How to Get Started with Board Game Conventions as a Board Game Creator, Part 1

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Board game conventions have a certain mystique to them. Many board gamers absolutely adore going to big conventions such as Gen Con, Essen, or UKGE. As such, board game developers often find their own interest in conventions piqued. The potential of reaching out to so many customers is enticing, and besides – they’re a lot of fun, right?

The truth is a little more complicated than that. It always is. That’s why I’ve brought in Emelie Van Rodin, creator of State of Wonder, a strategy card game for 2 or more players where you play as the ruler of city-state in a kingdom struck by civil war. We’re giving away a copy on the Pangea Games Facebook.

I’m fascinated by Emelie’s story because she Kickstarted a game and made a few thousand bucks. What’s unusual is that she – at least to the casual observer – appeared to come out of nowhere. I believe her story will be of special importance to many of you who want to get your foot in the door for the first time. This is how you do it.

 

 

We interviewed via Discord direct messages which have been lightly edited for clarity and flow. This is the first of two posts. This interview is broken into four parts:

  1. Who is Emelie?
  2. How Conventions Helped State of Wonder Happen
  3. What to Do at Cons
  4. What Not to Do at Cons

 


 

Who is Emelie?

 

Brandon: Thank you very much for agreeing to interview!

Emelie: Thank you for having me!

Brandon: To get started, tell me a little bit about yourself and your projects.

Emelie: My name is Emelie Van Rodin. I’m a solo game designer/developer of strategy games on both analog and digital platforms! I’m currently working on releasing my first game, State of Wonder, as well three other projects on the side.

State of Wonder is a strategy card game for 2 or more players, You play as the ruler of a city-state in a kingdom struck by civil war. You fight to take the throne either through military conquest or economic prowess.

The other three projects are still very much in production, but two of them are in the same setting as State of Wonder (civil war, wonders, and power plays are all important). The last one is a game about religious war, fanaticism, and believing in a world bigger than yourself.

State of Wonder was kickstarted in February and will be released early summer 2018.

Brandon: Was this your first game ever designed or just the first one you ever ran with to the point of publishing?

Emelie: It was my first game I felt was worth publishing, mostly from how I felt this game had market potential compared to my older designs. Some designs are great but just doesn’t fit a market or is so niche there is no point in trying to publish, sell, and manufacture it.

Brandon: That’s true, and if your game can’t be made into a product for a specific market, it’s better to shelve the idea and work on something else than to try to make money off of it.

 

How Conventions Helped State of Wonder Happen

 

 

Brandon: As I understand it, conventions helped you push State of Wonder over its goal on Kickstarter even though you had little time in the industry at the time of launch.

Which conventions did you go to?

Emelie: I primarily went to small local conventions in Sweden –  GothCon and Wiscon are the two primary ones I’ve been too.

Wiscon I’ve attended even early in development to test out ideas, check reactions, and see players interact with everything from paper prototypes to physical, professional printed game versions of State of Wonder. It was both a testing ground and a marketing tool and it worked out great. I met many of my local testers at Wiscon – many of whom backed the game on Kickstarter.

GothCon was actually post-Kickstarter, but it was highly successful in helping me spread the word further, reach a wider market, as well as getting some post-Kickstarter sales. It also helped me pull in more early adopters and community influencers.

I’ve also been to some game conferences with the game as well as some small game development competitions.

Brandon: Ever attend anything like Gen Con, UKGE, or Essen?

Emelie: I didn’t, mostly due to limitations in budget as well as from what I’ve heard from people who do attend those. It is hard to reach out and get to know people on the spot, so I wouldn’t do it for my first game.

The biggest event I was invited to was Nordsken, which is a mixed event of digital and analog gaming and has about 4000 attendees. I had to decline that due to health reasons. It was in May 2018 and I was working my ass off getting everything ready for SoW fulfillment. I had just attended GothCon a month earlier so that had tired me out as well.

I believe this was a big missed opportunity in hindsight. But somewhere along the way, health must take a priority.

Brandon: I think your situation is similar to many others. Going to big conventions can be either prohibitively expensive or just plain intimidating. However, you can still get a lot out of small, local conventions. That’s where I recommend newcomers start with cons – Protospiels and Unpubs in nearby cities.

Emelie: Exactly, I also think smaller cons are better to build an initial audience as it is easier to spend more time per visitor at the booth and there is more time to demo your game as well.

Brandon: And you won’t get lost in the noise and confusion.

Or overshadowed by larger companies.

Emelie: That initial audience can then help your booth stand out at bigger cons and not be overshadowed.

Brandon: Right, and building an audience is a long, slow endeavor (at least at first).

 

What to Do at Cons

 

Brandon: Assume you’re talking to a game developer who’s never gone to a convention before. Where should they start and what should they do?

Emelie: First, having something worth showing is the first step and can depend on the con. Sweden doesn’t do Unpubs, so bringing a prototype can be dangerous and can sometimes even backfire. There might be a room for playtesting prototypes at some cons, but they are often small and not very well attended.

This might differ in other regions though as I’ve heard great stuff about Unpub and Protospiels.

Editor Note: Protospiels are really good for prototyping.

Here’s where I would start:

  1. Have a good looking product to show off.
  2. Have some idea of how you would like your booth to look. (For example: black tablecloth on a table with your product stacked on top. Do you want to have an open box with a demo set up? Roll-ups? Flags? Cashiers? Posters? Walls?)
  3. Don’t make the booth too big. I have a roll-up, a tablecloth, and a price list for my game as well as products on the table. Make sure you are noticeable in the crowd.
  4. Toy around with your booth on-site. Don’t think your first set-up is the best one.
  5. Bring a friend. Sitting in a booth can be boring during the slow hours and having someone to talk with is great.
  6. Bring food and water, lots of it.
  7. Have a change of clothes in case the con is hot, as well as deodorant.
  8. Schedule when you and your friends/employees will be at the booth.
  9. Everyone in the booth needs to enjoy your game and be able to teach it.
  10. Take breaks.

That last one is important. I worked for 12-16 hours every day during GothCon, without any real breaks, because I screwed up half of my own advice. Breaks and schedules are important, don’t burn yourself out because you will become worse and worse at showing off your game and talking with and interacting with people at the con.

Brandon: This actually covers a little bit more than I expected.

Anything else you should definitely do at a con?

Emelie: Don’t just stay at your booth, go to others’ booths and interact with other designers, developers, publishers, and artists. Get to know people and network!

Brandon: Absolutely – it’s about reaching out and getting to know people!

 

What Not to Do at Cons

 

Brandon: So that said, what do you definitely want to avoid doing?

Emelie: Being defensive about your product is one of the big ones. If someone doesn’t enjoy it or doesn’t want to test it out, don’t force it on them.

Brandon: That’s huge.

Emelie: Also, you don’t want to be a salesperson (even if part of going to a con can be to sell products). Show that you have a burning interest in not only your own product but also other developers/designers/games.

Brandon: Not only because you don’t want to run people off, but also because you need to gauge their first impressions.

Emelie: Exactly.

Brandon: Selfishness is a turn-off.

Emelie: Some things you just won’t be able to help. People with preconceived notions are annoying to work with, but don’t let that get to you. Catch the people who are interested and if you see someone leisurely strolling by, invite them to talk if you have the time. Don’t aim for the people that show no interest or even disinterest.

Brandon: Agreed. To do so is wasting time at best, rude at worst.

 


 

Conventions are exciting, hectic, memorable events. They can be a great way to meet others, share your game, and improve your reach. Go in with a game plan and the right mindset and you’ll be off to a good start!

Are you going to any conventions soon? Got any questions or stories to share? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear them 🙂

6 Ways to Avoid Despair and Move Forward After Failure

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Start to Finish

This is the last of four articles in the Failure Recovery series on Start to Finish. My own recent failure to launch my most recent board gameHighways & Byways, is what inspired this detour from the originally planned articles. I think that a frank discussion of failure – what it looks like, the consequences, and moving forward – is really important for new creators to learn.

Failure is brutal. Nobody wants to fail. Nobody sets out to fail. Yet when we take on projects that are bigger than we are able to complete with our skillsets and resources, failure becomes part of life. Success often comes from what you learn from a string of failures. That’s why today, I’m going to talk about six ways you can avoid despair and move forward after failure.

 

 

Step 1: Focus on diagnosing the failure.

I talk about this in more detail in How to Diagnose Failure & Move Forward as a Board Game Developer. Long story short: map out your process, work backward, and see where it broke down. This is good for your rational business interests, but I think it’s also good for coping, too. For me, I found it much easier to analyze business problems than to handle the raw emotion of Kickstarter failure in the week or two immediately following the cancellation.

 

Step 2: Make a plan to fix the failure.

This is also covered in the previously linked article in Step 1, but it bears repeating. Having an action plan based on careful analysis of what went wrong can make you feel like your failure is useful. I believe that failure is most painful when it is not given meaning. When given meaning, failure becomes bearable. Once it’s bearable, it can be useful and perhaps even motivating.

 

Step 3: Let it hurt.

Failure hurts. It really, really does. That’s okay. Disappointment, pain, and frustration are part of the human experience. It is unavoidable and you can ask Buddha if you don’t believe me.

It’s okay to let it upset you, take it personally, and be frustrated. If you need to take a day off, do it. If you need to take a week off, do it. If you need to sulk, sulk. You obviously don’t want to succumb to the siren song of self-pity for too long, but you need to release your emotions so that you can move forward. Bottled emotions are painful at best and dangerous at worst.

For me, the raw emotional upset of the Highways & Byways campaign didn’t hit me until the middle of April. This was after I had cancelled the campaign, made a Plan B, and started executing a pivot. For some reason, it was after doing all these things that I was most comfortable processing the pain.

Perhaps for you, feeling the pain will come before you can take action. Perhaps it can come many months later. No matter what: don’t feel bad about feeling bad.

 

Step 4: Look for the silver lining.

Should you find yourself succumbing to the siren song of self-pity for so long that you risk being dashed upon the rocks, it’s time to take a step back. Positive things come out of failure, even though failure seems devastating. It’s like a forest fire in the sense that it destroys a lot of trees, but creates fertile soil from which stronger, better trees can grow.

For example, when Highways & Byways failed, I had a better understanding of the need to do market research. That’s a clear takeaway, but what most people don’t see is that it cleared up my calendar since I wasn’t busy running a campaign anymore. I was able to focus on doing more things I enjoyed in game development. Furthermore, it instantly broke me of my bad habit of working alone – one of the most dangerous things you can do in business.

Even if you fail fantastically in a public place, it’s probably not a complete wash. You’re probably walking away with more knowledge, more experience, and perhaps even more resources. Even when you feel bad, there is probably something that can make you feel better.

 

Step 5: Keep some perspective.

Just about everybody who is successful has experienced setbacks. I could list examples of CEOs and athletes, but it’s cliche and you’ve heard it. That’s because it’s true and you’re no exception.

Think about the difficulties your heroes must have faced to get where they are. The path to success is not an easy one. It’s special because it’s uncommon and hard to reach. The scarcity of success is what makes it sweet, so acknowledge the scarcity.

 

Step 6: Start something new.

Nothing cures the sting of failure like starting something new. In fact, this is what Hayao Miyazaki – creator of the movie Spirited Awaysuggests for escaping disappointment with past projects. I find it personally to be true as well. Nothing cures your frustration and desire for self-pity quite like hard work. You still need to carefully balance your workload so you can stay healthy for the long road ahead, but excessive downtime after disappointment is a recipe for disaster.

Open up your heart to pursuing passion again. Try something new. Work hard to make something beautiful. Just be smarter about it next time, like I know you will.

 


 

This is the end of the Failure Recovery series. We’ve covered how to diagnose failure, move forward, recognize common pitfalls, save your reputation, and resist despair. I hope these articles have helped you recover from a recent failure, prevent failure, or lose your fear of failure.

Do you have a good way of coping with failure? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear it 🙂

How to Recover From Failure as a Board Game Dev

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Start to Finish

My difficult experiences with Highways & Byways my recent game which ended in a failed Kickstarter campaign – have inspired me to add the Failure Recovery series to Start to Finish. This is part three of four. Today I want to tackle a gigantic question: what do you do after you fail?

Nobody likes to think about the possibility of failure. It makes us instinctively cringe. Many people even suggest that you don’t create backup plans because it’s “planning for failure.” Today, we’re going to stare failure right in its eyes and talk about how you can handle it if it happens to you.

 

 

When you have a significant failure like I did with Highways & Byways, what you decide to do next can seriously impact your long-term business prospects. Reputation matters and you need to maintain yours. Failure can negatively impact your reputation, but there are ways you can manage failure to minimize its impact, or perhaps even make you more popular.

My intention with this article is to help you conquer your fear of failure. I can tell you from experience – recent experience – that it’s not the end of the world. It can be a tremendous opportunity for growth. When you know how to fix a failure if it happens, you will be at least partially freed from the burdens anxiety places upon your mind. Your creative and cognitive faculties will be unhindered by your fearful feelings. You are then free to be your best self.

You’ve got four main options for addressing a high-profile failure. They are:

  1. Ignore it or walk it off
  2. Minimize and/or explain your mistake
  3. Accept the mistake and apologize
  4. Explore your failure for public benefit

We’re going to talk about each one in depth. If you ever find yourself needing to use this guide to salvage your own reputation after a failure, stop here and think for a moment about how serious your failure is. Is it a ten-alarm fire or a couple of sparks?

 

Option 1: Ignore it or walk it off

The first thing you should do whenever you experience a failure is assess how bad it is. There is a big difference between unintentionally offending someone on Twitter and a failed product launch following a year of effort. If you find yourself in the former category, experiencing a minor failure, you have an attractive option: do nothing.

I’m serious. Sometimes calling yourself out publicly on small mistakes does more harm than good. You have to be nice to yourself if you expect anyone else to be. Calling yourself out on small mistakes can make you seem bumbling and uncharismatic when you really aren’t. Small mistakes are expected and everyone makes them. There is something to be said for stumbling and making it part of the dance.

There is one limitation of this option, and it’s a big one: ignoring large mistakes can make you look callous, rude, or naive. Use your best judgment and understand that your judgment will improve over time with practice.

 

Option 2: Minimize and/or explain the mistake

If your mistake is too big to ignore but still not too big, you have another option. You can minimize the appearance of your mistake or explain it. That entails defending your actions with a simple, straightforward action without apologizing.

This sounds a little unintuitive, but there are some situations in which apologizing can come across the wrong way. This is something I have noticed large organizations doing after public mishaps. One simple example is when a critical computer system goes offline, a message displays saying “the system is currently experiencing downtime. Please return in 30 minutes.”

Personally, I don’t recommend this in most cases for individuals or small companies. A simple apology goes a long way and failure to provide one can appear fraudulent or cold if the mistake is big enough. I’m listing this as an option, but I’m not saying it’s a good option.

 

Option 3: Accept the mistake and apologize

For big mistakes like a failed product launch or mistakes that result in someone being seriously inconvenienced like a missed delivery deadline, a straightforward apology is often a good way to go. Saying “I’m sorry” puts you in a vulnerable position that shows people that you truly are serious about making things right. This can be accompanied with or without an explanation. Ideally, you apologize for the specific thing that went wrong, explain if an explanation is wanted or needed, and then state how you plan to make things right. One good example of this in action is the BP Oil Spill in 2010: they issued ads apologizing for enormous impact of their enviornmental disaster.

This is a good option for big mistakes. It won’t run anybody off and it might even make people like you more. Still, in the case of some highly public failures that seriously harm people, words may not be enough. That was the case with BP, who may have benefited more from initiating major enviornmental cleanup programs.

 

Option 4: Explore your failure for public benefit

There is one last option for dealing with failure. It’s an extension of Option 3 and it’s not for the faint of heart. You can apologize, explain, and completely accept your failure. Then you can commit to using your failure for others’ benefit. It was my intent to do this through the Highways & Byways failure write-up, although there are many other ways to do this.

Being a good sport in failure and working to help others is a kind thing to do. Full stop. There is not just a moral incentive, but also sometimes an economic one too. According to the pratfall effect: “a perceived highly-competent individual would be, on average, more likable after committing a blunder, while the opposite would occur if a perceived average person makes a mistake.” You could actually gain fans through failure. There is a reason “failing up” is a phrase.

This has three really big issues with it. This is the most emotionally difficult option to take since it requires publicly exposing your weaknesses. It can also make you look obsessed with your own failure, which is a major turn off. Lastly, for the “pratfall effect” to take place, you have to be “a perceived highly-competent individual.” Knowing whether or not you qualify is hard because our egos protect us from evidence to the contrary.

 


 

Failure isn’t the end of the world. How you deal with failure publicly can be as important as how you deal with it privately. Failure is a chance to learn and grow, both as a person and as a public figure. Choose your option wisely.

Have you failed in a big way before? If you’re comfortable sharing, tell me how that went and how you moved forward in the comments below 🙂