Rediscovering Childhood at PAX West

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The hotel ballroom is dimly lit and filled with row upon row of standardized chairs, the kind that were cheap to make but meant to look expensive with deep blue cushions surrounded by metal frames. I manage to grab a free chair during the ensuing game of musical chairs as all the attendees scramble for the limited resource. Though thankful for having a seat, I am now forcibly pressed against the man next to me. He is middle-aged and heavy set, dressed like in he came straight from a job in an accounting firm to the convention, his tie and dress pants contrasting with the majority of attendees, dressed in video game themed clothing showcased heavily-armed robots and shirtless barbarians.

Despite his formal dress, I am assured that the man pressed against me along with everyone else in this room is a game enthusiast. The room and presentation we are preparing for is part of the Penny Arcade Expo, a massive games convention that takes place in Seattle every August. The presentation in question is for a game called X-Com: Enemy Unknown, an unreleased game the presentation promised to showcase a previews of.

To say X-Com is a misnomer, the original game had come out in 1994. The trouble was that since that game came out, no remake had been developed that matched the critical impact and success the original made. The new game promised to remedy this and hence the crowded ballroom.

Looking to break the awkwardness of our forced contact, I attempted conversation with the man next to me that I was now partially sitting on.

“So…are you excited about X-Com” I asked?

Receiving no response and wishing to fill in the dead space, I answered my own question: “I can’t wait; I have been waiting for this game for a couple of years!”

The man’s head turned slowly towards me at a pace roughly equivalent to the head turning scene in the Exorcist. His face was calm and reserved as he responded with a single sentence.

“I have been waiting seventeen years for this game!”

His response synched with the dimming of the lights and the beginning of the presentation and I was left reflecting on the man’s response as he clasped his hands on his lap and returned to his reserved posture (as reserved as one could be with another man practically on your lap).

As the room went dark and the massive project screen lit up with the beginning of the trailer. As the screen was filled with firefights between human marines and aliens to a soundtrack of deep bass notes, the man next to me sprang from his seat, nearly knocking me from my chair in the process.

The formerly meek accountant now climbed his chair and began jumping up and down on top of it, his fist pumping the air as he let out an unending shouts of “yyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh” at the top of his lungs!

As I stood their stunned and scrambling to avoid his tie as it whipped around him, I surveyed the room and noticed that my neighbor was not alone in his enthusiasm. All around the room, men and women were jumping up and down screaming their support for the game.

One factor was shared by all the vocal enthusiasts however, they were not of my generation. The group that jumped up and down as the youth around them sat stunned was middle-aged. These were the parents, the professionals and the gamers from when the PC market was still on Dos.

After a few minutes of unrestrained fervor, the older members of the crowd quieted their shouting, sat back down on their seats, some fixing their hair while others simply looked around calmly as if the whole incident never happened.

Incidents such as this remind me of how games transcend age and generate such enthusiasm and unbridled joy regardless of age. This is why I and many others play games and why we will continue to do so, regardless of age.

6 Reasons You Need to Share a Table

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A Table!

Tables are a scarce and valuable resource at conventions.

As the platform for budding game designers an promoters to showcase their games, convention managers know the value of these tables and charge accordingly.

Larger conventions can charge hundreds of dollars for you to set up a table, knowing that used correctly, you can get a lot of attention for your game.

This high cost conflicts with the budgets of many game designers…budgets that are somewhere in the $0 ballpark range.

One solution to the cost is table-sharing. The concept is exactly what it sounds like. You pay for half the table and another game designer/promoter pays for the other half. The benefits of having half a table include:

  1. Reduced Cost. Half a table costs less than a full table (theoretically half the cost, but some conventions use different math)
  2. If a number of people are at your table (even if it is for another game), this will help you through the Law of Gameplay Attraction.
  3. Networking: Unless other designer you are sharing a table with has the personality of a paper bag, they are going to take an interest in your game.
  4. Anyone who comes to the table will be exposed to your game. That is not to say you should be trying to pester players to try your game while they are in the middle of the another designer’s game, but the moment they are done, they are open for hook lines.
  5. The Security of having another designer/promoter to watch your stuff when you make a sprint to the bathroom.
  6. An opportunity for Cross-Promotion. For example, if I am sharing a table and my farming game (Crop Cycle) with a game promoter showcasing Street Fighter, I might come up with a phrase like:

“You have proven your might in the fields, now take it to the streets!”

Does the phrase make any sense?
Does it promise the two games offer a similar experience?
Does it get players finished with my game to look across the table to Street Fighter?

The benefits of table-sharing are numerous and the costs few. Though you have less space to work with, unless you are promoting Twilight Imperium or looking to use the table as a bed (in which case why are you at a convention?) you can make do with less.

But what about you? Have you tried out Table-sharing? Share your Success and/or Horror stories in the Comments below.

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The Third Wheel: Bringing new players into the Fold

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3rd wheel

We have all been there. You are at a convention and things are going great. You’ve got an engaged group of players trying out your game, they are having a great time and everything is perfect.

Then the Third Wheel comes along.

This is the guy or girl that comes up to your table and stares longingly at your game. Attracted by the Law of Gameplay Attraction, the newcomer has taken an interest in your game in-progress and now stands awkwardly beside your table, a proverbial Third Wheel to your gaming group. The moment is awkward for everyone involved, particularly for the Third Wheel and for the game demonstrator (i.e you).

But it doesn’t have to be.

The first thing you need to do is engage the Third Wheel. If the game just started and you have space available, the solution is simple. Encourage the newcomer to stop being a Third Wheel and join in. Keep the discussion brief (lest you annoy your current players) and remember your hook line!

More often than not though, you are midway through the game and allowing the newcomer to join is not an option. So what then?

The main concept to remember is that under no circumstances should you ignore the Third Wheel. Having made this mistake many times early on, I can honestly say that not speaking to the newcomer is the equivalent of giving them the cold shoulder, even if you did not intend to. People that get the cold shoulder rarely stick around or come back and this is a problem.

My solution when a game is in-progress is to take a moment to briefly engage with the Third Wheel. Greet them and tell them what is being played (use a hook line). State how long the game will last, offer to let them watch and if they are going to leave, tell them an exact time to come back to play in the next game.

For example, if I am demonstrating Crop Cycle I may address a Third Wheel with:

“Hi there! [Shake hands] We are playing Crop Cycle, the game of surprisingly aggressive farming! We are just in the middle of the game, but you can grab and chair and watch. If you have to go, the next game will be starting at 2:40 so we can get you in then”

In the conversation above, the Third Wheel was greeted and informed of the game, welcomed to stay and told a time to come back if they decide to leave.

What I avoided was inquiring about interest. Do not ask the newcomer if they are interested in playing. They are clearly interested in the game, otherwise they would not be spending their time staring at your game in a convention room packed with games!

Assume interest, assume the Third Wheel will play the game and make it as convenient for them as possible to do so. In doing so, you show respect to the newcomer which is the cornerstone of an effective demonstration.

Congrats! You made it to the end of the article; a feat few internet readers achieve. If you enjoyed the words above, SUBSCRIBE TO MY NEWSLETTER and stay informed of new Content, Events, and Games. Also, check out new blog posts here and on Twitter at #conventioncoach