22 May 2017
I actively seek opportunities that create a direct return on investment. Kickstarter was great for this: Invest X amount of time and Y amount of money to gain Z backers and funds. Clean, simple ROI.
Conventions provide a more difficult calculation. Sure, if you bring games to sell at a convention, you can determine the amount you spent versus the amount you earned. But what about the people who saw your games but wait until later to buy them? Or the first-time customers who become lifetime customers from a variety of retailers?
I’ve learned from a local convention that there’s another element of ROI that’s even more difficult to calculate: The ROI of geeking out.
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.
This is my fifth Geekway, and here’s what I focused on this time:
- I donated 4 copies of Scythe, 2 copies of Between Two Cities, and 1 advance copy of Between Two Cities to the play-and-win section.
- I played a lot of new-to-me games. As a designer, I’m always looking to learn from other games, which means I play a lot of games. I had a long list of games to play for the first time at Geekway this year, and as seen near the end of this post, I only got to about half of them.
- I played every game with 1 or more people I don’t normally game with. Last year I almost completely ignored my regular gaming group, and it felt a little weird. But the whole idea of geeking out at Geekway for me is playing games with strangers, random people, and people I rarely see. So this year I experienced more of a mix of the two, with the key being that I made sure to include in every session at least 1 person with whom I don’t game. Unfortunately, I still didn’t even get close to playing games with everyone I wanted to.
- I played 3 prototypes. While this wasn’t a big part of my Geekway plan, it was a great opportunity to play some prototypes from other designers. All 3 were quite good!
- I scheduled almost nothing. I’ve found that when I schedule games at specific times with people, I end up enjoying the current game or conversation less because I’m stressing about finishing in time for the thing I have scheduled. I much prefer the freedom to float from game to game and just enjoy the present.
- I wandered and met a lot of wonderful strangers. There were so many times at Geekway when I’d pass by someone, chat for a minute, and then say, “Do you want to play a game?” Nearly ever time we sat down to play something right away. I loved having the freedom to do that.
- I introduced myself to people I admire. Some of the highlights of the convention for me were meeting Stephen at Stronghold Games, Curt at Smirk & Dagger, and a number of designers and other publishers (sorry, my memory pretty much only goes back to Sunday at this point!)
- I didn’t play enough older games. Most of the games I played were fairly new releases, but I wish I would have focused a little more on older games that I rarely have access to. The Geekway library is full of them.
- I did not eat properly, but I ate quickly. I arrived at Geekway around 9:15 every day, and on most days I took a very quick lunch break at the concession stand in the convention hall (which actually served decent food). The problem was dinner. I need to eat by 7:30 or I turn into a goblin, yet the earliest I ate each night was 10:30. I can’t do that again.
So what’s the ROI of attending a convention in this way? The cost is minimal–the cost of the donated games, my ticket, and gas to drive to St. Charles.
The benefit of geeking out with people over 4 days isn’t a number, though. It’s kinship. We now have a shared experience, a special connection, whether I played a game with someone, answered a rule question, or just exchanged a knowing smile in passing. I love that.
While kinship doesn’t have a monetary value, in my opinion, it’s priceless. I’m extremely grateful to the team at Geekway for fine-tuning a convention that creates the possibility for such a warm, relational return on investment.
If you’re curious, the new-to-me games I played at Geekway this year were Arcadia Quest Inferno, Onitama, Arctic Scavengers, Mint Works, Roll Player, Sagrada, Starfall, The Last Friday, Black Orchestra, Yokohama, Istanbul, Battleline, and Fields of Green. I’ll be talking about all of them on my game design YouTube channel.
See also last year’s post about Geekway.
Bonus: On Thursday I drove quite far from Geekway to have a late dinner at a restaurant called The Shaved Duck with my brother, his wife, and her cousin. When I walked in, I was surprised and delighted to meet two designers for whom I have a lot of respect and admiration, Daryl Andrews and Jon Gilmour. It was a truly serendipitous moment.