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Author Topic: GenCon Convention Demos - Advice?  (Read 4498 times)
Malcolm Craig
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« on: July 14, 2005, 07:45:43 AM »

I've been working on my booth demo game for GenCon, but taking following on from Rons answer to some queries I had about the con in another thread, I've become concerned that it may be too lengthy (currently sitting at 30 mins) and perhaps not quite hitting the mark (although I am confident that it captures the key elements which are vital to the game.)

My main problem comes from the fact that I am very much used to running convention games at UK cons in 3 - 4 hour slots, the short demo being less prevalent at the cons I normally go to. So, I am slightly unused to compressing and distilling the core concepts of the game down into a sub-30 minute time frame.

Just in gerenal terms, do any of you guys who have more experience than myself with such things have any word of general advice on the best way to approach this? Any suggestions, just in general and not pertaining to my onw game in particular, would be very much appreciated. I'm particularly keen to hear how others initially approached this  and the methods that they felt gave the best end result for the players (in terms of understanding the core concepts and themes of the games in question).

Thanks
Malcolm
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Malcolm Craig
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Michael S. Miller
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« Reply #1 on: July 14, 2005, 08:12:16 AM »

Hi, Malcolm.

Glad you'll be on-board this year. Folks asked the same question last year, so review [GenCon 2004] Demo advice

My impression is that a|state has the setting as its main selling point. So make sure your demo is entirely centered around letting 2 to 4 players do something incredibly cool with the setting. The kind of thing you'd save for the climax of a classic-style RPG campaign. See my comments on my old FVLMINATA demo in the thread I referenced above.

Luke's Burning Wheel demoes, and my demo for With Great Power.. focus a lot more on mechanics in high-energy contexts because that's what our games do really well. If they're only going to have one concrete impression of your game from your 20 minute demo, what do you want it to be? Start there and focus, focus, focus. As they're getting up from the table, you can always add "and that's jst one piece of it!"
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Emily Care
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« Reply #2 on: July 14, 2005, 08:33:39 AM »

Hi Malcolm,

Cross-posted with Michael S. Miller. What he said! Follow the link, it has what you need.

To do what Michael recommends, you would play out one just one specific conflict with prepared characters etc. Don't do a long set-up or character development leading up to a conflict, but just have a scenario where the characters are framed right into some kind of jeopardy (be it combat, social entanglement, a chase, what have you) of some variety that shows off your setting to a tee.  It seems like you have elaborate maps, maybe you could establish location as essential to the conflict and have the players have to navigate the characters out of a tight spot-escaping from having just purloined some color-laden mcguffin.  (This is a guess, I don't know what would be appropriate for your game)  It could be combat with some extremely evocative opponents that give the players a teaser into the larger conflicts in the world.

Alternatively, if a big draw of your game is for the players to create setting or the process of character creation is particularly compelling, you could have an alternate demo in which they do so.  I believe a very effective demo for My Life with Master that Paul did was for the players to make up the Master.  

Allowing the players to get a short burst of what it's like to play your game, without actually making them go through the long settling in process that occurs when you begin a campaign (saying to yourself as a player: what's my character like, and what should she be doing? what's out there in this universe and how do I interact with it?)  Instead they know just what to do and do it, the demo cuts down to just the most engaging parts of play.  

And my favorite piece of advice is from Ron (deeply paraphrased): leave them wanting more.  

Hope this is of some help.

-Emily Care
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Malcolm Craig
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« Reply #3 on: July 14, 2005, 09:20:19 AM »

Thanks very much for the advice and the link to the previous thread, my search-fu was obviously quite weak this time!

I'm glad to see that I was broadly heading in the right direction, but your advice really has helped crystalise a lot of stuff in my mind. The setting details are very important in a|state and that's what I'd like to be the main focus of any demo.

I also feel very conscious of the high standard set by The Forge in terms of games and the demoing thereof and I'm keen to meet the standards set by others and not provide an inferior experience for anyone who asks for a demo.

At the moment, my basic demo plan is limited to a page of stuff which I feel encapsulates the essence of what I'd like to achieve. Tonight, I think I'll really push on with things and hopefully engage in some playtesting over the weekend.

Thanks again for the advice and I look forward to any further comments.

Cheers
Malcolm
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Malcolm Craig
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Andy Kitkowski
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« Reply #4 on: July 15, 2005, 01:14:13 PM »

Yeah, as mentioned on the other thread, 15 minute demos are boss.  If you have to tweak your game to make it work, do so.  Here's some things I picked up from other people from their 15 minute demos last year:

1) Paul Czege's MLWM: Normally everyone makes their own character and gets their own scenes.  In the demo, he had a character pre-made, and each player in the demo (3) got to run it through a scene.  Genius.

1.1) Matt Wilson running PTA: The players come up with a story, they picked the episode of the season to run, then each player gets one scene.  The end.  15 minutes. Don't be afraid to end the adventure "in the middle of things".  Just like in showbiz, that keeps them wanting more.

2) In media res: At least three successful demos I saw went like this: "OK, here's the story; You're the swarthy buccaneer; You're the bitchy princess; You're the aloof noble.  You are in a meeting with the leader of the Evil clan.  You want to out-negotiate him for the land of this third party of clerics: GO!" Or something to that effect, with very little background given, rough character sketches, and a definite "scene" in which to engage in.

3) As Luke found out in his Burning Wheel Demo that Went Bad, writing character background on the character sheet can go south, especially for a quick demo.  Keep it VERY simple. One sentence on Who They Are, and one sentence on What They Want.  Then hand them out to the players.

Just some pointers.
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Andy Kitkowski
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« Reply #5 on: July 15, 2005, 01:20:05 PM »

By the way, last year on two occasions a demo game was running for up to or over an hour (in one case two hours, IIRC) during a time when there was a lot of foot traffic through the booth.  As a result, other demoers and players were unable to use that table to demo 2-3 15 minute games.  

Last year, no one wanted to make a scene, so everyone was kinda quiet, but irritated, when it happened.  This year, I'm just going to ask the GM to wrap it up if it takes more than, say, 30 minutes during a time of heavy traffic.

We can't afford long demos at our little booth tables.  If there is a group of people who REALLY want to play your game longer, and you REALLY think you can get a sale from a one-hour demo, then take those people over to one of the Open Gaming Tables by the snack booth and run the demo there, out of the way.

The best thing you can do for a sale, though, is wrap it up in 20 minutes even if the demo adventure "isn't over" ("But... but... they still need to defeat the Boss Enemy!").  Just ask the players if they think they have a good idea of how the game runs, ask them if they have any questions, and wrap it up there. Finishing up killing a boss or wrapping up a conflict won't be the "turning point' for the players in deciding if they want the game or not.

-Andy
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #6 on: July 15, 2005, 03:17:13 PM »

Quote

2) In media res: At least three successful demos I saw went like this: "OK, here's the story; You're the swarthy buccaneer; You're the bitchy princess; You're the aloof noble. You are in a meeting with the leader of the Evil clan. You want to out-negotiate him for the land of this third party of clerics: GO!" Or something to that effect, with very little background given, rough character sketches, and a definite "scene" in which to engage in.


Amen.  You should never, ever, in a demo say to a player "so, uh, what do you want to do now."  Showcase your game by shoving it down their throat.

yrs--
--Ben
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Malcolm Craig
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« Reply #7 on: July 15, 2005, 03:39:39 PM »

Thanks for the further advice guys. The longest I was planning the a demo taking was 30mins, but taking the advice given here and by Ron in another thread, some judicious pruning, and a totally different in-game situation has given rise to a 20 minute demo, which I hope sits well with what is going on at the booth and doesn't compromise other peoples demos.

As per the advice, it very much starts in media res, a high pressure situation where decisions must be made now. Characters are all iconic types from the game and I feel the demo now blends all the themes and elements that I feel are vital to protray the game in a good light.

Again, thanks to everyone for their useful feedback, it really has been great to get tips from people who know their onions in these kind of situations!

Cheers
Malcolm
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Malcolm Craig
Contested Ground Studios
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Allan
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« Reply #8 on: July 16, 2005, 01:50:03 AM »

I hope this is the right place to post this.  I've just finished a lite demo version of Sweet Dreams, Love and Dodgeball.  It's basically the combat system with the Powers removed.  I hope it will make a good 15 minute demo.  I'd appreciate any comments on it.

The sample character sheets (not attatched yet) have a lot of abilities that will be useless in this scene.  Hopefully that makes players curious about those abilities, and about the other types of scenes possible in the game.

I intended for others to be able to run Love and Dodgeball on it's own, without knowing any of the other Sweet Dreams rules (although knowing a little more setting might be helpful).  I myself can run Love and Dodgeball using the complete rules, allowing the players to try any of the abilities on their character sheets.

I realize that this document would be a lot more useful with sample characters attached.  I was planning on using the 11 archtypal sample characters from the Players' Book (many of whom will suck at Dodgeball).  Would it be better to have fewer choices, and only characters who will be good at Dodgeball?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: July 19, 2005, 05:02:38 AM »

Hi Allan and Malcolm,

Consider that the goal of your demo is not to explain or teach the game - it is to sell it. To put it very bluntly ...

1. You cannot sell sex if the customer has an orgasm during the sales pitch.

2. You cannot sell sex by explaining why it feels good.

Now, most really long demos try to do #1 and #2, badly. They degenerate into the GM/author really playing the game (or more likely, fudging his way through it), and the players simply going into funny-hat hang-out mode, at best. Therefore when the session is over, the players have enjoyed themselves doing something, but not really playing the game, and they don't really know much about the game itself. No incentive to buy, whatsoever.

So the snap-demo has to be fun and it must demonstrate something the game does very well, but it should not be a complete representation either of content or of system. Nor do you need to teach the system in any kind of dot-the-i's way. But yet, you do have to get the players to do stuff in system terms, in ways that interest them (i.e. relevant to the unique Color of the game, for instance).

The bad news is that most gamers are unskilled in developing and running such demos. The good news is that this approach, in practice, is very fast.

We'll help you get there. One of the major features of the booth this year is demo development.

Best,
Ron
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TonyLB
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« Reply #10 on: July 19, 2005, 05:39:50 AM »

Great advice all around.  I'll add in one thing that I saw very vividly at Dex.... Demoes are like building up the layers of an onion.  If you have a twenty minute demo, and that's what you think about, then you'll only get people who walk up willing to give you twenty minutes.  You're making your first layer too big a hurdle to sell to many people.

Hence the importance of the pitch:  If you have a thirty second pitch that will convince people to give you twenty minutes of their time then you get people who walk up only willing to give you a courteous thirty seconds.  Your small pitch (or small sub-demo) buys you the time and attention to present your larger material.

Personally I use a breakdown like this:  three second tag-line ("It's superheroes, superheroes sell themselves") buys me twenty seconds because they want to know how it's superheroes.  Twenty second pitch (superheroes with heart) buys me sixty seconds because people have an idea of what type of superhero has heart.  Sixty second sub-demo (creating a character) buys me four more minutes because people want to use their character.  Four minute sub-demo (the conflict system basics) buys me ten more minutes because people want to spend the resources they accumulated during the conflict.  Ten minute extended demo (the flow of debt, inspiration and story tokens) finishes off the coolness-core of the system.  At that point, people either buy or they don't. 

That whole process clocks in at a hair above fifteen minutes (give or take), but I don't rely on the person walking up to me ready to give me fifteen minutes of their life.  I'll rope in any poor sap who's polite enough to pay attention for three seconds, and unless they can pull themselves away at one of the cut-overs between sections, I'll outright steal the next fifteen minutes of their lives.
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Malcolm Craig
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« Reply #11 on: July 19, 2005, 05:49:47 AM »

Excellent, thanks for the further advice, this is all proving really helpful.

I now have my demo written to my satisfaction, sent it out to a few people to get their comments and will be playtesting it at a local games club on Saturday. The good thing about this particular club is that the age range is very broad and very few of them know anything about the game. Obviously, this is simply a test to see if the demo can fit into the required timescale, rather than a test of the pre-demo pitching of the product.

Once I've given it a few playtests, I'll post it up somewhere and if anyone would like to give feedback, it would be much appreciated.

Cheers
Malcolm
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Malcolm Craig
Contested Ground Studios
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Allan
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« Reply #12 on: July 19, 2005, 01:28:49 PM »

Thanks, makes a lot of sense.  I've been working on a shorter demo, focusing on social interaction and daydreaming, rather than combat.  I'll apply that onion model (starting with high school), and post something for comments. 
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The Big Night - children's game with puppets

In Progress:  Fingerprints
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