Interview with Phil Harris, Conpulsion Co-Ordinator

As you may have heard, Team Screen-Shaped (or at least the Scottish side of the team) went along to Scotland’s premier tabletop convention a few weeks ago and we really rather enjoyed it. We recently caught up with Phil Harris, Conpulsion Co-ordinator for his thoughts on how the event went and what the future holds for Conpulsion.

Conpulsion 2013 logo

SSE: How did you get involved with Conpulsion?

We’d just finished clearing out a tricky orc fortress and were relaxing in the inn when a strange wizened old man approached us and… Possibly more accurately, when I moved to Edinburgh I was looking for roleplaying societies and my girlfriend at the time signed me up to University of Edinburgh’s own society GEAS (or the Grand Edinburgh Adventuring Society). GEAS run Conpulsion and when the committee restructured, they asked me to run it, based on my experiences in the business world. I asked Gregor (Hutton) to be my deputy because I thought his knowledge of the industry and contacts would be invaluable.

SSE: Were there many difficulties in setting up such a successful event?

The previous Conpulsion organiser (2011) had set up a new committee structure, which allowed Gregor and I to experiment with the formula of the convention and consider what we wanted to keep and which things to remove. It allowed us to emphasise what I felt was the heart of the convention – the fact we were all having fun doing this for charity. When we were suggesting some of our ideas, such as broadening the scope of the convention to discuss gaming across more formats, we encountered some resistance but, in general, it was a case of seeing how our ideas would work. In our second year we reduced extraneous costs further, we had used walkie-talkies, had a video on the Friday night icebreaker and paid for a disco and bar staff. All of these cost a small fortune, and weren’t necessary, allowing us to put more money back into things like guests. We also moved to selling T-shirts online only as this meant we knew the exact demand, rather than printing them in the hope they would sell. It was all about spotting efficiencies and adapting to people’s feedback.

SSE: How do you see the event evolving over the next few years?

Realistically this is hard for me to answer. A new committee can decide to run it in their own unique way but I feel Gregor and I set the event back on the map and it is my hope that it will gently grow during the global economic instability and then, when the money is back in people’s pockets, it can spread its wings.

SSE: Conpulsion is a very traditional tabletop convention. This year, there was a lot of discussion of digital media vs print; could you see Conpulsion integrating more digital elements?

I work in the videogames industry and I am often slightly incredulous about their lack of involvement in this type of event, especially when they are asked along and I know them well. Any opportunity to show off your game and get feedback must be valuable? Personally I think that the different areas of gaming have never been closer. Let’s consider Sam Richard‘s Tweet RPG for one. Fighting Fantasy books on your phone, board games now beautifully rendered on computers so that you can play with friends remotely. PDF copies of games, Kickstarter, where do I stop. I think it is important that any event moves with the times and adapts. By doing this professionally, and within your means, you can stand out from the crowd, be noticed, and attract more people to your event.

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SSE: There was, we found, quite often conflicts between events, with the talks and gaming sessions often running simultaneously. Would you like to see the convention expanded to cover another day or so?

The current venue isn’t right for it and Conpulsion has traditionally run across the weekend. As a good convention expands it has to cater for more people to ensure that those who miss out on game slots have something else to do. I like having choices and the more choices the better, giving people the opportunity to try different things. With the excellent media coverage we got the talks are almost all available online and… well, there’s always next year too.

SSE: Were there any personal favourite games that you weren’t able to showcase this year?

All the games that weren’t there… That’s an impossible question to answer – I’d have loved a Gary Gygax run D&D game but that would have involved a Ouija board. Actually I heard he was quite a stickler for rules. We had many great games run by their creators and would have liked to have a good board game guest, so fingers crossed for next year.

SSE: How would you encourage people on the peripheries of tabletop gaming to come to an event like Conpulsion?

Word of mouth. The vast number of positive press articles for the last two years. It’s very affordable and if you live out of Edinburgh come and see our glorious city and make a holiday of it, there is plenty of affordable accommodation and the Bed and Breakfasts are excellent. I convinced one video gamer I know, who had never roleplayed or boardgamed, to come along. When I saw him on Sunday he simply grinned and said, “Phil, wow, that was simply amazing. I never thought I’d have so much fun.” And proceeded to tell me about all the games he had played, with glee. I reckon that’s the best advert.

You can follow Phil on Twitter and Conpulsion via its official site, Twitter page and Facebook page.

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