Crafty Galway company mines its way to event management success
Event management firm has hit on a formula that keeps Irish Minecraft fans happy and is making inroads in the US
As recent gaming phenomena go, Minecraft may not have quite the same popular brand-name recognition as, say, Grand Theft Auto or the Super Mario Bros, but it has grown to the point where it now ranks as the second most popular video game of all time. Since it was launched in 2011, 144 million units of this addictive 3D digging and block-building game have been sold, compared with 170 million for the top-selling game Tetris.
Mind you, Tetris has been around since 1984, so it's probably only a matter of time before it loses its number-one status to Minecraft, particularly if the huge growth in Minecraft conventions continues.
Minecons, as they are called, started out as a huge annual event taking place in different locations in North America and Europe, and have helped hugely to popularise the game. But the folks behind it recently began a franchise of official Minecraft community events run by approved partners in a far wider range of locations around the world, and which look set to extend the appeal of the game even further.
Around four years ago, Lisa O'Brien noticed how her then eight-year-old son had become addicted to Minecraft and then realised how the game had become such a phenomenon. Its popularity is so great that a community of professional YouTubers have emerged - gamers who make a living from posting videos of themselves online playing Minecraft.
The mother of three saw an opportunity to put together a local convention, giving other fans of the game the chance "to enjoy the game together while also getting to meet some of their idols that they would watch via YouTube in real life".
The result was MineVention, run by Galway-based firm under the name of O'Brien Event Management and which has been running unofficial Minecraft events throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland since 2014. The 1,500 tickets for that event sold out and since then she has run an additional 20 MineVention events and workshops, attracting 35,000 people.
Following a visit to one event in the RDS in Dublin last year by the community manager of Mojang (owner of the Minecraft brand, and which was bought out by Microsoft four years ago for a staggering $2.5 billion), MineVention was shortly after appointed as Ireland's first and only official Minecraft Community Event partner. It is still one of only three such companies worldwide selected by Mojang to run these events.
O'Brien, who runs another business alongside the event management firm that now employs a team of four, has been described as a 'mumpreneur', but it's a tag she strongly dislikes.
Her professional background is diverse but a consistent theme was customer relations. She had worked in hotel management, conference and banqueting and human resources before completing a certificate course in event management in 2014.
"Even when I've been at home, I've always been doing some crazy venture - it's just that this one has stuck and now employs people," says O'Brien.
It's clear, of course, that running MineVention has opened several doors for O'Brien Event Management. As well as Minecraft, the firm is also managing events for illusionist Steve Spade, including a national tour taking place this year. Described as Ireland's answer to Houdini, he is being filmed for a documentary that will be shown on Netflix and Amazon.
O'Brien's company has also been working as a consulting partner for an events company in the US for two years, supporting the American firm in organising Minecraft-related events.
There are also plans to shortly launch a new event called UpLoad, described as 'Ireland's first social media festival', and which will be held in the RDS in November.
"We have been fortunate to see MineVention allow us to gain new relationships and from this we have seen new possible opportunities and ideas for growth," says O'Brien. "However, we do focus on trying to give the attendee the experience of an event that they have yet not had within Ireland."
"I have a very dedicated small team around me and we are always trying to think outside of the box with events and ideas that are not currently within Ireland, so that we become the first. It's the challenge to be that one step ahead."
The firm also puts a premium on the "personal touch", along with a strong dose of honesty.
"We would deal with many families contacting us about ticket types for events and what would be the best option for them. I am in the same situation with three children, so I understand we always need to find the best deal, and avoid dealing with companies more interested in grabbing your money than being honest. I am very proud of the relationships we have made with many of our attendees and repeat customers."
This personal touch also extends to the relationships with business partners. "Without these we would not be in the position we are in now," she says. "Relationships with your attendees, guests, work colleagues are key to a successful business."
While the last two years have been particularly busy, O'Brien aims to grow the firm at an "organic pace" in order to maintain the personal touch that she feels is essential to her business.
"I do not like the idea of employing too many people, as then I feel you can lose control of areas within your business. I like to have my finger on the pulse at all times. This may be a struggle at times, but I do believe that keeping it personal with the companies and people we work with has put us ahead with any trust issues, especially when we deal with creator talent for MineVention. People know they can contact me directly."
At the same time, she admits that, having built up the business from scratch, her personal attachment to it is strong, making it hard to switch off during the evening.
"Any day-to-day challenges tend to about getting adequate content for the shows and the anxieties of "trying and wanting to keep everyone happy and entertained".
However, the nature of these types of events means dealing with huge numbers of attendees, so you can't please everyone. "So trying to not take things personally has been a major hurdle and learning curve," she says.
The next Minevention will be taking place at the RDS on April 14 and 15.
Sunday Indo Business