A worldwide celebration of board games called International Table Top day took place on April 11th, 2015. As part of the big event, a number of communities and stores within my hometown of Winnipeg put on events. As I was promoting my Kickstarter campaign for a card game in May, I was determined to attend as many events as possible on this day. What followed was a 15 hour odyssey that took me to five separate events.
One of these events was held at a bookstore called McNally Robinson. By this point in the day, it was 6:00 P.M. and I had been going hard for nine hours. After demonstrating the game at a table the store had graciously provided me, I got up and doggedly began to shuffle towards the exit.
As I walked, I pulled out my smart phone and observed my social media activity. I am still new to social media and have yet to fully appreciate the finer nuances of followers. General crowd funding theories state that engaged followers are fundamentally good and generally nobody argues that gaining followers is a bad thing as long as they are a human and not a software algorithm. The more people following you, the bigger the audience that will view your content.
When it comes to Twitter, follower numbers are the most straightforward (if somewhat crude) metric for monitoring your effectiveness. Looking at my phone I was disheartened that I lost several followers since earlier that day despite posting multiple times about audience-relevant board game materials.
Darn, losing followers sucks.
As I was dwelling in my little emotional pit of social media ineptitude, I was surprised when a woman that had played my game a few minutes ago approached me. She asked me where I was going to now. I replied that I was attending another gaming event to show off my game. Then she dropped a more unusual question on me.
“I know this is awkward, but do you mind if I come with you”, she asked?
“Sure”, I replied. “As long as you can help me find my car.”
It is worth noting that I have incredibly poor navigational skills and what she initially took as a joke led to a fifteen minute ordeal as I wandered around a large parking, searching for my generic silver Corolla.
We eventually found my car and were off to the next board game event. I had been to event earlier that day and one of the organizers raised an amused eyebrow when I returned with a follower in tow. When the question came up, I simply replied that while I struggled to gain and keep digital followers, I was much better at gaining physical ones.
On reflection, I realize that face-to-face conversation is my preferred means of communication. The immediate reasons are that I like to be outside, my day job looking at a monitor and my weak wrists don’t lend to extended typing sessions on a smart phone.
Beyond that, with social media I find it difficult to share in the same type of communication. The nuances of body language and vocal variety are obscured in the text. While readers can imagine the tone of the text, this can quickly lead to misunderstandings. With the internet being the internet, these misunderstandings quickly lead to thermonuclear emotional meltdowns and ensuing flame wars.
It is much rarer for such incidents to happen during conversation. Take the rest of Table Top Day for example. I ended the day playing board games with my new found friend and exposed her to a hobby that she was relatively new to.
We went for coffee after and discussed everything from Chinese-Canadian culture, pursuing a degree in the performing arts to communal living and the roles of our political parties. I learned that she lived in Ontario where she taught performing arts at a local university. To celebrate turning thirty, she was on a journey across Canada via railcar, stopping at the major cities (and yes, I will defend to the death that Winnipeg is a major city). Most of all though, we discussed the question that we all wonder about, what to do with the limited time we have on this Earth.
Each of the aforementioned topics was a conversational minefield that if posted online, would recreate Chernobyl within the residents of my little corner of cyberspace. In person and within a relaxed setting, I was much more comfortable to glide between these topics, knowing that a misstep will result in an immediate que (hopefully not a slap) as opposed to being vented as a vitriolic text wall.
With all that being said, I shouldn’t discount social media followers. After all, I owe very real connections with board game designers and publishers to the likes of Facebook and Twitter, but to me social media has always been a jumping off points to more significant forms of communication. Twitter is great for Q&A, Facebook feed can provide helpful news and updates; but discussing the meaning of life is something I have always struggled to fit into 140 characters.
As a board game publisher and an all-around geek, I attend my fair share of conventions every year. My favorite Winnipeg convention to attend is Keycon, a science fiction and fantasy fan convention aimed squarely at ensuring that its attendees have a great time. Between being able to present panels on board game design to being given homemade alcohol by fellow attendees in taverns meant to looking like something straight out of Tolkien novel, the event is always a fantastic experience.
The one downside to attending Keycon is that given the parking situation downtown, I must rely on public transit to get downtown. Normally I enjoy public transit, but on weekends buses are not my friend. Winnipeg is known for having reduced hours on weekends, with some locations only having bus service once every hour. After waiting for an hour and a half without a bus coming however, I began to seriously doubt the infrastructure of my city, as the bus simply did not come at the appointed time…or after. Eventually succumbing to the basic need of a washroom, I sprinted into a local grocery story for what could only be two minutes. As I stepped out of the store, I saw my bus pulling away from the bus stop that I had committed a significant portion of my day in.
A “hell no” resounded within my mind and perhaps from my lips as well, though I sincerely hope not given the number of elderly shoppers in my presence. My memory is a hazy at this point, as by the next moment I had entered a full-sprint, legs propelling me forward in leaps and bounds. Gone was the carefully manicured posture of a marathon runner, replaced by the lunging sprints of something more akin to the Predator. A bottle of hand-sanitizer flew from my jacket pocket as I bounded across the parking lot and down the street, though I would not until later that day.
What did break my attention was the sound of glass breaking underfoot. A half-broken beer bottle lay on the sidewalk and in my mad dash, I annihilated any remaining semblance of its structure, reducing the clear bottle to a fine powder. Looking down, I saw that no shards had pierced through my shoes and with the adrenaline I was experiencing, if glass was in my shoes, I was not in a mental state to experience it.
Traffic being relatively dense for a Saturday, I was lulled into a false sense of hope, seeing the bus constantly stopping to circumvent parked cars on the two-lane road and the jack-ass drivers that come out of the woodwork on Saturday mornings. With each stop, I closed the gap, coming within 50 meters of the bus before it would drive off again, reaching halfway to the event horizon of visible traffic before slowing down again. This continued for six blocks as I gained and distanced myself from the bus like a cardio-centric elastic
Eventually however, the bus hit broke away from his fellow drivers and began to disappear from view. I slowed at this point, accepting my fate of being late for Keycon and reflecting on how fortunate I was to be scheduled to present in the afternoon as opposed to mid-morning. Looking around at the alien environment that now surrounded me, I began to reflect on the convention that awaited me as I struggled to orient myself.
I could write a book on all the stories that came out of my two years at Keycon, but one experience will forever be mentally bookmarked when I think of Keycon. I was sitting at the aforementioned Tolkien-esque tavern, enjoying the entertainment and company fellow attendees. Suddenly, an attendee struck me on the back as a solider would his comrade, loudly proclaiming “have you tried Gerran’s Mead?” I looked up from the table to see a dwarf holding out a bottle of homebrew to me. When I say dwarf, I do not mean short-person nor do I mean a cos-player, I mean a man who looked like something straight out of Lord of the Rings. The man had a short, stocky build and sported an immense orange beard. A bald-spot featured prominently on the top of his head, but was compensated for by a ring of long hair that hung in all directions, covering his shoulders and the sides of his face. Rounding out the appearance was a tunic that border-lined being a robe and a pair of granny-glasses that gave him the appearance of a Dwarven scribe straight out of a Dungeons and Dragons rulebook.
Being a home brewer, I know how long the process of Mead-making is (2-5 years), so when a fantasy dwarf offers you a time-intensive brew of his own making, the answer is yes, god yes! The drink was sweet and well-balanced, leading to a wonderful conversation with both the brewer and promoter about all types of ales and brewing techniques.
Experiences such as these would never be repeated however, if I was not able to able to get to Keycon in a reasonable time-frame. My despair lifted however, as soon after the transit bus disappeared, another appeared behind me. Apparently, I had chased my wayward for enough to have entered the zone of another bus route, which now conveniently approached from behind. I jumped on and was back in business, ready to attend a convention that had given me so many wonderful experiences.
The first board game convention I attended, I did not even think about bringing a sign. After all, the convention had a schedule and numbered tables to indicate where games were being played; why did I need to provide a sign? Admittedly, I was naive thinking that the convention organizers should hold any responsibility in getting my game played. After all, as a game creator you are your game’s salesman and it is up to you to hook people on your game.
From the experience I learned 2 important lessons:
- Not all gamers read the schedule
- An appealing sign pushes browsing gamers into playing your game
Since that lackluster day of sitting alone at my gaming table, I have learned a few important points that are shared below.
Banners and Free-standing Signs
The type of sign you use will depend on the convention you are attending. For conventions where a full-size table is given, a large banner to hang off the edge is an effective option, though they can be expensive. If you choose to go with a banner, shop around at local stores and you may find a better deal than online printer. I found competitive pricing at a local university print-shop and saved even more on not having to pay shipping.
If floor space is in plentiful supply, you may also consider a free-standing sign, though again you will want to shop around for a cost effective solution. Building your own stand to hang the sign on is also a viable strategy. A guide to building a free-standing sign post out of PVC can be found here.
Regardless of the convention specifics, I always bring along small table signs printed on Letter paper. When folded lengthwise, they should have your game on one side and your company (if applicable) on the other. They stand on their own, are portable, and are handy regardless of the table size. I get mine printed on cardstock so they don’t get crushed when I put them in my bag (a crinkled sign does not exude professionalism).
Whether to get them printed on Matte or Glossy card stock is a personal preference. I prefer Matte because it generates less glare from room lights that can obscure the sign
Another lesson I learned the hard way is to always bring more copies of signs than you need.
You can and will lose signs at conventions.
Consider the following scenarios when deciding how many copies of your sign to print:
- You have poor memory and misplace the sign
- Another attendee misplaces the sign for you (i.e. steals it)
- An attendee handles your sign while in the process of consuming Cheetos
- The sign gets soaked by a Blade-runner level downpour on your way to the convention
- A teething toddler gnaws on your tasty (and somewhat toxic) sign
- An ill child decided to reproduce the sum total of the day’s caloric intake on your sign
Any and all of the above can happen so print more signs than you need. That way, when you spot a child happily consuming your sign while the absent-minded parent looks on with pride, you can simply smile and nod, producing a new sign from your bag.
The “Back in 15” Sign
I am bad for having to make last-minute dashes to the bathroom after consuming coffee at regular intervals. During one such experience, I returned to a small note small note stating “WHERE WERE YOU? Creator was not here so we went to another game”. Do yourself a favor and have small sign to throw down when you have to dart away for food, the bathroom, or to argue with your phone provider about last month’s bill. I write mine on the inside of my table signs and then just turn them inside out when I have to leave.
- Signs attract people to your game, even in schedule-heavy conventions
- Banners and free-standing signs are great, but check if your convention will allow them
- Use small table-sized signs at all conventions
- Bring back-up signs in case the first ones become unusable
- Create a “Back in 15 minutes sign” for those moments of inconvenience
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