From the Director’s Chair —Sermon on the Mount or a Bill of Goods? ... You Decide
Jan. 12, 2013

Crunching the Numbers of the 2012 Membership Survey

By Don Greenwood, WBC Convention Director

It's been three years since I last made a public report on the inner workings of the BPA Board of Directors and even longer since we conducted a survey of the membership's preferences. I'll plead lack of time, and while time has not grown any more plentiful in the interim, the need for communication between the Board and the membership has. Thus, this long overdue attempt at bringing everyone up to speed on the view from the driver's seat. Spoiler alert—this is not light reading so put down your smart phones and settle in for a long read.

The news in the previous Tenth Seat was primarily about the signing of a 5-year extension of our contract with Lancaster Host committing our stay in Lancaster, PA through 2015. Since then, WBC has continued to grow and the Host has had some unfortunate air conditioning issues that made part of the 2012 meeting space very uncomfortable while contributing to overcrowding in other areas not so afflicted. Although acts of god and mechanical failures can occur anywhere, there have been heated calls for a change of venue. Enough so, that it was time to again give the membership time to vent en masse on this and other issues pertaining to WBC.

Generally speaking, I am not a fan of surveys. Even the best of them are flawed with wording that some would consider biased, be it intentional or not. And we admittedly are not a professional polling organization. But even if we managed to construct the perfect poll, in my opinion, surveys just tell you more and more about less and less—since they are responded to primarily by a vocal minority. In today's busy world, relatively few people will take the time to respond to a long survey, let alone do so thoughtfully or completely. Consequently, polls tend to be not much more accurate than listening to the opinions expressed on internet folders that attract those predisposed to the internet soapbox—thus amplifying minority but vocal viewpoints at the expense of the silent majority. One must also discount the always present "I want more of X" syndrome accompanied by the unspoken but ever present "but I don't want to pay for it".

I subscribe to the theory that the more often you survey a group, the less likely it is to respond—with the result that over time you learn more and more about the vocal minority who do, and less and less about the group as a whole. Consequently, I resort to surveys rarely—in the hopes of increasing the response rate when one is proffered. I am told that the typical response rate rarely exceeds 10% of a large target group so our participation in the recently concluded survey is exceptional with over 700 responses representing 44% of our average annual paid attendance. So, kudos for your involvement and showing that you care with such outstanding participation. However, that still leaves the majority of our attendance unspoken for—especially given the number of "never beens and haven't been there for years" who were numbered among the responses. The participation rate for those who attended last year fell to 31%. Those same pollers tell me that such surveys should be conducted annually—a notion I thoroughly reject as doing nothing more than contributing to the retirement funds of professional pollers since the variance in such results from one year to the next are negligible and serve only to increase the survey weariness of the audience.

Large conventions, like ocean liners, don't stop on a dime. It takes considerable time to scout sites with appropriate facilities and available dates to host an event the size of WBC. Gaming conferences are even worse in that we require a high ratio of meeting space/tables per attendee—and the average hotel inventory will not suffice in either quantity or type. Negotiations for such agreements often take place years in advance of the actual convention and involve considerable financial guarantees. Suffice it to say that there are many factors to be considered in choosing a site and signing a binding contract for same. Consequently, I wouldn't read a whole lot into these results. Where we ultimately meet in 2016 will be decided by many variables. These results will be a tool for your Board to consider in collectively making that decision, but will not be the sole factor.

I can guarantee that whether we stay at the Host or move elsewhere, there will be unhappy campers. As you view the results of the survey below, that should become all too obvious. Anyone who thinks they can please everyone is on a fool's errand. That doesn't mean we haven't tried—often to our detriment. What I am attempting to demonstrate in this presentation is just how impossible that task is. Gamers are a diverse lot—even among the subset of those who choose to frequent the unique focused offerings of the World Boardgaming Championships. The last two questions of our survey asked you to cite in your own words what you would change about WBC if you had your druthers—and conversely, what you would hate to see changed. I didn't ask these questions because I was looking for new ideas—although there were a few generated. Rather, I wanted to demonstrate as clearly and graphically as possible that respondent X's preferences are usually diametrically opposed by respondent Y's distaste for same.

So, in between presenting the cold raw numbers, I will be adding some heat to the conversation by quoting verbatim representative responses pro and con about what you want to change or not change about WBC. I can't cite them all of course—this will be far too long for most tastes as it is—but whenever someone expressed a similar sentiment I have noted that numerically in bold before the quote. No names will be given...our purpose is not to humiliate or demean a point of view—but merely to illustrate the range of opinions offered on a given subject and provide a FAQ response for why things are as they are. To that end, a third column contains my comments on the subject and how or why we've reached our policy on it. Hopefully this overly long discourse will answer just about any question that has ever been asked of WBC and will persevere as a Q&A resource for years to come.

This is not to suggest that our viewpoint is necessarily better than either extreme. It is simply the way we've chosen to handle the situation. That doesn't necessarily make it right for you—and if you find our solution unbearable you can work to lobby your Board to change their ways, run for the Board yourself espousing your viewpoint, simply look elsewhere for the perfect game convention, or agree to overlook our foolish decisions and make the best of it in the hopes that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That's another way of saying that what we do right sufficiently makes up for what we do wrong. If it doesn't, I suspect you will be going elsewhere to scratch your gaming itch and that's fine because different cons do things differently. You should attend the one that pleases you most.

2012 Boardgame Players Association Survey Results, by topic
Auction Event Selection Communications Food Formats
Games GMs Junior & Teen Programs Length Library
Location Open Gaming Overall Player Behavior Pre-Cons
Prizes Reservations Schedule Team Tournament Vendors
Venue Timing Badgeholders    

Regardless of whether you agree with our conclusions, I hope you will concede that this degree of communication between convention management and attendees is unprecedented in the "industry" and that our intentions are good even if the execution is lacking. There is a reason no one else does this. I said previously we often attempt the impossible to our detriment. And lest you take away from this that WBC is just one long bitch session—as some undoubtedly will—please keep in mind that we have omitted all the kudos and "DG walks on water" comments for the sake of brevity. The degree of satisfaction expressed and general tone of the comments received was overwhelmingly favorable (thank you)—far moreso than you'll see reflected by what follows in the quoted comments. Indeed, I've focused far more on the negative than on the positive below in giving our detractors their say. That breaks every rule there is in Advertising 101, but I hope you will ask yourself what other convention goes to this much trouble to show you the ugly man behind the curtain, warts and all, rather than the all powerful wizard on the screen?

My thanks to Ken Whitesell who did all the tech work on the survey, to Joel Tamburo and Dave Dockter who jousted with me on the questions to include, and to the Board for their usual observations and advice. I hope you will find this worth the read.

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