As UK Games Expo is just around the corner, and IRL playtesting and demos are coming back in full force, I thought now would be the perfect time to share my insight into making any game succeed at a convention.
To start this post off, I will briefly tell a tale of my first con, Play Expo Manchester 2019. I was the new kid on the block and surrounded by peers twice my seniority concerning age, about five times my senior regarding experience.
However, despite that, and even though I had a very handmade prototype of my first game, Blockers, I had a line of about six or seven people at any given time, with many repeat players throughout the weekend whilst the other publishers had maybe six or seven players across the whole weekend. Now it is nothing against them or their games, I played both across the weekend and loved my time with them, but they were not con ready.
From what I have found at conventions, you want to eliminate any turn-offs. Frequently, a person will come up to you, and one of the first things they will ask about your demo is, "how long is it going to take". That will be the crux of this post, to give you ideas on how to shorten your mechanisms to best suit a con experience. However, I will also be delving into incentivising the con goers who attend your booth to get them coming back for more later in the show.
Now I will be the first to admit, Blockers out of the box is not the best con game. It takes quickly half an hour to play, and with all components, the rules can get a tad complicated. However, instead of making a passerby, who had maybe eight hours at the con in total spend 30+ minutes at my stall, I broke my game down to just 60 seconds of gameplay. They would arrive at my stall, be taught the rules in 15-20 seconds max, and bam, they would be off to the races and enjoying the mechanism that makes Blockers most fun, the dexterity.
To add here, another great thing you can look at is from my primary manufacturer, Dice Sports LTD, who make enlarged versions of components specifically for conventions. This all comes neatly packed into a foldout table as well, so if you want to give them a ping to see what they can do for you, email firstname.lastname@example.org. I do not have any affiliation when sending people their way; it is just an idea I thought of.
Hopefully, let us take a popular game to give you some more ideas, but we might need to shorten the con experience—love Letter. Love Letter takes roughly 20-30 mins to play with the win condition of the first player to win four rounds (in a four-player game). However, if you change it to the best of three wins, or maybe even just one round (though that can be over too quick), that will bring it right down to about five minutes max, including teaching the game. As an additional incentive, you can make it so that they get entered into a draw for a giveaway if the convention-goer beats you.
Jaws of the Lion already does a fantastic job at tutorials, but they are still a bit long. So what you could do is use the components already in the game (the rocks and debris) to shorten the map and maybe add in a couple of artificial enemies to give the player a few different status effects to think about. The five tutorials at the start of JOLT again already provide a pretty great vertical slice of the game, but people do not have five hours to get through them with three other people. So a shorter version of one scenario with a bit added in to create a 10-minute experience would probably work best.
To save me from going blue in the face, or more likely blue in the fingertips, from writing examples all day about all the games I own, I will say this instead. Every game has a mechanism that can be demoed and played in 10 minutes or less. Every game worth playing should have one mechanism alone that can sell a game (of course, along with the artwork and components), so find that mechanism in your game (usually the one that defines which genre it is in), and make it demoable and playable within ten minutes, preferably within five minutes or less. Moreover, on top of all that, find a funky incentive, not just a gift card or a giveaway for the game. Please make it, so they have to come back to the stall over and over.
I know that UKGE is very close, so I wanted to keep this post brief as I am sure you have plenty of prep to be getting on with. Hopefully, this post has inspired you to think about your game differently, and it will get more people to your table and hopefully more money in your pocket as a result.
Hello, my name is Niall Crabtree, and this is my comprehensive blog showcasing all of my game development endeavors and successes, as well as essays on game design.
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