Demoparty in an isolated environment (By Adrian Boeing (and Martin Masek))nullarbor 06 was the first demoparty to run in Perth, Western Australia for 10 years. The last demoparty to take place in Australia was Coven 2001 in Adelaide (~2500km away from Perth – and that's the closest big city!). Australia is in a very real sense isolated from the rest of the world, and the demoscene. Perth is one of the world's most remote cities, but also geographically quite spread out within itself – adding to the sense of isolation.
Starting a demoscene and holding a demoparty in this environment is challenging to say the least, and I hope to provide a summary of my experiences and a short guide for other party organizers trying to get the scene off the ground where there has not been much of a presence.
So the first steps in starting something are: Socializing, Planning, and Preparation. I decided I wanted to run a demoparty well over a year ago. But I had a problem: I didn't know any Perth sceners, I didn't know what was going on in Perth's digital content scene, I didn't know much about the Perth CG scene at all!
So the first thing I did was get to meet some of the local community groups. A good starting point for anyone would be the local SIGGRAPH chapter, and educational institutes (erg: universities, and specialized teaching institutes). Get involved with some of your local groups, and you will gain valuable experience in what needs to be considered in organizing events and get to meet people who have similar interests to you and are likely to support you – you'll probably make some great new friends too! After spending some time engaging with your local digital content scene you should have met enough people, and organized enough events to be able to get a feel of whether a demoscene presence would be appropriate, and who would be interested in helping you out.
Step Two: Take responsibility, and commit.
nullarbor really got off the ground from a simple hallway conversation. Martin Masek was an old tutor of mine who had applied for a job at another local university in games development. He knew I knew a fair bit about computer graphics programming, and I offered to talk him through some of the things I would include in a course. After he got his new job I saw him in the hallway one day and casually mentioned an intention to run a demoparty, he thought it sounded interesting and we parted after a brief conversation.
Martin then emailed me a few days later and asked, "So, when are we going to have this competition?" And that's how things really got rolling. Each of us took onboard the responsibility of making something happen, and not waiting around for someone else to make it happen. (Perth had a previously planned demoparty – Sylan – but this never eventuated.) With the two of us, we had to commit to action not just to ourselves – but also to the other organizer. It helped keep things on track.
Teaming up with a game development focus has its advantages: Game development is very similar to the demoscene, and is often taught as a unit or major at a college or university. This provides you with a pool of people who are interested in this type of activity.
Having taken onboard the responsibility of organizing the event we set aside some time for some simple planning of what we wanted to do, when, where and how. Asking the people on the scene party lists for advice gives you an added valuable insight to what you need to consider and what people appreciate at demoparties. I built a website and Martin would review the content – much of the content came from amalgamating content from other demoscene parties and events.
Now we had something to show – a plan for which competitions we would run, and where it would be. Martin managed to secure some funding from the Edith Cowan University and so we even had a prize – we were ready to start rolling!
Step Three: Spread the word.
Having met the people within your local scene and having found a co-organizer, it's time to start spreading the word. This is by far the most time consuming activity – you will spend a lot of time each day just emailing people, talking to people, updating your website, visiting forums.
The conventional demoscene wisdom is to spread the word on ojuice and the usual demoscene channels. Whilst this is definitely valuable and some of the international communities are very supportive and proactive, at the end of the day the problem you're facing in an isolated environment is simply that none of the local people will check the demoscene sites very often – chances are, you already know everyone who does!
This means you need to do a lot more pushing to get the word out – emailing all the local groups you can think of from VJ collectives, to animators, to musicians to linux user groups to university clubs. Emailing key people within your own community can really help, and ask all your friends to do some viral marketing for you – ask them to send your invitation emails to all their friends.
This is probably the most difficult task you will face as a demoscener – especially if you're a coder, since "marketing" and "sales" is really not something you will know much about, nor feel particularly comfortable with.
Don't be afraid to do some things differently from how the other party organizers promote things – some of the biggest feeds to nullarbor came from places like NeHe, gamedev.net and Australian graphics developers & researchers blogs! Another place that brought a lot of people to nullarbor was a listing of the event in Perth's biggest social newspaper with the event highlighted as a special focus.
While you're doing all this publicizing it's also a great opportunity to get some sponsors for the event – or find some sponsors for future events! Our first sponsor was Richard Thomson (Legalize), organiser of Pilgrimage who was kind enough to organize Microsoft sponsorship later on. Gaining Microsoft as a sponsor was vital to building the image of the event – having Microsoft as a sponsor helped bring other sponsors such as the West Australian state government Department of Industry and Resources.
The other early sponsor was Garry Carroll from Red Flag LANfest, who also helped organize the computer village rentals sponsorship – bringing in the plasma screens, speakers and other equipment.
And of course, the many community groups put in their very valuable support and helped spread the word. PIGMI (Perth Independent Game Makers Initiative) and ACM SIGGRAPH Perth definitely provided strong assistance in building a supportive community around the event.
This resulted in a four pronged approach to building a new event and securing its future: Industry (eg: Microsoft), Academia (eg: ACM SIGGRAPH), Community (eg: red flag LAN) and Government (eg: DoIR). At the end of the day you will need sponsors to provide backing for the activities you are planning.
Whilst some demosceners hold the view that sponsorship is not that important, that is definitely not the case for an isolated environment. If you want to build a strong and lasting event you need to involve the local industry so people can see a clear future in progressing their skills - progress from demo making to working in an engineering visualization company or game development, film and television, or any of the many other fields that build on demoscene strengths. It helps to bind a community together that spans over many fields of knowledge and areas of life.
Letting people know about your party is the key to holding a successful event! It's hard to have a party when no one is there!
Step Four: Organize the Party day.
Set aside a week. If you've got other work to do, now's the time to take a break – you've got a party to run! Expect to spend a whole week doing lots of little different varied tasks. Tying up loose ends, setting up the venue, last minute reminders, making posters, and planning out the day. There is a lot of work involved, and chances are you won't get all the things you hoped to get done done. The best you can do is at least give yourself the time you need to get through as much of it as possible.
Step Five: Party day!
You will probably spend the day running around fixing up broken things, doing last minute organization tasks and shamelessly promoting your event in the spare time. Try to spend a bit of time talking to everyone who came down and thanking them for making the effort. If you find something that hasn't been done yet ask someone you know who is around if they can give you a helping hand setting things up. And don't forget to take some time off to eat, and of course, talk to the attractive girls from the Student Party Association (SPA) and get them to come into the party venue!
Step Six: Plan some down-time.
Organizing a party is demanding and exhausting to say the least. I was physically and mentally drained after the event. I certainly didn't expect to feel so tired after the party day but I definitely needed a break.
A few days off will help you recover and give you the chance to catch up on some sleep. So then you can send out a thank you email, and start preparing for the next one!