Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Conventions and trade shows – and why we attend them

A convention or a trade show is a very special event, both for those gamers who are more deeply engaged in the hobby, as well as for us – publishers and designers of board games. Some of us love them, some of us hate them, but most of us attend for reasons I’m going to share below. And it’s a great time to share, since it’s all still fresh in my mind after the recent UK Games Expo.
Let me again start with a quick preamble: NSKN Games is very much like other publishers, but neither I, nor any other member of our crew has yet mastered the art of mind reading (though Andrei, the Big Boss himself, is most likely to make that breakthrough, and when he does a voice in your head will happily announce it to you), so whatever I say here will not be true for all publishers. Although, from our own experiences, educated guesses and some beer-propelled conversations with other people in the business, it probably is true for most.

So, let’s start with the basics: going to a convention is both expensive and exhausting. I won’t be talking about actual prices of space in different convention halls, but just know that the owners of these facilities know their worth. They also know very well that not all booths are equal, and not only size, but also multiple other factors influence the final price of being able to set up shop during the convention or show you saw us at – with all sorts of corner booths usually being the most expensive, and the first to go.

When it comes to exhaustion, just remember that whatever you see around you at a booth, was brought in by a number of human beings. And if you’re in a booth belonging to a smaller publisher (like NSKN Games), also know that those same human beings are most probably surrounding you now – all bubbly, enthusiastic and happy to see you, often despite being quite tired. Incidentally, this is why if you are absolutely certain you are not interested in a product they are to tell you more about, just tell them. You’ll save yourself some time – and they’ll be able to preserve their voice.
The NSKN Team at our UK Games Expo Booth

Having revealed the awful truth about conventions and trade shows, it’s time to finally get to answering the titular question. Why? Why do we attend? Is it for the possibility of making a quick buck on games that sell well, or sell out? No. Definitely not.

The truth is that selling a lot, or even all the games you bring to a convention, does not “make” you money – not in the sense of coming back with more cash than you had coming in. Most times, when you saw a booth selling games left and right, or have come too late to pick up a game (this may have happened to you for example last year in Essen if you wanted to pick up Praetor or Versailles on Sunday – or Progress on a Saturday afternoon), the publisher was not in for a big financial gain, but was happy that the event will break even.

Yes, between the prices of exhibitor space, the travel and transport costs and the hotel bills, a convention or a trade show for a publisher is a financial success if it makes them, all in all, spend a relatively small sum or no money at all. But no matter how much we pay, we do bring something back from each such event. We bring you.
Exodus Proxima Centauri - base game and the Edge of Extinction Expansion at UK Games Expo 2015.
Trade shows and conventions are important because of people we get to meet. We are happy to get to know new people in the industry, joke around a little bit, congratulate our competitors on a job well done (yes, that really happens!), and share experiences in the evening, in a hotel filled with exhibitors and attendees, or in a nearby pub overrun by the convention crowd. Apart from that, hands are shaken, eyes are looked in – and deals are made. Sometimes deals that make smaller publishers stay in the game – or help them develop, expand and grow.

Finally, conventions are important because of all of you. All of the people that come by to say hello – and all those who come in to ask: “Who are you again?”. Believe it or not, but we not only get a kick out of meeting new people, or getting to shake the hands of those of you, who we usually know by their Facebook profiles, Twitter or BoardGameGeek handles, but we are also interested in what you have to say. 

Clicking a thumb up on Facebook or bashing a game or mechanism online is so easy, that sometimes it almost goes unnoticed (although we always try to listen). Having an actual, face to face conversation with a person wanting to praise or critique something we’ve done is always memorable. And having ten people say “we did/did not like this and this” to our faces may actually influence what and how we’ll do in the future.
For all of you who asked about the NSKN Cats during UK Games Expo :-)
I’ve written all of the above mainly because we’ve just come back from UK Games Expo, and I had a chance to show off an advanced prototype of Mistfall to both new people, and our extraordinary backers. And this made me aware of one more thing. Each time (after playing a few turns) someone would tell me: “Yeah, I’m happy I backed this, it’s an awesome game”, I felt that a total of four hours in the air, two take offs and two landings between two consecutive flights suffered by a guy who hates flying, was something that guy would happily endure again. And each time we would say: “Yes, both Exodus: Edge of Extinction and Mistfall will be delivered without delays”, and see perplexed faces of gamers not used to their Kickstarter stuff ever arriving on time, we got a feeling that it is something we are simply unable to put a price tag on.

So, in short, the people are why we attend. The lure of talking to all sorts of individuals from all corners of geekdom, the chance to meet the persons we are fans of – and the people who are our fans, and the chance to share in stuff that is not only good for our business, but also pretty cool as a memory for us, simply as human beings
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