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An article from some of the learning points as a second year as a publisher in Spiel Essen 2016.

http://www.xeolye.com/2016/10/5-lessons-for-small-publishers...

Pictures and links in the main blog post.


When I first started writing about my adventures in the world of board game design and publishing, I thought that nobody will bother to read my blog.

It seems like I was proven wrong.

During my walk around Spiel Essen 2016 this year, I went around to say "Hi" to some of the new Asian board game designers and to my surprised, some of them actually recognized me and thanked me for sharing on my blog my Asian perspective of board game design and publishing. I was told that my article actually inspired by my article I wrote last year which gave them the courage to set up a booth at Spiel Essen. As an author, nothing makes me more happy that my writings have changed the lives of others and this encouraged me to make a new resolution to write more about the world of board game, from an Asian perspective.


So, without further ado, let me share on the 5 new lessons which I learned from attending Spiel Essen for the 2nd year running.

For those who are unfamiliar, Spiel Essen is the largest board game convention in the world held in Essen, Germany, and this year, it broke new record in attendance with more than 170k attendees with another 2 additional new halls opened to meet the growing demand for board game enthusiast.


Lesson 1: Register For New Product Launch

Last year, we did not know about the existence of a Spiel Essen Games debut day and merrily went about doing some sight-seeing in the city of Essen after we have set up our booth. The purpose of the event is to bring the media and publishers together, showcasing the new games that is to be due to debut in Spiel Essen. This usually happens on set-up day which occurs on the day before the actual Trade Show and last year, we missed a great opportunity to showcase our product and mingle with the media.

This year, we registered for the event for the debut of Wongamania: Banana Economy. We thought that we will be allocate a number and a table space and so we took our time to reach the event ground just before the cut-off time at 10am.

It turns out that there is no pre allocated slot for the games and it is a first come first serve system whereby the prime real estate are snapped up quickly by the early birds. The display visual merchandise of some of the publishers are eye popping, with dressed up actors and elaborate set-ups. Our set-up was at a corner of a table and plain vanilla. Improvement definitely needed in the future.

Lesson learnt: Set-up early during Debut day. Bring an extra tablecloth and visual merchandise.

Lesson 2: Hotel Bookings are not reliable


Securing an accommodation to Spiel Essen is similar to that of the Munich Oktoberfest. Booking early will ensure getting decent accommodation at a decent location at a decent price. Previously, we booked an Air-BnB at Mulheim which is a neighboring city and spent much time traveling between Essen and Mulheim. To cut down on traveling time, we decide to increase our accommodation budget booked a hotel at the city center of Essen. In my previous experience, we have Air-BnB landlord cancelling our reservation just before our designated stay and we went for hotel this time around to secure our stay. Afterall, hotels don't cancel customer's reservation on a whim!

We were proven wrong again. One month before Essen, the hotel wrote to us through our booking agent saying that they are unable to honor our booking and this sent us into a mad scramble looking for a new place to stay. Without saying, everything thing Essen is fully booked with the exception of presidential suites and we were forced to relocate to Bochum, a city which is even further than Mulheim and with a higher fee. This forced us to re-evaluate our transport options as now we need more help to transport our marketing collateral and merchandise. Hence, we decided to rent a car and that led to the next problem...

Lesson learnt: Book early for accomodation and be prepared for the unexpected

Lesson 3: Allocate time for Traffic Jams


As the result of the forced re-location to Bochum, we decided to rent a car in to move our stuff between cities quickly and efficiently. We have read that driving to the exhibition ground will be a grueling and challenging task but having braved the customs traffic between Malaysia and Singapore, we are confident in navigating any possible traffic jam. We tried to reach the exhibition hall every day at 9am but ended up having the other 2 passengers jumping off the car at 950am to set up the booth as the fair starts at 10am in a traffic slowed to a crawl. The driver (we took turns to drive) usually arrives after 1030am cursing and swearing. We talked to our fellow exhibitors and they suggested arriving at 8am to avoid the jam. Many swore that this year was the worst in terms of driving experience to Spiel Essen...

Lesson learnt: If you want to drive, wake up early, else take public transport or walk from a nearby hotel.

Lesson 4: Attractive Booth Design Draws Eyeballs

Drawing from our experience last year, we worked with our illustrator Andy Choo to come up with an attractive booth design. The centerpiece of the booth is perhaps the two comics strip. We have people stopping and commenting, "What! You think US has high tax? Wait till you see my country!" Other people spend time on the Debtzilla comic strip and later sat down to find out more about the game. We had many people telling us that they loved the artwork and the satire take on money and economy. Many recommended that we start manufacturing Debtzilla plushtoys....

Lesson learnt: A well designed booth makes people more willing to find out more about your product.

Lesson 5: Board Game Community Shares and Cares


With a bigger and bigger crowd at Essen each year, it is no wonder that exhibitors are often overwhelmed with requests to demo the games, interested distributors and sale of the game. Inevitably, huge crowd attracts crime syndicates to try their hands in stealing the money box of the exhibitors. Many of the exhibitors are small independent publishers and often do not have a dedicated cashier machine for their transactions. Apparently, these thieves succeeded and I have heard of stories from fellow game designers and publishers who have some cash or property stolen from them. One of the fellow publisher, Ludicreation, had their money box stolen, and in it, 3 days of revenue from Spiel Essen. They took this incident with a positive light and decided to design a game called "Steal This Game" on the spot and the game involves around thieves who are trying to steal the money box from a Essen exhibitor. They put the game on Kickstarter and the entire board game community rallied and raised more than $30,000 for the publisher.

We were lucky as we only lost a couple of game components and bananas, as a result of our very vigilant financial manager, Sam.

Lesson learnt: Keep an eye on your money box and help your fellow neighborhood publisher to watch each other backs.

Spiel Essen 2016 was another fruitful trip for Capital Gains Studio. We were helped by old friends (Thank you TBD!), made new friends and shared ideas and information with other game designers on how we can move forward the board game industry in our home country. We were also glad to have met Mark Koh from Megacorp and Shin & Ethan from Lawless Empire who are fellow Singaporeans who are trying to bring a piece of Singaporean design into the international design arena.

See you next year at Spiel Essen 2017!

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Edward Uhler
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I enjoyed the write up and agree with your info on Wednesday, booths that 'pop' get lots of eyes and it really is a special community, isn't it?
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Eddy Sterckx
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Just questioning "Lesson 2" hotel bookings not being reliable. More likely it's your booking agent who isn't all that reliable.

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Kasper Kristoffersen
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Thanks for sharing :-)
 
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Peter Dringautzki
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Hey Xeo,

thanks for sharing!

1. That what I learned as well last year. What I learned this year is that you not should only get a blanket, you should also get something for the wall if you do acquire such a table. Standups are cool too. Also if you have a lot of games, punch them in advance and not at the new product show

2. The hotel booking was the only thing that was reliable for me. All Air BnB stuff sometimes get canceled. But that was mostly as Germany denied some flats in the middle of this year by law. Still book early, the best spots are already taken for 2017.

3. True, still as an exhibitor you can enter starting 8am? Actually there are seldom jams around that time.

4. Have an eye-catcher helps. Also having a good location helps even more. I doubt the guys in the corned of Hall 6 have seen lots of visitors

5. True said!
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Xeo Lye
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Quote:
Just questioning "Lesson 2" hotel bookings not being reliable. More likely it's your booking agent who isn't all that reliable.


Sadly, I used one of the most established online booking agent in Singapore. They wrote to me saying that it's the hotel that is not honoring the booking. I am not sure who is who to blame but things happened
 
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Xeo Lye
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MeeplePeat wrote:
Hey Xeo,


3. True, still as an exhibitor you can enter starting 8am? Actually there are seldom jams around that time.

4. Have an eye-catcher helps. Also having a good location helps even more. I doubt the guys in the corned of Hall 6 have seen lots of visitors



We another exhibitor sharing with us how they manage to beat the Jam when we bitched to them about the traffic. By reaching at 8am, and they managed to secure P6 which we were also told by the security which is reserved for media only everytime we attempted to park there.

I was dismayed when I saw our location at the back of Hall 7 but it is pretty good. I took a walk to Hall 6 and agree that the back of Hall 6 is not ideal location to be in for this year.
 
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hgzwopjp hgzwopjp
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shanmugong wrote:
Quote:
Just questioning "Lesson 2" hotel bookings not being reliable. More likely it's your booking agent who isn't all that reliable.


Sadly, I used one of the most established online booking agent in Singapore. They wrote to me saying that it's the hotel that is not honoring the booking. I am not sure who is who to blame but things happened


Something in the back of my brain tells me there's a regulation/law that the hotel in question should provide you with a room and reimburse you for the extra costs in case they couldn't honor the booking due to overbooking. There was one hotel that closed (and reopened again later with a different owner IIRC), no idea if that was the case. After all, I'm not a lawyer...
 
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hgzwopjp hgzwopjp
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shanmugong wrote:
Previously, we booked an Air-BnB at Mulheim which is a neighboring city


No, the city is called Mülheim, not Mulheim (even more precisely: Mülheim an der Ruhr, in opposite to Mülheim an der Mosel, but the Mosel is not quite near Essen, so that is not relevant). Just saying...

Quote:
we were forced to relocate to Bochum


The TRYP hotel is always a good try if you have a car, due to it being next to the highway and on an the Essen side of Bochum, not on the other side. 10 minutes without traffic.

In general, when looking for hotels, try hotel.de or hrs.de. Then find the hotel web page and try to get the same price as on hotel.de/hrs.de (if they're smart, they do so, because those suckers suck up to 30% of the price). Unless the hotel web page is too much of a hassle for booking there.

Quote:
Lesson 3: Allocate time for Traffic Jams

We tried to reach the exhibition hall every day at 9am but ended up having the other 2 passengers jumping off the car at 950am to set up the booth as the fair starts at 10am in a traffic slowed to a crawl.


There's a time when the rush starts. Be there before it, and you'll be fine, but 5 minutes later or the wrong route might mean half an hour later. Trying to get to P5 when taking the route through Essen itself is a bad idea (you have to turn left at a traffic signal that let only 0-2 cars pass per green phase). Exit the A52 at Essen-Haarzopf, not Essen-Rüttenscheid (or know where you need to turn left almost immediately if you do). If you're actually there at 9am, you will be fine (G**gle Maps was pretty precise in the expected arrival time - and I had a 1h drive each day each way).

But you probably want P6, which as far as I know is reserved for exhibitors, which I am not; so I don't know which is the best way to take, but I'd still guess anything going a longer way through Essen will be bad.

Quote:
Many swore that this year was the worst in terms of driving experience to Spiel Essen...


Definately, mostly due to the crappy idea of having people get their ticket during entrance, instead of collecting on exit. I guess they tried to save on manpower. I wonder if there were vending machines to get them anytime for P9 / P10, or just too few, because the horror stories of people who had to get those tickets while on the bus to P10 sounded pretty bad.
 
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Andreas Krüger
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hgzwopjp wrote:

Definately, mostly due to the crappy idea of having people get their ticket during entrance, instead of collecting on exit. I guess they tried to save on manpower. I wonder if there were vending machines to get them anytime for P9 / P10, or just too few, because the horror stories of people who had to get those tickets while on the bus to P10 sounded pretty bad.


P10 was pretty busy at times and when I queued for my ticket, I would have had to wait for the bus anyway. I heard there were times when three buses were waiting and people were still buying their parking tickets, so obviously it did not work all the time. You could buy the ticket also later but there was only one booth open when everybody left, so it won't work well when everybody tries. I am not sure but I think you could also pay cash at the exit of P10 instead of buying a ticket.
 
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Eddy Sterckx
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hgzwopjp wrote:
shanmugong wrote:
Quote:
Just questioning "Lesson 2" hotel bookings not being reliable. More likely it's your booking agent who isn't all that reliable.


Sadly, I used one of the most established online booking agent in Singapore. They wrote to me saying that it's the hotel that is not honoring the booking. I am not sure who is who to blame but things happened


Something in the back of my brain tells me there's a regulation/law that the hotel in question should provide you with a room and reimburse you for the extra costs in case they couldn't honor the booking due to overbooking.


You still think it's the hotel ? online travel/booking agencies reserve rooms at hotels - what they do is what airlines also do : sell more reservations/seats than they actually have, counting on cancellations. If they end up selling more than they actually reserved they tell their customers the hotel f'ed up. Yeah, right whistle

 
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Kai Herbertz
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Hi there,

thanks for the write-up. Here are my comments on your points, from the perspective of a first time exhibitor:

Lesson 1: Register For New Product Launch
I wholeheartedly agree - I did not sign up for the new product launch, because at the cut-off date (1st of August 2016) I wasn't sure whether my game would be ready for Spiel, even though I booked the booth way back in May...
I did manage to get the missing items on Wednesday, one day before Spiel started.

Next year I'll definitely sign up for the new product launch table - thanks for letting me know that it is first come first served. I was under the impression that space would have been allocated and assigned.

Lesson 2: Hotel Bookings are not reliable
Fortunately I am not affected by that, since I live 30km away and can easily drive back and forth every day, even though I miss out on any mingling sessions / hangouts afterwards.

Lesson 3: Allocate time for Traffic Jams
Most definitely! Even arriving an hour early was sometimes not enough and I ended up being stuck in a traffic jam on Thursday.

Lesson 4: Attractive Booth Design Draws Eyeballs
This is another very good point that I learnt the hard way. I had two roll-ups, but apart from that my booth had empty walls, which looked very unappealing. Next year, I will either affix posters on the 5x 1m divider walls or I will get a big canvas and display that, just like my booth neighbours "Black Box Adventures" did.

Lesson 5: Board Game Community Shares and Cares
The theft was absolutely heartbreaking, but it's awesome that the community came through and chipped in. When I read the tweets about theft, I was glad that I did not even bring a cash box, but had a dedicated wallet that went back out of reach after each sale.

Here is another point:
Lesson 6: Schedule Interviews / Game Demonstrations in Advance.
By the time that I was sure I would actually have a product for sale, it was already too late to contact people about the game. I ended up going to the dice tower, to boardgamegeek, and to Hunter&Cron on Saturday to briefly show them the game ("Das Katastrophenspiel", currently pending on the BGG submission list), but it is always better to set something up in advance and perhaps even snag one of the dedicated time slots in their schedule.

All the best,

Kai
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Martin Mathes
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For Lesson I:

I am trying to sneak into the news show . . . for years now, but I can't spare the time.

For Lesson II:

This year TWO hotels in Essen were closed down, Mövenpick and Arosa, so I estimate a lot of visitors had to relocate.

For Lesson III:

The new parking fee procedure had done everything to make a perfect chaos.
To avoid this, be at the fair a little bit before 9:00 am. Much before this will not do you any good as even with exhibitor's ticket, the security will let you in not much before 9:00.

Lesson IV:

Yes!!!!!!!!!!

Lesson V:

Some years only some games or components dissapear, some years whole booths (ok, not yet happened . . . but you never know).

Having a good crew with a fixed procedure for cash storage is the best measure against theft. Oh, and having the cash box fixed to something heavy is a good idea too.

Ciao

Martin
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Gordon Alford
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While I obtained a spot for the New Product Release, I will definitely be more prepared in setting up visual displays in the press area for next year. It's not as important as the actual booth, but it definitely helps.

Lesson 4 is pretty huge. I brought in nine 2.5m x 1m posters to completely cover my entire wall panels (my booth was 5m x 2m) and it caught a lot of attention in Hall 2. I would recommend that you consider this for next year.

Lesson 6 is also something that I'll remember to improve upon for next year. I got really lucky with getting an interview by Hunter & Cron and Ludovox. I really should have booked more in advance for interviews and demos.

Lesson 7: Deliver a strong demo experience.
For the first couple of days, I was the only one to demo my game and it took a toll. Others on my team weren't comfortable with leading a demo until Saturday/Sunday as many of the players were very involved and had detailed questions. I should have trained my team more beforehand.

People can tell when someone has a deep understanding of the game or just the basics. The demo experience is another area of opportunity to make sure your game is properly showcased.
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hgzwopjp hgzwopjp
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Kiamar wrote:

Lesson 7: Deliver a strong demo experience.
For the first couple of days, I was the only one to demo my game and it took a toll. Others on my team weren't comfortable with leading a demo until Saturday/Sunday as many of the players were very involved and had detailed questions. I should have trained my team more beforehand.

People can tell when someone has a deep understanding of the game or just the basics. The demo experience is another area of opportunity to make sure your game is properly showcased.


This.

Examples how not to do it:

We: "We'd like to try this game!"
Dilluvia girl: "Oh.... the guy who knows the rules already left. You could come back tomorrow!"
Yeah, or try one of the hundreds of other Essen releases...

Or the guys from the Lignum booth. Guy half-heartedly explains the rules, after the first round I'm the only one who managed to bring home wood, all others would have needed to take a credit. Nobody mentioned the credit, we only accidently found the debt cards. All others gave up...

Or somewhat the author of Ulm. "I can explain it in 10 minutes and you'll need only an hour!" (in opposite to the group before us, who needed 2). Unfortunately, he left out too many rule details, IIRC regarding drawing/playing of those cards.

Examples how to do it:

The guy from the Laulapetit who designed the Dokmus game boards. Okay, their games weren't overly complex, but enthusiams for the own games helps a lot!
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Kai Herbertz
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Kiamar wrote:

Lesson 7: Deliver a strong demo experience.
For the first couple of days, I was the only one to demo my game and it took a toll. Others on my team weren't comfortable with leading a demo until Saturday/Sunday as many of the players were very involved and had detailed questions. I should have trained my team more beforehand.

People can tell when someone has a deep understanding of the game or just the basics. The demo experience is another area of opportunity to make sure your game is properly showcased.


This is also very true - a great demo experience has the additional benefit of attracting other people to your booth. Whenever I had someone at our demo table (bringing just one was a mistake, I think it's best to have at least 2 demo tables, so that there is a good chance that there is always someone playing) then other people stopped by and asked questions or even bought a copy of the game.

If nobody was playing, people looked at the roll-up, but most of them eventually walked past the booth.

I hear you on having enough people familiar with the game. Fortunately that wasn't an issue for me, as we only had 1 table and 2 people that could explain it very well. It also helped that the game mosty consisted of symbols, so apart from one particularly tricky rule, everybody quickly understood the concept
 
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Yorick Heijink
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Talking about demos... I'd like to share an experience I've had this year:

We got a demo where the person explaining it to us (might have been the designer?) happened to be the biggest min-maxing alpha player I've ever met. His explanation was fine but during our session he seemed quite impatient with our moves. He kept telling us what to do, what the best move was and if we weren't quick enough he would move the pieces for us. My friend was so frustrated with the experience we walked away without the game.

To be clear we are not AP prone players and are totally willing to make some less thought out moves during demos to see how the mechanisms work. Often times we couldn't even read a drawn card before our host made our moves for us. There was nobody waiting at our table and it didn't seem like there was a rush, but sadly we felt very rushed.

So the lesson learned here is to let your guests make their own choices in games, because choices are what games are all about.
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In my opinion the demoer does not need to know the game perfect, but good enough. Seems strange, but comes from my experience. Almost all games that were demoed to me (in Essen, but also in other fairs) turned out to be not 100% accurate. There is always a rule missing, or just not fully right. But it never changed my opinion about the game. In the cases where we really doubted the rules, we almost never bought the game.

My conclusion: good demoer needed yes, perfect demoer needed no.

Oh, and for the hotel (tip 2): if you want more security, look up a hotel with a booking site (hotels.de, booking.com, ...) that you like and then google the website of this hotel. Call or mail them directly to book, that will give you more security than booking sites which do have double bookings sometimes.
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