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:
- Who is Emelie?
- How Conventions Helped State of Wonder Happen
- What to Do at Cons
- 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:
- Have a good looking product to show off.
- 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?)
- 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.
- Toy around with your booth on-site. Don’t think your first set-up is the best one.
- Bring a friend. Sitting in a booth can be boring during the slow hours and having someone to talk with is great.
- Bring food and water, lots of it.
- Have a change of clothes in case the con is hot, as well as deodorant.
- Schedule when you and your friends/employees will be at the booth.
- Everyone in the booth needs to enjoy your game and be able to teach it.
- 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.
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 🙂