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Author Topic: Gen Con post-mortem  (Read 21820 times)
Jason Morningstar
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« on: August 22, 2007, 03:55:08 AM »

Hey, let's talk about lessons learned and what we can do to improve the experience - by all measures - next year.  Also, let's celebrate!  I think everybody had a pretty awesome show.  Here's a little video I put together asking people to name one cool thing they saw or did. 

Here are some observations:

1.  The Forge/IPR booth was in an utterly fantastic location. 

2.  Having the Play Collective immediately across the way was cross-promotional bliss.  If there is any way to have "spin-off" booths within visual range, that'd be good.  The Ashcan Front was close by proximity but not by mental map - you could not see them.  Burning Dead seemed far away as foot traffic goes - I didn't see much of those guys, although they, too were quite close. 

3.  Regularly scheduled games are a pain in the ass and possibly not worth the trouble.  The only up-side was that it brought maybe ten people to play our games that wouldn't have known about them otherwise.  Balance that with logistical and administrative headaches, shitty time slots, poor management, and other irritating problems.

Anyway, let's debrief and strategize while our memories are fresh!
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: August 22, 2007, 05:29:21 AM »

Hi there,

The booth itself

Upon arriving, my friends and I walked right past the booth space, then doubled back in confusion, then wandered around looking confused. We weren't the only ones to do that, at that stage. The booth space was ... blank and flat!

Now, bear in mind, all the way back since 2001, I always wanted the Forge/indie booth to be this way, the idea being more like a coffee-house table area, or even a dance floor. Until now, we hadn't been able to afford the right kind of space we wanted. But the surprise was that we hadn't realized that we'd succeeded! We'd expected it to be a peninsula, hence separated from other booths by a curtain and hence "back wall," and it was merely ... well, four strips of tape, in a sea of flat concrete.

So on the one hand, it was a success, because it was the open walk-onto-it, social-looking space of the original vision for the activity, but on the other, we'd planned on a backdrop and had posters and stuff, and setup notions, based on that plan. Brennan and I had an instant confab with pen and paper, and in a kind of me-you-me-you rapid-fire dialogue, re-designed the setup.

Great joy and wonder ensued when he remembered that he had a corner backdrop, a kind of black curvy thing, that he'd used at Origins ... and wham. The perfect, incredible, absolutely ideal Forge/IPR booth space was born. And even though I'd forgotten the Forge banner, I'd already called a friend to get it from my house and mail it quick-quick, and we had it before lunch on Thursday.

Yet more placement luck happened as well, as we were close to the back-wall refreshments and their associated tables, which were great spillover space for one-on-one, non-demo customer discussions, for post-purchase product petting, and for snack breaks. It really was the perfect spot for us.

Placement among booths

People who have not tried to organize booth placement with GenCon really have no idea what it's like. They do their best to accomodate requests, but they have a lot more people to make happy than just us, and they have to be fair using their point-system. I'm amazed GeCon LLC permitted or maybe facilitated the coordination among the booths as well as it did. Ideally, the Ashcan Front should have been facing us, and maybe the Burning/Dead booth could have been a hair closer, but really, it was great.

Jason forgot to mention that the intersection we shared with the Play Collective was also shared by Engle Matrix Games, and there was a lot of crossover-buying going on there. Their puppets drew a lot of traffic, and Chris was no slouch in pointing out the Forge; we pumped traffic his way with the promo material, and so let's not forget that booth in the story of this con.

The real hero of this story is Fred Hicks. His Indie Passport was a dream come true - people seemd to think it was fun and tons of folks participated. The best thing, genius really, was that you only had to get one other booth stamp, not all of them. So it was transformed from annoying homework to "choose your own combo," and the net effect of course was for any one person to visit at least one more booth than they might have otherwise. Granted, a device of this kind will almost certainly include a few people showing up just for their stamp, and if that doesn't float a given person's boat on principle, that's how it is. But the genius feature I mentioned kept that to a minimum, and if one accepts that particular wrinkle, and observes that pound-for-pound, the Passport did drive sales and did build a better at-large understanding of what is happening here, then I think it can be called a success.

The other heroes are Michael and Kat Miller at Games on Demand, and the various folks who GM'd there so much, like Mike Holmes. This activity hit a snag - construction at the convention center forced GenCon LLC to re-locate hundreds of activities, screwing up programming something awful. Instead of a room in the same building as the exhibit hall, hence a hop-skip-jump away, people had to go up and around hill and dale to get to the GoD area. Even with this limitation, the fusion between GoD and the Forge booth was excellent. I owe big thanks to whoever ran that Sorcerer game on Friday! Who were you? I also know that I wasn't alone in benefiting in sales from GoD play. I still think we can do a better job of funnelling people there, although we do get better at it every year.

One last thing about booth placement. If you stood in that intersection that I mentioned, on Friday, this is what you'd see.

1. The Forge banner, with its cartoony spark-throwing forge, next to the IPR banner, with its revolutionary stars and workers.

2. The bright red Play Collective banner, including the booth members with their matching red t-shirts, including Malcolm with his Castro hat.

3. The Lacuna banner at the Burning/Dead booth, with its orange-red background and spider commissar in its Soviet uniform.

(and I wish, #4, the Ashcan Front in the same visual field, but alas, it was not to be) (next year)

Anyway, my point is that for whatever reason, we all seem to be deeply committed to commie kitsch. Draw your own conclusion, but speaking only visually and iconically, it was a beautiful thing.

It's about people

I cannot say for sure what would have happened if I'd not taken it on myself, as the first thing, to settle some outstanding tensions with a few other people, or if they had not desired as badly as me to see those tensions settled. I believe that the con experience would have been much different if I hadn't. Details aren't important. The point is that when any of us have a chance to talk face-to-face, that it is literally a betrayal of ourselves as a community if we do not take the opportunity to say, "No paving over! Here is what is up my ass, and I want to see what is up yours," and to listen. It is not good enough to smile tightly and pretend that all is well.

It works all the time, given people of conscience and shared values, and it worked this time.

Teardown and loading

What a bitch!! Either Geo E. Fern (the furniture company) or the convention center, or both, instituted a new policy this year. Every booth space had to be inspected before the vehicle associated with it could enter the parking/loading area. The result: 100% horrible bottleneck, with hundreds of exhibitors sitting there waiting to be inspected. You had to get your car-guy ready and pack up, then inform the Geo E. Fern people that you were ready to be inspected, then somehow learn from them that you had been expected, then notify your car-guy, then wait for him to arrive at the dock.

Since the inspection consisted of a spot-check by a person riding one of those little forklift/snowmobile things, working off a scrap of paper, who then rode back to the Geo E. Fern booth and reported, there was a huge disconnect between "we're ready to be inspected," "go inspect number so-and-so," "I inspected number so-and-so," and "hey, you're ready, call your car-guy." Add to it the fun factor that the two (!) inspectors were not coordinated with one another, so that neither knew whether the other had inspected a given booth space. (I observed all of this, in detail, in the course of negotiations with the process.)

Anyway, none of us at our booth experienced any travel hassles due to the delays, only through good planning and sheer luck. Some of the Friday night flight people probably had to skip dinner or otherwise face inconvenience. But I know that many other exhibitors ran into serious problems due to the two or three hour kink that all of this threw into their plans. I'll be adding my voice to the no doubt shrill chorus that lets the responsible parties know how their policies worked this year.

The thing is, it's not a bad policy, in principle. But the inspection logistics themselves need serious revision.

Anyway, this post was a start! There will be more, I'm sure.

Best, Ron
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Gregor Hutton
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« Reply #2 on: August 22, 2007, 06:02:34 AM »

Just a few points from me for the moment as I try and get over the jet-lag.

The booth location was great.

The Indie Passport was really useful to get people hooked up with where our booths were. The stamps were also really individual and cool, and that gave people a reason to go to the other booths too. The folks at Hollow Earth Expedition made me answer a question to get a stamp (which archetype from these 5 is your favourite) and I didn't mind that all. I thought that was a cool thing for other people to think about.

IPR made retail a breeze. All of them were professional and on the ball, so I tip my hat to Brennan, Krista, Bill, Steve and Nate.

Demos were mostly shorter this year is my initial impression and while we did have some people on tables near continuously at times, they were cycling groups in and out, so I have no problem with that. Also most of the demos seemed really focused/polished -- the Committee For..., Grey Ranks and Fae Noir ones stick out as such in my hazy recollection.

I'm not at all sure about the booth fairy. Part of me thinks it was a cute way of pushing the game, but I'm not sold that it really affected sales. I can't say I saw too many of the guys getting their picture taken with her, or just taking shots of her, actually buying the book. The hook of the game and the demo probably did more to sell it. It also jarred a bit with the way we present our games -- on Wednesday I was having to defend my game and point out that it is not anti-women at all. Then I'm on a booth with a babe a couple of days later. Maybe I'm being hypersensitive about it, and it was only for a few hours.

Early attendance before opening time was also poor this year. More than once Ron's pre-speech was cut short as the doors had opened.

That's how I saw it.
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #3 on: August 22, 2007, 07:09:16 AM »

Quote
I'm not at all sure about the booth fairy. Part of me thinks it was a cute way of pushing the game, but I'm not sold that it really affected sales. I can't say I saw too many of the guys getting their picture taken with her, or just taking shots of her, actually buying the book. The hook of the game and the demo probably did more to sell it. It also jarred a bit with the way we present our games -- on Wednesday I was having to defend my game and point out that it is not anti-women at all. Then I'm on a booth with a babe a couple of days later. Maybe I'm being hypersensitive about it, and it was only for a few hours.

I concur.  I was fairly unhappy about this development, and the only reason that I didn't say anything that evening is my understanding that she just happened to be passing by.  Serendipity.  I don't want to be rude to an enthusiastic fan, but I would have been happier if she had been politely requested to continue on.

I also found it difficult to pitch all the games to prospective customers, simply because I didn't know them all.  (This is not for lack of trying, you understand.)  The "play in others' demos" on Thursday really helped this, but if I didn't already know your game or have a demo of it, I had a hard time trying to sell it.  InTERRORgation stands out in my mind.  Someone asked me what it was, and I couldn't answer.  Moreover, since the designer wasn't in the booth, I couldn't even say, "Let me grab Annie so she can explain it to you."  I'm not sure if this is specifically a booth issue or just my personal problem, but I felt like I fell down on the job a couple of times due to lack of knowledge.  I know that I'm not the only one with this problem, so perhaps we can figure out some way to overcome it.

Lest I sound like I'm just griping, I thought that the booth was a great experience, so let me move on to positives.

The location was wonderful and the setup was fabulous.  The joke was that Brennan would kill booth staff that was standing in the "red zone" (where the red floor was), but I actually found that division of booth space to be very helpful.  The flow through the booth was really good.  I still found myself dancing around people sometimes while I tried to help customers, but I think that it's probably about the best that we could expect to get...and it was quite good.

The geography of the booth led to an area that I dubbed both "Forge backstage" and "the break room".  This was the space behind the storage table and backdrop.  I found this area to be invaluable.  If you wanted to step away from the insanity for a few minutes, grab something quick to drink, or just decompress a little in between demos, this was the place to do it.  I know that there were still people passing by on all sides, but it felt calmer.  This was also a good place to do the "chat with a designer" conversations with customers without clogging up the limited booth space.

Personally, I really enjoyed doing the demos.  I had a blast with my own demo, and I liked being able to get in on other designers' demos, too.  I felt like I connected with them as people better, plus I was better able to sell their games.

Rob Donoghue was gold in the booth.  Once he knew a game, he could give the perfect 15 second pitch to anyone.  So just a shout out to him.  Thanks, man!

Speaking of which, the roper at the "entrance" of the booth was a fairly key position.  If you were there, you did less roping per se, but you were in a good position to pitch games to people without being in the "red zone" and occupying booth space.  If we arrange for that in the future, that would be really good.

And...I can't think of anything else right now.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
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coming soon: Showdown
Justin D. Jacobson
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« Reply #4 on: August 22, 2007, 07:57:34 AM »

In no particular order:

1) Booth space itself was amazing. If we could clone it for next year, I'd be happy. I don't think there is a single thing I'd change about it. (Second the hope that the diaspora booths can be a "hair closer; I don't think they need to be specifically adjacent, but at least easy pointing distance.)

2) As I've come to learn, not too many people no much about Passages. (There's an S-G thread on this btw.) Apparently, there are other games that people don't know too much about. While it is an admirable goal for all of the booth participants to know as much as they can about as many games as they can, I don't think it is realistic or even necessary. OTOH, I do think it is imperative for the actual IPR employees to have good solid information for every product they sell. They don't need to know the elevator pitch (though that would be good), and they don't need to be able to demo it (also nice). But they must be able to answer rudimentary questions about the product. Thus, if someone has a question about a product and the particular booth participant can't answer, at least they can point them to Brennan or Nathan or whomever. Obviously, this entails a lot more work for IPR, but that's what I pay them for, right? They can obviously facilitate this by requiring effort on the part of the member publishers. For example, Brennan could send out a standardized questionaire for designers to fill out about their games, e.g., "Describe the core mechanic for your game", "What other games are most similar to your game and why?", "What additional resources are available for the game?", "Describe the setting if any", etc.

3) Personal Plans for Next Year: Other than my charity game (which was a huge success), I am definitely jettisoning the organized games. It's just too much of a crapshoot, and I'd rather spend the time demoing at the booth. I did a much better job this year of socializing with the booth members, and I intend to step it up even more next year. I did another horrible job of getting in on after-hours play at the Embassy Suites. (I always seem to get there when all the games are in full swing.) I vow to do a better job of that next year.

4) I'm also not too keen on having "booth babes". Aside from objectivist issues (which are thorny), I just think it's the wrong vibe for the indie games. Too commercial maybe? It just rubs me the wrong way. (No bad sex jokes on that last comment, please.)

5) Passport was great. I think we can do a better job of incorporating it into the booth events. For example, maybe we could have a space on it for "bonus stamps". Since it's already a more-is-better proposition, we should figure out behavior we want to encourage and reward with a stamp. I also don't think we got the most functionality out of the well-designed menus either. I'd like to think of some way to incorporate them better. Maybe we could print up 20,000 more and stuff them in the swag bags? ;-)
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iago
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« Reply #5 on: August 22, 2007, 08:10:39 AM »

I also found it difficult to pitch all the games to prospective customers, simply because I didn't know them all.  (This is not for lack of trying, you understand.)  The "play in others' demos" on Thursday really helped this, but if I didn't already know your game or have a demo of it, I had a hard time trying to sell it.  InTERRORgation stands out in my mind.  Someone asked me what it was, and I couldn't answer.  Moreover, since the designer wasn't in the booth, I couldn't even say, "Let me grab Annie so she can explain it to you."  I'm not sure if this is specifically a booth issue or just my personal problem, but I felt like I fell down on the job a couple of times due to lack of knowledge.  I know that I'm not the only one with this problem, so perhaps we can figure out some way to overcome it.

We need to do what we can to identify to the booth folks who the SME's (Subject Matter Experts) are in terms of being able to say something about most of the games on the shelves.  I was one such person, and I think Rob Donoghue was doing a pretty good job of this as well.  Bill Segulin and Brennan Taylor could probably pitch in on many of these as well -- Bill because he's worked the Origins booth with IPR, Brennan because he owns IPR. Smiley

Quote
The location was wonderful and the setup was fabulous.  The joke was that Brennan would kill booth staff that was standing in the "red zone" (where the red floor was), but I actually found that division of booth space to be very helpful.  The flow through the booth was really good.  I still found myself dancing around people sometimes while I tried to help customers, but I think that it's probably about the best that we could expect to get...and it was quite good.

Yes.  I definitely liked the color-coding, and the flow-through on the booth was excellent.

Thanks to everyone for the comments on the passport idea.  I definitely want to see if that can be refined for maximum power next year, but as a first outing, it came off strongly, I think.
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iago
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« Reply #6 on: August 22, 2007, 08:18:41 AM »

I do think it is imperative for the actual IPR employees to have good solid information for every product they sell. They don't need to know the elevator pitch (though that would be good), and they don't need to be able to demo it (also nice). But they must be able to answer rudimentary questions about the product. Thus, if someone has a question about a product and the particular booth participant can't answer, at least they can point them to Brennan or Nathan or whomever. Obviously, this entails a lot more work for IPR, but that's what I pay them for, right? They can obviously facilitate this by requiring effort on the part of the member publishers. For example, Brennan could send out a standardized questionaire for designers to fill out about their games, e.g., "Describe the core mechanic for your game", "What other games are most similar to your game and why?", "What additional resources are available for the game?", "Describe the setting if any", etc.

I should point out (not as an excuse, but instead to shed light) there were around 200 products at the booth this year.  I know, because I built the pricelist that contained those items.  That's a lot to load into the brain (I have mostly succeeded at this thanks to the work I do on a daily basis for IPR; I'm soaking in the details more than most).  I don't think everyone on the IPR side of the booth should know about all 200; but that's what multiple staffmembers are for.  In aggregate, IPR should be able to speak on all or nearly all 200, and in most cases I think that IPR as a whole could.  Redundancies weren't always there, sure; that could be improved.

I do agree that publishers need to think carefully about how to make sure everyone at the booth responsible for driving the sales process know the "three-sentence basics" for their games.

There are other details in this comment that I could dig into, but I don't think this is the place for it. Smiley
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Luke
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« Reply #7 on: August 22, 2007, 09:20:53 AM »

I felt the indie passport was very good at getting Forgies over to my booth, paper in hand, begging for a stamp and interrupting pitches and demos and otherwise distracting us. I think I can count on one hand the number of unknown faces I saw with a passport. The vast majority were familiar faces (who didn't stop to browse or purchase). I wouldn't do it again.

Scheduled games are good way to get exposure to an audience that doesn't crawl the dealer's hall. Same with panels.
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iago
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« Reply #8 on: August 22, 2007, 09:39:46 AM »

I felt the indie passport was very good at getting Forgies over to my booth, paper in hand, begging for a stamp and interrupting pitches and demos and otherwise distracting us. I think I can count on one hand the number of unknown faces I saw with a passport. The vast majority were familiar faces (who didn't stop to browse or purchase). I wouldn't do it again.

Hmm.  Interesting... Honestly that doesn't jive with the several-hundred submissions of passports and the large lack of recognition I had for most of the names I drew from the box on Saturday -- 98% of which had a stamp from your booth.  "Vast majority" seems perceptual rather than statistical -- or at least reflects the potential for the mind to remember familiar negatives and leave unfamiliar positives unnoticed.  It's like system administration; folks only notice the 3% of the time that the machines go down, not the 97% of the time when it's all running fine.

There's no obligation to participate, though.  I just did it as an effort to keep and expand the community identity.
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Luke
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« Reply #9 on: August 22, 2007, 09:59:03 AM »

I'd be delighted to be wrong.
Care to post the number of ballot submissions?

-L
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iago
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« Reply #10 on: August 22, 2007, 10:05:01 AM »

I'd be delighted to be wrong.
Care to post the number of ballot submissions?

Yes!

I'll be doing so over here, so this thread can talk about non-passport post-mortems. Smiley
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Emily Care
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« Reply #11 on: August 22, 2007, 12:48:06 PM »

Overall, I am very pleased with how this year turned out. From where I stood, things looked good at the Forge booth: the booth was attractive, open and inviting. The games were displayed to good effect and there was room enough for a long line to form and not block everything.  Though it would have been better if the line had formed on the *outside* of the booth.  I had a a couple of demos at the Booth, and they were as good as I remember them. Ron and Seth gave me short, sharp and shocked demos, both of which games I bought (IwaMD for the second time).  And somehow, everyone seemed more relaxed over there. Like having more space gave them some more freedom of mind. 

Life at the Playcollective was awesome.  Hats off to Joshua for designing the look, and Rob for being the beating heart of it by keeping us stocked, supplied and morally supported. I felt lucky and glad to be among that crew. Though, it felt dead sometimes. Saturday was hard, hard, hard to bring people in. What gave? I found myself wishing we had more demo tables--with two, we could only work with two groups at at time. Many times people would add in, but others... I should have made use of those free tables out toward the bay doors. I hear that the Ashcan Front folks did to good effect.  The passport was great, in my book. Due to Vincent's good thinking, we asked people who wanted a stamp to stay for a demo. All that I saw were glad to do so, and many bought books.  So the passport functioned for us exactly as it was meant to. It was fun to stamp them too, and many people wanted to keep theirs--the stamps were so cool. I saw many that had gone to all the stops.

The Burning Dead and Ashcan Front booths looked great.  Visually the B/D folks were stellar with their banners and displays of books.  The Ashcan Front booth looked sweet and welcoming to me. I had a couple demos there and it felt very comfortable. With a lot of people present, but all were engaged so it just felt like an active booth, and I never felt crowded.  I bought several ashcans, and sent people that way at various times during the con. Originally we had planned to do talks and seminars at our booth, so I was going to do cross-advertising with the Luke et al panels and talks, but the flow in our booth didn't really support doing talks on the floor, so that idea got jettisoned.  Next year, perhaps we will get events on the big schedule as well. Or advertise the talks in advance to get some buzz going.

best,
Emily
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Denise
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« Reply #12 on: August 22, 2007, 05:28:27 PM »

A couple of thoughts from an outsider:
- I never saw the menu thing you'd posted here.  Granted I wasn't looking too hard, I was pimping the ENnies S'Wagon looking for submissions for next year.  But perhaps someone dressed as a maitre d' could hand them to peeps whilst offering to seat them at a table?  Someone in a tuxe or gown would certainly stand out in the hall, and be less offensive than a booth babe.
- Depending on the nominee situation, I would consider having the indie passport at the ENnies booth.  We drove a lot of traffic to the forge booth with our nominee flyers, but perhaps we could do more- perhaps a little cross-promotion?
-Definite improvement from last year- room to shop, chat with designers, and game.  Well done!
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Blankshield
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« Reply #13 on: August 22, 2007, 06:36:27 PM »

As several folks mentioned over the weekend, this was a really nice Gencon.  They just keep getting better every year.

High points on the weekend:

-The look and feel of the booth was perfect.  I felt kinda bummed for the 6 companies that were supposed to have booths behind us by the map, but there will always be a few dropouts, and this year, the stars aligned so that we got a free upgrade.

-The passport was like printed gold.  I saw people using them, I saw them coming back with stamps, when I was up at the GoD tables, I saw people who had hunted us down because of the passport, and they sat down to play.  As far as I'm concerned, that makes them worth it a hundred times over, in terms of promoting indie gaming.  Because of the passport, people found Games on Demand, and played games, and had fun.

-Games on Demand.  Despite being in the ass end of beyond (I should know, I was upstairs in the Hyatt), I never went by during con hours without seeing at least two tables in use.  I never saw them all in use, but I often saw 4 or 5.  I also saw a bunch of faces that were just there, pretty much all day, every day, playing games.  Lxndr, Mike Holmes, Chris Weeks, I'm lookin' at you!  Next year I'm more than half tempted to join you, because you looked like you were having an awesome time.

Low points on the weekend:

-Volume of games.  Yeah, I know, I know.  I felt pretty good with my knowledge (or ability to hand off) with most of the games we had featured on the yellow menu, but overwhelmed by a lot of the other stuff on the shelf.  This is almost purely a personal thing, but I felt like I let down the booth as one of the major sponsors.  There was a lot of stuff on the shelf I couldn't pitch well, and I was only comfortable dropping down with a demo on a bare handful of games not-my-own. 

-Position and bringing customers in.  While the booth layout was great, our position I think hurt us a bit, and possibly Play Collective as well.  Essentially what happened is, from a ways back in either major traffic direction, you could see, clearly, that there was nothing behind us.  This meant by the time a lot of folks were at the booth, mentally, they were already turning around "back to the hall".  It made catching people's attention, and conversely, having a conversation or offering a demo, hella difficult this year.  The demo tables were almost always hopping, and we moved traffic well, but it would have been a lot less work if people weren't getting to our booth just as their brains were saying "interesting stuff gone".

-Saturday slump.  Like Play Collective, we found Saturday to be oddly slow and just never seemed to get up to speed.  I don't know if this is tied into the booth position as mentioned above, or if it was some big thing external to the dealer's hall, or just one of those inexplicable GenCon hiccups, but man.  Saturday was weird. 

James
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Jasper the Mimbo
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« Reply #14 on: August 22, 2007, 09:00:56 PM »


4) I'm also not too keen on having "booth babes". Aside from objectivist issues (which are thorny), I just think it's the wrong vibe for the indie games. Too commercial maybe? It just rubs me the wrong way. (No bad sex jokes on that last comment, please.)


There goes my comeback plans. Crap...
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List of people to kill. (So far.)

1. Andy Kitowski
2. Vincent Baker
3. Ben Lehman
4. Ron Edwards
5. Ron Edwards (once isn't enough)

If you're on the list, you know why.
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