[Camp Nerdly] Making new folks feel welcome

Every year there's some talk about how to make Nerdly more friendly to the first-time attendees. I'm not sure that we ever implement any of those ideas. This is me trying to fix that.

Please suggest ways we can make sure that first-time attendees feel welcome and included. My ideas:

* Buddy System -- every new person gets assigned an old person to answer questions and make sure they find the fun

* Meet and Greet -- instead of going heads-down into games as soon as you get there, host a formal "everyone takes part" event; certainly someone can turn this into a game of some kind?

* Chores -- give early kitchen duty to some people so they immediately have something in common

* Welcome to Camp Nerdly Pamphlet -- even though everyone supposedly knows how it works from the wiki and whatnot, people don't; produce a short leaflet to explain how things work (I WILL DO THIS)

* Say Hello -- remind yourself often to say hello and meet people you don't know; introduce people you do know to others (this ought to be part of the Nerdly Code)

* Orientation -- some kind of not-stupid and not-boring event to welcome first-time campers to the event


  • edited April 2013
    I think the pamphlet's a neat idea, Adam.
    Maybe a big, lazy game that runs throughout the weekend? Something like a treasure hunt, but the treasures are tidbits about your fellow owlbears. The winner of the game get's a free ticket to next years camp.
    How about a special button/sticker/badge for first-year Owlbears?
    I would "fix" the seating arrangements during meals. The tables are like little islands, where cliques form.

  • I would "fix" the seating arrangements during meals. The tables are like little islands, where cliques form.
    That's a good thought. Not that you can force people to interact, but it's much easier if the new people don't have to face the additional hurdle of injecting themselves into an existing social structure.
  • Missed opportunity:
    There were dice results on everyone's name badges last year. Those could have been used to mix up seating.

    We're trying to open up some channels for communication this year, but an open channel doesn't necessitate traffic. People can spy out what's going on through the conplanner site, or the g+ site, or on here, but that's not exactly outreach.

    Dave tries the "meet and great" early on by assaulting people with frisbees. Would anyone want to volunteer for some indoor instant activities? Old regulars playing some Uno or whatever with new people as they sign in? Rotate them through some tables with the agenda to learn more about them?

    4pm - 8pm is perfect for this, as it's just arrival, unpacking, and dinner. There's four prime hours for this, followed by a pitch session and a gaming slot.
    How about a special button/sticker/badge for first-year Owlbears?
    I would challenge the other way around, and I'd volunteer for this too. What about a badge/button for regulars who are willing to take time to answer questions and get people into games, and put that as their first priority? Would anyone else do this? Should it be done in shifts?

    Would you be more inclined to volunteer for a buddy system? With a one to one relationship rather than a "find someone with a badge" model?

    I really think the Pitch Sessions go a long way, but there are always going to be people that are too shy to make decisions and introduce themselves.
  • edited April 2013
    Pitch sessions were ultra-confusing and disappointing for me as a first-time attendee. I didn't have time to figure out what games were being pitched ("That sounds interesting, but I've never heard of it and have no idea what it's like, and the person pitching the game didn't say what kind of game it is"), and it was often difficult to find the "pitcher" amid the crowd, once everyone had finished pitching games and people started walking around en masse.

    I didn't know people well enough to remember who had pitched what, so when I finally tracked down the person who'd pitched something interesting, and found out that all the available seats were taken, I couldn't find anyone else who was going to be running anything (often, full game sessions migrated to another part of the camp).
  • Maybe that's a cue to improve that process. Perhaps we need to formalize the pitch, in some way. Have a list of descriptors: genre, complexity, emphasis, etc.

    And the physical space could be utilized better, agreed. Having activity heads on one side and participants (initially) on the other would be helpful for sure.

    At the very least, we could have a central map of where what games are being played. Dry erase. Updated once a session. Also for tracking if more players are needed or welcomed?
  • Clearly you need an elaborate system that makes each camper responsible for some other camper's fun, like a star-bellied Sneech machine.
  • Sounds like a crazy larp.

    Maybe a simpler idea would be to keep people inside the main cabin until the end of the Pitch session (even if you "fill up") and to indicate clearly where each game was mustering.

    In all seriousness, I would like to hear more complaints or comments like Rafael's. I didn't personally experience any problems with it, but that doesn't mean that there weren't any.
  • I think the pitch sessions must have this "read-only" feel about them, when they're intended to be "read-write." What I mean is, people must not feel comfortable turning a pitch into a conversation.

    The map idea seems cool. I'm a regular and know most everyone at these things and even I had trouble finding a game or two.

    As for table seating arrangements, I am loathe to force anyone to sit anywhere. Maybe we split the difference and randomize seating on Friday night, but leave people to their own devices the rest of camp. Part of the fun of camp is interacting with old friends, and meals are prime interaction time. Of course, there's no harm in reminding people to invite first-timers to sit with you and your friends.
  • edited April 2013
    I think the pitch sessions must have this "read-only" feel about them, when they're intended to be "read-write." What I mean is, people must not feel comfortable turning a pitch into a conversation.
    In a room of 4 or 5 people, I could see myself asking someone to tell me more about what kind of game Fiurteblag: Emotion of the Lost Danes is, but in a room of ten times as many people, I'm not as likely to pipe up. Which, of course, is personal, and not likely to apply to persons other than myself, so it may not be relevant.
  • (Fiurteblag: Emotion of the Lost Danes is a game about the quiet contemplation of remote but hygge personal spaces by expatriate Danes stranded at JFK. 10/10 would play again)
  • edited April 2013
    (looks up hygge, suddenly wants to play this game)
  • I was a first-timer Nerdly camper last year, if my subjective and anecdotal perspective is of use. (I was really hoping to go again this year, but I don't think I'm gonna be able to, due to having a kid who's a little too new to the world to go camping. Sad for me.)

    I had a good enough time last year to want to go again, even though there was a normal amount of that "Uh, what's going on here? Am I cool to join this group, or will that be a weird social transgression?" stuff in my head.

    But I think that's just how it goes. To be honest, having an assigned buddy or meal group would not have been something I'd have been jazzed about. Sometimes that stuff can just add a layer of protocol and etiquette that you have to also grok as a first-timer.

    Which is all by way of saying that Nerdly seemed pretty functional and most everyone was friendly. So don't fret too much! If you're a Nerdly leader, like Adam, you're already doing a pretty decent job.
  • Instead of feeling like a gaming convention in the woods, I wish it felt more like camp.
    That is all.
  • edited April 2013
    I am happy to talk to newcomers 1-on-1, hear what they're looking for, and recommend games or people to seek out. I don't know how useful an offer that is without some sort of officially scheduled time block and location for it, but nevertheless, it stands. Come say hi! I'm the guy with the frisbee.

    I don't have any great ideas for a larger camp structure, other than a short time set aside for everyone to do that (chat with a newcomer), such as 15 minutes after Friday dinner.

    As for pitch sessions, I think Rafael perfectly summed up the flaws. If we could iron those out, it'd be great. Here's my thought:

    1) camp leader gets everyone's attention to focus in on a central spot

    2) game leaders pitch games from that central spot, ending each pitch with "I'm gonna go stand over there, join me there if you want in"

    3) participants can move to join game leaders whenever they want

    4) once the last pitch is complete, the camp leader instructs everyone to go to a game if they really dug the pitch, and to stay put if they have questions or didn't like any of the options

    5) everyone with questions about the pitched games will ask, and decide whether to join or remain in the middle

    6) the camp leader will then ask everyone in the middle what they'd like to play; if someone in that group can meet that need, great; if no one can, maybe someone else in the room will offer to leave the game they're at and run/facilitate something

    I think this would work well for some people, but not for anyone who doesn't like standing in the middle of a room of people and saying what kind of game they want to play (which is probably a common preference). But, I dunno, I'm sure pitching to a crowd isn't the easiest social feat for all the game leaders either, so maybe all's fair, and this is the best we can do without having pre-con sign-ups.
  • Having a formal role for someone, a defined job, to be director of the pitch, is a thing to consider.

    They would grab the attention, as Dave is putting forward, get people to pitch their game, direct players, and quick;y take note of what game is taking place where. So game organizers would "check out" essentially and let the director know what game / where / how many / how many open slots are left.

    The natural extension of this (to me) seems to be to have that person stick around after all the pitched games have made, questions answered, and people have gone off to begin. This way they can put together some pick-up games, or organize those that didn't find what they wanted into a group or three.

    I know we have plenty of people coming this year that would be comfortable in that role, myself included.
    Instead of feeling like a gaming convention in the woods, I wish it felt more like camp.
    That is all.
    This comment interests me greatly, but I would like more. I didn't go camping a lot as a kid, so I'm kind of in the dark here. What kinds of activities were missing, in your eyes?
  • edited April 2013
    We've tried the Dave Berg model above at various times, actually. It works fine until there is an overflow situation where seven people want to play a five person game. I think the easy solution to this is to make it a general rule that the people who have been to the most Camp Nerdly's must bow out first.

    It is also awkward when someone pitches a game that nobody wants to play - they've made a good faith effort and as a result are locked out of other games, which fill while they are standing there watching.

    Another problem is that it is difficult to assemble everyone at one time. The kitchen cleanup crew, for example, has occasionally been shafted by this process.

    Now I'm confused by what the ConPlanner site is for. Why have people sign up if sign ups don't matter?
  • Hey, so something simple: at the pitch session or meal, let's go around the room and everybody says who they are, where they're from, something interesting about themselves. At subsequent sessions or meals, anyone new who's shown up is invited to do the same. Nothing big: just enough that we all start to know who each other is.

    Also, we could choose one person each night to sacrifice.
  • Two or three people could be responsible at each pitch session for making sure everyone gets in a game. I will volunteer for that right now, given that I've been to almost every Nerdly. I will expect to be called a Camp Counselor, though.

    Also, we could have just enough food that one person doesn't get to eat at each meal. After the meal, they sit in the middle of the room and everyone has to individually apologize to them.
  • The underlying concern is: fighting against the clique mentality, yeah?
    And I was warned about that tenancy before I came to Nerdly for the first time, but I didn't really see it, and I was it less the second year than the first.

    The game sign-ups, I think, came from the feedback from first timers, or potential first timers, who keep asking "but what games are taking place? what games are people bringing?" So having conplanner as a central form of registration / payment / scheduling seems like a good fit up front. And you can and should sign-up for games on the site.

    But to avoid that clique-ish feeling of people secreting themselves off and excluding other people, it would be super cool if people who have a full game still came to the pitch, and said "This game is full unless one of my players hears something they want to play instead." I mean, it's still an option, right? I'm not going to be offended if someone makes that call and leaves Puppetland or Itras or something.

    And yeah, I've been that guy, who pitches a game and has zero interest. It sucks. It sucked doing it for years at D*C. It sucked harder to have people pass up on games we were offering to watch full games of comment redacted instead of playing a game I really wanted to run. That's not something even Nerdly can avoid. It's going to happen. I can't tell you how many people turned me down for XXXXtreme STREET luge.

    But on the flip side, Sea Dracula made last year. How much more niche can you get? Nerdly is a cool place where people try to look out for each other, and make sure people have fun for the scarce few hours we get there. Which means when we dive in we dive in deep. Yeah, that's a little intimidating up front.

    I like this discussion on how to avoid some of the pitfalls, and improve the processes we like using. It's very useful. I'm just not sure how much "big" change is needed. I like a lot of the "little" ideas to even out the playing field.
  • How about at each pitch session, a few of us step up and offer to be Explainers (but not Mansplainers), and people can glom onto us and ask questions. "What the hell is XXXXtreme STREET luge? Does it really have four x's in it? (yes) Does he seriously want to play that game? (yes)"

    Clinton, you made me squirt tea out my nose with your meal thing. We could do Musical Chairs Lunch. When the music stops, grab a sandwich. There aren't enough for everyone.

    I don't think Nerdly feels like a game convention in the woods. It feels like a hippie drum circle with gaming in the woods to me. I like that.
  • Oh, and I agree that I don't think we need big changes. Camp Nerdly works pretty well as it is. Doesn't mean we can't make small changes -- or just raise awareness of problems -- so that new folks have an easier entry.
  • I will volunteer to be 'Explainers' for a session or two as well. We'll have a more formal list on Friday and can take sign ups at reg.
  • On explaining and games that have zero interest: own that shit. If you are really going to try to run, I don't know, Dogs in the Vineyard with a porno theme (this happened/will never happen again), you probably know going in that it's a hard sell and I bet you know something awesome about it that we don't. Bring your A game.
  • On the topic of owning that shit, we should all bear in mind that part of the Nerdly Code is "be responsible for your own fun". We can and should be welcoming to newcomers, which is also by extension part of the Nerdly Code. But we can't make a rule that says everyone must feel welcome and have fun, because that is shit we cannot own, right?

    I really like my idea (heh) of using reverse seniority as a decision-making apparatus. It's simple, actionable, and bends things in favor of newer campers without getting weird. It also places a social expectation of alertness and courtesy onto the people most likely to get all clique-y.
  • Seconded.
  • Thirded.
  • Maybe someone could also come up with simple guidelines of what makes a good pitch session to post on here, G+, and the wiki for people who will be running something for the first time. Is this a thing that already exists somewhere? Some of you are pros, but it's kind of intimidating to promote a game when you're new to the pitching concept and/or the Nerdly crowd. Even if someone is still nervous about the presentation, a simple list or guide may help them relax about having said the right thing (and avoid lots of the same questions: "how many people?" "is this okay for my 12-year-old?" etc).

  • That is an excellent suggestion. Hopefully I can coordinate with Adam to put together a "welcome to Nerdly" kind of pamphlet, and include that kind of information there as well.

    The big points are mostly:

    - Rating (some people use MPAA ratings like G or PG-13, but whatever you feel comfortable using) to let everyone know the tone of the game
    - Complexity (can you learn it in 5 minutes? are there a lot of moving pieces?)
    - Size (how many people do you want, and how tight is that requirement? 2-6? 5-6? 4-20?)
    - Fun (you know it's fun, because you like it. Where is the fun in this game? Is it the setting? is it the neat way the mechanics interact? is it the beautiful pieces on the board and how they inspire imagination? what can people expect to be fun about this?)

    But you can also include other important stuff like
    "This is an outdoors game, so we'll be running around a lot"
    or "These cards are like my children! Don't bring cheetos to this table!"
    or "This is just a playtest, and I'm [insert progress] far in to it, so mostly I'm looking for feedback on [insert piece]"

    The most important part to any good pitch is the Fun, so maybe do that first. I'm more comfortable with those points in the order I typed them, because I like getting the rest of the stuff out of the way and then talking about the fun, but hey, make the pitch comfortable for you.

    Does anyone else have any pointers?
  • I really liked the old "write it on a giant piece of paper on an easel" method. People stood around and talked to each other about those games, and then decided what to play.

    If the issue is the sign-up process, why not start with the easels, write your games there but don't include sign-ups. At pitch time, you still pitch your game, and then people find you. But at least they had a chance to "browse" and ask questions first.

    Too complicated?
  • Hopefully this won't take longer than ten minutes to match-make and divide up to play.
  • Adam, if we have a giant easel, I would love to use it. And we'll put a printout of the conplanner games next to it.

    Jump up, tell people what you're playing and where, and then go play. Ten minutes is the goal. Conplanner and the giant easel method can definitely speed that up.
  • Yeah, nothing I suggested makes the pitch sessions longer, right? Just giving people some information before the pitch sessions so they can take some time to learn about games that are coming up.
  • Exactly. People can browse over that during the meals or whenever, which is a good way to get a feel for what's what.
  • I've posted my Welcome to Camp Nerdly PDF on Google Drive. I've also posted the Word doc I used to make the PDF. You can edit it and add comments.

    Please review this and tell me the following:

    1. Is it useful?
    2. Is it complete? What does it need?
    3. Does it look like this?
  • Verbal pitch sessions are interesting/odd because, while you'd think they'd be completely natural, in virtually every other gaming convention experience, people barely glance at the game description before putting their name in. I would say at least half of game convention attendees don't know what game they're going to be playing when they sit down at my table. The name sounded cool or it was the sheet with space left on it, or they saw a name on the list that they want to sit next to, or whatever. So it's cool you are all working on this so much. Maybe other gaming venues should think about it.
  • Man, you need to go to better conventions. Since I started running games at cons--at GenCon, Dreamation, DEXcon, Metatopia, MACE, 1d4Con, Camp Nerdly--I've never had a player totally unaware of what they were playing.

    In any case, I'm hoping the trifecta of online signups (Con Planner), at-site signups, and pitch sessions will help people learn about the games and choose games they want to play the most.
  • Don't know anything about your camp but does it get 3G internet? There's a lot you could do with dynamically updating lists of games if people can use their smartphones to look, downside is you then have everybody looking down at their phones instead of up at the people who are talking.
    I had to ask a young woman to put away her phone this week at a lecture and was surprised at the raw hatred of her glare.
  • Camp Nerdly is deep in the woods.
  • I get decent reception when I'm down there, but I wouldn't want to require people to have a smartphone for anything.
  • I love it, especially the bullets. It's very well organized.

    When I was viewing it on my screen, it barely crept over into two pages, and there was some room left.
    Perhaps we could suggest a kind of checklist for the back... a "Did you know about... ?"
    With some of the oddities and eccentricities of the camp.

    [ ] Soda Swap
    [ ] Operation: Blind Drop
    [ ] The Pig
    [ ] The (insert clever name for the station with the map of the games that are currently running and where)

    ...etc, and let people figure out all word of mouth.
  • People most doubtful their game will fill should be encouraged to pitch first/early. This gives them an opportunity to opt for playing later pitched games in the same timeslot, and also gives more people exposure to their game, so conversations maybe happen at meals and some interest builds that way and their game maybe gets played in a later slot.
  • It fits nicely on one letter-size sheet. I can add stuff to the back. What are some more things like Blind Drop that are happening that people should ask around about?

    Good suggestion, Paul. I'll add if there is space!
  • I've only been a few times, so I'm not super sure.

    However, I do know:
    Piggy Stardust will be there, as he was last year. The pig is an all weekend thing. The pig collects completely out of context phrases and touts them as wisdom later on. There are websites for that kind of stuff.

    The pop swap / soda swap / hot sauce showdown is alive and well. That's pretty much all weekend too, no?

    There are Owlbears in the woods; if you listen closely you can hear them coo-growl in the night (please do not confuse the coo-growl of an Owlbear with Jeff Collyer snoring.)
  • People were crazy nice to me at my first Camp Nerdly. I felt very welcome, several people talked to me out of the blue and it didn't feel forced. It was really great.
  • That's super-encouraging. Thanks!
  • If I do the leaflet again next year, I will only make about 20 copies. I think people might have read the top copy on the pile and left it behind, if they read it at all. Oh well!

    Another thing I might do next year is just have it emailed out to all the registrants so they can read it before they come out. That's a good place to point people to the "stuff to bring" and other wiki pages (lodging planning, stuff planning, game planning).
  • I really liked the flyers, and I hope you kept the leftovers for later one. They're great.
    You doing that has forced me to think about how to better present all this info to new people, how to consolidate it into digestible format.

    If we do email or a web page next time, so be it.
  • I thought the leaflet was really cool. Fewer copies sure, especially for those of us who have been going since close to the beginning.

    I also thought having everyone pitch, even for a full game was cool. I know at least a few did have people drop out near and others join even though they were full.
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