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.

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