Yesterday, then, the news that HABA have pulled out of 'live' conventions for the rest of the Year; hot on the heels of last week's Essen no-shows for 2F-Spiele / the Spring 'n'attendons pas' from Asmodee (and all of the brands that we love so much). This is, simultaneously, a Bad Thing(TM) - because it means no decent massive convention for a second year - and a Good Thing(TM) - because it further justifies my own own apprehensions about travelling to Germany.
Conversely, the small Events seem to be quite happy to pick things up again; despite a small number of 'Ooh, I've been pinged!' Track & Trace scares, it seems the UK Games Expo managed to beetle through with relative success: albeit as a shadow of it's usual self. I had a long conversation with pal Richard about his couple of days there and he was rather glowing about folks' adherence to masks, social distancing and general conscientious behaviour; this is great to hear - especially after the UKGE's original position of 'Do as thou wilt' in Q1, which firmly kiboshed a number of firms' attendance plans.
UKGE had approximately 10,000 unique visitors - about a third of the usual number - which, if extrapolated to Origins and GenCon (in terms of a 'drop off') would mean about 10,000 and 25,000 respectively; the latter sounds like it's pushing the boundary, though. Now...take 2019's Essen attendance of 208,000 (!) and we're talking 70,000: a truly monstrous - just over a Euro 2020 Wembley Stadium Final - number! So where is the physical and psychological cut-off point? For smaller conventions in the UK - Handycon (500), GridCon (300), Bastion (100) and my own Gathering of Chums (60-ish) - the prognosis would seem more positive; borne of word-of-mouth/friends attendance, there's better assurance that attendees will be sensible and considerate.
The barometer, I feel, will be Spring 2022 and - fingers crossed - the return of Leiriacon (500): it was the first Con to be Covid-cancelled (I had actually packed my suitcase for it when it was initially-postponed) and, should it go ahead, it would be a welcome marker of confidence and optimism: here's hoping, eh?
Life and Games (but mostly games) from Tony Boydell: Father, Grandfather, Husband and Independent UK Game Designer.
Archive for UK Games Expo
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This year I shall not be going to the UK Games Expo for the first time since it's incarnation in 2007. There was a thought that I might scoot up on the train tomorrow (Saturday) and meet up with a few peeps - Gibsons Games, Geeknson (to talk gaming tables), pals Richard and Jimmy, Alan & Charlie - but I can't shake the memory of recent 'large Freedom events' that have resulted in Covid super spreads. Quote:One of the local Newent pubs went balls out to hold a Euro 2020 final spectator evening, last month, and their Duty Manager ended up infecting 10s of people ie. most of the customersIt's been 18 months since my last Con attendance - the excellent Bastion in North Wales - and, since then, I've missed two Leiriacons, a Gridcon, (now) two UKGEs and an Essen Spiel: that's the totality of my regular, board game industry interaction right there!
So, today - as the hordes descend upon Birmingham's NEC for Day 1 - when I would've already constructed a Stand, beer-ed it with some Euro pals at the Ibis/Hilton and wandered the aisles for cheery 'Halloo's and early doors promos, I shall be feeling that tremble in the tummy: the churning thoughts that bounce between "great things are happening and I am missing out" and "It's going to make everyone sick!" - anxiety, eh?!
If anything, it further highlights my unwitting and unwilling separation from the inner circles of board gaming in the UK: a space now almost entirely populated by a few highly-focused publishers and a cacophony of content creators; the role of a designer, alone, seems to be rather an irrelevance. See? That FOMO is seriously messing with my self-esteem!
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Well, I managed dip in to the UKGE this weekend but ONLY via the Discord environment. Every time I wandered to the UKGE's 'Main Stages' page, there was either nothing on (with nothing showing in the schedule) OR it was some tedious marketing wank in which I had no interest. Or I got an Error 500.
No, indeed; it was a bizarre experience using 'Find' in Chrome to locate the virtual stands of peeps in whom I was interested rather than scrolling up and down the randomly-shifting presentation. Unless, of course, you were a major sponsor in which case your 'feed' was anchored to the top of the page.
With Essen Spiel coming up (so) fast, it was apparent by mid-Saturday that UKGE weren't doing anything new or - indeed - interesting; as Chris B (Cardboard Edison) remarked during a fascinating Sunday PM chat, they've just added company website links to a version of their Hall maps, pointed everyone to Discord and told us to get on with it. And then asked for payment at the end (one of those "Pay what you like" things: I 'like' zero, thanks).
I've no real idea how Essen will be different but with 1000+ exhibitors and however many thousand new games, this 'special friends get all the perks' shite just won't wash for a worldwide audience. UKGE had 'three' stage feeds but the real action was on the Twitches and the Discords the companies set up themselves: by-passing the imaginary NEC altogether!
Several things became apparent:
Sitting around 'live' and waiting for folks to ask for a demo is a massive waste of time - smaller Co.s would be better served pre-recording run-thrus and just making them available for ad hoc viewing. With no way to see if anyone is 'waiting' online - unless they make themselves known - the inactivity on a page will just move people along.
Sales - if you expected to get the same throughput as a real Con then you won't have been running a company for long; oh, I am SURE plenty of folks will swear blind that 'It was really good for us!" and "We sold loads!" but they're lying. Watching someone struggle through a 15 minute filler on Tabletopia for over an hour will NOT result in a ker-ching moment...which leads me to:
Online gaming at a virtual con is shit: Tabletopia and TS are utterly-terrible windows for demoing and should be stopped immediately. Prototypes? Yes! Actual demos? No - fuck off with the cumbersome shite: folks absolutely MUST see real limbs doing real things with real components.
Trying to digitize the physical geography of a Con is so wrong it's wrongetty-wrong.
Thus did the chat with Chris B continue and one thing I noted made the most sense: it's about the LIVE ACTION, people. Demos are time-consuming and procedural so can be pre-built for those who want a taste; where things really begin to shine is with the conversations, the arguments, the teasers and prototypes, the jokes and the friendships (old and newly-forged) - this is where an online Con needs to focus: the LIVE content.
Where UKGE had three 'special', pre-populated ('pre-sold') stages, Essen Spiel needs one virtual stage per exhibitor.
Exhibitors should be encouraged to provide regular - possibly constant for some - content, streamed from their 'Stand' with a previously-published (and indexed) central itinerary for the entire show - a fantastic example of how this might look can be found here:
. We've all got phones, so what we need is a means of linking them to a dedicated company stream and letting us all get on with it!
The tabletop events site does it all beautifully: searchable, linked to ticketing where needed and maintains a personal calendar on your behalf!
Of course, who would spend the money needed to set this up just for 2020? No-one in their right mind BUT...isn't this the perfect way to make Essen Spiel permanently available to the non-200,000 who make it to the actual Halls in future? Imagine we're on our stands with cameras and phones streaming our 'face-to-face's to anyone who wants to drop-by from home?
Imagine being able to add a company's game to your cart - from Oz or Brazil or Iceland - knowing that a shopper will be circling the Halls all-day and picking stuff up as they pass, drops it off at a parcel despatch Hall and come the Sunday the whole lot is taped and posted?! Payments could be handled as electronic payments-back to us at an end-of-show reconciliation. Jesus, this all sounds do-able and up-to-date.
We, at SSG, could stream interviews, play-thrus of prototypes, offer a Big Brother-style snoop option (rolling all the time), dances, us showing off our hauls and so on and so forth. All of it accessible from a Netflix/Amazon Prime-style wall of scrolling rows for 'Wargames...', 'Miniatures...', 'Small but perfectly formed Independents...' and so.
While we may never have to do the wholly-remote thing again (fingers-crossed), there's no reason to take the lessons learned forward and just raise the whole Convention concept to the next level!
(c) Tony Boydell and Chris B, 2020.
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Me and one of my favourite ever Germans, Mr Ulrich Blennemann, chew the fat:
(Uli is very quiet - uncharacteristically - in this one)
Here's fun: how many times do I side-eye my live 'room next door' stream from Dominic Cummings?
I do miss my European friends so very much.
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So, the UK Games Expo 2020 has (finally) been cancelled. Of course, with one of the founders being a General Practitioner, you'd think the 'board' knows best...the second time of asking, at least.
Many things shall be missed and the eager public must wait 12 further months before they can sample the game-y delights of:
1. The bring-and-buy may be missed by some; I mean where else can go to find
a) second-hand games at retail prices;
b) Kickstarter 'bundles' for double the pledge level because "I changed my mind during the fulfillment period / I want someone else to have a chance of getting a copy / I need to make pure profit out of some FOMO twat" (delete as applicable) - please note that hire of the fork lift trolley is extra to cart the crap out of the Halls;
c) something that a child called 'Robin' scribbled in biro on, and scuffed the corners of, in 1972 and is now - apparently - worthy of a 'Vintage/Antique' mark-up; and,
d) enough copies of The Works discounted material to build a life-size replica of Leeds Castle out of.
2. The obscene prices for an 'artisan deli sandwich' (seagrass and mud falafel, Broiled Essex Ham on Wheated Crack, "Vegan Cheese" ie. packing cardboard from the Hall 4 skip etc) and a thimbleful of fizzy 'spring' water.
3. The cannot-be-found-elsewhere 'Mother and Son' companies and their mortgaged brainpan outporings: "My Auntie Likes This: The Card Game", "Everyone Still Loves Monopoly Spin-Offs, Right?!" and "Trivia Games Deserve A Re-Evaluation". If you're really lucky, you might bump into an old guy who used to work for Waddingtons in the 1980s and has a loft-emptied pallet of two player abstracts to hawk - mainly Nine Mens' Morris knock-offs, though.
4. Bumping in to famous media types as they amble - ve-ery slowly up-and-down all of the aisles looking for something in particular (Shangri-La, probably) but 'happy to stop for a chat and a selfie' every three yards; and,
5. Watching the receipt for three nights in a bland air-conditioned box spool off the printer with something four-figured at the bottom.
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Well that's about it for my (as Tony) relationship with the UK Games Expo. They did entirely what everyone else is doing in these troubled times and moved the event from end-of-May to end-of-August. Unfortunately, for me at least (and SSG mainly), the hotel won't re-book my place accordingly. That's unreasonable, you might say BUT I did book the rooms on the last day of the 2019 show with a 'no cancellation refund' policy.
"OMG Tony, why did you do that?!?!?!"
Because the scalping fuckers at the Ibis chain - advertising rooms 'from £99 per night' on the departure day in 2019 wanted to charge me £1200 for two rooms in 2020 with the cancellation option; instead, I plumped for the £850 option which came with the 'ha-ha! no get-outs!' clause: "Why not?", I thought; "If, for some reason, I can't go I could offer the room to someone who might need it instead!".
Naturally, that was back in the halcyon, optimistic, pre-Brexit (when there was still hope), pre-Boris Johnson, pre-failed-impeachment, pre-Coronavirus maelstrom days.
I tried, of course, to appeal to the hotel's better nature: I didn't want a refund, I just wanted to move the booking to August...of course, anyone who thinks it will go ahead in August will have jumped on-line to secure the first places. They won't have been cheap but the scraps that are left will be even less so...unless you fancy taking a punt on a 'no cancellation' option?
I can hardly blame all of this on the UKGE, though, can I?
Well, they've sat happily by and watched the Hilton Metropol hike its prices year-on-year, lost/given up the option for Exhibitors to get some kind of discount (we used to get one in the early days) and, generally, sat back with the air of 'not our problem, mate'. The one year we couldn't stay at the Hilton (after doing so every time before) was because they were sold out to punters first - no block set aside for those of us who were still 'taking down and loading the vans'; we ended up in the Premier Inn - a mile away across an unlit expanse of car parks - and paid the same amount. The accommodation arrangements are, for exhibitors, a fucking joke; to be frank, if I wasn't an exhibitor then there's nothing about the UKGE that makes it worth me paying that much of my own money for now. Not a thing.
I'd rather save my cash for Leiriacon (now properly cancelled) - which costs less for everything (flights, parking, car hire, fuel, tolls, hotel & food) than just three nights (all meals are extra) at the bloody Ibis Styles - AND, of course, Essen Spiel.
We had a good run, the UKGE and me, but we've gone from excited co-conspirators in a noble evangelising project to being an income line in their booking spreadsheet with no strings attached. I quite liked those strings, in the old days; they meant we all felt connected.
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- My friend told me that it was a lot cheaper to go to the UK Games Expo if I volunteered; he said that I would need a hi-visibility vest and my own lanyard but, in return, I’d get a free room and as many Keyforge decks as I could eat. The pre-show Stewards’ conference gave us a list of the type of things to watch out for; things that could prove dangerous to visitors and/or damaging to the organisers’ reputation eg. offensive roleplaying scenarios, public displays of enjoyment and/or refusing to pay £4 for a bottle of water. I was assigned to Hall 2 where my responsibilities included kicking litter in to the corners, walking away from people in the middle of their questions and stopping stand staff from coming back in when they’d gone to the van to restock. My manager had to keep nipping off to hand in more pre-filled ‘Peoples’ Vote’ slips, so it was up to me to slow down the queues for coffee by ordering 20 Turmeric lattes at a time and then paying with a card that kept being refused; someone tutted so hard they lost a front tooth. On Friday, I was allowed to close off the Bring-and-Buy saying that there was a Suspect Package: we destroyed eight copies of Subdivision and a mint Gloomhaven that afternoon; my manager laughed so hard as he was doing it that he needed a Man Nappy. There was a football match on the Saturday evening, so my job was to send all the board gamers away from the Bar area saying “It’s reserved for the Football fans, I’m afraid.” and also send all the Football fans away saying “It’s reserved for the Board Gamers, sorry.”. We had the whole place to ourselves for two hours; there was a smashing view of the car park from the leather sofas. I was allowed to take time off for a couple of the Podcast records over the weekend, so took my Seat Riser and my Cosplay ‘Cat In The Hat’ hat to the Toute Suite in time for Sit The Fuck Down and Shut The Fuck Up!, Vascillating with Vasel, The Dice Shower and No Penis Included. The Free Play area was open 24 hours, so I was sent in to the Game Library to alternately hide the most popular checkout items under the desk; our new IT guy had rewritten the code to show everything was being checked-in between 5 and 50 minutes late, regardless – at 50p a pop for fines, we had enough for half a pint of the Artisan Beer, between us, by 0100HRS. I was very, very tired on the Sunday - irritable and drifting off constantly - so they put me on the UKGE Merch stand where I could have a nap whenever I wanted; someone blogged that it was the longest queue for tee-shirts that they’d ever seen – my manager was on cigarette burn-hole/mislabel the sizes duty for a bit, which was nice. Overall it was a very enjoyable weekend.
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It's cold and gloomy in Newent today; my mood, despite a healthy breakfast and a generous first cup o' java, is quickly heading the way of the weather; even Ziggy the dog, usually as bouncy as a Tigger played at x1.5 speed, rests his scruffy chin on the chair arm and sighs. I'm languishing not so much with the FOMO ("Fear of Missing Out") as the IAMO ("I actually missed out").
Despite being in one of the closest hotels to the UK Games Expo - with (allegedly) many of the exhibitors and celebs - there was never anyone I recognized in the Hotel Bar area for open gaming in the evenings.
I couldn't make it to any of the seminars/podcast records except the Who Dares Rolls one and that was seriously in danger of the panelists and crew outnumbering the audience - indeed, I had sort-of hoped that The Dice Tower episode immediately afterwards might have spurred some folks to join our event to ensure they had the best seats; as it transpired, we actually had a couple walk out after five minutes because the language got awfully fruity, awfully quickly...and, for once, I was trying to be the sensible one in the room: fail to prepare then prepare to fail.
At a show debuting our new product we were only allowed 50% of the copies to sell and saw several retailers - who were bunged the other 50% - undercut our prices: this led to some internet grumbling that I was somehow scalping the public. And some tosser tried to profit by putting his copy in the bring-and-buy.
I've seen a number of videos and photo albums of the weekend and none of them mention Surprised Stare Games at all - not even in passing; this continues quite a melancholy trend of our little enterprise - 20 years in the biz and every-year-ever exhibitors at the show - finding it hard to get arrested (except by our good pals who have blogs, vlogs and pods).
The much-vaunted Cup Final Football beer-fest and shout-a-thon (Liverpool vs Tottenham Hotspur) turned out to be a squib so damp you'd think you were watching it with Sebastian the fucking Lobster and Flounder the pissing fish*.
Despite the hundreds of reviewers and content providers mingling with the great unwashed, we saw barely a handful stop by at the stand (though I did see more scuttle by ne'er making eye-contact). On ground that couldn't be any more 'home', it's depressing to feel so isolated. Not for the first time in the last few years, I am questioning the worth of being there at all.
Next year we're planning to release at least two games and like to launch in our own Country's biggest do if at all possible; right now, however, the black clouds spattering the Library room window with fat drops and my pessimistic mood pressing my temples like a too-small hat, I think "What's the bloody point?" and that I'd rather hold off until Spiel 2020 instead.
We'd also save nearly £1300 on the cost of the hotel alone.
*there's a CBeebies pitch right there
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A calm final day without controversy or complaint; with the crowds significantly smaller than yesterday, it was less of a squeeze getting about. I managed to sneak off for a couple of design meetings and, when Arthur arrived, for some lunch and a browsy wander. With his anorak and rucksack, Arthur was equipped for - and happy to - solo exploration which made feel even older still.
The first Foothills of the day: relief! (I squeaked a win by 2 points - 42.5 to 40.5)
From the creators of Ice Cool comes the two-floor Iron Forest; no-one on the Stand actually knew the rules for this prototype!
And now to the Obligatory Haul Shots(TM); see anything you like?
The 'take down' was super-quick and we were able to get the car to the NEC door within 30 mins - apparently the NEC have abandoned last year's appalling 90 minute delay queuing system in favour of the simpler "Just let us get close, at least, and we'll do the bloody rest thanks". Arthur and I trundled the trolley around the scenic Hilton ring-road to Car Park E1 and we were soon a-Motorway, scoffing gummy sweets and listening to Radio One: another notch on the meeple, another cross in the calendar window of conventions: next stop Essen Spiele and I think we're going to need a bigger
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