A Tiny Publisher At Gen Con

Countdown: 55 days. Even without paying much for space, I demoed World’s Fair 1893 and Lanterns dozens of times at Gen Con 2015.

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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:

Events

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.

Banners

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!

Photo by Bonus Round Games

Photo by Bonus Round Games (Twitter)

Postcards

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.

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Back of postcard for Worlds Fair 1893

Demo Team

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.

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Jason teaching three players Lanterns in the Event Hall

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.

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Two playtests of World’s Fair 1893 happening in FEPH

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.

Sales?

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?

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18 thoughts on “A Tiny Publisher At Gen Con

  1. Great post. I think it is great that you were able to set events up and found folks to help out. Doing that important planning in advance makes a big difference. Thank you for sharing your experience Randy. Lead from the front.

  2. Great blog post, Randy. I’m going to try this next year. Very smart. I have to say I was jealous of your banners. :)

    I had some success with friends with booths willing to carry Bullfrogs on consignment. Message me and I can get you in contact with some. I know James Mathe has had some success with this too by just walking the floor and asking.

    • @Keith, Thanks! Those banners have done really well for me at cons over the last year or so, drawing people to the table.

      It was great to meet you in person. We’ll have to play a game at a con soon. Will you be at BGG CON?

      • @Kevin Ah! Agreed. It was awesome. I am a huge fan of sharing resources and ideas to help all the smaller guys get seen so we can all have a better shot at succeeding and growing. So, in short, no problem. Good luck with the playtesting on RobitRiddle. Looking forward to playing it sometime. :)

        @Randy, I’m not currently planning on BGG con. It’s a tougher one for me to swing. Maybe for 2016? The next con I’ll be at is GameHoleCon in my hometown of Madison, WI. The gamecrafter’s CrafterCon is connected to it as well. You’re not going to be there, will you?

  3. Very informative stuff here! I was also a tiny (self) publisher at Gen Con and acting under this role for the first time.

    I had some challenges putting together as many events as I wanted to host for my game Brewin’ USA, but did manage to get 4 event time slots filled on Friday. I also had a banner which helped draw some additional eyes and gave a laser cut key chain away as swag. Do you have any good cheap / quality / fast recommendations for banner creation?

    On Saturday at 2:30pm, I had the rest of my events approved via Gen Con staff emails which I immediately canceled because I was already booked with pick-up games. This was a bit of a disappointment as I could 100% have filled those seats if I had 7 days notice. I heard that the Gen Con events staff had some illness this year and some submissions were missed which is unfortunate.

    I also found the need to be scrappy to get any amount of word out for your brand / games. I ended up creating a google spreadsheet that I lightly publicized but netted about 25 additional players getting games together at hotels, hotel bars, and at Tow Yard Brewing. This worked but was a fair amount of work tracking people down and sending confirmations so they would actually show up. Having events will help keep you at a central location versus bouncing around.

    I also put effort into networking with smaller publishers to learn how to approach Gen Con next year.

    Additional Two Cents: Schedule your events early. Agree with points above about 2 tables as well as getting a volunteer to help if possible.

    • Half of my demo team already had badges, but I did use the two that I got from the FEPH. I expect I’ll be able to make demo team arrangements early next year and hopefully be able to pay for more of those badges. :-)

  4. It was my first GenCon ever, and I was just in the playtest hall. I saw your setup, and wish I would have talked with you. I had a small table top banner which was good for me this year. I was there just playtesting, not ready for sales or Kickstarter yet.

    I will say the only things I did differently in the FEPH that you didn’t capture were:

    1. My game is 30 mins long, so maybe 1 hour with feedback and explanation. I could seat additional people in the 2nd hour of the slots, like you stated in the event hall.
    2. Double Exposure people were okay with me squatting at tables as long as they were empty, again was able to seat people when I didn’t even have a slot.
    3. Had business cards for quick game and company contact info.
    4. Had iPad for signing people up to my MailChimp list.

    Thank you for the very informative post. I will be incorporating some of these things next year when I will be ready for launch. I wrote about my experiences here: http://www.babageekgames.com/blog/2015/8/6/gencon-there-and-back-again-a-designers-story-part-1

    • Glad to hear you had a good experience, and I hope this post helps your preparations for next year! Did you have much luck with the iPad and your MailChimp list? I had a physical sign up sheet where people wrote email addresses; it worked well enough, but I could see something digital working even better.

  5. A lot of great information here! I’m wondering, did you do any kind of email capture with a tablet or smart device? The only reason I ask is because if you had a lot of people with positive feelings about the game it would be great to get them on the email list to keep them up to date on the Kickstarter.

    • @Patrick, Good question! Yes, we gathered email addresses on a signup sheet. (We didn’t use a smart device; just good old fashioned pen and paper.) We told them we would notify them by email when the Kickstarter launches.

  6. Getting ready for GenCon 2016, some questions:
    Did you charge for your events at GenCon?
    Did you run one game at a time?
    I need to find a good team to help me demo. I don’t have a game out yet, nor that many people that I know going. Should be interesting :)

    • Good luck getting everything together!

      * I did not charge. Gen Con charges $2, but I didn’t charge any more than that.
      * I ran two games at the same time so that I could be sure I had a table on the aisle (I mentioned that in the post), but I had a separate person running each game. I know people who run two games at once, but I don’t think that would have worked out well for me. :-)

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