’t they have come sooner
anyway I let them play for a while (and they seemed to really be into everything so I’m glad I did) and then as soon as they left I was able to take my stuff down and leave the mall behind.
It wasn’t all negative, of course. We had a bunch of people come by with a lot of questions about the Seattle Indies, like what it takes to join (namely, just wanting to work on games!) and what sorts of tools people use to make games or what educational programs exist. There were also a few AIE students who didn’t know about the Indies and were interested in joining. It was great being able to provide inspiration and information to them.
There were also a bunch of kids who were really into many of the games. One beleaguered parent actually had to drag their kids away from the CATcher station. I mentioned that it’s free to download and available for Mac, Linux, and Windows. Hopefully the family computer won’t get too overwhelmed with dancing kittens.
Also, after three days of driving 50+ miles per day I stopped being anxious while driving. Dunno how long that’ll last for me but at least for now I’m feeling a lot happier.
At least based on my experience, I would not recommend Kobe-Kon to anyone who wants an easy con to get into, either as a vendor or an attendee; very few things were off-limits to people without attendee badges, and $20 was a lot to ask for the few things that they did open up. And meanwhile, the amount of foot traffic and sales wasn’t even remotely enough to justify the asking price for the tables. I would be incredibly surprised (and impressed) if anyone even managed to break even on the venture (including the con organizers).
Keeping in mind that I’ve never run anything like this and don’t know what went into things being the way they are, my advice to the convention runners would be:
- Cut back on the hours; a con needs to grow organically instead of trying to start big, and requiring vendors and exhibitors to set aside 30 hours for this is a lot to ask
- Reduce the table prices, and make attendance free or at least very cheap; presumably this is up to the mall more than anything, but it’s in the mall’s best interest to get more foot traffic in this day and age so hopefully they could be convinced to reduce their take to very little
- Better marketing all around; most people who came by didn’t even know the con was going on and they were just in the mall for normal mall reasons (which meant that the folks who were cosplaying were also stuck in a situation where they were perhaps not as comfortable as they could have been)
- Better volunteer training; it should be cooperative and welcoming, not antagonistic
- And no food would have been better than the food that was provided…
Anyway. I hope things improve for next year. The concept of using abandoned retail space is pretty interesting and I’d love to see this sort of thing do well.