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Author Topic: [GenCon 2006] "untitled"  (Read 14400 times)
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #15 on: August 20, 2006, 03:49:34 PM »

Hi,

I went and talked with my Shih Tzu, Lola, all about this, and she helped me work it out in my head. I should respond to some of the points made so far.

Fred, you are right. I was wrong to frame the post as an ultimatum. That reflected my own frustration and should not have been visited upon you guys. The booth is not on probation and it was just dumb to talk to like that.

Ralph, you and I have agreed so much over the years about the concrete two-way elements of the mutualism at the booth, that I should have been more careful to acknowledge that. I hope my point about the first arrow can get us past the corner I painted us into, because I didn't make that clear. You just sent me a really sensible post by PM which (now that I've settled down) could well go into this thread.

Lola also says I should give it all a rest and get back to it in some other venue, or at a later date, just like James suggested. This thread is not closed and various and sundry viewpoints are welcome. My own gorgon-like presence will probably benefit it best by tacitly absorbing rather than vocallydefending.

Best, Ron (and Lola)
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joepub
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Joe Thomas McDonald


« Reply #16 on: August 20, 2006, 03:55:55 PM »

I just looked at the booth menu.
There were 36 games I'd never heard of.

I propose that next year we have a cheat sheet - it contains designer name, game descrip, price, a "2 line pitch"...
That way, booth people can more easily digest that huge game info dump.
And that way, I'll be able to learn what untitled is.

I also want to point out that I didn't see Keith once, until sunday during cleanup.
He never introduced himself to me, I never saw him. To my knowledge, he wasn't there on wednesday for the demo-fest.

If I'd known it existed, I woulda pitched it. now that I know about it, it looks amazing!
so, yeah:
a.) cheat sheets with essential info (instead of just name and price) would help.
b.) designer presence also helps.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #17 on: August 20, 2006, 04:14:19 PM »

I propose that ...

Are people generally cool with our being at an "I propose" place?  'cuz I think there are some powerful social tools we can bring to bear on this issue, and I am aching to get our brains working on self-improvement and booth-improvement (in large part as an attempt at expiation).  But, as I've said, I don't want to stomp all over anyone who still worries that the emotional import of our failing has not been absorbed.
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lumpley
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« Reply #18 on: August 20, 2006, 04:24:41 PM »

I'm with Ron. About Untitled in particular but also, strongly, about the design agenda it represents. The books this year were beautiful, but it'd be really stupid if we lost our punkiness. We need to keep designing books all over the spectrum. Pretty books, ugly books, every kind of book. We fell down on Keith but we also fell down on our roots and our soul. The danger I see is that all our books are going to come to look the same.

We need to cultivate all our extremes of book design, not only the lush hardcover extreme. Or else, y'know, fuck it.

(I guess this means that I'm still emotioning, not proposing.)

-Vincent
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Valamir
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« Reply #19 on: August 20, 2006, 04:41:13 PM »

Ok, I see what’s happened here.  Ron opened this thread with a post that was bit on the ranty side, and since he doesn’t do that very often I didn’t catch it and give him the usual slack necessary to get productive conversation going.  So while I spent a lot of energy disagreeing with what Ron SAID it wasn’t really what he meant to say. 

What we really want to be talking about here is the difficulties in presenting a game at the booth that superficially has very low production values, but in reality has very high production values because its rough gritty appearance is totally meant to be a part of the overall game experience.  How can we feature a product like that effectively?  How do we make people recognize that its not a 5 minute slapped together hash job, but actually a beautiful work of art?

That’s a topic worth discussing.  It got side-tracked by Ron and me arguing over which “arrow” had priority.  So lets set aside any issue of blame or who “fucked up” or who “got screwed” or other such tangents

So, lets pretend that its 2007.  Someone has a product like “Untitled” which is very much in the vein of “artifact as art” in a way that isn’t immediately obvious (the way Burning Empires as art is obvious).  This person is in the booth actively participating, demoing, pitching (their own game and others), and doing all of the things a booth member should do and so is entitled to some booth love.  How do we give booth love to a member that deserves it for a product like this one?


Actually, my answer to that is very similar to the way we give booth love to any game.  Ultimately you have to have 3 things to be really successful at the Forge Booth:
 
1) Precon buzz.  You can get away without this, but its a huge step up if you have it.
2) People at the booth who know and are passionate about your game
3) People at the booth who can effectively demo your game.

How do we do these things better…for everyone.

We made some motions in the right direction this year, but it never really gelled (more on that later).  But here’s what I think needs to happen to make 2007 as much more successful than 2006 as 2006 was over 2005.

1)   Making a written "elevator pitch" mandatory.  It must be submitted along with your cash in order to secure a spot in the booth.  Failure to submit means...you don't get to come.  For those not familiar with an “elevator pitch” (or “cocktail party speech”) it’s a standard sales tool.  You have a 10 second elevator ride with someone…how do you explain what you do in that time in a manner compelling enough to make them interested in finding out more.  We tried doing this this year…but…

2)   We need to start the GenCon prep threads earlier and start by posting these pitches, getting feed back and giving all of the booth participants a chance to see what's there and what's cool about it in a more organized fashion.


3)   I think every game should have 2-3 designated Pitchers (other than the designer) and 1-2 designated demoers.  We made a half hearted attempt to get a list of who could pitch and demo things this year, but it was too last minute to come together.  We need to have booth sign up and the pitches in and the discussions started enough in advance that we can really hammer on this in an organized way.  Every booth participant should have Mandatory 2-3 other games that they can demo besides their own.  They should own the game, they should receive the demo material in advance from the designer, and they should commit to learning the demo...or they should not be in the booth.  I’ll repeat that.  Come to the booth ALREADY EQUIPPED to demo 2-3 games that aren’t your own…or don’t come to the booth.  And IMO this should be enforceable by the expedient of not getting your books on the shelf on Thursday if you aren’t. 

4)   This then feeds into generating pre-con buzz.  Compiling the elevator pitches for all of the Gen Con games and then posting them around the internet: in an RPG net thread, links from various websites, talking them up in our blogs, getting them out to news sites and the like so that the customers who come to the Forge looking for games already know what's there and have already seen a little about the books.  There are a few well known podcasters who are very much friendly to what we do here.  Perhaps they’d be willing to dedicate a pre-con episode to strictly running through the pitches of what to look for at the Forge this year.  Building buzz for new games before the con is essential.  How much of the failure of Untitled was a lack of in booth promotion and how much was a lack of pre-gencon promotion?

To a large extent that addresses the issues of games like Untitled.  If there are people in the booth familiar with the game, excited about it, passionate about it, and able to pitch and demo it, then the game will enjoy some success...whether it is a familiar "book" or an unusual "work of artistic interpretation".

As for how to specifically present such unique items in the booth I have a couple thoughts.

1)   Sitting in the rack Untitled looked like a bland folder with some squiggles on it.  I think a color flyer that looked more like a "game cover" could be placed in the rack in front of the actual games to draw people's attention and explain what they’re looking at  i.e. generate a “oohhh, the twisted note book of a sick and deranged mad man...neat...what's it like inside” kind of approach.
2)   The unique nature of the item can be played up.  A display (like the stack for Burning Empires) that touted:  "hand written and produced limited edition.  Each book is a unique one of a kind work of art." would be a good way to present.  How many ads have we seen that point out that the product is “hand crafted” and so may individually vary.  It’s a feature, and it can be featured.



But here’s the really important part.  The overarching theme to all of this is that the booth is at a point where we are starting to be a victim of our own success.  Both this year AND last I brought up concerns about the number of companies that were signing up for the booth and the number of products being sold.  Both times the primary sponsors decided that we needed to expand the number of companies to fulfill the mission of the booth.  Well, now we are seeing the down side to that decision that I'd warned about before, and now we will have to come up with a solution for it or else things are going to start getting ugly.

The best solution IMO (better than limiting booth size, or splitting the booth, or what not) is bringing a higher level of organization to the booth.  My items above are all about ways to get more organized.  We could get away with showing up catch as catch can when the booth was small and everyone already knew all the games there.  Now we can't.  We need to either shrink back to a size where we can (bad), limp along with inconsistent effort and presentation (bad), or sacrifice some our indie-punk attitude and start to get more organized.  Clinton’s demo fest is an example of this organization.  But in my view we can’t succeed as a booth (that continues to get larger) if this sort of thing is voluntarily run and voluntarily attended.  The kind of organization I’m talking about only works if it has teeth to it.  Teeth of the “this is what is expected from you and if you don’t do it you don’t get to participate” kind of way.  I know that’s going to run afoul of our indie sensibilities but we’ve reached a size where we need to add some structure if its going to continue to succeed.  And structure does mean introducing a certain degree of authority and hierarchy.

Its hard to run a tight organized ship unless you have a leader willing to invest the time and effort to ride herd on the whole process.  Its unfair to keep expecting Ron / Luke or any combination of primary sponsors to invest that time and effort because, since the Forge isn't its own corporation, such a role is basically voluntary.  It worked when the booth was small and Ron was willing to be altruistic.  But its not a model that can handle where we're going.

IPR may be a big part of the solution for that (entirely depending on how Brennan et.al. see IPR’s goals merging with that of the Forge), especially as more and more “Forge” games are represented by IPR. Maybe, eventually, there is no more "Forge Booth" except as a "brand" that people recognize.  Maybe eventually there is only the IPR booth at which indie designers (Forge derived or not) participate in according to a strict set of rules laid down by people with the financial interest to run a tight ship.

My point is that we’re at a crossroads.  Down one road is “The Forge” as an indie-punk pseudo entity with a hard core DIY vibe and rock star sensibilities.  If we choose this road we have to expect that Ron, Luke, et.al. are not going to be willing to shepherd the process as its been done forever.  That others are going to need to step up and take on the responsibilities (and expenses) and that the size of the booth and participation has pretty much capped out.

Down the other road is a new direction.  A little more corporate, a little more organized, a little more formally structured, a little more focused on the bottom line.  There are some cons to this road, but also some very big pros.

Possibly there winds up being a split and different people wind up making different choices.  But regardless, this is a REAL issue and not one that can be made next June.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #20 on: August 20, 2006, 06:48:06 PM »

I think we've found a true middle way here, and I'm glad. Like Ron, I think we let "untitled" down. It pushed a limit - graphic design - that we don't normally push that hard, and it was worth our effort. Of course Keith should have pushed it harder.

And of course we all should have said, "Keith, what is that? Demo that now for me." Not all of us have the same strengths and that's part of mutualism. I can't sell my games well at GenCon: I feel embarrassed and like a shill, even though that's stupid. I can sell you on, say, Hero's Banner, because it's great. I've sold many more games than I would, because others mutually help me. If we ever see a game we don't know at the Forge booth again, our duty is to stand up, find the designer, and make him help us sell his game. If he refuses, then we have another problem, but we didn't get that far this year.

(The same thing happened in other cases. I know of two specific games that were very unknown, in both cases because their authors are basically shy. At one point, I had four Forgites saying that they knew nothing about one game a customer was asking about. This is totally unacceptable.)

So, to summarize: I agree with Ron. I think Ralph has good points. We should all do better.
« Last Edit: August 21, 2006, 02:33:33 AM by Clinton R. Nixon » Logged

Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #21 on: August 20, 2006, 07:38:17 PM »

If it's not too late, I want to say something---I knew from the very start that "untitled" was very deliberately put together. I knew it wasn't a slapped together piece, but rather some sort of artifact. But I never really looked at the game, because I only really looked at games after I did a demo, and Keith didn't run very many (if any all at all) demos. (The only three games I bought this year were games I knew nothing about prior to the Con, but were impressed when I played the demo.)

For me, at least personally, the whole aesthetic value thing is a complete red herring. I didn't buy or play untitled because I knew nothing about it. So I'm not sure I'm prepared to say that the primary responsiblility rests with us. (Though I really do love Keith and, as a friend, I wish I had done more.)

But with that said, I agree with Ralph that the way we sell a game like untiltled is the same way we sell any game. I mean, look at Mechaton. It's an ugly book. But it sold well (I believe) because it had the buzz and excitement to back it up.

I also agree that greater organization is needed. I said a simliar thing in the designer feedback thread, that we should have some sort of MANDANTORY questionaire---you fill it out or your game isn't put on the shelf. (I question the viability of anything that requires a face-to-face meeting---schedules are a finicky thing.) I bet a few of the lower-sales books would have seen more love if more people were familiar with them.

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Andy Kitkowski
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« Reply #22 on: August 20, 2006, 08:26:17 PM »

I see so many awesome people primed and ready to launch a dozen possible ideas/solutions so that this kind of thing doesn't happen again. Is this then the thread for that? Or should a new thread be created for the practical suggestions of working through this issue?

-Andy
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iago
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« Reply #23 on: August 21, 2006, 03:18:57 AM »

I see so many awesome people primed and ready to launch a dozen possible ideas/solutions so that this kind of thing doesn't happen again. Is this then the thread for that? Or should a new thread be created for the practical suggestions of working through this issue?

That's a great question, and I want to see the answer for that.  I do think that design should be pushed strongly, and -- hell -- I'm all over figuring out how to promo that.  I'd even go so far as to suggest we have a booth area specifically set aside as a "Spotlight on Punk Design", where we *showcase* stuff like untitled specifically because it pushes the art form.  Make sure that a part of our message to the buying public is that we're challenging every facet of the hobby.  People who come to us for most-extreme-bleeding-edge will want to see that held up, pushed, exalted.  But should I say more on that here, or elsewhere?

Ron: Lola speaks some good sense.  Please do understand that I had no problem with the message, just the delivery ("parole" says "you are to be spoken to as children and criminals" rather than "let's work as partners to find a solution", and you know me -- I gotta speak up when I feel like I'm getting tone like that -- it's the whole defend-my-fellows thing).  I'm on board and ready to figure out how to fix the problem for next year; hell, I'm excited to figure out our basic notions of "punk marketing for wild-ass punk design", because that's simply the sort of thing that sets me on fire.
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Rob Donoghue
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« Reply #24 on: August 21, 2006, 04:28:34 AM »

Hnh.

So I'm browsing the booth and I see this weird thing.  I'm curious by nature and I have no clue it's a $40 game, so that doesn't slow me down, and I pick it up.  First thing I realize: it's got a rubber band wrapped around it.  I look at this thing, clearly it's designed as an artifact, and I try to figure out if I want to risk damaging it to get the rubber band off (and more importantly, back on).  My first thought is that if it's held together this way, it's probably got enough loose components that there's a real risk of scatter.

So I put it back on the shelf and look at something else.  Simple as that. No deep lesson, just a note that if i can't look at it easily, I'll move on to something else.

-Rob D.
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Rob Donoghue
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iago
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« Reply #25 on: August 21, 2006, 04:34:56 AM »

Hnh.

So I'm browsing the booth and I see this weird thing.  I'm curious by nature and I have no clue it's a $40 game, so that doesn't slow me down, and I pick it up.  First thing I realize: it's got a rubber band wrapped around it.  I look at this thing, clearly it's designed as an artifact, and I try to figure out if I want to risk damaging it to get the rubber band off (and more importantly, back on).  My first thought is that if it's held together this way, it's probably got enough loose components that there's a real risk of scatter.

So I put it back on the shelf and look at something else.  Simple as that. No deep lesson, just a note that if i can't look at it easily, I'll move on to something else.

That's actually a good lay-up into the point I was making about a "spotlight on interesting design" -- I think part and parcel of such a thing would be making sure that there's a hands-on copy so people can *explore* a given design, see what's up with it.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #26 on: August 21, 2006, 04:37:40 AM »

Hi,

I figure this is as good a place as any to present constructive solutions. I imagine it'll stay preliminary, relative to whatever actually happens at the booth, but a round of notions is certainly welcome.

Best, Ron
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TonyLB
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« Reply #27 on: August 21, 2006, 06:14:14 AM »

Woohoo!  The green-light to talk practical social-theory shop!  I breathe a great sigh of relief.

But in my view we can’t succeed as a booth (that continues to get larger) if this sort of thing is voluntarily run and voluntarily attended.  The kind of organization I’m talking about only works if it has teeth to it.  Teeth of the “this is what is expected from you and if you don’t do it you don’t get to participate” kind of way.  I know that’s going to run afoul of our indie sensibilities but we’ve reached a size where we need to add some structure if its going to continue to succeed.  And structure does mean introducing a certain degree of authority and hierarchy.

Okay, I'm going to disagree with this.

What I'm not saying:  "Central authority wouldn't work."  Hell yeah, it'd work.  It's a perfectly legitimate way to organize things.

I'm saying it's not the only way to organize things.  It is possible to have powerful structures that are not hierarchical.  The recent explosion of thought and action around the "Go-Play" concept, over on Story Games is an example of that.

Our Indie-Punk sensibilities are important to a great number of people.  Not so much me, but I try to respect.  So I worry when I see an argument saying, essentially, "Okay everyone ... line up on two sides of this dichotomy:  Indie-Punk or organized!"  Rather than create that unnecessary opposition, I'd like to propose that we put the extra mental energy in to look at the ways we could organize that don't require hierarchy and authority.

Here's my first fragment:  Next year, a month or so before GenCon, I'm going to look over the list of every game that's coming to market.  I'm going to make a concsious choice to grab three of them (three I've never heard of) and mentor the hell out of them, by learning how to pitch and demo them, and by talking up their salient points to my friends and relations.  I'm gonna do this because, hell, I oughta.  I don't particularly care whether anyone else does it, or even whether anyone (including the authors of the works I choose) think it's a good idea.  I'm obnoxious that way.

But if other people want to do it, I'd really rather that they didn't all do it for the same three games I'm choosing, because that would leave a lot of other games out in the cold.  So, at the same time I'm choosing three games, I'm going to make a web-site that lists all the new games coming to GenCon, and I'm going to put my name down as the mentor for three of them.  When other people contact me (or maybe I'll flex my databasing skills, and give everyone a chance to sign on automagically) I'll put their names up by the games they are prepared to mentor.

There isn't going to be some central authority saying "Hey!  There's a gap in the schedule!  You, there!  Learn Game X.  Mentor and love it.  Now, kid!"

What there will be is a schedule that will make it completely clear that Game X needs some lovin'.  If enough people are coming to that schedule and saying "Hey, I'm looking for a game that needs my help" then simply making that fact transparent should be enough to empower people to help.

If it gets critical mass, a web-site like that can help people to create structure without authority.  If it doesn't get critical mass then all I've wasted is a little energy (of which I've obviously got plenty).  I like solutions like that.  How does that methodology sit with everyone else?
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Lxndr
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« Reply #28 on: August 21, 2006, 06:53:00 AM »

I very much like that solution, Tony.  My only suggested tweak to that is that it shouldn't just be the "new games" coming to GenCon.  There are games that have been there for years that might need some loving as well.  To be a bit selfish for a moment, I'm not sure if there's three other people at the booth that can successfully pitch and demo Fastlane, for instance, and I'm sure that's far from the only product from previous years that's like that.
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Alexander Cherry, Twisted Confessions Game Design
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #29 on: August 21, 2006, 07:04:22 AM »

Hey,

Tony, there's no need for consensus if you've come up with something that might work and that you'd like to try.

How it relates to the booth in operation is certainly subject to the primary sponsors of a given year with me as final arbiter, but if you're talking about an activity that you want to conduct and promote at a website of your own ... hey, it's your idea, you can do it, and no one can tell you not to, and anyone can hop in. I don't run the whole internet, so it's not up to me or to any consensus-based discussion here.

All of which is to say, "neat idea!" but not in the sense of stamping it with official approval. It's your baby and your webspace, and if you wanna try it out, go for it as you see fit.

One point for general consumption though - every year, last-minute participants or games are a reality. I try to keep the last-minute participants to a minimum, but I also acknowledge there is no way to get every game at the booth pre-established months ahead of time. Printing schedules are certainly one cause of uncertainty of this kind, but so is inspiration - if we'd said "get your booth games established way ahead, sell-sheets and all!" then there would have been no Agon at the booth, for instance.

So folks, keep that degree of necessary uncertainty in mind when coming up with your notions. It doesn't relate so much to Tony's idea, which is a month-before type of thing (and thus may suffer from time-crunch constraints), but I think it'll be important to a variety of other suggestions that may arise here.

Best, Ron
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