For those who attend game industry conferences as part of their business or to partake in the hobby of games, usually they find themselves on one coast or another. The West Coast — and the San Francisco Bay area in particular — where I am based, sees one conference after another, an endless procession of ideas, people and expo booths shuttled in and out of the SFO, SJC, LAS, SEA and LAX airports.
So what about the heartland of the United States? Where do the developers, publishers, vendors and hobbyists go, if they don’t have the time or money to invest in packing up and joining the roadshows east or west? There are a few events scattered throughout the middle of the US, but not many.
This regional game industry event void was a primary consideration by the two founders of the Midwest Game Developers Summit (MGDS) when the conference began life for them as an idea in 2012. The idea matured into a bootstrapped and sponsor-funded execution of an event hosted in Wisconsin for 2013, yielding 300 attendees and 40 speakers.
Yesterday, a Kickstarter funding run for the MGDS event passed its target of $8,000 to underwrite some of the essential costs of running a two day summit for hundreds of people.
For Ben Mathwig, one of the event co-founders and a programmer, the Kickstarter was an opportunity to take the event to next level. “This is the first year that we are running the conference by ourselves. The goal for this year is to expand our reach outside of the Wisconsin and Illinois area and to bring in a much wider array of developers from all around the Midwest. Going forward, we would like this summit to grow annually and hopefully fill a gap that has been missing from the Midwest for quite some time,” Mathwig stated.
The Midwest certainly has potential, whether one looks it the region as a whole as a start-up growth engine and the money flowing in or as an attendee-magnet, as the region has drawn its share of crowds at events like the Midwest Gaming Classic and Gen Con. The Midwest Games Developers Summit proved it could succeed in year one, enough to take it to year two and aim to do even more.
But if the conference is growing organically, one might ask, why complicate growing an event with the process of compensating individual micro-investors, too?
From Ben Mathwig’s perspective, it’s all about giving back and giving more to the regional community. “Crowd sourcing this year’s summit helped us reinforce our message: everyone should have access to a great conference and not be barred from the experience by expenses. Last year showed that it doesn’t take a large venue and masses of attendees to provide a great networking and learning environment. By opening up a Kickstarter and allowing the attendees to contribute to make it happen, those attendees can now say that it is their conference.
Generating funding on our own also released us from several restrictions and obstacles that came up last year. We now have the freedom to shape the conference into the way we would like it to be for the future.”
As for fulfilling the rewards to the current 140 backers, a phase which has bogged down many other Kickstarted programs, Mathwig is unfazed at the prospect of making good on their promises. “I would say the most time consuming part will be shipping out the T-Shirts to those backers who did not get a conference pass in their tier. All of our rewards are things that we already have in place due to the event last year. The most difficult part? Figuring out what to serve at the Keynote speaker lunch for our top tier backers.”
There’s currently in excess of $1,000 over and above the funding target in the crowdfunding bank for the organizers of the MGDS. Even without an official stretch goal added to the Kickstarter page, Mathwig asserts that the team will be adjusting event plans to add to consider what can be done with the additional support: “The extra funds that we acquire from the remaining days will go directly into this year’s summit and help us improve the conference quality as a whole. We have discussed several fun events that may take place during the conference, but we have not officially announced anything yet. Stay tuned!”