4 Great Reasons for Kickstarter Game Creators to Attend Essen Spiel

4 November 2013 | 6 Comments

20131024_105450The number one question that European backers have asked me over the last year is: Are you going to Essen Spiel this year?

Essen Spiel (often referred to as “Essen” or “Spiel”) is a tremendously large gaming convention in Germany every October. GenCon, which I wrote about here after attending it for the first time in August, attracts about 50,000 people. Essen attracts more than 3 times as many people.

My answer to those backers so far has been, “No, but I hope to go next year!” Honestly, though, I’m daunted by the idea of going to Essen as a participant, much less a publisher and designer. So when my friend and fellow Kickstarter creator Emil Larsen, designer and publisher of Burning Suns (which recently raised over $100,000 on Kickstarter) told me he was going to Essen this year, I asked him if he would write a guest post upon his return. Emil has graciously obliged us with the following post and photos.


20131026_164213Thanks a lot Jamey, I’m happy to be talking about one of the greatest events in a year of board gaming :) 

In short, Spiel is a 4 days fair of board-, card- and role-playing games taking place in Essen, Germany.

During these 4 days, almost 150,000 people visits the over 40,000 m^2 area of booths, play grounds, trading halls and gaming tables… and much more. But I’m not here to talk about Spiel numbers–I’m going to talk about Spiel from the perspective of a Kickstarter creator. What am I doing there? How do I approach a convention like Spiel and what did I get out of going there?

I hope it’ll be of inspiration for your own convention visits as a Kickstarter, because if you follow the trend, you’ll be there. I’ve never seen so many Kickstarter projects at a convention before, they came in all shapes and sizes: Failed, newly funded, 2 years delayed and some games that were still running on Kickstarter.

As a newly funded Kickstarter, I didn’t have anything physical to sell or much to promote. But I went to Spiel for several important reasons: 

  1. Meeting new people (backers, other Kickstarter creators, manufacturers and publishers).
  2. Preparation for next year’s conventions (e.g. see good and bad examples of booths, experience presentations and so on).
  3. Examine the market (e.g. new games and ideas).
  4. And to buy cheap games that I can use for my future prototypes.

20131024_1316261) Meeting new people

Now, as cliché as this might sound, as a newcomer to the industry, one of the key elements to success is building a strong network. So with my Kickstarter project already concluded, I didn’t go to Essen to find new customers, I went there with a goal of getting to know as many people as possible. This means talking to a LOT of people, and being open for conversations every minute you’re there.

Keep the following pointers in mind if you want to do the same thing.

  • You need to spend at least 7 hours at the convention every day walking around.
  • Wear something recognizable. Well, my logo or board game brand isn’t anything big – but the Burning Suns on my shirt still caught the attention of several people during the stay.
  • Have cards or items ready. Far too often I was caught off guard, so I had to spend a minute on digging up my different business cards or pictures etc.
  • Avoid sales persons and go straight for the ones you think are the owners/designers. I have nothing against the sales personal and many of them are really nice. But when it comes to networking they can’t provide you with anything. You have to go for the real deal.
  • Warm up for your conversations by getting into a play introduction or something. Keep the momentum of a conversation up or cut it yourself when you feel it’s appropriate. Don’t hang around for too long – it’s about leaving a good memory, not your life story.

20131026_1416042) Preparations

You can’t prepare for being a publisher or game creator with a booth, if you have no knowledge about how things work at the event. Both this time and last year I experienced booths with no people or attention at all, which I’ll be so bold to narrow down to “lack of preparation”. If you’ve been to a convention you’ll have a pretty good idea of why you did or didn’t enter a booth.

  • Take pictures of both booths that worked and saw a lot of play and booth that didn’t.
  • Keep the map of the hall layout, if you plan to order a booth yourself. You might find it very interesting to see and remember why people streamed through one hallway and not the other.
  • The hardest part, is probably trying to get an idea of the size of booth, play area and hall you’re in. I mean seriously, it’s enormous! But it’s important to get an idea of the scope you’re looking for if you’re planning a booth yourself.

3) Examine the market

Well, though I really have a hard time talking in terms of competitors in the board game industry, since it’s a place with so many great people and room for so many cool ideas and themes. There’s really no way around it, you’ll be swimming in a red ocean of people trying to convince you to give them your money. I also went to Essen to look at the competition I’m up against, both within and outside of my theme/genre.

  • Make sure to get introduced to your competitor’s product. Though it might sound cocky, after both watching sci-fi games getting played and playing some myself, I have a pretty good feeling about Burning Suns as a whole.
  • Feel, take pictures and experience the quality. I can’t afford to purchase that many new games, so getting my hands on some of them and confirm or dismiss my expectations is good.
  • Plan your trip and write down when you pass things you want to get a closer look at later (trust me, it’ll be pretty hard to find again).

20131026_1531454) Spare parts for prototyping

Essen is pretty famous for Sunday sales and it’s understandable. From Saturday to Sunday things go pretty bananas, and cardboard is everywhere! I also snug in to capture a few cheap copies of essential prototype parts.

  • Withdraw money anywhere else than at the convention (the line can easily be over 30 minutes long).
  • Find some of the games that have been around for 3 or more years, these will be at a greater discount.
  • Remember to get the bills on the stuff you buy, this is research and production material.

I think this pretty much covers my experience with Spiel in Essen 2013, it was a great event. I had a lot of fun with it, and next year I’ll hopefully return with a booth for Burning Suns. :)

How was your experience in Essen?

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6 Comments on “4 Great Reasons for Kickstarter Game Creators to Attend Essen Spiel

  1. Thanks guys. I’m really happy that Jamey wanted to let me share some of my experiences with the beast.

    I hope I’ll have some time to sit down and go through some of my observations and conclusions later on. There’s a lot of interesting topics enrolled in an endeavor like having a booth at Essen.

    Have a great day all of you :)
    Best regards Emil

  2. I went to Origins in the MIDDLE of my Kickstarter campaign. you know, the part of the campaign tha sags. The connections I made had a direct impact on my campaign when I returned. This wasn’t exactly the plan but I would consider doing it again for my next project So my advice would be to consider that as a strategy. Perhaps add four or five extra days for the campaign to account for it.

    1. Hello Douglas,
      We will be going to Spiel to show our prototype, and are wondering whether our visit should overlap with the Kickstarter that we have planned for octover-november. In your post you mention that it was positive to attend the event in the middle part of the Kickstarter. Do you still hold on to that? Could you give us some tips whether to start the Kickstarter BEFORE, AFTER or DURING the event? What do others think on this matter?

  3. Here are some of my thoughts of how to create a good booth in Essen:
    I think it is important for publishers to not think to small, regarding letting people try your game. I have seen some booths only having one gaming table, and this will leave a impression to other people walking by that the game is small and uninteresting. People will always sit down to try your game if it is a free table. Remember to keep one table open for older games, not only for the new games (of course depending of your number of tables).
    Don`t try to make a border around your gaming table, the people walking by should see the games played, posters, encounters etc should be in the back or on the side. I think people playing your games is the best advertisement for the games. (like in the last picture in this post), if I have to go behind your encounter to get to see games played or to look at a game I feel like I`m intruding.

  4. Useful post – thanks Emil. I’m very interested in your point number 2 – Preparations – and what you found worked and didn’t work for a booth. Any chance you’re prepared to do a follow up post detailing your findings (if Jamey’s okay with this)?

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