As mentioned before, building interest in a new role playing game is hard. Larger companies control a large portion of the market and most of their fans are unwilling try something new. However, it is not quite as bleak as one might think. It requires taking a leap of faith.
In developing your product, you know the game mechanics better than anyone. You obviously have faith in the product. You've survived the editing process. Now you have to convince someone else to believe in it.
Consider this scenario:
Our first game convention was a small convention in Springfield, Arkansas called GlitchCon. The convention had a following of roughly 500 people. It was a gaming convention, but had a strong party vibe to it.
Due to an irregularity in table spacing, we were asked if we would mind having our booth placed directly in the gaming area. We found the arrangement ideal, so we accepted.
On the Friday, I sat at the game table all day without running a single game session. A few curious attendees asked what the game was about, but most had scheduled events with larger, established companies. I was discouraged.
On Saturday morning, a young boy of about 13 or 14 sat at the table with two friends. Neither friend showed any interest in gaming, but the young man was definitely interested. I wove a story that forced the young man to used practically every skill on his character sheet. He was placed in difficult situations and his friends interests were peaked. The session lasted about 2 hours and by the end of it, all three were laughing and chatting about their options and skills and having fun.
Later that afternoon, one of the three spoke with his brother - a GM with one of the larger companies. By that evening, I was running game sessions non-stop as the GMs finished their sessions and sat in on mine to see what the fuss was about.
By the end of Sunday, I was exhausted from the sheer number of sessions I ran.
When you first enter the game floor, an intimidation factor comes into play. It is very easy to become discouraged when no one shows interest in something you worked so hard to produce. Dig in and don't let up. Don't be picky about who sits at your game table. I have run game sessions for a father and his young children - ages 13 down to 5. He was impressed by both the games diversity to adjust on the fly and my willingness to entertain his children while demoing my game. He bought the book.
There are some basic rules of etiquette which need to be observed when promoting your game:
Don't poach players from another table. This behavior is flat out offensive and shows bad ethics on behalf of the convention team. A quick way to disinterest potential customers is to initiate conflict and hostilities in an area supposedly dedicated to having fun.
Treat your table as a bubble. Game tables are loud. If the story is good and the group is having fun, it can be even louder. If a neighboring group is having fun, don't interrupt it for a complaining session. Likewise, if you are the loud table, try to locate your group with some personal space between your table and a neighboring table. For some reason, we always end up on the wayside region of the room. Once our first game session takes hold, our isolation actually plays to our advantage due to the activity at the table.
Make sure you can be seen. A must for any independent game company. For about $40 you can purchase a pennant banner, another $20 a bucket, 5' of PVC pipe, and a bag of cement. Make sure any banner your purchase is either double sided or purchase 2 of them. Do not purchase table banners which are horizontal. It is inconsiderate if your advertisement blocks the view of another table or obscures another independent company's banner.
To make a stand, place about 3" to 4" of cement at the bottom of a bucket. Drill a few holes at the base of the PVC pipe so the cement will not only bond to the pipe but through it. Add water and let it set. I usually use a 5" piece of PVC pipe to bond into the cement. The remainder is joined with a coupler so I can take it apart and store it with a little more ease. The banners are affixed to the top using a "T" coupler. Once made, the assembly takes about a minute to put together and take down at conventions. The bucket also allows the display to be placed on the table when waiting for players and quickly moved to the side when a game is in session.
Some creative sorts have actually made banners with lights and moving parts - a bit obnoxious for my tastes, but definitely eye-catching.
Develop a relationship with the game floor coordinator. Essential! These people are more often than not hoping to help you out. Find out the protocol for gaining players, running sessions, running sessions, etc. Each game room is a little different based on the purpose of the convention and available space.
To be quite honest, it's best you start developing a relationship with the game floor coordinator before you leave for the convention. Try to touch base with them. Let them know you are an independent game developer and see if they can dedicate a table to your game. Active conventions sometimes seek out game developers as a means of promoting unique features about their convention. The game coordinators are a perfect place to start promoting.
Use targeted adds on social media. This is a relatively cheap means of advertising before you set foot on the convention floor. As much as I loath social media, it does play a valuable role in developing a new product. Before I go to a convention, I will usually drop $20 two weeks before the event on targeted adds. The pre-recognition of your product is a powerful tool in getting people to stop and take a moment to look at the product. At medium-to-large conventions you are a very small fish in a very big sea. Having someone actually pause and realize they've seen you before gives you validity as a company.
Develop a 2-minute sales pitch. Another essential skill is developing a way to quickly communicate the benefits and/or goals of your product in a timely manner. Although enthusiasm is definitely required, the customer does not want to get trapped in an endless sales pitch. A good salesperson does not convince someone to buy their wares. Rather, they inform them as to why the product is something they need. If you can't hook them in 2 minutes or under, give it up. You may have some nice person willing to listen to you, but they are not going to purchase. For every trapped person at the table, you are possibly alienating 2 truly interested potential customers.
The exception to this rule is if a customer is actively engaged in exchanging information or asking probing questions about the product, they are interested! Indulge them.
Select your target audience and attend events popular to that audience. This one is a hard fish to catch. Mainly because of the variety of events available. In 2019, we presented at PAX South. It was by far the largest event we had ever attempted. Of course, it was amazing! Prior to this, we mainly circulated among smaller shows - population sizes ranging from 200 to about 20,000 attendees. For the purpose of sales and promotion, I selected shows which fit our budget. Ex. PAX, including table, room, travel expenses, stock replacement, etc. tallied a staggering $4,000 before the show opened. That budget will typically completely cover 8 smaller shows.
General Purpose Conventions usually draw large crowds ranging from 500 to 4,000 people. These events offer attendees a range of activities and usually have good spending when on the vendor floors. If the convention has a good history of gaming, I book it. Table prices range from $125 to $500, depending on the size of the city, age of the show, and projected attendance.
Game Expos or Conventions are your target crowd. Unfortunately, game conventions have a terrible track record in terms of spending habits. Board games have far better success at these events. However, this is your target audience. The first two years I tried to book mainly game shows. Poor sales nearly caused us to shut down Tortured Earth and throw in the towel. For tabletop roleplaying companies, I advice focusing mainly on General Purpose conventions. Work out the kinks with your sales pitch and stock on smaller shows first. As you refine your technique, ease into larger conventions. You will find you waste far less of your available financial resources than I did in the beginning.
Anime Conventions are a mixed bag. We've attended several and I feel the same each time I enter the game floor: I am about to jump off the edge of a cliff and I don't know what's at the bottom. It sounds funny, but we have had anime shows so bad I was worried I might have to pull from savings to pay workers. At other anime shows, we walked out like high rollers. The anime crowd is an interesting mix of gamers, cosplayers, and trivia buffs. I used to keep a separate stock of alternative merchandise just for these shows.
Festivals of all sorts are dangerous for anyone selling paper products. Irregular weather, sudden winds, and accidental trips can cause an intricate display to become a useless heap of slag. A regular event we used to attend was a Geek Festival put on the by city of Monroe, LA. The event is an awesome outdoor event and extremely cheap to participate in, but the last time we attended, a sudden rainstorm blew in and whipped rain beneath the awnings we rented. Fortunately, we managed to pick up all books and displays before it hit. Unfortunately, the book seller next to me couldn't get her stuff covered in time. I nearly lost 4 cases of books. Everything she had on display was a total loss.
If you can attend festivals and your product is not at risk or packs up quickly, do so. In all honesty, I wish we could continue to attend these events.
Game shops are often more than happy to host our game sessions. We've always held the arrangement that the game shop can sell our books and simply pay back the wholesale price. We run the game sessions, they round up the players. It works out well. Make sure your game shop is willing to host it, has scheduled time for your event, and is willing to round up players to make the event worth your attendance.
If you have other experiences, please post them below. I'd love to see how other game developers deal with the problems I've faced.
If you are checking out this post for the first time, you may access our website by clicking here: Tortured Earth Website