The ROI of Geeking Out

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.

20 Comments on “The ROI of Geeking Out

  1. So many great points in this article! Creating long-term value while doing what you love is a great strategy as well as a great way to live! Glad to see you added Onitama and Battleline to games you have played. Both are great!

  2. I am so interested to hear what you think of Yokohama, as I recently picked it up myself. (And also how your opinion may change going from one playthrough to multiple.) I’m sad I missed Geekway this year, (moved to LA,) but hopefully I can make it back in 2018.

  3. Despite the buy-in cost of the CMON games, Arcadia Quest and the related ones are a lot of fun. They’re only for small groups, but my group has had a lot of fun with them. I might even paint the minis someday.

    1. Glad I snuck in a quick conversation with you Saturday AM. Thanks again for supporting the Gaming Hoopla.

      With 2,000+ gamers in attendance you’re unlikely to play with them all – unless you count Heads or Tails. I tweaked my Geekway schedule a bit and had a nice mix of completely open gaming and the freedom you write about mixed with “Flashback Friday” where I scheduled some favorite games with some of favorite Geekway buddies. As a result I expanded the number of new people I met this year by a lot. I too need to change my meal planning – had a similar dinner issue of eating way too late.

      1. Chris: I’m glad I got to see you as well, albeit briefly. I wish we could have played a game–next year. :)

        I like your strategy of having a specific day designated for scheduled, structured gaming with specific people and then a lot of other time for open gaming.

  4. ‘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.’

    I have never met anybody who has expressed this more clearly. I mean isn’t this what the purpose of gaming is actually all about. While the games are glorious (and they really are) without the ‘kinship’ it’s just moving pieces on a board.

    Was really glad to meet you for the second time Jamie. Next year I hope I’m the stranger that you meetup with to play a game! 😋

  5. Hah! Jamey I’m the one on the left! It was great meeting you and others like Mr. Buonocore and Mr. Shlasinger and I got play a protoype with Zev which I really enjoyed. This was my first Con where I actually knew some faces and it was great to actually meet them. What was amazing to me is how easy it is for people to be so nice and personable and how much more of a pleasureable experience it can be meeting these great game designers because it’s just as easy to NOT be as welcoming at you were, Jamey.

    Thanks for taking time to geek out with Beth and I and I look forward to getting a game with you at GenCon!

    1. I’m so glad you had a good experience at Geekway, Josh! I think it’s great to be in an industry where people are so approachable and friendly. It was great to chat with you and Beth. :)

  6. Jamey,

    Lots of great stuff! This year, I’m attending to play games…not work a booth for my game, but to play other designer’s games. Now, admittedly, I am working at Academy Games’ booth because Uwe Eickert invited me…and I’ve worked with his this past month pon editing and proofreading the rules and cards for 87 Vikings. Otherwise, my daughter and I will get together with the podcasters from the Brawling Brothers, hang out one evening for a Meet-up with the podcasters from Blue Peg, Pink Peg, and generally just enjoy ourselves. A couple with whom we’re traveling, are veterans of Origins and as he is a professionally trained chef, we leave it to Peter to pick the restaurants for every evening’s fare. The ROI for us will be huge this year.

    Cheers,
    Joe

  7. One of your gaming regulars was playing Coldwater Crown with me on Sunday as you strolled over to the table we were at. Brian Suhre and I attend the same Monday night game group in Edwardsville (he much more often than I), so hanging around with a game designer isn’t anything new to me, and has actually inspired me to begin creating some games of my own. But when you came walking by, I had to mentally tell myself, “Don’t freak out, it’s Jamey Stegmaier, don’t freak out, it’s Jamey Stegmaier, don’t freak out, it’s Jamey Stegmaier.”

    Your assessment is spot on. I scheduled nearly every minute of every day, and some of the most relaxed fun I had was on Thursday, when I had the fewest games scheduled. The Pandemic Legacy marathon was fun as well, but of a VERY different kind. Keeping myself open is something I’ll have to keep in mind for future conventions of this type. Besides . . . next year, I might have a prototype to share with everyone.

    1. Zach: Thanks for sharing. :) It’s flattering to hear that reaction–it’s the same one I would have if I met any of the many designers I really admire (it’s how I reacted to meeting several designers at Geekway).

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