Bad Idea: Lottery Systems for Conventions
A thing that the conventions in the San Francisco Bay Area tend to do regarding game sign-ups is a lottery system for knowing who’s in a given game. Here’s how they work:
- You sign up for a game, either for one game or a cascading list of preferences
- At some point, a “shuffler” assigns everyone to a game
- Often, before the event
- Sometimes, the morning of the day those games are to be run
- You eventually find out what games you’re in
- Sometimes before the event
- Sometimes first thing when the event goes live, for all the games
- Sometimes very shortly before the game happens
This is seen by some as better than a first-come, first-serve sign-up solution. But for the life of me, I have never seen it executed well. This is something that’s been on my mind since I’ve been managing the Nerdly Beach Parties, where I used a modified first-come, first-serve system.
Let’s talk about the problems lottery style causes:
Inability to Plan for Far Away Conventions
When you don’t know what your plans are for a convention, driving or flying to it becomes unworthwhile. Back when the Good Omens mini-cons were lottery-based, those were the Minicons at Endgame that my Sacramento friends & I intentionally missed.
Now, at least with the Good Omens cons, we found out a week or so before what games we might be in. But that doesn’t really help those who might fly up (as some of the LA indie crowd are starting to do with the Minicons) or negotiate with significant others for a weekend road trip.
Ever meet someone who finds comfort in knowing how their day’s going to be? If you’ve met me, then you have. I deal with clinical anxiety, and I honestly would rather know I’m not in a game (and thus know to make my own fun) than not know until it’s too late to effectively plan around it. Thus, when I find myself at a convention that does lottery systems (which only happens at cons I’m invited to be a special guest at, since I don’t elect them on my own), I never engage with the system. I’d rather cruise around and find stragglers for a pick-up game than deal with an anxiety trigger.
If you know how many slots are in a given game, and know how many slots are left open, in a first-come, first-serve situation you can add yourself to the list if there’s space or to a wait list. But a lottery system, you can add yourself to the list, possibly kicking someone else off of the game.
When you add your name in the hopes that you’ll get into a game that’s overfull, you’re hoping that you’ll kick someone else out of a game. That’s pretty shitty.
Now, sometimes you don’t know the state of a game’s sign ups, which then causes worse problems about planning — you have no idea if you’re subscribing to a very popular game where your chances of being taken are slim, because everyone’s signing up for it since there’s no information about how full it is.
A similar problem happens when you don’t report slots filled/empty with first-come, first-serve. So it’s good to always display that, regardless of sign-up scheme.
Inability to Plan for Partner/Group Participation
Maybe you and your significant other prefer to game together. Or you and some good friends that you haven’t seen in months want to get into a game together. The lottery system could fuck you on that, and then you’re left with either playing in different games, or ditching on a game you wanted to in order to hang out with your friend/SO.
And the biggest problem…
It Doesn’t Solve Organizer Headaches
Sean Nittner is the head of the Good Omens minicons. He used to do the lottery system, but this past year decided to ditch it for the first-come, first-server system that Endgame normally uses. Here was his take on it:
I tried both first-come, first-served and shuffler methods. Gamers had legitimate complaints about both of them, but the issues with shufflers hit people right in the pocketbook. Gas, hotel rooms, and restaurant food is expensive. To pay all that while attend a con where you might not get into games is rough on the wallet. The experience is also a giant disappointment, especially considering the investment in attending a con. So, I know FCFS has legitimate faults, but it doesn’t make false promises and it allows you to plan how you spend your time and money informed rather than in the dark.
Plus, FCFS is far easier to administer than any shuffler system I’ve ever seen or heard of.
There you go. It is a lot less work to do first-come, first-serve. Sure, it has its own problems, but they’re problems people know how to deal with. When you don’t get into FCFS games, it’s partly on you, because you didn’t register in time or didn’t know in time, whatever. When you don’t in a lottery system, it’s entirely the convention’s fault that your experience sucks.
No system’s perfect. But lottery systems are a holdover from back when nearly every game was AD&D or Champions or a very small number of other games, thus shuffling people into one AD&D game over another was less drastic.
Here’s a question: do you support the lottery systems? Why? Justify its existence. Tell me why it’s a good idea, and not just an archaic holdover that’s designed to punish people who want popular games.