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Con in a Box - Resources for boardgaming convention directors

This blog is dedicated to helping boardgaming convention directors run successful cons.
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Game Design Workshop

Eric Engelmann
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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Yeah, it's a common dream to want to be a best-selling author, a millionaire athlete, a famous actor, a rock-n-roll star, and, in the gaming community, a top-100 BGG game designer. The thing is, a gamer doesn't have to actually GET there to have a great time pursuing the dream.

A local boardgaming convention event can provide a great deal of support to aspiring designers. In my part of the USA, a con director can choose to organize something through UnPub (http://unpub.net) or Break My Game (http://breakmygamegroup.com), or roll their own. I've used the UnPub option successfully for many years, and just had a great experience with Break My Game. If you don't have a similar group in your area, here's a list of ideas and resources you might use to produce an independent event.

I'll start with an outline and flesh it out as time permits.

What designers want/need (often not the same)
Depending on where they are in the development cycle, they may want/need:

1. Peer support
2. Play testing
3. Feedback from testers
4. Marketing (direct to customer/Kickstarter prep)
5. Recognition (awards for a most novel, best, etc. design)
6. Face-to-face with a publisher
7. Sales
8. Bits bucket

As con director you could help with:
Peer support
Get the designers in a room with each other, preferably an hour BEFORE the play testing begins. Remind them to bring business cards, paper, pens, camera, etc. Name badges should be available. If you have an active designer in your area, have him meet and greet during that hour and get a conversation going. Arrange a group lunch. A Q&A with an authority or publisher could be a huge draw.

Play testing
Ensure con traffic will discover the designer area and is encouraged to play. Be sure it's on your web site, and post a welcome sign at the door. If the designers have art, use it. Play testing helps designers notice rules that are confusing to new users, broken combos, and other design flaws using a series of "fresh" gamers.

Feedback from testers
Yes, your friends all tell you the game you've wrapped yourself around is super-swell, but they are friends. Anonymous feedback from new users let's you see the cold, hard, unforgiving truth. Your design is great, but rules suck. Your design sucks but they like your presentation. "Too many notes." Con management should provide an anonymous feedback mechanism in addition to voting. Using a checklist will encourage completion of the form. Anyone have a finished form to share? Here's UnPub.net's online form: http://unpub.net/feedback/
Here's a first effort printed form I was thinking of using: http://emsps.com/cog/downloads/PlayTesterFeedbackForm.docx

Marketing
Put each game design/designer and a blurb on your con web site in a developers' showcase space. If the designers have art, use it.

Recognition
Awards cost a few bytes of data on a web site, or perhaps a nominal trophy/plaque/certificate. Is an award from your local con going to persuade a company to risk $50K on a game design? Almost certainly not (though it might help just a bit with demonstrating drive), but it can go part way to explaining time spent to puzzled friends or spouse. It's the "participation" age, so the more awards the better. How about these:
Most innovative game concept (this one could actually draw publisher attention)
Best implemented game prototype
XXX Con Design Competition Champion
Critics' Choice
Playtesters' Choice
etc.

Face-to-Face with a publisher
I really don't know how one would arrange this. Anyone know?

Sales
Some designers may have a self-published earlier game or a Kickstarter promotion under way. Let them know if it's OK for sales to occur, so they'll know whether to keep them secret or not . They might also arrange with one of the con's vendors to do any sales during the con on a consignment basis.

Bits bucket
If you have a collection of odd game bits, abandoned game boards, boxes, etc., your designers might appreciate being able to get design bits from it. Open it up to your con's gamers and you build traffic the designers can snag into playtesting. Here's my current bits collection (some of which I harvest from game publisher overstocks). https://www.facebook.com/CongressOfGamers/photos/a.380875571...
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