What We Learned at Gen Con 2016

I've always found the weeks after Gen Con to play out like a cool down after an intense workout. You have to keep working, but all you really want to do is stop and lay down. A lot of people call this their "post con" time and I think anyone who works conventions knows exactly what this means to them.

A Time to Nurture New Relationships

It's an important time to nurture and strengthen new relationships gained or rekindled at the convention. If you're a designer networking at Gen Con, you'll want to reach out to publishers while rapidly building prototypes and getting ready to send out copies to just about anyone who showed interest (unless you already gave them a copy, of course). If you're media, then you have a lot of convention wrap up footage to edit, thoughts to get down, and ultimately content to post. If you're a publisher, you have post convention sales to analyze, feedback to take in and begin applying, new business relationships to secure, etc. Heck, even if you're just attending and not working the convention, you have a lot of new games to play!

What We Learned at Gen Con

If you follow me on twitter, you've probably heard me lament how difficult this year's Gen Con was for me. As the sole manager of Nevermore attending Gen Con this year, I had to schedule things in such a way that I could demo/sell games at a booth, run play tests and demos for games in the demo hall, meet with designers to look at prototypes and discuss ongoing projects, meet with our printer, and more. Over all, this didn't go too well, and here is what I've learned...

If you want to sell games, get a booth

Launching Dark Dealings at Gen Con was exciting and we were expecting a lot of buzz around the game and a good number of sales. We worked with Indie Game Alliance (IGA) to sell the game at their booth and demo it there as well for several hours during the con.

While there was certainly buzz surrounding the game, the number of sales was a bit disappointing. Keep in mind that coming into the convention, we had already sold over 3,200 copies of the game - so we were down to our last couple hundred copies anyway. In other words, selling a lot or a little at Gen Con wasn't going to make or break Dark Dealings as a success. It was already a success thanks to an awesome Kickstarter and solid distributor pre-order numbers.

IGA had Dark Dealings on their shelves and they certainly sold copies, but in the end, selling our game through someone else's booth was a mistake. This isn't meant to take away from IGA, only to say that in our case what we should have done was get a booth. Having a booth would have meant Dark Dealings would have been the primary focus, instead of being one of 30 games. In addition, while we enjoyed our demo time at IGA's booth, if we could have had multiple people dedicated to showing and selling Dark Dealings at our own booth, I have no doubt that we would have blown through our stock. As it is, we sold about a third of what I hoped we would. In full discretion, Dark Dealings wasn't for sale on Sunday because we had to leave.

Have more presence to create more buzz

This is a no-brainer, but I'm still going to mention it. If you want to create buzz around your game, you need to be in front of people and help them get excited about the game. Having a booth is a big part of this, but so is running events. The more demos and play through events you're able to hold, the more people get exposed to your game. And that translates into buzz.

Volunteers, volunteers, volunteers

You can't do it all. There are so many one-man shops going to Gen Con, whether they're designers, publishers, or media, trying to do it all. You really can't. While I traveled with a design partner who supported me to the best of his ability this year, I still did most of my business at the convention on my own. What did this mean?

It meant that at least two groups of attendees who bought tickets to learn Dark Dealings and/or Spires, went home having wasted money. Gen Con's super confusing table numbering system meant our Dark Dealings and Spires demos in Hall C were at a Hall/Table number combination that left groups waiting at the wrong tables over and over again. I had difficultly trying to corral people a hundred yards apart to the right table without losing one group or the other. Having volunteers would have meant being able to split up to scoop up your attendees without losing any. Next year, we find volunteers.

The primary developer on Dark Dealings, Peter Gousis, and his friend Jerry went out of their way to run demos of Dark Dealings in various places including the BGG Hot Games Room at a nearby hotel conference center. This was super helpful and gave me a glimpse at what could be accomplished for the price of some free badges and t-shirts. Having volunteers at a booth and running events... that's something we need to do going forward.

Expect disappointment

This is a tough one to swallow, but it's necessary when attending a busy convention where you're trying to accomplish so much. Sometimes, things aren't going to work out. In the case of Gen Con this year, I had a number of meetings with no-show designers, and a few occasions where I wanted/needed to spend more time nurturing a relationship and was unable to.

When it comes down to it, every single person at a convention has their things they want to accomplish. This can show itself in conflicting schedules and busted expectations. All you can really do is keep your appointment and apologize when something doesn't work out. I can happily say that I showed up to every meeting and every event, even if there was no one there. Still, it can be disappointing.

A personal note

While Nevermore has a lot to internalize and improve for next year's Summer convention season, I have to say that on a personal level this convention was great. My friend since middle school, Bryan Smith, was attending for the first time and my friends and I did all we could to show him an awesome time. He had a blast, so that is something truly great accomplished. I enjoyed my late-night time with friends Allen, B, Rob, Brian, and more playing games at the JW Marriott. As always, I adored my Wednesday afternoon World Cup Soccer game with the fellas mentioned above as well as Ignacy, Chevee, Scott and others. I loved hanging out with Ken, which if you ask him, makes me utterly insane. And I'm still thinking of our Saturday night meatfest at Fogo.

My favorite picture from Gen Con this year is of my friends Rob and B (Bryan Smith - on the right). They wore Nevermore shirts around the con on Friday, which was awesome. You can plainly see here that B is having a great first Gen Con. I can't wait for next year.