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Game design convention questions

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tsq
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Joined: 02/07/2016

I'm sure many of you have gone to game design conventions. I'm helping at a new game design convention and I have never gone to any. I realize this makes me the perfect person to help out, but what are you going to do. This design/playtesting convention would be part of a larger "regular" board game convention. I've done some research on the various conventions and I have a few questions for those of you who have attended some conventions.

What format did you think worked best? Scheduled times? Open tables anyone can use?

What other things, beside playtesting, made a convention appealing? Speed pitching to publishers? Awards?

Any stories or ideas that you liked or think we should avoid would be helpful.

Thanks

let-off studios
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Considerations

I've crossed paths with "Unpub" a fair amount (they're a prototyping/playtesting group currently active on the east coast USA), and they have held a number of smaller events within larger board game conventions. I strongly recommend you have a look at unpub.net to learn more about what it is they do. In particular, have a look at their "minipub" events, which seems to be something along the lines of what you describe.

Depending on how much space you have, and/or how much interest you've gathered, you may want to have tables/spaces reserved for certain people at certain times. You may want to charge money to reserve these spots - if you aren't already - so you have participants who are invested in staffing the table for the entire time they've reserved.

Providing a way for playtesters to easily and quickly provide feedback is a common, popular feature. Designers feel gratified and playtesters feel like their input matters. If you are invested in making this playtesting area a long-term presence at this event, then "guaranteed feedback to designers" is a way to make sure the tables are reserved most of the time, and for designers to return year after year.

If this is your first event of its kind, be prepared to manage your expectations. You may be completely surprised at the overwhelming popularity of the playtesting area, but it could also be rather sparse in attendance. After all, if you're at a larger event these "games in process" are competing with popular, published games just one room away.

Best of success on your event...!

The Professor
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Unpubs and not-Unpubs

tsq,

First, welcome to BGDF and hope you find useful answers to your inquiries which can run the gamut from design to artists to publishing and distribution. Second, great questions!

Over the past few years, I've met game designers at more than a dozen different events, from Origins and PAX Unplugged to a gathering of librarians in D.C. where I gave a talk on game design. If this is your first time in the environment, just be present (open and available). In your "helping" capacity during the event be mindful that you may be asked to playtest and to provide feedback. In these roles, have a dialogue with the designer. They may want you to play the whole game, but more experienced designers may want you to simply check out particular aspects or hooks which differentiate it from many other games

To let-off studios' excellent points above, having a schedule manages expectations for everyone. If you have the space and available tables, you may certainly avail them to drop-in designers. As to the question about what made a convention appealing requires far more nuance. For instance, many gamers do not go to GenCon exclusively to play games as the event doesn't promote it in the same way as say, Origins. Both large events have a place for unpublished designers, but the way conduct business may be very different (I've not ever attended GenCon, but can speak with greater familiarity regarding Origins). At Origins, the folks who manage the event provide a room situated far from the large halls.

Regarding "speed pitching to publishers" this is usually planned well in advance as their time (and that of content creators) have precious little time at these events to meet all of their demands. Short answer, they're great when planned well. Awards are always exciting for a subset of attendees.

As for me, back in 2015, I talked to a number of publishers and designers in the main halls and while they were fascinating and professionally educational, they didn't yield long-term work. In 2016 and thereafter, I would always spend a half-day (usually Friday for a multi-day convention) talking to designers in the Unpub (or similar) rooms and that has proven exceptionally helpful in terms of providing long-term relationships with fledgling designers.

Cheers,
Joe
Professor's Lab

tsq
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Joined: 02/07/2016
Thank you for your

Thank you for your feedback.

We have as much space as we need and the playtesting area will be adjacent to the convention, in one of the three halls. Right now our plan is to have scheduled tables throughout each day of the event. If there are any tables not scheduled it will be first come first served. We are going to have panels with established designers on a couple of nights. We don't want to charge anything for playtesting or to the designers because we don't have a track record yet for attendance or how good the event will be, but that might change in the future.

The speed pitching will be publishers attending the event, we are not sure how many we will at this point.

We are trying to make this as valuable to the designers as possible so it will become a permanent part of the event.

The Professor
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Event location

I'll assume that the event is in Las Vegas, which should prove an exciting venue.

nswoll
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Joined: 07/23/2010
I agree about checking out

I agree about checking out unpub, they run really good playtesting events.

One thing you could consider is a bingo card.
I was at a small local convention (200-250 people) and everyone got a bingo card and there were prizes for getting 5 in a row, or completing the whole thing. One of the squares was "playtest an unpublished game in the playtest room". It was great! The prizes were good enough that a very high percentage of the attendees at the convention played in a playtest. There were also people who didn't care about the prizes, but just wanted a complete bingo card.

(The other squares were stuff like "play a game with 7+ players" "play a game with an alien or a robot in it" "play a game designed by Uwe Rosenberg" etc)

let-off studios
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Bingo = Winning Strategy

nswoll wrote:
One thing you could consider is a bingo card. [...] It was great! The prizes were good enough that a very high percentage of the attendees at the convention played in a playtest. There were also people who didn't care about the prizes, but just wanted a complete bingo card.
Hahaha! This is brilliant. Once Unpub starts having in-person events again, I'll suggest they steal this idea. :)

The way the main Unpub event has facilitated prizes in the past is that each feedback entry entitles a person to a ticket in the free game raffle. Feedback is recorded with a computer workstation that tracks the game played as well as the person entering feedback.

Every hour or so, they draw five names out of the hat. The tagline for participants is, "The more feedback you provide, the better your chances are to win!"

These kinds of strategies cater to a wide variety of people: those who want to win prizes, those who want to provide feedback, and those who are "completionists" who want a full bingo card. That's a familiar classic and a great idea.

tsq
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Joined: 02/07/2016
A bingo card kinda thing has

A bingo card kinda thing has been suggested for the convention. That's a good idea, I'll make sure playtesting gets on it.

We were going to have playtest feedback forms for everyone fill out after the playtest. Then give the forms to the designers afterwards.

We were talking about a raffle of some kind, but we're not sure what we'll have to give away. I do like the idea of linking it to the number of playtests and giving people more incentive. I think getting people in to playtest will make or break the event.

FrankM
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Joined: 01/27/2017
Bingo!

There's nothing to prevent you from having certain things appear multiple times on the card, just be clear that the holder gets to pick ONE square to mark each time.

That way you can have as many attendance spaces as there are days in the convention, a few playtest spaces, a few visit-sponsor-booth spaces, a few event check-in spaces, etc. but I'd suggest nothing that was determined before they arrived (such as what kind of ticket they bought, if they're staying at a partner hotel, etc.).

Some kind of bonus for each row completed seems thematic. Fill the whole card and you get a free ticket to next year's convention :)

let-off studios
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Cards & Passports

FrankM's comments about marking the same thing multiple times over a succession of days reminded me of this.

Beyond Bingo Cards (which I still think are an excellent idea), I've also seen "Passports" at certain events. To track them, booth representatives would either initial sections or stamp a section in the passport, signifying that the person visited and participated in the activity.

This can also be a solution to having the same thing in multiple spaces on a bingo card. Put the date, an exclusive daily ink stamp, or someone's initials in that box or area of the card/passport to track proper receipt.

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