The Magic of Play-and-Win: Data from Geekway 2015

3 June 2015 | 14 Comments

Play-and-win continues to be my favorite way to support game conventions (and hopefully get a return on my investment). Last year I wrote a few posts about the concept (open letter here and 2014 data here), and today I’d like to dig into the data that Geekway to the West recently shared with me following their 2015 convention (which I attended–it was awesome).

Play-and-win works like this: Publishers donate games to a convention’s play-and-win section (if you’re a convention that wants publishers to do this, enter your information here). Any convention attendee can check out a play-and-win game (or play any copy of that game in the game library or that someone brought to the convention). When they return the game, they write the names of everyone who played it (or taught it) on a piece of paper, which they deposit in a jar next to that game. At the end of the convention, one person who played the game will win it based on a random drawing.

Geekway continues to innovate and improve the play-and-win system. This year they had an entire room devoted to play-and-win so that games with more elaborate setup and cleanup could stay on the table instead of being checked in and out. There were other games on a shelf that you could check out, and the jars where you put the player forms were stacked vertically nearby. It was really impressive.

The reason I’m posting this data is to help publishers decide which games to donate to play-and-win sections at conventions.

A hybrid spreadsheet of the data Geekway gave me and some of my calibrations can be found here. Below is a screenshot of the top 20 play-and-win games at Geekway based on total number of players:



The green highlights indicate the top 10 games in each category.

Note that while this is the top 20 based on total players (and total plays), there are many other games on the spreadsheet that got a ton of table time at Geekway. They’re just as important as the top 20, but I’m going to focus on these games for this discussion.

Play Time (average: 47 minutes): There’s a pretty broad range of play times in the top 20. With one exception (Castles, which can play in an hour if you know how to play), all of the top 10 games play in under an hour. That’s indicative of the average player’s attention span at a convention and perhaps a broader gaming trend.

Complexity: This is my subjective analysis of the top 20 and what I saw at Geekway. Many of the games on this list are pretty easy to learn. However, I’ve noticed that people don’t shy away from complex games at Geekway, even if they’re learning the rules from the rulebook without a teacher. I think people see it as an opportunity to learn a game they’ve been wanting to try–a 4-day convention gives you plenty of time to do that.

Price (average: $32.70): This isn’t MSRP–this is the “new” Amazon price as listed on BGG (which means average MSRP is probably around $45-$50). This is in line with last year’s data and data from my retailer survey.

Total Players (334) and Plays (92): These are the numbers all publishers need to see. Do you want your game played 92 times by a total of 334 people this weekend, most of whom have never played your game before? Absolutely. That type of exposure is exactly what a publisher wants. I know I do!

Return on Investment (average: $154.16): The ROI calculation looks at the number of times a game is played (plays, not players) and assumes that at least 1 person in that game will later buy it 10% of the time. Multiply that number by the 50% of the price (which turns out to be a rough indication of a publisher’s wholesale revenue per game) and you get your ROI. Granted, this is a very rough calculation, but the point is that the exposure a game gets through play-and-win can translate to several times more than the value of the donated game.

Player Count: A lot of the games in the top 20 allow for a range of at least 2-5 players. That seems to be the sweet spot. Almost half of the games in the top 20 allow for 6 or more players. I think this shows that a broad range of people attention conventions–I saw a lot of couples at Geekway, and it’s such a social environment that people often gravitate towards bigger games.

Mysterium and Camel Up

Mysterium (933 players) and Camel Up (542 players) had by far the highest total player counts of any play-and-win game at Geekway. In fact, they far exceeded the previous year’s winners as well (Sushi Go at 440 and One-Night Ultimate Werewolf at 422). What makes these games special?

Mysterium is a hugely hyped game (it’s basically Dixit with an ongoing mystery) that got a lot of attention at BGGcon last fall. It’s currently very hard to find, as it hasn’t been released in the US, so I think there was a lot of pent-up demand for people to try it for the first time.

Camel Up, a camel-racing game in which players are people betting on the camels, won the Spiel des Jahres award in 2014. It’s colorful and whimsical in a way that is really inviting to players looking to try it.

Both games are very easy to learn, and they’re both language-independent (while it’s not always the case, for these games I think that’s an indication of ease-of-play. Who wants to read words when you can look at pictures instead?) Both play from 2-8 players, which is a big deal. Few games offer that range. And both are pretty fast–Camel up is a 20-30 minute game, and Mysterium is 45-75 minutes.

I think it’s hard to emulate the success of those two games. I played both of them at Geekway, and they’re a lot of fun. You can’t just create an excellent, highly acclaimed game out of thin air. But it’s worth trying, and if you succeed, send it to play-and-wins to get a lot of attention at conventions!


What do you think about this play-and-win data? Did anything stand out to you that I overlooked? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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14 Comments on “The Magic of Play-and-Win: Data from Geekway 2015

  1. Mysterium and Camel Up were both dark horses, in my mind. One isn’t even released in English, the other is a rather silly game that no one thought would compete with the likes of Dead of Winter or Castles of Mad King Ludwig.

    Two thoughts;
    (1) Your ROI needs to take into account the number of copies available, if for no other reason than to say how much was actually invested. Coup was constantly on the P&W shelf because I think it had like a dozen copies, Roll for the Galaxy was impossible to find.
    (2) You should standardize the number of plays by plays/copy or players/copy.

    It is possible to do 2-player Coup but you need to either burn a few influences or take three to begin with. I have no idea how 2-player Resistance is possible, unless you take the box back to your spot, play something else, and return both with both cards filled out later. Or if the 3rd person in your group gets so miffed that he or she leaves before finishing the game and you never get the name.

  2. I know that there are more important things to pull from this data – but I have to know – who’s been playing two player resistance? How does that even work?

    “I think that you might be the spy.”
    “What makes you think that?”
    “Well it’s not me and there are only two of us here.”
    “Oh piffle. Quit stalling and pick your team mate for the mission already.”

  3. Awesome data and interesting compelling analysis! I just want the record to show that I was apart of 40 Mysterium tickets! Another facet to consider is the amount of player interaction each game allots for either inherently built into the system (Mysterium or Dead of Winter) or coincidentally because of the lack of cognitive demand (Lanterns & Machi Koro). GeekWay is the best community building con I’ve been apart of and that type of culture could trend towards games that allow communication and social capital building.

  4. Player-Count – You mentioned the top 20 is by #Players, so this doesn’t surprise me. Are the numbers similar if you go by #Plays? I’m just wondering what influence the group composition has on likelihood to buy too – If its’ a game-group that plays, its’ likely only 1 person will buy it, whether 2 or 6 players, but if they tend to be more broken up (Say 2 groups 3 together) then you’re improving the useful visibility of those higher player counts ^^.

    I don’t know of anything that does this in the UK, though it would certainly be something to suggest for next years UK Games Expo ^^. I think the closest we had is that if you play prototypes you get entries to a prize draw for a big pile of games =P.

  5. From my experience as a player of the Play-to-Win games at Storm-Con in SC over the last two years (and again in a few weeks!), you have described accurately what happened after the convention.

    Last year was the second year of Storm-Con and the second time they had Play-to-Win games. For the first time, though, there ended up being an unofficial waiting list of people waiting to play many of the games on the tables since it’s such a popular feature.

    This is all anecdotal, but I know that many of the game purchases in my group of friends and fellow players come from events like these. A new game is tried out several times over a few days in a convention. While we’re sad we didn’t win the game, we’ve had quite a few plays to recognize that we enjoy it and want to purchase it.

    1. Boyd: I’m glad to hear it’s been such a hit at Storm-Con! I agree that a lot of people seem to buy the games they don’t win. In fact, Geekway does the play-and-win drawing early enough on Sunday that people can still buy a lot of the games at Miniature Market and Game Nite (the two vendors on hand) if they don’t win, so not only is it a win for the convention, attendees, and the publishers, but for vendors as well.

      1. I wonder if those titles see a notable uptick of spending at the conventions?

        I KNOW it happens after the fact. Even at our small Extra Life event, where we put all the donated games from publishers in a Play And Win (we call our Play to Win, but same thing) kind of program, guests and friends of guests will tell me months after the fact that they have purchased games they played during the event from local retailers or from online.

        We’ve only had a Play to Win offering for the last two of the three years we have been running our event, but I have even had people ask me about a game from the first event. Luckily I have a list of donated games on spreadsheets and we can work it out.

        It definitely makes an impression. We’re very small in comparison to virtually any other event (so far, we’re growing each year), but I find it interesting how the Play And Win concept, when combined with a charitable event like ours that supports a beloved children’s hospital in our state, leaves a strong impression on our guests and their families. They feel a loyalty to these companies. As a thank you last year, one of our church members (an adult survivor of cancer and former patient of this hospital) baked over a hundred of her secret recipe big cookies for us to deliver to supporting publishers at Gen Con. Our church is starting (just starting) to get a little reputation as “that gaming church” so when people ask our more involved members about games, they recommend games from those companies or direct those inquiries to me or one of our team members and we do the same. That’s some brand loyalty there.

        I just wanted to mention that as I think publishers get a little more out of donating to Play And Win that just giving people a chance to play games and try them out. If the publisher gives a game to be raffled off, I think it psychologically mainly impacts the person that is able to take that game home and probably the organizers of the event the most. However, by offering games that are available for many people at the event to experience, I think it makes the publishers contribution more real for more people. They feel like they have been supported and the event that they enjoy has been supported. I think there’s a little nuance there, but maybe it’s just me.

        Great piece as always, Jamey. Thanks for sharing.

        1. Thanks for this detailed comment! I absolutely agree that publishers get more out of play-and-win than a library or raffle donation (that’s kind of the crux of my original entry about play-and-win–it benefits us any time we can get a bunch of people to play our games within a short amount of time, leaving them hopefully wanting more).

    1. Thanks for sharing this data, Marshall! I was really impressed with what you all did with play-and-win this year–it was a lot of fun for me as an attendee (and definitely worth the games we donated for me as a publisher).

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