I hope you’re going great guns with your gaming events. If you’re not having the success you are looking for, though, try out some of these ideas.
- Rethink your audience. Are you missing a group with special interests you haven’t served? As an example, here in the southwest, we have a noticeable demographic shift in the winter, with visitors arriving from colder climes. Senior book clubs and senior gaming become more important for the season. Maybe the local game club would like to find more players who share their love of the hobby. Ask them to host an all-day Saturday RPG game once a month, welcoming teens and adults both.
- Rethink your games. Much as that girl still loves Apples to Apples, some variety might be welcomed by the rest of your potential audience. Get some different board games for a month and see who bites. (I offer some suggestions for basic gateway games last November, and more complex games the following month. You can find plenty of other such lists out there.) Offer themed game events: play with words by offering Boggle, Scrabble, and go online for FreeRice (where you can simultaneously do some charity work at the same time). Play with abstract games of territorial control by offering chess, go, and Blokus; play with history with Through the Ages, 1960: The Making of the President, and if you have the option of M-rated electronic games, maybe you can set up Assassin’s Creed II.
- Market your games. I’m sure you already make flyers and handouts. Certainly get the event in your library’s online calendar, but see if your local paper has some kind of online “Local Events” calendar too. See about running a small blurb in the local freebie paper, if you have one in your town. Consider scheduling through Meetup.com. Time your event to happen shortly after some other popular event in the library that draws a similar demographic to those you’re aiming to interest. Go in at the end of the earlier program and tell people about the cool program that’s coming up next. Tell them you’ll help them learn play and encourage them to come give it a try… and that next time they should bring a friend.
- Feed them and they will come. I think most library branches have at least a small budget to put out snacks and drinks for the occasional event. I usually opt for something healthier than Monopoly and Clue candy (which were honestly pretty awful), but the novelty made people smile — and smiling people seem more receptive to “Hey sit down and play with us!” I’ve used Nerds candy the same way, plus it’s easier to find and more yummy too. (But seriously, find something healthier!)
- Talk with your customers. Unless you have an adversarial relationship with your patrons (and of course that never happens in this profession), you know some of your regular library users. Ask them if they play games at all, and if so which ones. See if you can encourage a few to come to your all-new revised-as-soon-as-we-figure-it-out shebang, and would they bring the games they enjoy, to share? And remember to talk with them, not just to them.
- Watch your customers is the corollary to talking to them. Sometimes people tell you what they think you want to hear. “Oh, yes, I think chess is wonderful” while thinking “I can’t wait to go home and boot up Dragon Age.” If you see Fusion Fall on the public access computers, check out the possibilities for setting up a LAN. If your teens are playing Halo from their flash drives, you might have a built-in audience for a tournament. (You may need parental permissions for minors to play at a formal library event, but that’s no reason not to offer popular games like Halo for grown-ups.)
- Competition. Deep in the heart of a gamer lies the desire to be the best. Tournaments and contests regularly draw more people than simple gameplay, in my experience. It doesn’t have to be complicated, either. I recently set up the online flash game Entanglement (from Gopherwood Studio) on the branch laptops. It is much like one of my favorite library board games Tsuro. No one knew about Entanglement beforehand, but all played feverishly after I said that the top three scores for the day would win a small prize, which I took from leftover Summer Reading Program incentives. Honestly, just posting the winners’ names and top scores somewhere visible might have been enough, so long as there was some kind of public recognition for excelling.
None of these ideas are groundbreaking but perhaps there’s something you can do to increase attendance. We often have to justify our programs by the number of people we bring in, and if the games aren’t selling themselves, you may need to envision a new strategy. Make a game of it, in your own mind! You’ll probably come up with that many more clever ideas. Game on!