Gen Con: The best four days in gaming
For those of you who have never experienced one for yourself, it’s insane. This was my second Gen Con and I hit it at full force. The majority of my time was demoing games through the Grand Gaming Academy and when I wasn’t doing that, I was either in meetings with other designers and publishers, scouting for prototypes, or perusing the vendor hall. The following are my highlights and takeaways as a young publisher as well as a list of the games I played, purchased and demoed.
Hands down, one of the best things about huge conventions like Gen Con, is the people you can meet. Many of the guys and gals I’ve been collaborating with online for the past several months were in attendance. I was able to finally put a face to the twitter handle and talk with people I really look up to in the industry.
There really aren’t words that accurately describe the spectacle that is the Gen Con vendor hall. One can (and often do) burn entire days wandering the endless aisles. It’s always exciting for me to see booths like Asmodee and Mayfair with their banners, games, and demo areas. As we begin to plan for the conventions we’ll be representing at in the future, the vendor hall is a great place to get ideas.
I had the chance to teach games with Grand Gaming Academy while at Gen Con. Over the course of 3 days, our team ran roughly 180 demos for companies like Stronghold, R & R, TMG, Dice Hate Me, Clever Mojo, and more. I met some really awesome gamers in the process, even a small group from Brazil and a gentleman who has attended Gen Con 33 times! Huge thanks to everyone that came out and played games with us.
Think like a publisher
For several years, I’ve thought like a gamer. However, I’m learning to shift my thinking to be more like a publisher. As I was scouting for Happy Mitten, elements that I would take for granted as a gamer began to stand out. I started paying more attention to components and how they would affect manufacturing costs. I looked more at theme and mechanics to see if they would fit into our target audience. Honestly, I came across a lot of games that caught my eye or that seemed fun but many would not have fit the mold of what we’re looking for. I am learning to look beyond my own personal interests and analyze if “game A” is something that would appeal to our audience.
Associate with the right people
One of the biggest factors of who you will become is the people you associate with. Since I was in high school, I sought out people older and wiser than me to gain insight and knowledge. The realm of board games is not different. We hope to develop into an amazing game company and that’s why it’s so important to surround ourselves with amazing board game professionals. I already read tons of articles and blogs online to gain understanding, but nothing comes close to spending time and listening to the people who are designing, publishing, manufacturing, etc on a regular basis.
Pay attention to the details
It was easy to walk through the vendor hall and spot which companies stood out the most. They had everything from attention grabbing banners to beautiful looking games. As a young company, we are very eager to get moving on our first project. It’s easy to dive right in as many of us have seen far too often in underdeveloped games and poorly planned Kickstarters. We simply can’t sacrifice the details- whether it’s with the look of your booth, the development or production of your game, or your business and marketing strategy- details can be the difference between good games and exceptional games.
In one of my meetings, I was really impressed with the designer. Not only was he thinking of the theme and mechanics, he described to me how he wanted the game to look when it was being played. He wanted people to see the big, chunky pieces from across the room. He wanted people to notice his game’s players getting excited by the explosive dice rolls and interaction.
This is a crowded industry and I think it’s the designers/ artists/ publishers/ podcasters/ etc who pay attention to the details that really stand out.
Go for it
If you want something, you have to go for it. Step out of your comfort zone and talk to people you don’t know. I had several occasions where I went straight up to professionals I really admire and hopefully some good things will be coming out of those meetings. Ask questions. If you don’t know something, just ask. The board game industry is very strange compared to other business ecosystems. There are more people who are willing to answer your questions and offer help than not. Make a plan and work hard. It wasn’t by chance I was able to accomplish the amount of things I did while I was at Gen Con this year. It stemmed from my reaching out to people ahead of time, building relationships, and scheduling things in advance. Yes, some things were on the fly but if you want to be successful, I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a plan.
Of course, no Gen Con recap is complete without a list of the games I played and bought.
Lyssan by Thronhenge
Il Vecchio by TMG
Milestones by Stronghold
Pluckin’ Pairs by R&R
Ogre Castle by Clever Mojo
Survive by Stronghold
AttrAction by R&R
Pass-Ackwords by R&R
Revolver 2 by Stronghold
Scoville (before it was hot)*
Black Bear Downs*
Tuesday Night Tanks*
Yspahan by Rio Grande
Citadels by Fantasy Flight
Coup (Version from Essen)
Legendary: Dark City
If you have never been to Gen Con (or any con for that matter) and you really enjoy board games, go. As a gamer, it’s the perfect place to try out hundreds of different games. As a designer, it’s the perfect place to get your game tested, gain feedback, and pitch to publishers. As a publisher, it’s the perfect place to network, learn, and scout. I had a riot and I’m already looking forward to it next year.
How was your Gen Con experience? Any takeaways that really impacted you?
Happy Mitten Games