The Stagconf budget

I thought it might be educational, both for you, dear reader, and for myself, to write a blog post about the budget for Stagconf, the conference on storytelling and games I co-organized last year.

Here is our final budget:

Income Expenses
Ticket sales € 6380.25 Location € 3726.00
Sponsoring € 4450.00 Speaker hotel € 1545.00
Other € 300.00 Speaker flights € 3666.60
Catering € 1739.85
Speaker dinner € 750.00
Recording € 1150.00
Taxis € 275.00
Other € 564.21
Total € 11,130.25 Total € 13,416.66
Budget for the 2011 Stagconf conference

So what can we tell from this?

Final score

We made a loss of € 2286.41. This wasn’t a catastrophe. We didn’t expect to make a profit. On the other hand, the conference was not part of some larger enterprise where the loss becomes an investment. It wasn’t a marketing activity, for instance. And while we didn’t end up living under bridges, we can’t afford to lose this amount of money on a regular basis. This is one of the reasons why we haven’t made any concrete decisions for a Stagconf in 2012.

Speakers

Over 40% of our budget went to the speakers. We treated them very well. Not every conference pays for travel, hotel, taxis, dinner, etc. Our U.S. speakers brought their partners: we didn’t pay for their flights, but we did pay for the double room for 3 nights.

Was this necessary? Yes, I think so.

At academic conferences, speakers are typically expected to not only pay for their own travel, but even for their own entry tickets. This makes sense because speaking at a conference is important for academic careers.

I’ve never attended any open source or web conferences, but if EuroPython is typical, then there it is also expected that speakers pay for their own travel and entry. This fits the open source spirit, plus there is a sharing with peers aspect that not every conference has.

At industry conferences, such as GDC, speakers typically get in for free. The value of attending and of being a speaker are high enough that it makes sense to expect speakers to pay for their own travel costs. Plus, speaker supply is very high.

I think there was no strong case for speakers at this conference to invest more than their time, which is already valuable. This should not be underestimated. In my work on the advisory board of Game Forum Germany I have seen speakers turn down an all expenses paid trip to Germany simply because they couldn’t justify the time cost, and I myself have also turned down speaking invitations for this reason.

In the end it’s simple: we wanted to have the best speakers we could imagine, and the way to achieve that is to pay their travel costs. And it worked: everyone we contacted said yes right away.

Food

Our food wasn’t cheap, but it was worth it! Feedback on the food was unanimously positive. Paolo’s did a great job.

The location

The cost of the location made up almost 28% of the budget. I’ve been told this price was low for a conference location, and the Museum of Natural History definitely has a charm that added to the experience. Still, we’ve since come across options that might be even cheaper while still being very nice.

Ticket sales

This is a big topic that involves marketing, PR and pricing. I will save it for a future blog post.

Sponsors

We are immensely grateful to our sponsors. Without them, Stagconf would have been financially ruinous and/or less cool. (For instance, everyone loved the notebooks from Scout Books and the after party at Grande cocktail bar.)

Having said that: finding sponsors, especially financial sponsors, wasn’t easy. Not just because it’s never easy to get people to open their wallets, or because we had never handled sponsoring before, or because we were an unproven event. I think the business case for sponsoring Stagconf is a bit different from other games conferences. If you focus on graphics, you can talk to Nvidia or Autodesk. If you focus on AI (for instance), there are AI middleware providers that have marketing budgets. But who do you talk to for storytelling in games? We pretty much stumbled across Nevigo by accident in early August 2011, and were very glad we could convince them to sponsor us. But apart from that it’s difficult.

One target I had in mind was the HR departments of big developers. I tried quite hard to get in touch with Ubisoft HR, because I think it would have been a great fit: they’re looking for people all over the world, and most of their games involve storytelling. But despite all of the people I know there, I wasn’t able to reach the right people in time. And it might have been tough simply because HR departments might not have sponsoring budgets. Still, I’d want to try this again in the future.

The future

Speaking of which: what about the future? As I mentioned before, organizing Stagconf was fun but also incredibly exhausting. So if we do another one, we won’t do it the same we did it last year. What does that mean exactly? We don’t know. We have been talking to people and discussing various options (different formats, different locations, partnering with other events), but we haven’t made any concrete decisions so far.

But you can help! If you have feedback on our budget, let us know. If you have tips on organizing conferences, talk to us. If you know sponsors, definitely get in touch.

Meanwhile, I hope you found this informative.

Comments 11

  1. thomers wrote:

    Great post!

    Did you record the sessions? Might be interesting to sell the videos online.

    Posted 08 May 2012 at 12:09
  2. Jurie wrote:

    We recorded the sessions, and in fact posted the first recording on the Stagconf site yesterday. However, we decided not to charge money for it. One of the reasons was that we received sponsorship money specifically for the videos.

    Posted 08 May 2012 at 13:34
  3. Han wrote:

    I loved Stag, and Vienna, and generally had a wonderful time and learnt a lot of rich and interesting things from the speakers. :)

    In terms of sponsorship, I think you’d always want to approach a corporate sponsorship team, and then make the pitch about the potential benefits to their recruitment. In my experience, other departments just don’t have those kinds of budgets but the sponsorship team may still see the benefits and pursue it with you.

    I’m interested to see the post about marketing, PR and advertising, and I think I could come up with some ideas to help with that, should you do it again. :)

    Posted 08 May 2012 at 14:54
  4. Jurie wrote:

    Han: Thanks! We did approach some big companies, but we had very little experience in this area so I’m sure it could have gone smoother. For instance, I had no idea there was such a thing as corporate sponsorship teams *blush*.

    And thank you for your offer re marketing etc., that motivates me to write the next blog post.

    Posted 08 May 2012 at 16:06
  5. Darius K. wrote:

    As someone who runs a lot of small game dev conferences, this was a really interesting post for me to read. I’ll just give point-for-point reactions to what I see here.

    Overall budget

    First year for a small conference, I would expect anyone to be in the (0 +/- $2,000) range net profit. The first year we ran it, I think we made a $100 profit on GameLoop. €2.2k is a little much, it sucks that you had to eat that cost!

    Speakers

    If you’re having an event in Europe and many of the speakers you want come from the USA, then yeah, you’re absolutely going to have to pay to fly speakers out. I live in Boston, and every EU conference I’ve spoken at has paid for me to fly out — I simply cannot afford to pay for my own travel and lodging, as it makes no sense otherwise to fly to Europe for 3 days.

    In terms of pampering speakers, €750 seems like the right amount to spend on speakers plus core staff. In fact, all the pricing for speaker stuff seems right. However, that’s given the constraint of “50% North American speakers at a European conference.” Next time I’d either try and find way more EU speakers, or perhaps host the event in the US (which, uh, I’d be happy to help and am actually completely set up to do, so…).

    Food

    The one thing that you cannot spend too much money on is food. Given the number of attendees you had, it looks like you went for some excellent food without paying through the nose. The number one way to ensure good word of mouth for a conf is to have awesome food, IMO.

    Venue

    I understand the venue was absolutely gorgeous, but I really like to stress to first-time conference organizers that they need to find a place that will host them for free or nearly for free. Of all your expenses, this is the one where you probably could’ve gotten something a lot cheaper and not harmed the conference.

    Sponsors

    Finding sponsors is very, very, very hard for a first time conference. I still have trouble with it. I think you did pretty well, all things considered.

    It looks like where you fell down was ticket sales. €13k is a perfectly fine amount of expenses to have for an event, but it seems like you needed at least another 20 people attending to make it a net positive. I’m very interested to hear how marketing went for that — I’ll have more feedback to give then!

    Posted 09 May 2012 at 20:11
  6. Jurie wrote:

    Thanks Darius!

    Posted 09 May 2012 at 20:33
  7. Noah Falstein wrote:

    Interesting – I am a bit relieved to see Darius cite food as the number one way to get good word of mouth (suppressing pun instinct) as that has certainly been my personal experience, but I felt that I was an exception. It certainly explains my good will towards basically every conference I’ve ever attended in France.

    Posted 09 May 2012 at 20:43
  8. Jurie wrote:

    We talked to Darius before the conference so we knew his opinion on the matter :)

    Posted 09 May 2012 at 22:29
  9. Andy wrote:

    I’m glad to hear that food is equally important to all of us. I was more than surprised when I read that we should not offer food in order to offer cheaper ticket prices.

    I am curious to hear more about finding the right sponsors and how to approach them. I’ve noticed that there’s a big difference between European and US companies.

    Posted 10 May 2012 at 8:28
  10. Hal wrote:

    Thanks for staging Stagconf, Jurie. I had a wonderful and stimulating time at the conference, with you and Andy, and in touring Vienna & Austria.

    I hope you will find a way to do another one of these things — chatting about storytelling is important.

    Best wishes,

    Hal

    Posted 11 May 2012 at 5:31
  11. Jurie wrote:

    Thanks Hal! It was an honor to have you speak.

    Posted 11 May 2012 at 7:45

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