How To Not Die at Conventions

I’m typing this one day after returning from a productive Mr. Game! trip to San Antonio, Texas for PAX South! My brother Paul and I are terribly ill, exhausted, and jet-lagged. Our reintegration to polite society is moving at a snail’s pace. The snowstorm outside isn’t helping. If I recall, the aftermath of our trip to MAGFest 2017 for Where Shadows Slumber just a few weeks ago was pretty similar.

If you’re an indie developer, independent craftsman, musician, speaker, or entrepreneur, you’re aware that there are many conventions that happen every year around the world related to your trade. But you’ve probably asked yourself an important question before every single one: how do I go to a convention without dying?

Since I already mentioned how sick we got at PAX South, I’ll go ahead and tell you that I don’t always take my own advice. There are best practices, and then there’s real life. Here are four things I would do if I wanted a stress-free convention exhibition where no one dies.

 

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1. Reserve Hotels A Year In Advance

“One entire year in advance! This is madness! I don’t even know what I’m having for dinner tonight!”

~ You

Listen, hotels fill up fast. If you’re traveling to a convention, there’s a good chance you’ll need a hotel. I lucked out with the upcoming New York Toy Fair because I’m in Hoboken – all I need to do is hop on a ferry and I’m at the Javits Center. But this is not common.

If you’re not in the main convention hotel, you’re missing out on the action. This is where people network. It doesn’t even feel awkward – it just feels like a big party. You can hang out in the hotel with everybody even if you don’t have a room there, but you’ll still need to waste a crucial 30 minutes in an Uber going back and forth every day.

Do you think I’m crazy? OK – try to book a hotel for PAX South 2018 right now and see if you have any luck. I bet they’re already full.

 

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2. Prevent Disease At All Costs

When I usually pack for a trip, there are a lot of things on my “short-list” of items to bring. But I think it’s time for some new items to make the coveted must bring list. Those items are:

  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Throat Lozenges / Cough Drops
  • DayQuil (or other day-time cold remedy)
  • NyQuil (or other night-time cold remedy)

I usually end up buying this stuff anyway. Jack and I had to make do with whatever cough drops they had at the hotel convenience store during MAGFest… but in the future, cold remedies should just be part of show preparation. You will always get sick with some kind of “Con Crud” at these things – the human body can only handle being around strange other humans from other parts of the globe for so long. But you can stave off the effects of the cold long enough to survive the convention. Then you can die at home, which is much more convenient!

Also, for you hardcore survivalists, consider wearing gloves and a SARS mask. This can be part of your cosplay to make it seem less weird. When I see someone with a surgical mask at a convention, it’s always a little off-putting, but I have respect for their dedication.

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3. Drive If You Can

Driving is 100 times easier than flying, especially when you have a lot of booth equipment to bring to a convention. Packing your stuff in the trunk of your car and leaving whenever you want is more time consuming than hopping in a plane, but way cheaper. The biggest unexpected cost of these shows is shipping things back in forth.

Fortunately, at PAX South this past weekend, I sold out of my stock of Mr. Game!, so I didn’t have to ship games back. Between you and me, I only brought 4 cases just for this specific reason! I brought 11 to the Chicago Toy and Gaming Fair and had to bring tons of it back.

If your booth setup is super simple, you might get the best of both worlds – flying to a convention with your stuff in a checked bag. For the most part though, I recommend you drive. Figure out parking ahead of time. You’ll be happy you have a car in a strange place, especially if you grew up in an urban area and you aren’t used to everything closing early or having to drive far for basic needs.

Driving lets you set your schedule and gives you important freedom abroad. You may think it takes longer, but let me ask you this – what takes more time? A 4-hour car trip, or a 2-hour flight? When you consider the time you need to be at an airport and the time it takes to leave and get to your hotel, flying sometimes take longer. Save it for really long journeys, and maybe plan to do only local conventions before you have more money to burn.

 

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4. Don’t Let Anyone Kill You

Self-explanatory.

I hope this advice was helpful! Like I said before, this isn’t stuff I do – it’s stuff I wish I did. It takes a full year of jet-setting before some of these lessons sink in. To date, the only thing on this list I’ve done consistently is #4. But the year is young… perhaps my assassin is just around the corner?

 

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Follow this advice and you won’t die at conventions. I might have missed something, though – so if you’re looking for more sage wisdom, message Game Revenant on Facebook or Twitter. I also have a Twitch game development stream and an email for you email types (contact@GameRevenant.com).

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant, the creator of Mr. Game!, and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.

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Make Mr. Game! Great Again

Hey everyone — Frank DiCola here, creator and current publisher of Mr. Game! I’m about to get on a plane to head to San Antonio, TX for PAX South and I wanted to jot down a few ideas that were buzzing around in my head.

If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering two things:

  • How many Donald Trump references will there be in this blog post?
  • What is the plan for Mr. Game! in 2017?

The answer to the first one is easy: 1. One reference, and that’s all. I promise!

The answer to the second one is a bit more complicated, and serves as the subject for this blog post.

 

 

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Mr. Game! is Already Great, Right?

There are two ways to look at Mr. Game! – optimistically and pessimistically. On the bright side, a completely unknown group of college kids came together in 2013 and created a board game. Through the magic of Kickstarter, we raised over $17,000 in 2015 and manufactured copies of Mr. Game! that could be shared with the world.

That’s pretty awesome… but it isn’t unique. Part of growing up is realizing that although you’re a unique snowflake, it’s also the dead of winter in the middle of a blizzard. You are constantly surrounded by other unique snowflakes, and from far away they all look pretty much the same. There are a ton of board games funded through Kickstarter, and they are just a subset of the approximately 800 tabletop games and expansions that are released every month.

The pessimistic view of Mr. Game! is that our Kickstarter didn’t cover all the expenses related to publishing a game. Because of this, a lot of my own personal money has gone into promoting the game… so much that even if all of the games sold, I wouldn’t make my money back. (Forget about even making a profit!) Running low on money means that I can only go to certain conventions, and I can’t do as many Internet ads. It’s a downward spiral.

Mr. Game! may have started out great, but its less-than-stellar sales record doesn’t make it an appealing target for publishers. Combined with the fact that there is still inventory from the initial Kickstarter run to sell off, the game is in serious need of a great-again strategy.

 

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When EVERYBODY bumps into each other and falls over, it’s less embarrassing.

Two Possible Expansion Packs

 

If you’ve spoken to me in the past few months, or if you’ve been paying attention on social media, you are probably aware that I am designing an expansion pack to Mr. Game!

Two, actually. Since the summer of 2016, I’ve been spinning my wheels about adding a bundle of cards to the game. Tentatively titled “Mr. Trolling!” and “Mr. Strategy!”, these expansions would simply be tiny foil packages of 25 – 40 cards each, designed to be shuffled into the main deck of the base game.

Is your game too chaotic, and players feel like they can’t make any decisions? Add in “Mr. Strategy!”, which has plenty of Badges that you can use to plan your great escape.

Is your game too dull? Figured out all the best interpretations for every rule? Add in “Mr. Trolling!”, which has ridiculous cards and effects that will leave even the best Mr. Games at a loss for words.

That’s the plan, anyway. Two expansions at once is probably a stupid idea, but I just had too many good ideas for cards. If you’ve got a good idea for a card, you should stop reading and submit it to the website, already! If I’m going to consider it for an expansion, I’ll add a prototype version to the official Facebook album.

 

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Just make sure you don’t lie about the size of your crowd…

Bringing A Crowd To Kickstarter

Before I do any kind of expansion to Mr. Game!, it’s important to first check off a few boxes. I have no interest in running a Kickstarter campaign that just barely scrapes by at the end. That won’t make a profit, and it won’t help the future of the game. It will just create another hole that I need to spend a year digging myself out of.

There’s a good expression when it comes to crowdfunding: You bring your own crowd to Kickstarter. That means that the 30 days of a campaign are not meant to grow your audience, but rather you should mobilize an existing group towards a specific end. Since that’s the case, I intend to hit the following social goals before I even consider launching a second Kickstarter for Mr. Game! See the image below:

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The status of the Pre-Kickstarter Social Media Goal project as of January 26th, 2017

Pre-Kickstarter Social Media Goals

  1. 1000 ‘Likes’ on the official Facebook Page
  2. 200 individual ratings on Board Game Geek, overall average rating of 7.5
  3. 100 Subscribers to the Game Revenant YouTube channel
  4. 50 Reviews on Steam, overall average Positive rating

Now you might be saying to yourself at this moment “Frank, don’t bother measuring numbers like this on social media – they mean nothing!” I agree, and that’s why the numbers are intentionally pretty high. Achieving these goals would represent a huge departure from the audience Mr. Game! has currently, even if some people end up being ‘duds’ who do not engage on social media. A larger audience means a bigger network of friends and family who will support the game, back the Kickstarter, and ensure the expansion “sells through” at a fast pace.

This is the way to make Mr. Game! great again, but I can’t do it alone! In fact, I can’t do it at all. In order to make these expansions happen, I need people in the community to take a few minutes out of their day and do me a serious favor.

The Facebook Page is the main social media hub of Mr. Game!, so if you haven’t invited your friends and family to Like it yet, do it! Play the game with them first. Show them this blog post. Then ask them to Like it and follow along. (You should Like it too!) Small businesses can’t succeed in a vacuum – it’s essential to have a dedicated fan base!

Board Game Geek is a very strange website, but immensely popular. Navigating it is a pain, but if you review the game on that site you’ll strike a serious blow against the Board Game Establishment. (Well, not really… but if you like to think of it that way then I won’t stop you.) Please make a BGG account, give the game a positive review, and tell people about your experience with the game.

The YouTube Channel is a bit of a new venture and could use a boost. It’s going to be the main hub for every game I create from now on. Gotta start somewhere!

Steam is currently hosting Tabletop Simulator and the Mr. Game! Downloadable Content bundle, but sales could be better. Solid reviews from people who own the game would really help out! Tell people about your experiences with both the digital and physical versions, perhaps highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each.

 

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If this overlapping mob of early 2000’s phones can do it, so can you.

 

Contact Me Directly

I think that’s enough navel-gazing for one blog post. But there is one more thing – if you have an idea for how I should promote Mr. Game! and my business, reach out! Message me on Facebook. Tweet me @Yoshgunn, the official Mr. Game! account @WhoIsMrGame, and my studio @GameRevenant. Email me using contact@GameRevenant.com if you feel it’s something best discussed in private.

I’m very new at this and I’m taking any and all suggestions into consideration. So, if you’ve ever thought to yourself…

  • Why wasn’t Mr. Game! at [insert show name here]?
  • There should be a video about [topic] on the YouTube channel…
  • Frank should post about [topic] instead of [other topic]!
  • Mr. Game! should be available at [insert store name here], why isn’t it?

That means you should contact me directly and tell me that! I won’t criticize your ideas or call you stupid. In fact, my reaction will probably be “oh man, why didn’t I think of that a year ago!?” and I will be forever grateful for the advice. As my friend Jack Kelly wrote about earlier this week in his blog about adversity, constructive criticism is the key to success.

So get out there, tell the world about Mr. Game!, and let’s get ready to (maybe) do a Kickstarter for this thing at some undisclosed point in the future! Wooo!

 

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I’m going to need your help if we’re going to make a successful Mr. Game! Expansion Pack Kickstarter happen. Let me know if you have any questions or feedback! The game’s official website is WhoIsMrGame.com, where you can purchase a copy for yourself.

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the creator of Mr. Game!

Chicago Toy and Game Fair 2016

I’ve just returned from a whirlwind trip to Chicago for the Chicago Toy and Game Fair. Below, I’ve posted my thoughts about the Fair, as well as a bit of a cost-benefit analysis.

Never Been To ChiTAG? I’ll Explain…

When I told some colleagues of mine that I was going to the Chicago Toy and Game Fair (ChiTAG), they told me they had never attended this show and asked me to let them know what it was like. I suppose they are considering attending in the future. Here’s my recap!

ChiTAG begins with a conference during the week that I did not attend (the cost was quite high). The conference was designed as a way to network with big-wig industry professionals. I regret not doing this conference. In fact, if I could turn back time, I would have paid for the conference and not the booth. I found it hard to make industry connections on the show floor as many of these people were busy dealing with the general public. Anyway, I can’t comment on the Inventor Conference except to say that I shall go to my grave always wondering what might have been. (Just kidding. That’s a bit extreme.)

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My final setup at the show. This is a 10 x 10 with a round table, four chairs, a long table, and two banners that I shipped in to Chicago.

The setup day was Friday, November 18th. There was ample time to set up, from noon until 6 pm. We were allowed to stay past 6 pm but the doors were locked, so if you weren’t in the convention hall you got locked out. That night there were two events that I also didn’t attend because of the cost – PlayCHIC (a fashion show…<_<) and the TAGIEs, an award show. The TAGIEs cost $250 per plate! I decided to opt out due to the exorbitant cost and my general exhaustion.

This recap is off to a pretty bad start. I missed a ton of stuff! No wonder it sometimes felt like I didn’t get my money’s worth! I suppose I should have… spent more money?

Last thing about setup – the convention services people seemed professional, but swamped. They were in a bit over their head, and partially screwed up my order. I put in an order for two tables, four chairs, a carpet, 1 tablecloth, and a table skirt. I got most of that, except for the tablecloth. Also the table skirt was the wrong color. Not the end of the world – I brought my own tablecloths, because the Boy Scouts trained me well. But it was a bit annoying. Their offerings were quite expensive! I expected better service. They were nice people, though.

Before the show opened on Saturday morning, there was a breakfast with bloggers and influencers from 8 am to 9 am. I didn’t go to that either – that was reserved for event sponsors. Another paywall! I didn’t quite realize how many things I was prevented from doing at this conference until I started writing them all down. I can’t tell you much about this breakfast, because I didn’t see it. One blogger told me that it was mostly “people pitching their games to us” while they ate. Is that what “continental” means…?

On Saturday morning, the show opened to the public. On Saturday, the show went from 9 am to 6 pm, and on Sunday it went from 9 am to 5 pm.

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The Reception of Mr. Game!

I had 66 games shipped in, which is 11 cases. This number is quite high, but the warehouse team charges for a minimum of 200 lbs of product no matter how much you ship in. So, I thought it made sense to bring just enough in (198 lbs) so the value matched what I paid for it. In retrospect, this was an error in judgment. I also don’t like this system of charging for minimums, and will not do any shows in the future that have this policy.

Regarding sales, I was able to sell 10 games directly to customers, and 20 to a retailer named C&C Games. C&C Games appears to be a reseller that specializes in Rio Grande products. It was cool seeing my game on a shelf with modern classics like Power Grid and Dominion.

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Yes, that’s Mr. Game! on the C&C shelf next to all those Rio Grande games. No, I didn’t sneak it up there!

I gave 6 games (1 case) away to various influencers who approached the booth. Some were educators, and others were bloggers. I hope to reach more online now that the show is over – there were a few who expressed interest but never returned to the booth.

As planned, some of the excess product was donated to local charities to avoid the cost of shipping them back to my apartment. 11 games in all were donated to two different Chicago charities. The other 18 games were shipped back to me. So, the chart looks something like this:

  • 10 customer sales
  • 20 wholesale sales
  • 6 giveaways
  • 11 donations
  • 18 shipped back to me

I expected to sell more on the show floor to customers. It helps to have a third day, usually Friday, to absorb more of the show’s traffic. But we only had Saturday and Sunday to work with. ChiTAG felt like it was ending the moment the show opened on Saturday morning. That’s kind of a sickening feeling – after spending thousands of dollars on a booth, shipping, transportation and hospitality, I felt like I had barely enough time with the customers attending the Fair.

Traffic wasn’t dead, but it was definitely slow at times. It’s also worth mentioning that the buying habits of the attendees seemed rather frugal – I heard a lot of parents discussing the “one game” rule. That’s probably excellent parenting, but hearing that during the show got pretty annoying. I wanted them to buy all the games! Including Mr. Game!, of course…

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I was shocked (and overjoyed!) to see children as young as 8 years old grasping the game and enjoying it. This little girl was Ms. Game and she had no trouble bossing us around!

My sales technique was essentially to run demos at the booth and hope people would return to buy the game. Very rarely (never?) did someone buy it right after playing. Typically, they resolved to come back once they saw everything at the show. I lost a lot of people this way. I’m not sure what I could do to change this customer behavior.

I left the booth a few times to try to show the game to the larger players at the conference (Target, Pressman, North Star, Goliath) but they were too busy with customers to have time for me. I don’t blame them in the slightest – there are other shows (NY Toy Fair, GAMA) that are probably better for doing this kind of behind the scenes business.

Am I Returning Next Year?

At this point, I’m really not sure. It’s always fun to imagine what my schedule would be like if I was making millions of dollars and money was no object. Going to these events is always fun, and you’re guaranteed to meet new people.

But a trip with a $4,000 price tag is hard to justify. I’ll try anything once, but from that point onward I need to see some kind of obvious return if I’m going to become a repeat customer. This number is no exaggeration, by the way. See my costs below:

  • 10 x 10 booth – $1,800
  • Plane tickets – $325
  • Hotel, 2 nights – $360
  • Booth furnishings and game shipments – $915
  • Banner shipping and handout printing – $100
  • Various transportation costs – $135
  • Various food costs – $200
  • Return shipment of games – $125

I was surprised to hear that this show has been around for over a decade. It seemed a bit too small for a show with that kind of tenure. For a long running show in one of the largest cities in America, you’d expect a bit more traffic by your booth. Sadly, that was not the case. I expect that many people cancelled due to the weather, or the difficulty in getting to the show floor itself. (We were on the tail end of the Navy Pier, which itself is on the shore of Lake Michigan and might be a bit out of the way) Before the show, I heard anywhere from 7,000 to 30,000 people were going to attend. Now I see that the lower estimate was a better guess.

At this time, I’m not planning next year’s trip back to the Chicago Toy and Game Fair. There were too may paywalls and not enough people to justify the considerable time and effort I spent on this show. We’ll see if the residual business connections I made at the show pay off. Maybe in the next week or two, people who neglected to buy in person will buy the game online. One can only hope.

My plan for the future is to focus on shows that do one thing well. GAMA is a trade show – you go there to get business deals done. PAX is a customer show – you go there to sell product to customers eager to buy impulsively. Blending the two efforts together may seem like a good idea, but there simply isn’t enough time to do either one effectively and you end up in no man’s land.

For now, this was my first and last ChiTAG. Let’s hope the New York Toy Fair is 100 times better!

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I’d like to hear from you. What did you think of ChiTAG? Where you there? Did I see you? Did you watch me as I slept? O_O!! Leave your feedback in the comments below, and be sure to check out the official Mr. Game! website, where you can purchase the game.

Frank DiCola is the founder and CEO of Game Revenant, a game studio in Hoboken, NJ.

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Like a building under construction, ChiTAG is worth exploring – but not yet stable.