Gen Con as a consumer, designer, and publisher.
Gen Con is a massive board game trade show that flaunts all the hot new releases and big industry names. It’s so massive that it’s easy to get lost in all the things. You’ll find a lot of advice on “How to do Gen Con” right. Instead of rehashing that, I figured I could add some value by reflecting about Gen Con as a consumer, designer, and exhibitor.
2014 (My 1st Gen Con)
Consumer / Designer and participant in Season 2 of the Table Top deathmatch.
A hail mary was thrown and caught in the form of a Brewin’ USA prototype selected as a game finalist in the Cards Against Humanity Tabletop Deathmatch season 2. There was an insane amount of prep work to get ready for Gen Con, and I showed up doing little research or pre-networking to the show. The CAH team was fun to be around and it would be neat to see something like this pop up in the future. This year, I was only able to start to understand the magnitude of the Gen Con walking through the exhibitor hall for just a few hours. Finding where I needed to be was half of the battle. I also was able to attend some seminars on Kickstarter and game design that helped plant valuable seeds and would eventually lead to self-publishing Brewin’ USA and starting my publishing company Adam’s Apple Games. I met some great industry folks and spent most of the convention in the First Exposure Playtest Hall and prepping for filming sessions. Meeting another group of like designers was also invigorating and a few of them I still keep in touch with to this day.
Biggest takeaway – Go to a big con as a consumer first to check it out and figure out what you’ll need to navigate it.
2015 (2nd Gen Con)
Designer building buzz post successful Kickstarter.
Prepping for the show, I didn’t truly understand the orchestrated chaos that comes with running events at Gen Con. I was equipped with two final edition prototypes of Brewin’ USA. I created a measly 5 scheduled events for the show and they quickly filled up with players. Not knowing I could add more events, I created a Google Sheet and started sending out tweets for game sign-ups. This was the first year that I started using Twitter to connect with people at the show. I think I ended up running 14-15 total games that year with the additional effort. Now, this was one person bouncing back and forth from brewery to hotel to convention hall and starting to recognize familiar faces. A lot of buzz was built doing this guerrilla-style game marketing and I would totally recommend grinding without a booth. You can probably get more bang for your buck if you grind with 2 demos at a time in the event catalog though.
Biggest takeaway – Events are really important at Gen Con. It’s a players con as much as a buyers con. It’s also a great chance to network and meet your biggest fans. You probably don’t even think they exist, but they do.
2016-2018 (3rd / 4th / 5th year at Gen Con)
Exhibiting is a whole new level of madness at a large convention. Our first year we lucked into a marketing sponsorship with a 20ft booth. Our first game was available for sale called Brewin’ USA. We hauled 250+ games to Indy with a Uhaul trailer. We had 16 demos scheduled and fully booked on our calendar and 5 people to split between booth duty and demos. Holy crap we worked like dogs but the convention was still a smashing success.
Biggest takeaway – You need more people than you think you need.
Year 2, we returned with more people but we were downgraded into the standard 10ft x 10ft booth. Having a grandiose expectation from our first year, we found that a small booth meant it was twice as hard for people to find your booth and your game. Our 2nd game was available for sale called Truck Off: The Food Truck Frenzy. Still hauling our games to the convention, we had more people so making key connections (PSI, Dice Tower) were the big wins that came out of the convention. We also signed two localization deals for Truck Off. We did the publisher speed dating as a publisher and really enjoyed meeting new designers and seeing new games. We even took one back with us to playtest and consider publishing.
Biggest takeaway: – Booth optimization is key so people can find you. In relation to this, a lower price point game ($25) takes twice as many copies sold to pay for your expenses than a $50 game.
Year 3, we again returned with even more people to our crew. We had 60+ demos registered but had a harder time filling seats. There was a record showing of 17000 events listed in the event catalog. We had a hot game for sale and sold out of our inventory by early Saturday with Swordcrafters. A larger demo staff meant more time to focus on networking. The combination of time and an excellent table presence sellout game allowed us to connect with over 10 publishers interested in localization which was a real win. We hit a lot of new marketing channels as well like Gen Con Streaming Studio, BGG preview videos, and we technically had 3 of our games (Swordcrafters, Swordcrafters Expanded Edition, and upcoming Brewin’ USA: Taproom Takeover) in the top 100 buzz of the con. Not too bad for 3 games jam-packed inside a 10ft booth.
Biggest takeaway: Even when you think you have it down, there are always things you can do better. We managed to gain a lot of hype going into the Con, have a great show, but still have bigger things in mind every year.
Leave a comment below and tell me what your biggest takeaways are from Gen Con or other massive gaming conventions?