Kickstarter Lesson #37: Conventions and Face Time

12 May 2013 | 17 Comments

Teaching Viticulture at Geekway
Teaching Viticulture at Geekway

Confession: Prior to this weekend, I had never been to a gaming convention.

I wish I had a good reason for never going to a convention, but to be honest, the main reason is that I’m an introvert. I don’t relish the thought of walking into a room of 500+ strangers. I’m not shy, and I enjoy the company of others (especially if they’re willing to play games with me), but I’m energized by smaller groups of people or by being alone instead of crowds.

Also, up until attending Geekway to the West in St. Louis this weekend, I didn’t really know what I was missing. I’m sure I’m in for a very different (and probably overwhelming) experience at GenCon in a few months, but Geekway has opened my eyes to the amazingness that is a well-run gaming convention. I’m hoping DieCon will echo that experience in late June.

More Viticulture at Geekway.
More Viticulture at Geekway.

What made Geekway so great? Well, what really surprised me was how nice people were. I’m not talking the standard every day type of nice, which equates to someone not hitting your car with their grocery cart. I’m talking about a level of niceness that you hear about in other countries where people really mean it when they ask, “How are you?” People were just so open to interacting with others and playing games and talking about games. It was refreshing, not just to me as a game publisher, but to me as a human being. Geekway deserves credit for fostering a spirit of fun and camaraderie.

Alan and I spent the weekend showing people how to play Viticulture and Euphoria, as well as playing a few other games along the way. Geekway had something call a “play-to-win” section of their game library where anyone could check out a game, play it, and then enter to win that game in a drawing at the end of the weekend. It’s a great way for gamers to try out a bunch of different games, and it’s also a great way for publishers to expose a number of people to their games in a short amount of time.

Learning Lords of Waterdeep at Geekway
Learning Lords of Waterdeep at Geekway

We had one of our coveted advance copies of Viticulture in the gaming library, so I spent most of Friday keeping an eye out for people checking out the game and teaching them the rules so they didn’t have to weed through the rulebook. The more people who know how to play Viticulture, the better, so we’re happy to facilitate that process. It also gave us invaluable face time with potential buyers of Viticulture and supporters of Euphoria.

I even taught a group how to play Tzolk’in today–I think that comes back to my philosophy of making it about them, not me. You don’t need to push your project at conventions. Certainly make yourself available to teach your game to others, but also take the time to just hang out. If someone needs a fourth player for a random game, join them. If you see a group struggling through the rules of Tzolk’in, offer to teach them. Conventions–and everything you do during and after Kickstarter–is about forming connections and relationships with people. Hopefully my introversion didn’t get in the way of me doing that this weekend.

One final recommendation: If you’re going to attend a convention to promote your game, make sure you have the inventory to support it. Unfortunately we weren’t able to provide games to the two main sponsors of Geekway, Miniature Market and Game Nite, because…well, because the games aren’t here yet. They’re on their way to Amazon, perhaps even being processed by Amazon now. The timing was simply off by a week or so. In the future, our plan will be to not only have games ready for Geekway, but to also contact in advance the sponsoring retailers to let them know we’ll be there.

I’m sure I’m not the only introvert out there who is hesitant to attend a convention despite the benefits I mentioned above. So my final suggestion is that you don’t do it alone. Bring an extrovert, a friend, or your family with you–it was great to see so many families sharing a love for tabletop games. Especially for an amazing event like Geekway, you won’t regret it.

Geekway Tokaido
Learning Tokaido at Geekway

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17 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #37: Conventions and Face Time

  1. Hey Jamey. My question is more about exhibiting at a GAMA, NY Toy Fair, and trade shows like that. After we exhibit once and presumably make connections, what are the benefits of continuing to invest in exhibiting for future trade shows? If you connect with a big box retailer or large distributor, is it important to keep having impressive booths at future shows or can you go with a small presence and rely on past relationships to generate more business?

    1. Hi Ryan! I’m a little biased in my answer to this, as conventions and trade shows have never been more than a very small part of Stonemaier’s marketing strategy. I think the main benefit for returning to these shows is the face time you can get with your best partners (and some potential partners). I don’t think you need a big booth to do so. You really just need yourself.

      The one exception to this is that there are a few companies who have done a great job at fostering ongoing loyalty through their big booths. Greater Than Games is one such company. Many of their lifetime fans discovered their games at conventions, and they return to those conventions to see and interact with Greater Than Games.

  2. Jamey,

    I will be doing my first test play of a couple of Protos that I have this week. I will be in UnPub Proto Alley at BGGCon. I think I have some good questions to drill down into the issues with the games. As far as gathering testers info for later thanks and crowdfunding updates what info is most important? i assume name and email, but is that sufficient?

    1. Thanks for your question, Billy. Really all you need is e-mail, though it doesn’t hurt to get their name too.

      That said, from a game design perspective, I would HIGHLY recommend not using a public event for your first playtest. For any first playtest–even by a very experienced designer–there’s a very high chance it’s not going to go well. Get that first playtest (or more) out of the way locally or with friends, adjust the stuff that played out very differently in your head and didn’t work with humans, then present the revised version at public playtesting events. This is for your sake, for the game’s benefit, and out of respect for non-friend playtesters.

      1. That comment about NOT having a public play test is so accurate! What does sometimes happen is that despite earlier testing, unexpected funny things do happen when you show your pre-published game off! (You have to laugh about it!)

  3. Jamey, I just launched a game company this summer (Flying Leap Games LLC) with my childhood friend Jon and we’re manufacturing our first game, Wing It (, this fall. I’ve started reading your blogs like a textbook for guidance, so thank you for this resource and your mentorship!
    We plan to start attending conventions occasionally to promote Wing It, and I was wondering about your advice that “If you’re going to attend a convention to promote your game, make sure you have the inventory to support it.” How does one know what will be “enough” inventory, meaning how do you estimate sales?

    1. Thanks Molly! That’s a great question, and unfortunately there isn’t a magic formula for it. I think most companies enter conventions with the goal of not wanting to transport much merchandise home, so maybe they bring 100 units of an in-demand game and portion them out day by day. For an older game, fewer units. For a small, light, inexpensive game, maybe a lot more (even if you don’t sell them, they’re easy to take home).

  4. Hey Jamey, with Geekway coming up again this year (plus load of other conventions), I was wondering if you think it would be a good place to build awareness of an upcoming Kickstarter, as opposed to getting face time with fans of a currently running or already concluded campaign. I’m trying to do everything I can to build an audience for my project launching next month, but I’m not sure if going to a convention is the best way to do that. With Geekway specifically, since you have experience attending it last year, do you think it is worth it to attend and attempt to build a larger fan base? And if so, how would you go about it? I have demo copies, but not enough that I can give them to the play-to-win library, and, being a fellow introvert, I have trouble convincing random people to try out my game (even though it’s great).

    1. Isaac: Thanks for your question. I certainly don’t think that attending a convention to show off your game can hurt your Kickstarter campaign, and it’s highly likely you’ll get some backers from it (especially if you gather e-mail addresses and contact everyone when the campaign launches). It’s also a good time to get feedback from people outside of your typical group.

      As for Geekway specifically, I think we probably drew in about a dozen backers from our Euphoria demos. However, I can assure you that it will be exhausting! :) (I say that as a fellow introvert.) It also depends on the expense. Geekway is very affordable to attend, but add in the costs of travel, the hotel, food, etc–it may cost far more to attend than the revenue gained from those dozen games you might pre-sell.

      1. Yeah, if I lived near St. Louis it would be a no-brainer, but being from out of town makes it a much more costly affair. And if you were able to gather an extra dozen or so supporters having a captive audience of people itching to play Viticulture, I feel I would fare much worse having next-to-no name recognition. I think there are better ways I could spend that weekend with the launch so close. Thanks for the help!

        1. Yeah, we actually had Viticulture set up on one table and Euphoria on another, so that helped. I personally think there are better ways you could use the weekend at this point (although Geekway is a TON of fun). If you were early in the playtesting process, I would encourage you to attend, but not at this stage.

  5. Jamey, If you want to really enjoy a super-friendly con, BGG.con in Dallas in November is it. John and I went last year for the first time and we had a fantastic long weekend. Just as you observed, everyone was so FRIENDLY and KIND, it was really refreshing. People helped each other without being asked, didn’t steal stuff, in fact, made real efforts to return stuff that people had left behind. And we taught some people games we knew well, and others taught us games that were giving us trouble. We would love to see you there. :-)

    1. BGG sounds similar to Geekway in that it’s all about playing games, which I think fosters a friendly environment. It’s a bit hard to get to for us, but we’ll consider it. It would be great to meet you two!

  6. Jaime, it was nice meeting you and thanks for teaching us Viticulture. When we checked out the game, whomever had checked it in mentioned you guys were around to teach it, but it being midnight, I didn’t want to hunt you down. You saw us and reached out to us for a quick teaching before you retired for the night and I thought that was great. Viticulture was also great and I wish I had gotten a chance to play Euphoria. Geekway for me is as much about meeting great new people and catching up with the folks I’ve met over the years as it is the games and I truly think that’s why the Geekway grows so much each year.

    1. Charles–It was great to meet you and some of the other Viticulture backers too. We were pretty tired when you two checked out the game, but you, Steve, and John caught on quite quickly. I can definitely see now why you’re drawn back to Geekway every year–if i could sign up for next year right now, I would! And hopefully I’ll see you there and we can play some Euphoria. :)

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