Behind The Joy #5: Leveraging Conventions For Designer Success
After months of play-testing and refinement, your game design is stable and produces the player experience you were shooting for. You are interested in taking the next step toward publication. Attending a game convention is usually a good choice, but before you do there is more work to do. First, go to https://inspirationtopublication.wordpress.com and read through the 33 steps. The first time I did, it was overwhelming. After following the steps, however, I was mentally prepared to get the most out of my first convention. The rest of this post will cover the things I think are most important about convention preparation.
Choose The Right Convention
Each convention has a slightly different vibe. Convention size, location, and theme dictate this vibe, and can help or hinder your goals as a designer. As a new designer, your goal is most likely to play-test your game with complete strangers as much as possible, to pitch your game to potential publishers, or both. Local conventions are typically smaller, less intimidating, and full of people who might be interested in playing a game designed in their area. Conventions like GENCON and ESSEN are enormous, and bring almost every publishing company to one location. Unfortunately, the publishers focus on selling games to consumers. As a designer, you are a distraction from their goal. This is why I have found “middle-weight” conventions, like Origins Game Fair and UnPub, are the sweet spot for new designers. These conventions have most of the publishers and good attendance for play-testing, but also give publishers time to evaluate new designs. If you have a target publisher for your game (a company that your game fits well into their line of games), make sure they are attending the convention you choose!
Before The Convention
The 33 Steps cover this pretty well, but here are some critical highlights. First, if you want to meet with publishers, contact them at least 1 month prior to setup a meeting. Second, build yourself a convention schedule that incorporates meetings, play-tests, at least 1 fun event, and time for you to sleep. Take care of yourself, and everything else will go better. Third, you need to prepare two kinds of game summaries. Your pitch is a 2-3 sentence explanation that expresses the player experience and a unique aspect of the designer’s toolkit (component/theme/mechanics). The pitch is designed to capture either a publisher or play-tester’s attention. Next, you need to be able to give an expanded overview of the game play in 5 minutes. This overview either becomes the basis of your play-test session, or provides the publisher enough information to know whether they would be interested in reviewing your game.
At The Convention
Be human! It is easy to get focused on your play-testing or pitching agenda. Don’t let your focus get in the way of the tremendous opportunities to expand your board game network at conventions. I once met a publisher standing on the sidewalk during a fire alarm. We struck up a friendly conversation, and it led to an opportunity to show him my design. Focus is good. Tunnel vision is bad. The board game industry is filled with people who like games and the people who play them. Intentionally spend some time just meeting people you may have heard from podcasts or internet videos. You will be surprised how being human opens doors. Also, dress decently and use good hygiene. You would be amazed how this will set you apart!
Take notes! A convention environment can let you accomplish 3 months of playtesting in 3-5 days (I have done this). If you do not write things down, you will forget them. Play-tester feedback, publisher names, contact information, and new ideas for current or future designs. Whether you like electronic or old-fashioned notebooks, use them!
After The Convention
Follow-up! If your convention went correctly, you met people, and had ideas on how to improve your game. You will need to test your ideas. Some conventions ideas are awesome, others deserve to be left in the sleep-deprived haze. You also need to get it touch with the people you met via email, Facebook, or Twitter. Conventions can be sensory overload. People may not remember you. Include a fun anecdote from the convention in your message, it will make you more human, and open up future conversations.
Next time, we weigh the pros and cons of pitching your design to publishers or self-publishing. Having done both, we hope sharing our experiences will interest you. As always, fire away with comments & questions!
Pat & Kat Lysaght