In August of 2010, I took over the domain SaskGames and started on a journey to make a website that would bring together a community of boardgame enthusiasts in Saskatchewan. My baby is almost four years old, and it has grown in ways I could not have imagined.
The basic premise for the site was spawned from a private site that I started a number of years ago. I set up the website that hosts this blog back in December of 2007. Basically, www.bixby.ca is used for two things; this blog, and a discussion forum site that we use to plan events for family & friends. The planning area of the site was so successful in the early days that I was prompted to create a public version of the model for organizing board game events and groups. Thus, the inspiration for SaskGames.
I met a lot of resistance in the early days of SaskGames as the hobby is quite fragmented. There exists certain loyalties to specific stores, specific clubs, or specific styles of games. The idea of getting everyone to play well in the same sandbox was met with significant skepticism. I am not one to be daunted by a challenge, so I forged ahead anyways. I just felt that the existing communities had stagnated or become insular. Based on boardgame sales and indicators from other areas, it was obvious that the existing communities and clubs were not reaching a large segment of people interested in the hobby.
One of the main ideas behind SaskGames was to create an umbrella organization that sits on top of all of the clubs, stores, leagues, and groups. If we could get everyone in the hobby to come to the same site to get information about events and the hobby in general, we felt that all of the clubs would experience interest and growth. It would be a means to let people in one group see what folks in another group were up to. Perhaps then, some people would venture outside of their insular groups. That has proven to be quite successful.
Growth was slow and steady for the first couple of years, but the real explosion started when we created a weekly public game night as an outreach for the hobby; ChewsDay Challenge. The vision of that weekly event was simple: “Be friendly – Be welcoming – Be approachable.” It can be very daunting and intimidating for people outside of a group to know how to go about getting involved with a group that is already established. Some simple steps in this event addressed those things well. First of all, every week there is an appointed ambassador whose job it is to welcome people and get them involved. This hobby attracts a fair share of introverts, so removing that first barrier was very important. Secondly, everyone at the event must wear a name badge with both their first and last name. Social events are even more social when you give everyone a name. Additionally, every week, we get everyone to pause their game playing for some brief announcements. These announcements are a way to let attendees know about developments in the hobby and the community as well as info about the the event itself. It also establishes a means of communication and is another step in keeping the event friendly and personal. When we started, we were expecting about 12 attendees with the thoughts that we could grow the attendance up to about 20-25. We are now averaging about 50 people each week and there is a pretty even split between male and female attendance. Quite amazing.
With the success of the weekly event, I was curious if there would be interest in a 24 hour boardgame event where attendees raised money for a charity. We partnered with Souls Harbour Rescue Mission as they are working to provide food and shelter for the homeless. Our event was called “24 Hours to Play with Your Food”. Again, we figured we may get 25 people interested and if we were lucky, we could raise maybe $5000. Imagine our surprise when we had 81 registrants and raised $14,000 for the charity. We were all blown away by the support and involvement for this event.
The success of these two events prompted a local boardgame store, ComicReaders, to host an all day boardgame event last January. The basic premise is that it would have the same philosophy of ChewsDay Challenge, but be much bigger. The first event drew in 160 people. Again, everyone’s expectations were greatly exceeded. The Prairie Game eXpo will now be held three times a year: January, June, & September.
In January of 2014, we launched a SaskGames News Bulletin. This is a newsletter in PDF format that gets emailed to about 600 people. We figured this would be a 6-8 page production, but the support for content and articles has been fantastic and we are over 20 pages each month. Again, we were unprepared for how well this was going to be supported and received.
The website now has over 650 members and is averaging well over 100,000 page views each month. The growth has been so strong we have established a leadership team around all of these initiatives. What once started as a humble project of mine has turned into a host of initiatives with many people at the helm. Sure, there are still a few dissidents and malcontents on the sidelines, but their voice is but a murmur now that we have a very strong community built around the various niche pockets of the hobby. It is very heartwarming and gratifying to see the vision of a few years ago bear fruit today.
Today, I am grateful that my efforts have not been in vain. I am humbled by the outpouring of support for the whole suite of SaskGames initiatives. I will even venture to admit feeling a bit of pride, although I must safeguard to maintain proper humility and perspective. I am thankful that these things have increased my circle of friends as I have met some incredible people through these events. A strong community has formed, but that is the subject of another blog entry in the days ahead.
“Life is Short; Play Games!”