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Questions by Dustin Murphy and Answers by Joe Sullivan of the Retro Gaming Society
I want to, before I begin, thank the folks over at the Oklahoma Retro Gamers Society (their Facebook Community can be found here) for allowing us to attend their event called Super! Bitcon, which takes place in Oklahoma City every year at the Oklahoma City Fairgrounds. This year, we saw a ton of people on Saturday alone, but heard rumblings that Sunday had been even bigger, reaching a rough 3,900 attendee’s to Oklahoma’s largest and only known Retro Gaming Show in the state, which means that this event has grown from last years 2,000 attendees. Because we had so much fun, we decided to reach out to Retro Gamers Society’s very own, Joe Sullivan, who helps run this large and amazing event.
Dustin: Joe, thanks for taking your time to answer these questions, but I also want to thank you for letting me attend here for media coverage for Blast Away the Game Review. I know we tried to do this when I met up with you on Saturday, and it was just a chaotic day with how busy it got. Would you mind telling us how Super! Bitcon got started? Do you think with how busy it’s been this year you’ll see a steady growth in attendance?
It all started with BC Phillips and David Sollars, both of whom helped found the Retro Gamers Society (RGS), a nationwide organization for retro game enthusiasts. In the Oklahoma Chapter, monthly meet-ups had been fairly regular, and the desire to have a national scale meet-up and bring members from all over the states with RGS chapters together for what essentially would be one big party. There had been other retro gaming events in Oklahoma, such as Tulsa’s fantastic Oklahoma Video Game Expo, but initially Super! Bitcon was designed to be the national meet-up for all of the RGS chapters across the country.
Clearly, the focus has changed a bit from the original plan of a national meet-up to more of an all-encompassing celebration of all things gaming. We’ve been completely blown away with the response, both last year, and in almost doubling the attendance for this year. I can only hope that we’ll continue to see growth in Super! Bitcon 2016 and beyond, but we understand that with higher attendance comes the responsibility to continue to provide an experience that can appeal to larger and larger audiences as well.
Dustin: Do you think with how busy it’s been this year you’ll see a steady growth in attendance and gives you an idea of what the Retro Gamers Society can expect next year?
One of our biggest focuses this year was improving the interactivity of the event. One of our strongest bits of feedback from our initial expo was that people didn’t have enough to do after walking the vendor floor once or twice, maybe attending a panel, playing a free arcade game,
there just wasn’t enough perceived interaction. This past year we were thrilled to partner with GameStop to help provide and manage our console free play area, which was a huge success. Add with that additional panels, a bigger museum, more arcade cabinets, and just more of everything, and we had a recipe for providing a much fuller experience this year.
While at this point we’re going to keep our plans for next year a little close to the chest, we aren’t content to just repeat what happened this year. The best way to keep on top of all of the news, updates, and general information is by liking our Facebook page.
Dustin: In regards to that, I remember hearing about Super! Bitcon last year around August when a few friends of mine attended and found some great trades as well as purchases. I know that even with this being a trade show for a bit part, but also a great place to meet and see video game history, what do you think the true foundation of this event makes it so successful, but also keeps people from all around the midwest region attending?
The RGS monthly meet-ups to which Super! Bitcon was first designed for, were built around people having a place to get together with like-minded individuals, and bring stuff to buy, sell, and trade without having to be a business. We went out of the way to ensure that there were plenty of additional tables available for people showing up to have a place to negotiate their own trades with other attendees. I even ended up trading about $500 worth of merchandise myself. At it’s core, it’s the person-to-person interaction that makes Super! Bitcon a success. Most of our vendors too had a similar mindset, and were open to making some of the best trade rates you could find anywhere. Every dealer I traded with gave me fair market value on my stuff, and seemed genuinely more interested in trying to make a new friend and talk gaming history, one of my favorite subjects as the Super! Bitcon Museum Curator, than trying to make sure they could turn a big profit on what I was giving them in the deal. Cultivating and nurturing that mentality is part of the core of what makes the expo a success.
Dustin: I know I saw several names I’ve watched on YouTube a bit before this convention such as OrtPro, Patrick Scott Patterson, Midwest Retro Gamers’ very own Ed, Mo, and Troy. I even got to see cool folks such as Smooth McGroove who is well known for his retro game renditions in a video edited acapella, but also the rather well viewed AlphaOmegaSin being here. What got attendees such as these awesome and talented folks to come on board?
There’s a fair amount of networking that takes place between all of the retro conventions in the area, and we’ve been good friends with many of our guests for some time. Retropalooza, for instance, is headed up by The Game Chasers, who we’ve had the pleasure of kicking back more than a few drinks with at just about every convention in the Midwest. Some of our newer friends, for instance ProJared, we were able to reach out to and invite up from his home in Texas.
As far as what interests our guests in coming aboard to help out with our expo, give a panel, have a booth, etc, it’s just the continued desire to share in the excitement of all things gaming. We were blown away during our first show, when, completely unexpected to us, Smooth McGroove himself came in the door as a regular attendee. I think it was actually AlphaOmegaSin who first spotted him, and the mob of fans seemed to follow shortly after. We were thrilled this year to have Smooth as an official guest, and have a great interview-style panel with him.
Dustin: Do you think that this will only pave a road for more gaming personalities like them to come back, but also to bring new YouTubers, journalists, and even gaming historians to the event next year?
I certainly hope so. While Super! Bitcon does technically earn money, none of us involved get a paycheck at the end of it. We do reimburse ourselves for any expenses on the expo’s behalf, but really none of us are here to try to get rich off of this. All of our proceeds will go directly into next year’s event, so when you break it down, more attendees means a larger budget for the next Super! Bitcon… yeah, I think you’ll get a chance to see even more exciting special guests come next year.
Dustin: When walking the showroom floor before attending a few of the panels, I noticed the museum, which was astounding. It had some of the rarest items I’ve ever seen in gaming history such as game cartridges, the military training SNES, but also some antiques alone due to their rarity. Do you think this collection will grow before Super! Bitcon 2016 and will be there next year?
Everything we had for the museum this year was donated for display by a group of nine different RGS members, myself included. I’ve always personally gravitated towards to rarest and oddest gaming items, and was happy to share some of their stories with our attendees. Now, I’m not just saying this because it was our expo, or because I personally oversee the museum, but our gaming museum exhibit is the best I’ve seen at any convention. While we didn’t have either Nintendo World Championships cart or a Stadium Events on display, our volunteers who guided people through the rarities and shared their stories more than made up for is. There’s something to be said for taking the time to have a personal touch, and someone there to tell the story, more than just reading a placard. Two of our museum volunteers in particular, Nikki Robinson and Lou Sabina, were particular excellent guides, and it was especially exciting watching the looks on people’s faces when they heard about how the sewing machine they were looking at hooked up to a Game Boy, or seeing the decks of playing cards that were printed by Nintendo from the 1960’s before Mario was even a concept. Other conventions have had museums, some of which had some of those all-time rarities, even if the only known complete SNES military training set traceable to a single military unit is currently a Super! Bitcon exclusive, but often those museums are completely overlooked. Having the volunteers with the enthusiasm
to share what makes the items exciting is what put our museum over the top.
Dustin: Is there anything that was almost brought to the show, but didn’t show up at S!BC?
As far as the museum was concerned, there were a few things that I left home from my collection this year that I brought out for the first Super! Bitcon. Our museum theme from the first expo was “Games With Stories”. I wasn’t as interested in displaying something that was valuable for the sake of being valuable without a good story behind it, such as a complete-in-box Earthbound, or Little Samson, even though members offered to let us display their copies, but opted for more things in the “didja know…” variety. One of my favorite little stories that I left at home this year due to space limitations was the original Revenge of Shinobi on Sega Genesis. The initial release featured a number of enemy characters that were nearly direct copies of Rambo, the Terminator, the Incredible Hulk, and several others. These enemy character sprites were remodeled in the game’s subsequent reprints. It’s a fun little bit of copyright negligence that was swiftly altered after legal action was threatened.
Dustin: I noticed a lot of advertising at the GameXChange in Stillwater, Oklahoma, but quite a bit through social media outlets. Would you say the Facebook Community (click here to join their page – does require you to be logged into Facebook), for Oklahoma Retro Gamers Society paid a big role? Would you say word of mouth played some part in it?
Facebook does play a pretty important role in getting our message out, both between the Super! Bitcon page itself and the various Retro Gamer Society pages. However, while it’s all well and good to get the message out to those people who are already in the Facebook groups or have already liked the Super! Bitcon page, those updates are really more of a “what’s for sale” after we’ve already “gotten you in the door”, so to speak. We had about two dozen dedicated volunteers that were postering, advertising, and otherwise spreading the word in OKC, Tulsa, Dallas, and Stillwater, as you personally noticed. Those volunteers, our Super! Bitcon Street Team, are one of the biggest factors in the “getting people in the door” mentality, so that they can discover what a great event was about to occur. In particular, Oklahoma City’s Elaine Little was simply outstanding in getting the word out as a vital member of the Street Team. Her enthusiasm, and really the energy and excitement form the rest of the Street Team members was a driving factor in spreading the word.
Dustin: Do you think the YouTube coverage, media coverage, and even the word of mouth will help this event grow even more, and in turn bring even more guests next year?
It certainly will play a large factor moving forward. Several other media outlets have already pegged Super! Bitcon as a convention with an eventual national-scale draw. Any successful convention, especially those who aren’t running for the reason of generating profits for those people directly responsible for putting on said convention, hopes to get into a cycle of generating a profit, and then reinvesting in itself for a bigger and better event the following year. That reinvestment is where the additional exhibitors and guests will largely stem from, as well as the word of mouth from not only media coverage, but the guests we had this year too. It was really a great privilege to host folks like Patrick Scott Patterson, the Game Chasers, ProJared, Smooth McGroove, and all the rest, and we hope they’ll share what was hopefully a positive expo experience with other, similar guests, so that we can continue to provide some of the best access of any convention in the area.
Dustin: On the note of exhibitors, I decided to take some time, do some personal training, and even buying to get a few of the finds that I’d been looking for. It seems eBay, Price Chart, and a few other resources are where traders go. Do you have any advice to people who have never attended and will be looking at attending as beginning or amateur collectors so they know what to expect and what to bring to help them trade?
The best piece of advice I can give a new collector is to check out Ronnie Titsworth’s article on the www.retrogamersociety.com website entitled Swimming with Sharks: Lessons I Learned in My First Year of Collecting. It’s a great read, and the best starting point I can think of for anyone who’s interested in getting started. Couple that with using pricecharting.com to get a general idea of what individual titles are worth, or eBay sold listings if you want to nail down a more concrete value and take things like condition into account. Condition makes a huge difference, especially in higher dollar titles. An N64 Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask Gray Not For Resale demo cart with a poor label is probably worth about $850 currently, but with a pristine label, the value almost doubles and it’ll likely fetch more than $1500.
Dustin: What about for those that are looking to become exhibitors and bring in some rare items, income, or even just to enjoy the show as one? Is there a special way that they need to enroll for the show next year?
If you’ve got something especially rare that you’d like to show off, we may have room for it in our museum next year. As far as for people interested in purchasing tables as prospective vendors, I expect we’ll open table registrations in the September to October timeframe. Following us on Facebook is the best way, as we’ll post there once registrations are open. Additionally, checking in from time to time at superbitcon.com will keep you in the know as we release more information. A suggestion though for people considering purchasing a table, one of the most common things heard from the vendors, especially those who only purchased one table, was that they wish they had bought another. That space fills up quickly if you aren’t careful!
Dustin: Joe, I appreciate getting the chance to have you answer these questions and look forward to covering Super! Bitcon in the future. Our experience there was great and for the readers that haven’t read it yet, they can find Super! Bitcon on the website (here), but they can also find our impressions on our own website. Is there anything you would like to share with the readers or future panel guests that may read this?
It was a pleasure getting to meet you this year Dustin, and I’m glad you had a great time. As for anyone on the fence about coming next year, we are going to strive to keep our weekend passes low enough so that you won’t feel like you’ll go broke just to get in the door. Tickets were only $10 for adults this year, with a large number of free passes available via various promotions in the months leading up to the expo. Any seasoned convention-goer will tell you that for an event of this size, you could be expected to pay more than triple that for admission. This past year’s Super! Bitcon was definitely the biggest and best gaming event in Oklahoma history, and those of us on the Bitcon staff are going to do our best to continue to make next year’s expo the new record holder for biggest and best Oklahoma gaming event.
Dustin: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. We look forward to seeing more about the event next year and can’t wait to see what the future holds for retro gamers and upcoming retro collectors!
With the conclusion of our interview with Joe Sullivan, I decided to take some time and post some post-event thoughts on this after having met the awesome folks there such as B.C. Phillips, Joe Sullivan, Midwest Retro Gamers, Ortpro, and even Alpha Omega Sin (all can be found on YouTube or through the OKRGS Facebook Page minus Midwest Retro Gamers, Ortpro and AlphaOmegaSin). It’s hard not to say that this game didn’t hold a certain soft spot in my heart. The fact that the adventure was a flashback to a childhood, I enjoyed what I saw, and even found myself immersed in a world where my father, myself, and my mother (we’d love to have been able to bring my brother’s and their women along for the ride) as we discussed our old games such as Galaga, Sonic the Hedgehog, Battletoads (still think my dad and I should have picked a copy up!), but also the happiness that the games brought us. It’s places like that event that can bring out happiness, fond memories, and even strengthen bonds that may have already been strong, but even ones that may have been broken or weak. We look to see just how much memories come back next year when we once more step on the floor and cover the event once more, but this time with more prepping and even a newly formed idea of what the event is like.
If you attended Super! Bitcon let us know! You can share your pictures via our Facebook Page, Google, and or even Tweet them to us when you get a chance.
About the Writer:
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the boarders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, MMO’s, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable and can’t be softened by even the biggest names in the gaming industry. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. To follow Dustin, hit him up on Twitter over at @GamingAnomaly, find him on his Google+. Wanna game with him? You can find him on PSN with RaivynLyken.