The Current State of Play-and-Win (2017)

9 January 2017 | 25 Comments

Most of my favorite ways to market our products is to find ways to get them to the table more often. Your table, my table, the tables of reviewers, ambassadors, etc–any table will do. The more our products get on the table, the more they’re exposed to people.

This is a big part of the reason why we make promos and expansions. Our goal is to bring joy to tabletops worldwide, but a key element is that our games must actually get to the table. Promos and expansions give people a reason to open up a box that may have been sitting on their shelf for a while.

But perhaps my #1 favorite way to get games to the table is through play-and-win donations for game conventions.

Play-and-win is where people can check out your game, play it, and then enter their name in a lottery to win that specific game at the end of the convention. If I donate a play-and-win game to a convention, it can be experienced by dozens and dozens of people. Only one of those people will win it, so if other people liked the game, they’re now informed in their decision to purchase it later.

I’ve been talking about play-and-win on this blog for a while after discovering it at Geekway to the West, and I’ll post those links at the bottom of this entry.

Today I’m going to focus on the play-and-win Google Doc that I created and maintain, as well as my current approaches to maximizing the potential of play-and-win for publishers, conventions, and gamers.


If you’re a publisher who likes the play-and-win system, but you don’t like getting solicitations from hundreds of conventions, the Google Doc is for you. You can simply enter your information on the current year’s tab, which communicates to the participating conventions that you’re in the know and don’t need to be contacted individually.

I have a calendar alert at the beginning of the month to remind me to check the Google Doc for conventions happening the next month. So, on January 1 I looked at conventions happening in February.

The number of games I send to a convention depends on the size of the event. Sometimes the play-and-win coordinators enter their information on the Google Doc and forget about it, so I help to remind them of what the package is by including the words “play-and-win” as part of the address label.

I try to keep our ambassadors informed about the various conventions that feature our play-and-win games. If any of them attend those conventions, they can make sure to drop by from time to time to see if players have questions. Otherwise, you don’t need to be worried about having teachers present–people who use play-and-win are usually comfortable to learn the game from the rulebook, and random fans of the game often stop by to help out.

Last, while we donate our games to play-and-win sections for free, it’s perfectly reasonable for you to ask a convention to pay for your games (ideally a reduced rate). Play-and-win sections are major draws at convention–you’re helping them just as much as they help you.


If you’re completely new to play-and-win, read this blog entry about the core details (or these instructions on the Geekway website). Then take note of the following:

  • Please enter your convention on the Google Doc (use open rows at the bottom).
  • If you enter your info on that spreadsheet, you may only use the donated games for play-and-win, and you are committing to having a play-and-win section (even if you have to buy some games for it).
  • At least several weeks before the convention, tell vendors which games were donated for play-and-win so they can stock those games at the event. The play-and-win section should close before the vendors.


If you like the idea of play-and-win, feel free to check out the conventions listed on the Google Doc. You might discover a nearby game convention that you haven’t heard of.

If you’re new to game conventions, I think you’ll find them to be very welcoming. I’m an introvert who does not get excited about big events, but my experience at Geekway has been really invigorating. There are countless times when I’ve been invited into a game or when someone offers to teach a game.


What are your thoughts on play-and-win?

Also see:

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25 Comments on “The Current State of Play-and-Win (2017)

  1. I know that this article is a bit older, but any suggestions for soliciting donations? I have emailed some people and have had only one bite so far.

    1. Thanks for your question. I don’t know what your solicitation looks like, but hopefully each email is specific to the publisher (not a general mass email). I think one option is to offer to pay for shipping–publishers may respond better to that. Another is to talk to local retailers about buying ding-and-dent games at cost.

      The last option is to use part of the convention budget to buy some games for play at win. It’s a service to your attendees that they will really enjoy.

  2. With limited staffing, it’s tough to manage that level of activity. We added a requirement that all “Play 4 Keeps” entries for games @ 2018 Piedmont Triad’s International TableTop Day required a verified post to one the publishers social media accounts. FB, Twitter or Instagram.

    These hashtags were listed in the program guide along with the sponsoring publishers advert.

  3. Hey Jamie, Been a Minute since the conversation has carried on here on this topic. We are having our first Micro Con In November 2018 and have really leaned towards the concept of Play to Win. The question is this: Whether you are BGGCon or a 50 person micro convention.. play to win to me still seems like the sure thing to promote games and get use out of them for the public before awarding the game to a participant. Is it better to have 20 “quality” games or hundreds of “any” game… as we have visited conventions that boast a large library of games and a large play to win section but what we have observed is people checking a game out, not playing it and checking it back in because they are trying to get entry to every possible game to win it. I want to be careful because any published game while some may be “better” than others are all further then I have personally created. So what do you do.. target the designers you want at your con and limit it to a smaller number of games so they all get played A LOT.. or is quantity better then quality in this scenario? In our scenario we are even willing to fund the whole thing to make sure its a quality Play to Win section and that all of the games get played many times!

    Thanks a bunch for reading and responding everyone!

    Across The Board Podcast

    1. Hey Ryan, thanks for sharing this here. From a publisher perspective, I like it when the play-and-win section scales based on the size of the convention. For a 100-person event, perhaps around 10-20 copies of games in play-and-win is great. For a 1000-person event, a lot more games are necessary or people aren’t even going to check into play-and-win.

      As for the quality of the games, as you mention, that’s fairly subjective. I think you can sometimes look at the audience at your convention and figure out what types of games they like to play. At the same time, a diverse array of games can be good too–like, at Geekway, there are plenty of quick to learn/play games, but there are also a number of longer, heaver play-and-win games because people have the time to sit down and learn them.

  4. […] I’ve found that we get a fantastic return on investment on play-and-win sections at conventions. That’s when people can check out a game from a specific section of the library and write down their name on a piece of paper associated with that specific game. At the end of the convention, one name is drawn for each game. We often see that hundreds of people invest their time in learning and playing play-and-win games, so the chances they’ll purchase the game (if they don’t win it) are significantly higher than before. Here’s my latest article about this technique. […]

  5. […] I spent the last 4 days at Geekway to the West in St. Louis. I describe Geekway to people as one long game night with a ton of people (2500 this year). While there are structured events and a vendor area, the vast majority of space is devoted to open gaming and play-and-win gaming. […]

  6. Great article! The comments around legality are silly though. I’m guessing most play and win rooms don’t even charge a fee to participate so it isn’t even considered a raffle.

    Thanks so much for the google doc!

  7. Jamey,

    That’s exceptionally kind of you. As we get closer to the date, I’ll engage you directly about what we have in mind for our booth.


  8. Jamey,

    Thanks for the info! I don’t know if you’re aware, but Northern VA is hosting its first convention in July. I will absolutely see if we can do this with our game. It’s a great way to show it off, see people engaged in playing the game, and it will inform some thoughts on our expansion, as well. As to the Convention, it’s NOVACON.


  9. There is a big difference between gambling (paying money for a chance to win something of more value than your wager), charity raffles (taking money for a chance to win something and knowing the money is going to a charity), and sweepstakes (you were randomly chosen to win something with no cost or consideration to you).

    Entry fee to a convention does not equate to paying money for entries into the raffle. As long as the value of the event is reasonably tied to the price, and the attendee is receiving value *from the event*, then sweepstakes held shouldn’t be a problem, especially if they do not profit the convention.

    You do not have improved chances of winning based on purchasing, and you are playing games for fun, so that is also not consideration.

  10. I’m not a legal expert and am not trying to be a wet blanket. I’m saying that one should be responsibke and properly investigate the laws and ordinances before running afoul of the law.

    A quick Google search directed me to a document titled “Illegal Gambling in Missouri”.

    A person engages in gambling when he pays to play a game of chance or places a wager on a future contingent event not under his control or influence with the understanding that he will receive something of value if he wins the game or a certain outcome occurs.

    Payed admissions to an event mean that the event is not open to the public and thus not everyone has an opportunity to win.

    There was a local incident where a card shop had a spin wheel with various “prizes” for $1 a spin. A kid lost some $$ and it got back to his parents who raised Cain with local municipality who shut that /$#@ down promptly under unlicensed gambling.

    Just be aware and informed. It’s not as simple and straightforward as you may think.

    1. I completely agree that conventions should be aware of rules for gambling and lotteries. Your previous comment had a bit of an aggressive tone, especially given the intent of this post, but I appreciate the way you offered more detailed, judicious verbiage in your follow-up comment.

  11. You have used some specific language and keywords that are red flags.

    Depending on local and state laws may explicitly prohibit or restrict such lotteries and games of chance.

    I’m not saying you’re wrong but I’d temper employing such gimick ideas until one checks out their local regulations.

  12. That’s a great idea to gather convention organizers and publishers here to make this easier for everyone. I love play-to-win as well. We use a company called Double Exposure and their Envoy program, who seek out all US conventions, determine how many people will be there, how organized they will be, and whether they have play-to-win events. All I do is send games to the address they tell me. Through them, we support ~50 conventions that way each year. There is a significant cost to be a client of Envoy (this is just one of their services) and I wouldn’t recommend it for many publishers, but I thought I’d mention it here since it’s relevant.

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