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Author Topic: GenCon: Launching a Satellite Booth  (Read 16715 times)
iago
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« on: August 22, 2007, 08:27:17 AM »

The Forge booth was definitely interesting, and I'm glad we have the post-mortem thread going for that.  That said, I think it's possible others may be considering launching their own satellite booths for next year, and I'm interested in finding out what we can all learn about this year's satellites in order to assemble a "guide to leaving the nest" for 2008...

Probably the most visible example of success was the PlayCollective booth.  Visually strong, well-designed, well-positioned and well-constructed.  I want to hear what it took to put that together, what the costs of the booth and materials were like so folks can do thumbnail budgets for 2008, what was done that worked, what was done that didn't.

Costs-wise, I think I can figure on the following items needing to be covered in a booth budget:

- The booth space itself
- Banners/Visual Identity Elements
- Shelving
- Demo space/tables
- Padded flooring
- Promotional items (I loved the proliferation of small buttons and stickers this year)

Logistics-wise, I am curious about:

- The process of acquisition and transportation of the elements from the previous list
- Scheduling of staff in the booth
- Achieving a feeling of equality / addressing elements of inequality (such as a big/strong seller partnered with multiple not-as-strong sellers, product-wise)
- The satellite demo process
- Partnerships with other booths
- Things I'm forgetting

So, Diaspor-ites, what can you tell us?
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Judd
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« Reply #1 on: August 22, 2007, 08:50:30 AM »

Great thread, Fred and great questions.

We are still digesting and figuring out how the con went for us.  After this digestion is complete, I'll definitely be all over this thread.

I will say that I could not have chosen a better spot if I'd been able to pick the spot myself.  That corner slot was wonderful.
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Luke
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« Reply #2 on: August 22, 2007, 09:05:21 AM »

The Burning Dead booth cost

$1200 for the booth
$300 for the furniture
$400 for internet
$110 for power

$2010 all told.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #3 on: August 23, 2007, 08:27:17 AM »

- The process of acquisition and transportation of the elements from the previous list
Acquisition:  Easy.  Transport:  Hard.

Getting everything there, established, then broken and gone ... that's a major big deal.  I saw WotC carting around these massive boxes labelled "Corner demo area" and the like.  Damn, I envy those boxes.  Get everything in one place, load it into a U-Haul, pull it out with a forklift and unpack it right at the booth?  Day-umn.  I bet they have formed foam blocks to put things in to.  Swank.

Us?  We sorta scurried around like worker ants on amphetamines, and somehow made things happen.  It was easier than it might have been, I suppose, but harder than I expected.

Key thing:  If you follow someone with one of the George Fern hand-trucks and say "Hey, if we help you unload that can we have it when you're done?" eventually someone will say "Yes."  I'm'a gonna remember that trick.

- Scheduling of staff in the booth
This was easy-peasy for us, but I think that's in part because we were viewing it from the point of view of "When are you not allowed to fill up cubic footage in our cramped area?" and everyone was like "Well, okay ... if I must, I'll go out and enjoy the greatest roleplaying convention in the world."  They were eager to take shifts, but understood that there were compensations to being off.  So we just divided things up, and tore off into the con.

- Achieving a feeling of equality / addressing elements of inequality (such as a big/strong seller partnered with multiple not-as-strong sellers, product-wise)
This seemed pretty easy too.  Some games sold better than others, but all designers were naturally equals.  It's sort of like troupe-style in Ars Magica.  Yeah, you may be playing the grogs, but that doesn't make you a second-class member of your game group.

- The satellite demo process
Can you elaborate your question here?  We demo games.  We often close sales.  Money flows in.  What part of that process are you asking about?

- Partnerships with other booths
Communications among the booths this year was not all that I would have liked.  In fact, it appears to have been all but non-existent.  That's sort of to be expected ... this was the year, I think, when people get accustomed to the idea that there are distinct entities, that they effect each other, and that some effort is going to need to be made on communication.  Next year, we'll see if that bears fruit.


I hope this all helps!
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iago
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« Reply #4 on: August 23, 2007, 09:11:14 AM »

Yep.  By asking about the satellite demo process, I'm implying things like:

- Compare/contrast with demoing at the Forge booth in years past
- What had to be done differently vs. Forge booth
- In essence, what are the Different Things Due To Being In A Different Booth that can be extrapolated, observed, commented upon
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #5 on: August 23, 2007, 09:19:24 AM »

I'm very interested in alternate models and experiences - for example, none of the "diaspora" booths had space for people to sit down.  Was this a big deal?  If not, that's a logistical/spatial factor that can be factored in.  The Forge booth can learn from that, too.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #6 on: August 23, 2007, 09:27:09 AM »

Yep.  By asking about the satellite demo process, I'm implying things like:

- Compare/contrast with demoing at the Forge booth in years past
- What had to be done differently vs. Forge booth
- In essence, what are the Different Things Due To Being In A Different Booth that can be extrapolated, observed, commented upon
Ahhh ... I think that there's so much variation in Forge demos that I can't really draw a median position and say "This is how we differ from the archetypal Forge demo."

I mean ... seriously now ... the idea of getting demoes down to fifteen minutes?  Ron put that out there last year, and people scrambled like hell to make it happen.  The notion of demoing a toy version of your system in order to get across the feel?  That happened over the course of the last year.  Beautiful, laminated prepared materials and mnemonic aids?  Entirely a recent development.

I think the whole demo thing is too much of a moving target right now for me to make comparisons.  I do believe that there are wonderful and untapped potentials in presenting demoes, and that we've barely scratched the surface of all that could be done.  Why shouldn't demoes be enjoyable on their own merits?  Must their primary purpose be educating consumers?  Or can their purpose be something else ... like pulling people into a sense of community?  I suspect that the format can do far more than we give it credit for.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #7 on: August 23, 2007, 09:29:21 AM »

I'm very interested in alternate models and experiences - for example, none of the "diaspora" booths had space for people to sit down.  Was this a big deal?  If not, that's a logistical/spatial factor that can be factored in.  The Forge booth can learn from that, too.
I had one couple who asked for (and was provided with) chairs.  They were, bar none, the most disinterested, lackadaisical, downright ANNOYING customers any of us had to demo for all convention long.

Which is ... y'know ... not a statistical sample.  There are many nice people who have to play down at that level ... folks in wheelchairs, for a start!  But ... that one sour experience made me very happy with the overall idea of standing demoes.  It seems to keep people on-point.
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #8 on: August 23, 2007, 11:55:30 AM »

Which is ... y'know ... not a statistical sample.  There are many nice people who have to play down at that level ... folks in wheelchairs, for a start!  But ... that one sour experience made me very happy with the overall idea of standing demoes.  It seems to keep people on-point.

Anecdotal point:  I demoed Shock: at the Play Collective booth.  I really enjoyed the standing demo table.  It seemed quite friendly and engaging.  I'm trying to figure out specific reasons why this was the case, but I'm not really sure.  Maybe it's because it felt like we were all standing around in a group, talking about a cool game.  That's a different vibe than sitting down at a demo table.  So, at least for the Play Collective booth, it worked out nicely.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
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JustinB
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« Reply #9 on: August 23, 2007, 12:56:35 PM »

Which is ... y'know ... not a statistical sample.  There are many nice people who have to play down at that level ... folks in wheelchairs, for a start!  But ... that one sour experience made me very happy with the overall idea of standing demoes.  It seems to keep people on-point.

Anecdotal point:  I demoed Shock: at the Play Collective booth.  I really enjoyed the standing demo table.  It seemed quite friendly and engaging.  I'm trying to figure out specific reasons why this was the case, but I'm not really sure.  Maybe it's because it felt like we were all standing around in a group, talking about a cool game.  That's a different vibe than sitting down at a demo table.  So, at least for the Play Collective booth, it worked out nicely.


Having seen the demo tables at other RPG/board game booths, I think that standing demos work best for card games especially and then for board games. Games that you could, conceivably play in say 15 minutes-45 minutes. Sitting tables seem to work better for RPGs, if only because they remind people of actually playing an RPG. But that's just my observation.
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Luke
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« Reply #10 on: August 23, 2007, 03:58:30 PM »

I deliberately set up our booth so there'd be no sitting around. First, there's just no space for it. The small booth gets crowded so quickly. Second, as I've learned from past cons, it just ends up with the booth staff sitting around and looking deflated.

I was very pleased with our set up and flow at our booth. I was not pleased with non-staff folks hanging out at the booth.

However, our sales were down this year* and it felt like we could close a sale on a demo. So you know.

-L

*It should be noted that my standards are very high. According to the IPR numbers, we would have come in 2nd place behind SotC.
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Robert Bohl
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« Reply #11 on: August 28, 2007, 09:18:19 PM »

The not-sitting thing is key, for the reasons Luke mentions. It was hell on my feet but it's good, subtle communication to the demoee that they're going to be in and out quickly.

One of the key reasons why the diaspora thing works, though, has to do with knowing the games. Play Collective had only about a dozen books and it was still the end of the con before I could give the log line for all of them, and the demo for most of them. I can't imagine being at the Forge booth and feeling obligated (because I would) to be able to talk about 200 different games.

Setup, breakdown, planning, etc., was crazy and hectic for Play Collective, but it was fun and effective. It was easy to get so excited about merchandising the books when Joshua went and art-directed the best-looking booth at the convention for us.

There is a 1000 word version of this that I sent in email, but that seems too extreme.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: August 29, 2007, 02:29:11 AM »

Hello,

I've been thinking about this for a while, so it's great actually to have the first "fly be free" GenCon over with so I can look over the booths. Part of my conclusion is that this year is quite likely a honeymoon for post-Forge diaspora or spin-off booths, whatever we want to call them.

Why a honeymoon? Well, because the novelty factor will be gone next year. "Oh my, Vincent and friends have a booth!" That's great, but when all is said and done, it's just a booth among many, and the primary draw is for people who already know them.

The Forge booth is successful because it did, and does, provide a unique experience in the exhibitor's hall for a con-goer. Not only that, it's possible to learn what that experience is for, by being there. Creator ownership and profit, design resulting from personal visions and clear thinking, and mutualism - those are all on display, if "display" is the right word for a plethora of quick-play demo experiences.

What will make a new booth, post-Forge, successful, now that this honeymoon is over? I have no idea of specifics, but in general, I don't think it can rely on familiarity with Forge culture (look! it's us! we're over here now!), nor on being basically an outlet or extension of sales at the Forge booth (whether the specific game sales are shared across the booths doesn't matter to this point). The lesson of the Forge booth, to me, is that a successful endeavor at GenCon does more than merely show people books. It provides an experience which teaches or informs - the person gets a strong, accurate idea of what that group of people publishes games for, and/or how they create and publish games, and also how their games reflect and represent that. Buying a game, therefore, becomes participatory in a real, breathing phenomenon.

I'm going to single out the Play Collective booth for some comments. As a first-time booth, and in comparison to the typical GenCon booth, it was great, but I am quite concerned about how sustainable it is for next year. I say this because after visiting it and seeing it in action for four days, I have no idea what this "play collective" is. All I know is that Vincent, Em, Joshua, Judd, Malcolm, Meg, and Tony bought a booth together. Is that a "collective?" Is that represented in their games? Does a customer know or learn this?

If the Play Collective actually means anything, and is more than just a way for people who were kicked out of the Forge booth to clump together in a kind of panic - and bluntly, this description does apply in part to the booth's origin - then what is that something? There is a play collective in Massachusetts: Vincent, Em, Meg, Joshua, and others are all role-players together and often design their games in close, even interpenetrating rounds of playtest and bouncing ideas off one another. But is that what the booth is about? This year, the answer didn't matter,and just being friends and getting a booth together is enough. Next year, I think it will matter greatly.

Why a "play collective" of individual, one-or-two person companies? Why not a big company called Play Collective? What is the actual relationship between (1) the close friendships and close interactions of real play among these people, and (2) highly personal, individually published games? Why does Meg have Night Sky Games, and Vincent have Lumpley Games, when the two of them are married, play together all the time, and playtest and vet any game that either publishes? Why is it a play collective and not a publishing collective? Can it be that the latter isn't such a good idea, and yet one can actually maintain the benefits of the former?

I know the answer to these questions because I know the people. But does the booth provide that answer? I think such a booth would be amazing ... because it models a successful social practice for play, design, and publishing. Could a booth be designed which lets people walk away saying, "Hey, we could do that!" instead of the less-likely-to-succeed "Hey, let's all be in a company together!"

It may be, that a given idea for a booth is going to lead to hard decisions. If my booth is to be about X, and if a publisher who is my friend (and who cannot or doesn't want to be at the Forge booth) doesn't match with X ... I should consider saying "no" to including him in the booth. Harsh words, I know. I hope that my chosen word "consider" is recognized.

The danger that I foresee, and I hope it never happens to anyone who strikes out on their own from the Forge booth, is to rely solely on the game itself and association with the mother-ship. "Hey, I'm Bob, and these are my two friends. We have a game we wrote! It's great! We used to be at the Forge booth!" with a big friendly grin. This is nothing more than what any RPG booth does in the exhibitor hall, just juiced up a little with enthusiasm. It offers nothing of what I'm talking about in this post. It may do well the first time out - when people from all the related booths cruise around all of them and buy stuff, when activities like the Passport funnel other con-goers around.

I used the term "mother-ship" in that paragraph for a reason. As a nickname, it's amusing. But as a real model for running a new booth, it's a disastrous concept. One's booth needs to have a vision of its own, to be successful over time. If your booth is just "a little bit of Forge/IPR over here," I anticipate maybe one good year, at most. And maybe this last year was the only chance for that.

It may well be, too, that a publisher says, "You know, my game is at the Forge/IPR booth, and that's OK with me," and just goes to GenCon and has a good time - maybe playing a bit at that booth, maybe GMing up a storm at Games on Demand, or hell, doing whatever he or she wants. Matt Wilson, you did that, right? I didn't get to chat with you much, but my impression was that it was pretty satisfying for you. My call, at this point, is that this option is a better default than a new booth - if one hasn't thought about what the booth is for, what it will be like, and what it offers besides just grins, books, and an association with the Forge.

Best, Ron
« Last Edit: August 29, 2007, 02:31:20 AM by Ron Edwards » Logged
TonyLB
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« Reply #13 on: August 29, 2007, 05:32:23 AM »

I'm going to single out the Play Collective booth for some comments. As a first-time booth, and in comparison to the typical GenCon booth, it was great, but I am quite concerned about how sustainable it is for next year.
One of the topics that I look forward to addressing in the year to come is how the various entities communicate with and about each other.  For a long time there has really only been the Forge booth, and so there was no group-to-group communication.  All communication (and everybody's roles) were relative to a single entity.  Habits formed ... and some of them aren't well-adapted to the new situation.

For instance, Ron, sweeping in with a knowing attitude and laying out the failings of the year past and the plans for the year to come ... that flies much better when you're talking about the Forge than when you're talking about someone else's booth.  The communication, no matter how well-meaning, implies a certain role that you don't fill relative to our booth.

Now you've never had to think about that distinction before.  None of us has.  I think that going forward, though, we'll either become more and more aware of these issues, or we'll become more and more angry at each other.  I prefer the former.
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Robert Bohl
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« Reply #14 on: August 29, 2007, 05:34:05 AM »

I'm a little confused on how the Forge booth presence works. I thought that people who weren't there for the first or second time couldn't be represented there. Clearly I've misunderstood something. Is it the case that your book can be there but you can't?
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