Michael Mindes(DrMayhem)United States
The conventional wisdom of the board game industry (as represented mostly by GAMA advice) is that convention attendance is essential to the success of any new board game publisher. As with most conventions, I like to challenge, explore, and test against the idea myself.
When Tasty Minstrel Games started, we had 2 games that we launched, Homesteaders and Terra Prime. Neither of which comfortably fit into the mold of what would sell well at a convention. Or at least this is what I thought, and certainly not at the conventions popularly championed of Origins and GenCon.
When I looked at it, I saw the expense of going to GenCon. $1,000 for an entrepreneur booth, $700 for 2 flights, $800-900 for a hotel, food, and transportation of games to and from the convention. Yikes! With little knowledge running around about the company and our games, I compared it to supporting multiple smaller conventions.
For the $3,000 I would have expected to spend on GenCon, I could instead support 50 smaller conventions by sending out games for their libraries and to be given away. Support those 50 and have money left over.
Looking at it this way, I decided to provide support for the smaller and more intimate conventions rather than go to GenCon. I believe this worked out well, as Geekway to the West provided a good boost to Homesteaders, and BGG.con provided a good boost to both Terra Prime and Homesteaders.
When To Do Larger Conventions?
First, I must say that after attending GenCon, it looks like a good showing at GenCon can propel a game forward toward greatness or at least great sales. This worked well for Ascension: Deckbuilding Game and I hope that it works well for Martian Dice.
Tasty Minstrel Games attended GenCon for the first time ever in 2011. And despite air shipping costs, dryage fees that look like extortion (cost to get pallets from Indianapolis into the convention center), flights for 3 people, booth costs, and hotel; the show was profitable for us to be at. I mean profitable in the sense that we made actual dollars, add onto that the marketing and relationship building benefits and it was quite a success.
We decided to go to GenCon in 2011 partially as a test. I didn't want to consistently be missing on a great opportunity to build the business of TMG. Also, I felt like we had a good number of games which would allow us to keep people at our booth which would attract more people due to the social proof of crowds.
It is interesting to understand how social proof works and then observe it working at a convention. One example is where 2-3 people would crowd around Seth to learn about Eminent Domain. As he would continue, the crowd would often grow to 6-8 people. Another example is the staff uniforms and staff quantity of the larger publishers. Regardless of the number of people actively checking out wares at the booths of Fantasy Flight Games, Mayfair Games, or Catalyst Game Labs it always looked like they were busy. At least on the rare occasions I got out of the booth to use the restroom.
BACK ON TRACK - I would say that a convention like GenCon makes absolute sense if you have a game which can be taught quickly and involves GenCon beneficial attributes (like Dice, RPGs, Cool Art, Minis, etc). It also makes more sense if you have more titles to sell than just one.
You will need to be well prepared for a convention the size of GenCon if you want to have a successful showing. It also pays to plan for next year right after the show if you did have a good show, that way your great ideas can be acted upon instead of being lost to the vagaries of time and memory.
I know that Tasty Minstrel Games will be at GenCon in 2012 with either double or triple the space, a larger catalog of games, and a better plan for having a great show. After next year's con, maybe I will share some of the secrets.