As noted in my last post, I spent a lot of time preparing prior to the convention. Part of this preparation involved reaching out to publishers to set up meeting times to talk to them at GenCon where it was most convenient for them. This is a piece of advice that I've heard from numerous designers, and yet, it just didn't pan out for me. The responses I got, if I heard a response at all, were generally "Come see me at the booth and we can take a look if we've got time." Now that could sound positive, if it wasn't for the fact that there are 40,000 people at GenCon, the exhibitor hall and every booth in it are usually jam-packed with customers looking to buy games and exhibitors looking to sell them. There generally isn't a lot of free time to just "drop by" to show them your games.
So I went to GenCon with exactly zero meetings scheduled, which was a little disappointing, but that just meant I was going to have to put some more effort into getting my games in front of publishers. When I arrived on Thursday, I met up with an old friend to catch up and we walked around the dealer hall for a few hours. I knew I had an event that evening which was the Publisher Speed Dating event, so since I didn't have any scheduled meetings, I was going to try and use that little bit of face time with each publisher to allow the walk-up ask for a meeting scenario to not be just a complete cold call scenario.
Publisher Speed Dating
I arrived at the event before the first time slot even started, just to get a feel for how the event was going to go. It was really fascinating from a designer standpoint to see how other designers present their games. The event started atand I had slots for the Euro/Medium game track at and the Light/Party game track at . I think the time slot was fantastic. The event had a chance to warm up and everyone was in the groove of how the event was going to continue for the rest of the evening.
I decided before the event that I was going to try the impossible and present two games every 5 minutes instead of just one. The idea being that if the table had no interest in one of the games, but did show interest in the other, that I would be able to spend the time talking about one game over the other. Of course, this made the task more difficult on myself, but some preparation beforehand instead of just deciding to "wing it" made it possible. The main preparation was ensuring that I was able to do a 45 second elevator pitch for each game flawlessly and without skipping a beat. Crafting the pitch is nearly as important as designing the game. You need to be able to say something within a 45 second window that sparks someone's interest in playing your game. Sometimes that can be done with visuals, but words are going to hold a lot of power as well. This should be blend of theme and the key mechanics that make your game special.
The gamble seemed to pay off. I finished all of my 5 minute slots having pitched not one, but both of my games, with plenty of time to spare to ask questions or go into further details about rules or any questions the publishers may have had. Essentially I took the first 90 seconds to pitch both, and asked them to choose one, then I would go through a very brief rules explanation and a sample turn. Out of the 10 slots, there was a 7/3 split in the interest for the two games, which was almost exactly what I expected. I received a lot of praise in the professionalism of my presentations and my pitches, and publishers seemed genuinely impressed that I attempted the two game approach given the short time.
After going through the first hour, I felt this was going to be easy in comparison, and really it was. Since the games were lighter, there was very little pressure to be had in the delivery of the presentations. 4 of the 10 slots already had the publishers leave by this point, so that was slightly disappointing, but I still presented my 2 games to around 12 publishers total for the time slot. My themes got a lot of laughs, and I generally was able to discuss both games in full detail since one was a party game, and the other's mechanics are able to be learned in under a minute.
After the event, I was feeling pretty good. I accomplished what I set out to do, and I didn't fall completely flat on my face in the attempt. There was various points of interest in games, and I ended up using that interest over the rest of the weekend to talk to publishers at their booths and by the end of the weekend I had 3 different meetings, one request for me to reach out to them after the convention and one publisher who has reached out to me since the convention, and left the convention missing one of my prototypes.
Of the meetings that I had, the games that I presented were always well received. I got a chance for full games of whatever I happened to be pitching (probably a benefit of designing games that play in under an hour.) I wont break out each meeting in detail, but I do feel like mentioning some of things that we discussed about publishing a game in general.
Games need a hook.
Even if you have one of the most ground-breaking mechanisms that the world has yet to see, you still need to get people to try the game to find that mechanism. If the theme of your game is dry and boring, change it! Even though Rite of Passage did get taken for further evaluation, I've heard a few times "This is a great game, but I'm not sure how to sell it."
Games with lower price points aren't generally as attractive.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but there are so many games that are "just a deck of cards" which have clever mechanisms. Trying to stand out in the sea of games like that is like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. The components of your game should be something that attracts people.
What a publisher likes will often surprise you.
I realized mid-way through the speed-dating event that what I thought a publisher would be interested in and what they actually were interested were often different. Just because a publisher has never published a game like yours, doesn't mean that they never want to. Give publishers the opportunity to make the decision for themselves and understand that they may have motives that you may not understand.
So, in the end, I would say that another successful GenCon is in the books for me. I played some great games, met a ton of cool people, and I took some shots to get my games published without completely falling flat on my face. I hope to make next year even better, but that's always the idea, isn't it?