Every year, we make changes to the way we run Geekway. It seems every year brings us new lessons, and the lessons have changed in nature as Geekway has grown. Last year, one such adjustment was to choose a new ticketing vendor.
For the past several years, we have used Eventbrite for our ticket sales. Eventbrite is great, but is really designed for events that are true ticketed events like concerts and readings and things like that. People buy one ticket and use it to get in to a venue – just like a sporting event or a U2 concert.
A gaming convention like Geekway is a lot different from a sporting event. When you go to Geekway, you might sign up for board game tournaments, the Flea Market, or a werewolf game that happens while you are there. When we build these with Eventbrite, we have to create an entirely separate event for each of these things. Every multi-round tournament, every flea market seller – no matter what it is, we have to build the event from the ground up as if it were its own concert or public reading. In addition to that, we have to separately track when and where each event is, so that we don’t double-book the same spot. And if something moves, changes, or is canceled, we have to run a report to tell us who all the attendees are, and email each of them to let them know that the game they registered for is now in a different location.
A couple of years ago, Tabletop Dot Events (or TT.E) entered the scene. It was the first event system we had seen that was built from the ground up for “geek conventions” like ours. TT.E allows convention organizers to load events to a convention, so that attendees can scroll through events and choose the ones they like. Since each end user has an account, the events that an attendee chooses can load to a personalized schedule. In addition, TT.E allows attendees to propose events on their on right in the interface. We can moderate these requests and assign them to locations at Geekway, vastly simplifying our process for event organization and guaranteeing we don’t accidentally schedule two things in the same spot at the same time. It costs about the same, too, so the added features at the same cost made it an easy decision for us to switch.
Remember what I said about lessons learned? We’ve learned a couple of things about TT.E, and we’ve passed these lessons along to them. They’ve helped us fix some of the problems. Here’s what we learned:
- TT.E did not previously allow us to pre-schedule badges to “go live” at a certain time. Basically, you enter your badge details, and when you click “submit,” sales are live. This means that for Patron tickets, which we know sells fast, our team (who all have full-time non-Geekway jobs) had to enter the tickets and press enter manually right at 10 AM while all of you were looking for the badges to show up. TT.E is working with us to fix this and allow us to pre-load badge sales so they can go on sale right on time.
- We didn’t really think about it until just before badges went on sale, but it’s important to know that TT.E requires you to make an account before you buy a badge. As we got ready to upload the badges on the night before they went live, we realized that many people might expect the new system to work like the old one, and just assume that they could click “buy” without having an account. Since we expected badges to sell out fast, we thought it would be important to warn people about this before they went to the site. Thus, the email that went out the night before. In the future, we will warn people about this well before tickets go on sale.
- The biggest issue we discovered is that TT.E handles badge inventory differently than other systems we have seen. Most online sales systems remove an item from inventory when a user puts the item in the cart. TT.E was not removing items from inventory until the user completed the purchase. This meant that a few users were able to add a Patron badge to the cart (Yay!) but then when they clicked “Purchase,” it showed as sold out. TT.E has already changed this so that this can’t happen again.
We have done this a few times and we always anticipate that there might be issues. So, we had held a few hotel rooms back just in case anything went wrong. We were able to contact those that had a Patron badge in their cart at the moment they sold out (thanks to some quick reporting from the TT.E team) and offer them a chance to reserve a hotel room (which was the main point of having Patron badges to begin with). So, we managed to make it right.
I want to make sure that nothing I am saying here casts Tabletop Dot Events in a poor light. They are still the very best solution we have seen for a convention like ours, and they have been incredibly responsive to our issues. In fact, when the cart inventory issue happened that I described above, they were able to pull reports for us and help us solve the problem within minutes. And, the code changes they needed to make to solve the problem were in place immediately. Big cheers for them! We are, perhaps, their biggest convention client to date, and I think we might be the only one that has to deal with “instant sellout” scenarios. So, we are all learning together.
Geekway will continue to grow and change in new ways, and the next problem will be just as interesting to solve as this past one. I am so grateful to our team. They always manage to adapt and thrive even as we get bigger and more complicated.