Countdown: 55 days. Even without paying much for space, I demoed World’s Fair 1893 and Lanterns dozens of times at Gen Con 2015.
I attended Gen Con this past weekend, my third straight year as a publisher. As a tiny publisher without a booth, my biggest frustration the past two years has been not having a dedicated space where I could tell people to find me. I solved this problem this year by scheduling a connected series of events over two tables (with banners, postcards, and a small demo team), and it worked really well. (Over one hundred people played our upcoming game World’s Fair 1893.)
Here’s what I did:
In January, almost 7 months before Gen Con started, event submission opened and I scheduled 18 events. They were each 2 hours long, two at a time, running from 12:00-6:00 PM on Thursday-Saturday. Half of them were for our latest release (Lanterns: The Harvest Festival), and the other half were for our upcoming Kickstarter campaign (World’s Fair 1893). On each event, I added a note like the following:
If possible, please schedule this event at the same table as BGM1569735 and next to the table for BGM1569732. (We have submitted multiple events needing two tables from 12-6 PM, and it would be great to be able to stay in the same location.)
If you know these two games, you’ll know that they can be taught and played in just about an hour. I scheduled the events for 2 hours for two reasons: I didn’t want to rush people, and I also wanted to have the opportunity (time permitting) to let people sit down for a demo who had not signed up for tickets beforehand.
In April, the events were accepted for consideration. In early May, they were accepted. In mid-May, event registration opened, and all 18 of the events sold out right away. (This was a bit surprising because I hadn’t even announced World’s Fair 1893 anywhere. Some told me they were Lanterns backers who searched for “Foxtrot Games” in the catalogue, but most said they just stumbled upon the game and found the theme really fascinating.) In June, the events were assigned their location. My request had been granted: all the events were in Event Hall D, Green Tables 13-14.
The two-hour time slots worked perfectly. During Gen Con, many people stopped by and asked about the game. I told them: “We have ticketed events on the even hours (12, 2, and 4) but we should have spots available on the odds hours (1, 3, and 5) with generic tickets.” Some events went a little too long and I’m glad we had two hours, but we almost always had time. No events were scheduled at the tables before 12:00, so I had plenty of time to set up before the events started.
I took a Lanterns banner to Gen Con last year, and it worked really well to attract people to the tables where I was running demos. I ordered a World’s Fair banner for this year, and I took both of them with me. The event halls are arranged in rows of three tables, so having two tables together would mean that one of them would be on the end. (That was one of the reasons I wanted two events running in each time slot.) World’s Fair went on the end table with the banner facing the aisle, and the Lanterns banner went behind the table in between the two. I had plenty of people stop to take a look at them — or even take pictures of them!
I wanted something that I could hand to people who stopped to look at the banner or the table. Many people picked one up without any prodding. But they were also useful for striking up a conversation. People would stand in the aisle, looking at the banner, and I could walk up to them and hand them a postcard. Plenty of times, I said, “You look like you want a postcard.” The front had similar artwork to the banner, and the back had a little bit more information about the game. I could give a 30-second elevator pitch while they held the postcard, and I could point to the web address on the card where they could sign up to get notified when the Kickstarter campaign launched.
I couldn’t have run two events without a demo team. I had five people volunteer, and I owe such a huge thank you to them: Alex (the designer of World’s Fair 1893), Andy (long time friend and playtester), Jason and Stephanie (Lanterns backers who have been very supportive), and Travis (a friend of a friend of a friend who I met for the first time) for running 14 of the 18 events.
First Exposure Playtest Hall
I had such a good experience in the First Exposure Playtest (FEPH) last year that I signed up again. It cost me $250 for four 2-hour sessions, and it came with two gamemaster badges that I could give to my demo team. (Badges normally cost $80, so this was essentially $160 for badges and only $90 extra for the slots.) I wanted to show the game to as many people as possible, so almost all of the previews in the event hall were 4-player games. But I also really wanted to get some 2- and 3-player playtests. I asked FEPH for 5 people for each session, and I ran two games at the same time: they even had enough tables available that they could give me two of them.
I ordered a second World’s Fair banner for FEPH, and I left it in the room on display even when I wasn’t there. I put postcards at the base of the banner. (I should have included the times I would be testing the game so people would know.) The banner got a lot of interest, and some people who saw it ended up demoing the game in the event hall or waited in line for over an hour to get a spot in one of the playtests.
You can’t sell games out in the event hall. My co-publishing partner (Renegade Game Studios) had a booth in the exhibit hall, and we could send people to the booth after a demo to buy Lanterns. I realize that most people will not have the exact same option, but I think there are other ways to get your product for sale at a booth even if you don’t have one yourself. (At BGG CON, for example, some retailers will sell your game on consignment. Does anyone know if there are vendors at Gen Con willing to do this?)
I was really happy with how Gen Con 2015 went for Foxtrot Games. If you are a tiny publisher and had a presence of any kind at Gen Con, I’d love to hear from you. What worked and what didn’t? What successes did you have or challenges did you face?