19 August 2014 | 78 Comments
Wow. What a whirlwind. I’ve been away from this blog for 2 weeks for a family reunion and then “the best 4 days in gaming,” and it’s good to be back.
Last year after my first Gen Con I wrote an entry called The Top 10 Things You Should Know About Gen Con if You Know Nothing About Gen Con. I still know only a few things about Gen Con–seriously, it’s massive–but I learned some things this year that I think might help my fellow game designers/project creators/publishers/gamers.
1. Use a Paper Calendar. I was honored to be included on a few panels this year, including Gaming for Good, a panel about people who try to leverage their success to help the less fortunate. My iPhone calendar listed the panel at 11:00 am on Friday, so I showed up at little early at 10:45. Little did I know that I was actually 45 minutes late because I had entered the event in my calendar while in St. Louis and the phone automatically pushed all events forward by 1 hour. Keeping that in mind, I could enter the events in my phone better the next time, but I’d rather have a hard copy handy.
Despite the embarrassing mistake, I ended up attending the 11:00 panel in the same room, which just happened to be a Kickstarter panel with actual Kickstarter employees and backers (backers were on the panel, and creators were in the audience to ask them questions). So it was actually quite serendipitous.
2. Have a Home Base. Last year at Gen Con I wandered around for 4 days, meeting people in random locations and getting lost in the exhibition hall. It was, frankly, exhausting. This year I didn’t want to get a booth because we don’t have any product in stock to sell, so we purchased a few tables in a large demo room rented by TMG. I have to say, it was the perfect fit for our needs. I was able to tell people (backers, other creators, bloggers, reviewers, random people, etc) how to find us, and instead of shouting over the din of the exhibition hall, I was able to relax and chat with these great people. It was also a great space to show people how to play our games, and we came back to the demo room at night to play games as late as we wanted.
Now, would I do the same thing again? If I had no product in stock, definitely. But you can’t sell anything from a demo room. If I had product to sell, I would get as big a booth as we could afford and sell/demo it there. Also, I learned a trick about games that “sell out” at Gen Con. On Thursday, buzz got around fast that King of New York sold out almost immediately. Having a game sell out makes it sound like a big deal, right? But there were only 50 copies of King of New York available each day. So it created this artificial scarcity around the game to build the hype and escalate it each day. I’m not sure my business philosophies are in line with the idea of artificial scarcity, but I’m impressed by the strategy.
3. Fix Your Name Tag and Introduce Yourself with Details. Gen Con name tags, which hang from your neck on a lanyard, are double sided. One side has your name in way too small of a font, and the other has a bunch of small print legalese that no one reads. You’ll find that your name tag gets flipped over at least 50% of the time so people can’t read it. So next year I think I’m going to write my name on a normal stick-on name tag and put it over the legalese. That way both sides of my name tag have my name on it.
On a similar note, always introduce yourself as if the person knows nothing about you, even if they do. In a sea of people whose brains are working overtime to place names to faces, it’s super helpful, even if you just e-mailed with the person that morning. For examples, instead of walking up to someone and saying, “Hi, it’s me!”, say, “Hi, I’m Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games. We e-mailed earlier about prototype creation.” Seriously. Super helpful.
Also, bring business cards. I didn’t do that, and there were many times I wish I had them.
4. If You’re a Publisher, Have a Demo Team: I am eternally grateful that Stonemaier ambassadors Katy, Adam, Gabby, Casey, Steven, and Danyel helped out with demoing our games. I think I only ended up demoing 3 or 4 games out of around the 100 or so that were played over the course of the weekend. The thing is, I simply couldn’t do it. I had a lot of people who came up to me wanting to chat, and the few times I had a demo going, people kept dropping by to chat in the middle of it, diverting my attention. This leads me to think that the publisher shouldn’t demo their games at all. Instead, have a great demo team of volunteers (or paid/compensated helpers) to do it. That way you’ll be able to focus on outreach and connecting with peers/backers/bloggers/etc.
Also, we ended up with quite a few people who wanted to play full games. It was good that we could accommodate that, but I think in the future I’ll encourage half games at most.
Oh, and my ambassadors recommended that I provide them with an info/FAQ sheet next year to help answer questions when I’m not available. I think that’s a good idea.
5. Here’s How to Stay Healthy at a Convention. I did several things to avoid getting sick at the convention amidst all the handshaking and crowds: (1) I had a bottle of antibacterial hand sanitizer available on our demo tables, (2) I popped a vitamin C pill each morning, (3) I drank a ton of water, (4) I packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch each day and ate on schedule all day, and (5) I got at least 6 hours of sleep a night.
Also, if you’re interested in not bursting your bladder, go to the bathroom when you have to go to the bathroom. You’re probably much smarter than me and actually listen to your body, but there were so many times when I should have just excused myself from a conversation to take a much-needed bathroom break.
6. Take Time for Prototypes. One of my favorite things about having the demo room was that it offered a calm environment for designers to pitch their games to us. I think I played around 15 prototype submissions, and it was really neat to see the wide variety of ideas other designers are working on.
Now that I have that experience, I have a few tips for designers wanting to pitch their prototypes. First, have a sell sheet. Now that I’m back home, I need to make some decisions about the submissions, and having the sell sheets on hand to review is super helpful. Second, only pitch one game per publisher. You can have other games with you, but pick your favorite (or the best match for that publisher).
Third–and I’m a little torn on this, but this is my inclination–if you can’t start playing the game within 5 minutes, don’t pitch it. There were a few games where we sat through 20 minutes of explanations before playing at all, and that’s a big influx of rules to learn all at once, especially at a convention where we’re learning rules from other prototypes and published games. It doesn’t mean that you can’t pitch deep, meaty games, but just give the publishers a brief overview and jump into the game. We can read rules later if we really like it.
7. Talking with Brent and Overall Acceptance. I don’t know any other way to label this highlight, so I’ll say exactly what it is. On Saturday (or Sunday…the days all run together), I was taking a water break at the corner of one of my tables when I noticed a guy hovering nearby. He looked a little shy, perhaps a little awkward, and he was alone–I have a soft spot for people who come to conventions alone because I know (as an introvert) how it feels to be by yourself in a crowded place.
So I introduced myself to Brent and started chatting with him. He was at Gen Con to help out as a Pathfinder DM, something I know very little about.
While the conversation itself was interesting, here’s what has stuck with me since then: My impression of Brent is that he’s probably been pushed around for most of his life. People probably made fun of Brent in high school and maybe even college. But Brent has a really good heart–I could tell this within 10 seconds of meeting him. So I’m really happy and grateful that Gen Con exists so that all of us awkward, geeky, weird people have a few days each year to hang out and not worry at all about what other people think of us. Because at Gen Con, the weirder, the better.
Despite the last three paragraphs, I don’t think I’ve really put into words how that random conversation with Brent resonated with me. I think you just had to meet Brent to know what I’m talking about. So if you ever go to Gen Con, I hope you go out of your way to talk with at least one person who is there by themselves. It takes a lot of courage to do that, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what it opens in you to take a few minutes to let someone share their favorite thing with you. Because I’d bet anything that their favorite thing is a big part of the reason they came to Gen Con even though they couldn’t find anyone else to go with them.
8. Seeing Couples and Families Playing Games. Perhaps this is the hopeless romantic in me, but one of my favorite things in the world is seeing a couple share a passion for board games. I love the dynamics, the interaction, the shared geekiness…I just love it. I want that someday too, so perhaps what I want is reflected in what they have.
Also, Sunday at Gen Con is family day. It was really neat seeing moms and dads with their kids at the convention. I love that there’s this whole generation of kids who are growing up with this amazing critical mass of games thanks to their parents.
9. The Kindness of Backers. One of my favorite moments of the convention was when a Viticulture backer named Craig came up to me with a heavy bag in hand and said, “I have something for you.” He then handed me a shrinkwrapped copy of the Kickstarted first edition of Viticulture, the version that has been sold on eBay for as much as $150. Craig won it in a charity auction we had a while ago before realizing that it was too heavy of a game for the person he intended to give it to, so instead of selling it, he held onto it to sell back to me (he offered it to me for $30, which is ridiculous, so I increased it to $50).
The reason this means so much to me is that I haven’t seen a new-in-shrink copy of the original Viticulture for quite some time now. I don’t have a copy–I used my last unopened copy for our big charity auction last fall, so all I have is my beat-up demo copy. This is my first published game, something I truly treasure, and it means so much that I can have just one copy to cherish on my shelf. I feel a little guilty keeping it–after all, games are meant to be played–but for now it just means a lot to me to have it. Thank you, Craig.
10. Cones of Dunshire? There’s a question mark here because there are plenty of other highlights from the weekend, like the Kickstarter panel I was on (John Wrot! did a great job organizing and moderating it–it’s a must-attend for next year if he does it again), the perfect game of Hanabi we played with a freshly signed copy, and all of the amazing people I met. But I can’t finish this list without mentioning the Cones of Dunshire, a made-up game from Parks and Rec that Mayfair Games used for a charity event. The game itself is a jumbled mess (I don’t think anyone really knew the rules), but it involved giant cones for hats and rolling dice to determine how many dice to roll, so it was awesome.
If you were at Gen Con, how was the experience for you? Do you have any tips or highlights to add to this list?