Sen and I have had most, if not all of our success from attending board game conventions. Here are the steps on how we approach a convention, which we’ll detail in the next few posts:
Choosing which convention to attend: To most people reading this it probably comes as no surprise that there are indeed a lot of board game conventions in the world. If your main purpose for going to a convention is to pitch your games to publishers, then the thing you have to identify first is the purpose of each convention.
Essen is the biggest board game convention in the world and its main purpose is to highlight the newest board games to the public. The focus at Essen is to experience a lot of new games – and buy a lot of new games!
BGG.con is getting very large and its main purpose is to get together with old and new friends and play a lot of games – many of which are hot from Essen. This is a gamers’ convention. There are other activities and fun to be had – but all of them are focused around playing games.
GAMA is meant for retailers and the publishers show up and demonstrate their products to all the retailers in hopes that retailers will carry more of their games. There’s not as much game playing at this one as there is at any other convention.
New York Toy Fair is a huge event but is focused more on toys, though board gaming is growing at this show. The purpose of this event is for publishers to show off their new toys in an effort to get them to the stores – kind of like GAMA – but for toys.
Regional conventions happen all over the place and will be smaller than all these and could vary in size and scope and purpose. Mostly these regional conventions are meant for gamers to get together and play games – and possibly sample some new games from some publishers.
So why is it good to know the purpose of a convention? Well you really need to get inside the head of what a publisher is trying to accomplish. At BGG.con the publisher is constantly trying to get their games played by people because every single person that attends BGG.con is like a walking advertisement. If someone at BGG.con likes a game and they chat about it on BGG.com – then that is worth more than spending a bunch on magazine ads and the like. Because publishers are so focused on getting their games played, none of the publishers have much time to talk to designers. Not only that, but BGG.con only has about 6-10 publishers show up anyway. On top of that, some publishers won’t even send the people that you’d want to speak to. At BGG.con, Jay Tummelson of Rip Grande didn’t come – instead he had a bunch of other people to explain games to people (and he sponsored the restaurant bus – yay!). So if you went up to someone at the Rio Grande booth – they wouldn’t be able to help you anyway.
At Essen and the New York Toy Fair (though I haven’t been to either yet) publishers are focused on selling their game – which involves a ton of demoing. This again means they won’t have tons of time to talk to designers. The good news though is that there are a lot of publishers at Essen and the Toy Fair. I’d be curious to hear from any reader out there who’s been to Essen or the Toy Fair and what it is like from a designer’s perspective – please chime in!
So that leaves GAMA. While the objective is similar – in that publishers are trying to sell their games – the attendance is mostly retailers, so it’s a lot less crowded. This was the first convention that I went to and it proved to be very effective. Since it wasn’t super busy, publishers were more agreeable to listen to designers. Almost all of the big and many of the small to medium publishers come to GAMA so you really have a great opportunity to talk to a lot of different publishers. GAMA is also great because they offer a lot of seminars and workshops and some are even targeted to the game designer. I’ve learned a lot from these seminars – and have passed off a lot of what I learned on this blog already!
As for regional conventions, it’s rare that a publisher will show up. While they might sponsor a part of the event, they usually don’t send the people that you want to talk to. Often you’ll just get a card or direction to follow what it says on their website for submissions. That’s not bad as even getting a card is a tiny foot in the door, but I wouldn’t spend too much money in attending a regional convention if your main purpose is to get your games in front of publishers.
Each convention has its benefits, but knowing the purpose of the convention will help you determine which one you should attend. I’ve now been to GAMA twice and BGG.con once. I’ve had to pay for my flights and hotels for each, so it’s definitely not cheap. As you’ll see in the upcoming posts, without attending these conventions Sen and I would not have had the success we’ve had (or at the very least it would have taken a lot longer!).
There are also some other major game conventions and toy fairs to mention:
The Nuremburg Toy Fair – Feb 3-8 2011, Nuremburg, Germany – http://www.spielwarenmesse.de/
The Origins Game Fair – Jun 22-26 2011, Columbus, OH –http://www.originsgamefair.com/
Chicago Toy and Game Fair – November 2011, Chicago, IL –http://www.chitag.com/
Note that some are open to the public, some are industry and press only.
There are also specific boardgame design related conferences, such as Protospiel in Ann Arbor, MI.
If you check the site, you’ll see that Elfinwerks, Mayfair Games, Minion Games, North Star Games and Steve Jackson Games were present there. And you can be guaranteed they went looking for new material.
Some smaller local conventions might have product reps that can meet with you – you just have to ask. When Jay and I both lived in Hamilton, we went BayCon – run by Bayshore Hobbies, our FLGS – and there were always reps from companies like Privateer Press, Mayfair, and Chessex demoing games, selling product and showing off unreleased titles. So check out what’s in your area before you drop a few c-notes to travel to NY, Chi-town or Vegas.
You may be able to find out if a publisher’s rep is going to be at a conference by looking at their website. For example, these are the conventions where a representative from Steve Jackson Games will be present:
And Days of Wonder will have reps at the following events (Look in the bottom left hand box):
So as the old adage goes, seek, and ye shall find! But it’s always polite to have an open dialog prior to meeting…