Example of Play

Commentary on Games Design


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How to write an Elevator Pitch

How to write an Elevator Pitch

Deep breath now...

Deep breath now…

The pitch is the interface between the hobby and the profession

Convention season is on us and you’ve just bumped into that industry professional you have always wanted to meet. You walk up to him with your game in your backpack and a big goofy smile. You exchange pleasantries and then he asks what’s in your backpack. You open your mouth, and then stop. Where do you start? There’s just so much to say! Then, as you try to scrabble to organize your thoughts, he is called off and on his way. You are sure that if you were better organized he would have been very interested in your concept. To break out of the hobby and into the semi-professional, your games each need to be equipped with a pitch.

Telling me about your game is boring.

Sorry to say, but if you just “told him” about your game ad-lib, chances are it will be a hodgepodge, scattergun approach that will take too long because you are so excited and unprepared. He may be very indifferent, lose interest, of even stop you halfway through your explanation. He may think that the next 20 minutes he will need to listen about your game before I can even decide if he likes it or not. These 20 minutes are lost. You would do better to get to the heart of the information as fast as you can. Ideally you would have a snapshot or some kind of movie trailer (with portable projector) for your game to have the good stuff condensed down. This want of a précis (indicative abstract) is exactly the same reason why we look at the back of a box before buying it – to get to the point.

What is the goal of a ‘pitch’?

There are many evolutions and vehicles of a “pitch”; mission statements, public strategy, sales presentations, “Barking”, poster events, executive summaries, etc x 1000, but the one that you need to concentrate on as a boardgame designer is the “Elevator Pitch”. The goal of this is to tell someone enough about your game for them to make a judgement in the shortest amount of time possible. “Yes I will playtest your game, yes I will listen to your full pitch, yes I do think this is a decent concept”, is what you want to hear after a pitch like this. Remember, that if the answer is “no thanks, that is not interesting” or similar, then you will be saving time for yourself and your subject – this is a very good thing and leaves you with more time to speak to others that will have better inclination towards you.

You get one chance, so make it good.

“What if they say No, but I didn’t really have time to get to the best bits?”, then unfortunately, your pitch was bad. This kind of pitch is a concise verbal presentation of your idea that acts to summarize your proposition. The long and the short of this, means “Put the good bits first”, aka “get to the point”.

The anatomy of an Elevator Pitch

  1. You have thirty seconds to say it all. Traditionally this was the time you had to speak to someone in an elevator ride up to their floor.
  2. Use clear language. No fancy words, forgo all abbreviations and assume no prior knowledge of your game. Concise.
  3. Use powerful and visual words. It is ok for this to sound a little bit “salesy”, it needs to demand attention and leave the listener with a strong and visceral image.
  4. Tell a story. Why does this game exist? What are the steps that brought you here?
  5. Practice. Yes in front of the mirror. Yes you have to know it off the top of your head. Yes you have to practice in front of friends.

How do you create an Elevator Pitch?

Step 1. Write everything down. Write down a few different ways of explaining your game. Don’t edit yourself at all; just start collecting your ideas. Put in as much long-form, blabbery, stream-of-consciousness stuff as you can here; write it all down in all the ways you can think of. Why does this game exist? How did you make it? What was your goal in making this game? What are your hopes for this game?

Step 2. Leave it for 24 hours. For at least one day, leave all of this information and don’t touch it. You will come back tomorrow with a fresh look on everything. This is ironically one of the most important steps, do not negate this as it will give you an exceptional look into your own game.

Step 3. Revisit and highlight the best stuff. With a highlighter, find the parts that really stand out to you (remember to keep the above list in mind here)

Step 4. Bring it together. This is your chance to start writing the script for your main pitch, using your fresh eyes and your highlighted stuff; you will start drafting the pitch and connecting the best pieces together.

Step 5. Success and practice. Read it aloud to a friend or family member. Read it again to a mirror, if you have the technology and inclination, read it into a Dictaphone or record yourself speaking, this will highlight some very important weaknesses, not limited to the fact that you do not sound anything like James Bond even though you think you do (L).

To Sum:

Write it all and condense it down to 30 seconds. So when someone asks you “Tell me about your game”, you will be properly equipped and prepared.

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Is your game going to waste my time?

The importance of designing a game for all the players, not just the one currently moving cardboard around.

My time is precious. I have a wife, a child and a dog. I play games one night a week with my gaming group and occasionally at weekends. Other than that it’s the odd game of GOSU and Jambo when time permits. When I play your game I have to think it has been a worthwhile use of one of my finite evenings dedicated to heavier-than-family games. Don’t waste my time: you won’t get a second chance.

I level this comment squarely at game designers who don’t design games for all the players- just the one taking the action. Compare Chess, where the inactive player stares in fixed concentration at the board when, totally engaged; to Snakes and Ladders where the inactive players sit, eyes slowly glazing, and wait for their turn to roll the dice. You would think designers would learn from this fairly obvious example? Alas not dear reader, the concept is still with us in different forms.

happy Don’t be fooled: two of these players and bored and miserable. 

An analysis of the problem

Any game that involves ‘miss a turn’ as an actual mechanism that can befall you fails is punishing players by wasting their time*. Games that have designed-in mechanisms that waste the players’ time are among my absolute most loathed- analysis paralysis is one thing, but tedium-by-design is quite another. If your game is prone to large decision trees, then give the other players something to do, allow them to think about their moves, to consider situations on the board- anything they would deem worthwhile. If my options are limited to:

1) glaring at the on-turn player
2) piling meeples
3) checking my email

I am not engaged and not experiencing your game…and this is bad for you.

Designers need to consider the players not actively shunting cardboard or collecting blocks. In play-testing, look at the inactive players: what are they doing? Staring intently at the board in rapt concentration or drumming their fingers and looking at the next table? Time is perceived to pass more slowly if you feel that what you are doing is a waste of time. I don’t think it’s too strong to suggest that players of any game come to play it thinking they are entitled to have a good time in the process**.

People don’t still do this do they?

Modern examples of games that ignore the inactive players are rondel games. I have had games of Antike, Hamburgium and Navegador where I could have written my next three moves down on a post-it note and gone for a 15 minute walk rather than sit at the table waiting for the inevitable to happen. I have a limited number of options anyway but on someone else’s turn I can do very little at all other than sit and watch. The idea of rondels is to script, to some extent, the actions of players and there are valid to do so: it opens up a few interesting design options. However, it also limits the amount of planning possible as an inactive player.

A modern example of a disguised ‘miss your turn’ mechanism is found in Vanuatu. This is a miserable, hateful, game where the object is to be in a position where other players waste less of your time than others. This action selection game is designed so that the player interaction results in your situation where your selections are rendered meaningless and just to rub it in, leaves you in a position where it can happen again on the next turn. Who play-tested this? Sociopaths? The winner is the person who actually gets to play the game the most, rather than being rendered a spectator.

Is it just impatience?

It’s easy to write this off as the ravings of a guy with a short attention span: not so. I will, willingly, play Britannia. And it’s not the boredom that gets my goat here either, it’s the frustration that the game doesn’t keep me engaged as an inactive player. A counter example of a game that I think gets it right would be German Railways. It’s a great game that keeps you involved even if you are not acting because you have a (financial) interest in other player’s actions. It’s designed to keep players engaged when they are not shifting pieces on the board. And that’s the crux:

Each player should be playing the game- whether it is their turn or not.

This situation can be seen in reviews. Players who haven’t actually been playing a game (20 minutes of actual decision making in a two hour game) often don’t give glowing reviews of it. And who can blame them? Ensuring players feel their investment (time, not necessarily money) in your game has been well spent is incredibly important to getting them to play it twice. If their take-home message was that they would have enjoyed themselves more if they had got a chance to play rather than watch, then you have to question if they have been playing at all.

* Or worse still, more than one turn. I saw a copy of Christian Endeavor in the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh a few years ago and that game is harsh, especially if you are unlucky enough to land on the ‘commit murder’ square.

** O’Brien, E.H., Anastasio, P.A., & Bushman, B.J. (2011) Time Crawls When You’re Not Having Fun: Feeling Entitled Makes Dull Tasks Drag On Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. http://psp.sagepub.com/content/early/2011/05/12/0146167211408922


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The benefits of crappy prototypes

The worst possible prototype is an amazing looking prototype.

Ok, the intro line here is a bit of a con (after all, the worst type of prototype is no prototype at all). When I say “amazing looking” what I mean is the shiniest, most chrome filled, graphically superior prototype that looks like it has just popped out of a modern Speil de Jahr winner,  Daniel Solis‘s* design cupboard or Brett Gilbert’s* graphical mastery.

Take a look at this:

serenity layout

This is the prototype layout to one of the games Matt and I are working on; a Firefly themed game crossing a deck builder and a wargame that takes place during the Battle of Serenity Valley. The game so far looks to hold up quite well, but the point is that this is a prototype card. The background art is not mine of course, all rights to the firefly comics there. Does it look good? Well I think it does rather. Would I consider changing the layout of it as a prototype? HELL NO! I’m not going to destroy all of this hard work I have put into this beautiful card! This took far too long and looks far too fancy to change.

If you are unwilling to change it, it is not a prototype.

This damned card set us back about 4 weeks of development because I was too stubborn to change it. I thought that entertaining a change of layout (and thus: mechanics) would ruin all of this effort I put into the card, for fear of it being slightly damaged. If any part of you would “rather not” change a part of your boardgame – then you no longer have the right to call it a prototype. This is true of any resource: dice, cards, board, etc that you would prefer not to change. Even if you kind of want to keep it, but maybe you know … whatever. That is as bad; you are biased and you will tilt in your duty as a designer to be empowered to change things, you cannot call something a prototype if at ANY POINT you are committed in keeping something because of any reasons other than gameplay.

Board making guides also suck.

I was really getting into making the board for this prototype as well. I went so far as to buy some “book binders tape” JUST to flex my craft muscles and make a real four way hinged board. The board is really great now by the way. I’m really proud of it and the way it folds all nicely, I spent ages on it. Then the shrill but distant far away voice is heard:

*Hey … Sam, what do you think about the idea of not using a board anymore at all?*

W- … what do you mean, strange voice of reason?

*You secretly know that games downfall is the board, lets try using player tableaus, I’m sure that will really help the game out!*

B…but the board i- … it folds. Do you not see? It folds into FOUR sections strange voice, FOUR!! (Sam flips the board between it’s two states in the air as if he were preparing to break the ‘Rubik’s Magic’ world record)

Why a crappy prototype is better.

If you realise you have made a really crappy, rubbish, pencil based, graph paper, style prototype then there are a few points to consider:

  1. You will never feel too attached to the game to avoid changing it
  2. You will focus on the mechanics – as you are no longer bound by the prototypes transient and physical nature
  3. Some of you may actively dislike the look of the prototype – leading to a positive reinforcement or push to change it, if only because it looks so terrible!
  4. You are able to “let it go” if you or a publisher choose to retheme it

Don’t let your pride, your graphics abilities, your fondness for chipboard, your perfectionism or any other such irrelevant desire bind you to something that only exists to be changed changed and improved.

Why does this happen?

Well, in the psychoanalytic theory that Freud made popular: specialised strategies are brought into play by the unconscious mind to deny or distort reality to maintain a socially acceptable self-schema or self-image. This is some awesome-psycho-babble-science for what me and you know as a “Defence mechanism”. The thinking goes that we give insincere rationalizations (we make excuses) for things that we have created because these things have been born of our own hand, and are physical manifestations of ourselves. They are our gorgeous babies. In destroying and changing your babies, you are, arguably destroying and changing yourself, forcing us to concede that something is “wrong” with our babies, and so, ourselves.

This neatly leads on to another interesting point; a lot of designers (myself included) get upset or angry if you criticise our prototypes. If you stop for a minute and think about this, it makes no sense at all. Here you are, with 3 willing playtesters in front of you all keen to help you develop your latest prototype, Ambulance Quest. Now imagine this; they play your game to help you make it better. You say, “Hey, what did you think about the board?”, the reply is an uncomfortable “It is bad, we would prefer player tableaus” and you are sad, hurt, and a little angry. This makes NO SENSE. You asked them specifically for their opinion to help you with the design – and now you are making up reasons why they are wrong “Well, perhaps you didn’t invest enough ambu-cash into the bonus cards…”. This my friends is called Cognitive Dissonance and is prevelant when your mind is aware of two contrasting thoughts. In this case: the amount of work you put into your prototype, and the fact that if all your playtesters says its bad. This is especially the case with very shiny and over produced prototypes.

To Sum:

Save yourself time and stop yourself getting upset; make crappy prototypes.

6181885340_6094f60e03_o

Awww yeeeaah. You should see the “Wolf” cards.

*Daniel and Brett are two of the most amazingly gorgeous designers I know of, they are both really cool guys as well. I would heartily recommend checking these guys stuff out if you want to see what I think the gaming industry will look like in 2 or 3 years.


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Depth in your design stable

Games design attracts creative folks. Whether they be creative with ideas, mechanism concepts, spreadsheets, economic theory or arts and crafts there is a spark of creation in a person that looks at the games they are playing and thinks:

“There isn’t a game that does _exactly this ‘thing’_ and if there were, I would play it”

-and then does something about that.  🙂

One of the curious things about the game design process, specifically, is that is requires different types of creativity at different stages of the process. Over-simplified, the main watersheds in getting a game published might be listed as:

  • Idea
  • Usable rules set
  • Playable prototype
  • Pitch-able game

SqDepThe ExPlay games stable. We love ideas.

The hours upon hours upon hours of tweaking and fiddling have obviously been removed. The need for creative output is self-evident from that list, but looking at the physical things that need to be generated by the different parts of the design process you find they take quite different skills to produce. The process ranges from to analysis to design, graphic design and then to sales pitching and marketing.

Analogy time. Warhammer: a games for statisticians, tacticians and painters. What a Venn diagram that is. You have to have a decent army list, know how to use it and it should look like an army of soldiers rather than featureless swamp monsters. Unless you’re playing swamp monsters (Hmm, is that a game idea? A miniatures game for the artistically challenged: Swamp Monsters versus Yetis versus Mud Men…?). Using a list from the ‘net, playing regular games and finding people who will paint your army for money are ways to short-circuit the system and those options certainly exist for games designers too.

Now, speaking entirely for myself here, I find some steps in the design process easier than others. The result is that I have a moderate number of game ideas that have not progressed further (not a wild amount, but there’s a few there), a lot of usable or nearing usable rules sets (I like that bit), a few prototypes and even fewer pitch-able games.

Having a few games ‘on the boil’ as it were, seems to be a useful tactic in getting people interested in YOU as a designer rather than in any specific game. This post

http://berlingamedesign.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/motivation.html#more

really hit home for me the need to keep the excitement up in order to stay positive about game design and getting your designs to a wider audience. The value of having a Plan B is huge. Have fall backs in your game design stable that might need a different part of your brain to work to progress.

In short, if a single problem seems insurmountable: get more problems.


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Game Design Secrets #3 – Rapid prototyping

The faster you can prototype a game, the better.

The worst thing that can happen to your beautiful new creation, all shiny eyed and full of joy, is a pained visit from the grizzly arm of indolence. Manifesting itself to gently place your keen-baby-bunting game on the top shelf of your cupboard, with all the other “Didn’t give it a go, probably would be great to finish” games –shelved to rot.

The cause of the decaying stack of chits and boards on my shelf can mostly be traced back to one point. Rapid prototyping.

I promise myself to get the rules up soon – and then once they are ready, I’ll paperfy the thing, it’ll be great just you watch. Then, 2 months later, when the game is in no other state than which I left it, I have lost my urge for it. My very own hype for the game has evaporated because I didn’t give the idea a life.

Making it easy on yourself

rapidproto

All the necessities. Also a hole punch for tokens. Those things are awesome. When you bring your hammer of justice down onto the soft card to create money tokens, you feel like … well like a hero to be honest.

Having readily accessible material helps the rapid protyping immensely. Try and remove all barriers between the ethereal idea in your head and the paper in front of you. I would recommend any enthusiast go on ebay, amazon, whatever and get:

  1. A load of blank cards
  2. Lots of heavy gauge paper (Greyboard or any thick card equivalent)
  3. Some fancy permanent pens (I love Posca Pens)
  4. Sheets of A4 sticker paper
  5. Some blank, indented dice
  6. 1 inch (30mm) hollow hole punch

This whole game design kit will cost you somewhere between £20 and £50 ($30-$75) and will … essentially … set you up for ever! Get this stuff, have it handy and accessible. Tidy your desk a little and get a big nice space ready to go. Pick up some blank cards – and start writing.

A quick analogy; if I locked someone in a temperature controlled clay design room, with a clay spinning wheel, loads of clay, clay tools, patina paints, and a kiln for 1 week, what do you think would happen?

The quicker you can get the idea down in an alpha playtest state, the more chance you give your creation. Now this next bit is tricky, but bear with me:

Rapid Prototyping will enhance the possibility of success AND failure.

Embrace the possibility of failure. As Matt’s excellent previous post advised us all, we need to understand that “bad game” is a good thing. It enables us to move on quicker to the next one. In exactly the same manner, good rapid prototyping accelerates the game design process, both for good and bad – which is good.

Following this quickening will force you into a position where you will say “Well, this very quickly turned out to be … utter horsecrap” – embrace that. Embrace the horsecrap. Now you can have a new chance to make something that will be better! By the time that you have prototyped one game, decided it’s rubbish, and then prototyped the next game, you will be on a better footing. Embracing the possibility of failure encourages creative risk taking.

More Time =/= More quality

Working for 30 years on a project does not make a good project. Some of the best games in the world have been conceived in the time it took to have a shower.

Build the toy first

If you are worried about the time it takes to proto a big ‘ol box game, then find the toy of the game, and do that bit first. Even if you feel scared about prototyping 200 cards for your mammoth deck builder, the core of the game will be able to be formed in a matter of minutes. Start there.

 

To sum: have a stock of accessible materials, write it down, start at the core, discard it if it’s bad, and do it again.


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On being wrong

Game design is equally described as both an art and a science and I am sure there are designers coming to mind whilst you are reading this that you are mentally sifting into ‘art’ and ‘science’ pots with regard to their approach. My day job is a as a commercial scientist. I shan’t bore you with the specifics (although I could- consider this your first warning), but it will suffice to say that I have to occasionally remind non-scientists that failing to get a product or service to market is not ‘failing’ as long as we learn from the process and findings.

To quote a guy called Steve Easterbrook:

The argument that scientists should never exhibit human weaknesses is not just fallacious, it’s dangerous. It promotes the idea that science depends on perfect people to carry it out, when in fact the opposite is the case. Science is a process that compensates for the human failings of the people who engage in it, by continually questioning evidence, re-testing ideas, replicating results, collecting more data, and so on. Mistakes are made all the time. Individual scientists screw up. If they don’t make mistakes, they’re not doing worthwhile science.

Or, more succinctly:

science-youre-doing-it-wrong

Applied to game design this line of thinking mean that whatever you come up with might fail under testing. Which is probably why playtesting is so hard for some designers to deal with, often ignored and why Kickstarter is so popular, but I digress. A game, or mechanism within it, failing when tested is not a failure. You have not failed as a designer: you just haven’t found the right answer yet. You must be able to let a wrong answer go and be willing to replace it with a different one. That one might not be right either, but you need to at least test it.

This might go on for a while. If it doesn’t: you are not ‘doing’ design. You are, in fact, ‘doing’ self-delusion.

Here’s an analogy: imagine your ideas are like puppies. Sometimes they grow into animals you are proud to share your life with. Other times, due to a lack of care, they might tear your face off. Now you could put such puppies into a sack and head for the nearest major water course, but that would be pretty cold and you would not really learn anything from it. Instead you might seek to re-home that puppy to a place where it will serve a useful function or be re-trained. Mentally though: be prepare to use the sack as a last resort.

That got pretty dark, sorry. The point is that some ideas might be a bit wild and better suited elsewhere. So park ’em up. Have an ideas document or file for things to slot into other games or work them up at a later point.

No design is going to fly like a bird from v1.0. It’s why publishers ask for evidence that there has been at least some level of playtesting from people who aren’t blood related to you and might not be infected with the same level of crazy. It’s akin to the peer-review process in academic science in that those who choose to ignore it or subvert it are rightly treated with a bit of scepticism from those who don’t and those who have to use the information submitted. It’s an idea refinement process: others checking that you haven’t allowed you own thoughts and feelings ride roughshod over the finished article.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It shows that you are well on the way to making ‘something’ worthwhile.

Games are like scientific enquiries in a lot of ways: a designer will see a gap and attempt to design into it in the same way that a scientist will develop a theory as to what is in a gap and test it. Start with the mindset that every part, every mechanism might be wrong or broken or both and if a design isn’t working then take it apart and put in some different parts of the same quality that might fill the same gap in a more elegant way. Switch, change, test, re-design, re-test and keep on questioning the results until you are certain there is no better way to make the game work to achieve what you want with it.


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Make the most of a convention as a designer – 7 Principals

I'd remember him...

I’d remember him, look how much whimsy he has!

Conventions are wonderful places.

Full of intrigue, wonder, and whimsy! Like-minded people convene to enjoy their hobby with others. First and foremost: at a convention, you need to have fun. Everyone is there for the same reason and non-mass boardgames can be quite a cottage industry, as you know, there is no worse feeling than having your work hat on while everyone else left theirs at home.

Remember though, as a boardgame designer, conventions can places of particular importance. There can be many points to consider here, and sticking to a few principals can be very helpful. Know that people at the convention here are your friends, customers, competitors, co-designers, publishers, artists, revenue, and industry contacts.

A convention is (at least in one view) the absolute apex of being a boardgame designer. Weirdly, this is also where you should do the least amount of boardgame designing – so what gives?

A quick aside: If the convention you are going to is 100% dedicated to games design like the global games jam, or a convention with special playtesting teams such as www.playtest.co.uk in attendance, where you have a special place to playtest and design, then do that. But if it is a straight-shootin’ convention then there are special avenues you can take.

What are you here for?

– get to know publishers or distributors?
– pitch your game to that great publisher that will be there?
– meet new people and make friends?
– meet new contacts and make business acquaintances?
– put your name out and get known?
– shill your game at the playtest tables?
– feel popular?
– absorb the atmosphere?
– meet those convention friends of yours and have a drink with them?
– play and experience new or unreleased games?
– scope out the competition?
– find new and hot trends?

The 7 principals

Now remember this is an exercise in getting the most out of convention, as well as having fun. An important point here: doing these things will take mental agility and emotional patience, you will be flitting and flying between things, and it will take its toll. All of which mean that it is a very exhaustive exercise. So, this is where we get our first rule of thumb:

1. Have a quiet haven somewhere

– Conventions are busy places so you will need somewhere to retreat to. When a general faces overwhelming odds, he needs a Plan B. There will come a point where you will either dissolve into madness or need go somewhere quiet. You might use it to reflect on your most recent conversation, write down some notes or have a more intimate chat. Somewhere peaceful is needed, like your hotel room, a group of unused chairs, behind an advertising board, the cafeteria, the bar, or outside. “Hey there John, well sure, I have seen your game and it sounds quite good, have you got somewhere quiet we can go?” Remember that in most public situations like this, more “deals” are made behind closed doors than in front of the cameras.

2. Get straight to the point

– Think to yourself “What’s the point of my current exercise?”. If it is to test out new games and buy the best one – then do it! Ask the demo guy “What’s this game about, why should I test it?” If you are coming as press then it will not only speed up your process, but give the person an easy restriction to work in. “Tell me why people should buy your game, in 2 minutes”. To the publisher: “Would you ever consider taking submissions?”

3. Use a notebook

– Write in it sparingly, and effectively: Use every line (don’t skip any), always make a note of their name, any points of interest, and any leads. eg “Matt Green: designer, did “Big Game X”, Loves Diet Coke. Wants to make an Egyptian game.” or “Big Jim. Gatekeeper publisher for “Gamey Games inc”. Really nice guy. Used to be a chef. Looking for quick gateway games.” This is a distilled form of what people call “industry knowledge”. When you get home (or back to your haven, see point 1), open the notebook and extract the vital information, send follow-up emails and behold, you have already bridged the stranger-gap. “Hey Jim, if you remember, we met at Convention X and had a great chat. I have been using those recipe suggestions you gave me from your Chef days – they are great! Is Gamey Games Inc you still looking for quick gateway games? I might have something coming up soon.”

4. Rule your own time

– Very important advice here. Conventions are very fun and it is very easy to get swept up into something. But if you have promised a famous Designer that you will see him at 4.00pm, then you must damned well see him at 4.00pm. The choices are: “See him on time” or “Miss your opportunity and get a black mark on your relationship”. This is my personal biggest challenge (too much of a butterfly) so I try my hardest to rectify this point. The same applies here when trying to arrange meetings with publishers. Email them before “can we meet on the Saturday at 3?” or ask them the day before “can I spend 10 minutes with you tomorrow at 2?”, giving them lots of time and options. If you don’t want to, you don’t need to get suckered in to long games or demos.

5. Be a clever butterfly

– Keep moving. I love this about conventions (too much actually) but there is just SO much stuff going on that you can see hundreds of things within a few hours. As a games designer this is great. There is lots of everything. Publishers, new games, ideas, people, components; why not do it all! The more people see you, the more you talk with people, and the more your name gets out. People talk about being “known in the industry” That is this. If people don’t even know you – how can they respect you? One problem is that you can do it too much – zipping from one place to the other like a whirlwind-frenzy. This is why you have to be a clever butterfly. Eg  Games’n’things (they don’t take submissions) have just released “scrabble 2” and are inviting players. At the same time over by the bar is that new publisher guy you met before, having a sit down and enjoying a beer. So, clever butterfly, where should you spend the next 15 minutes?

6. Give before receiving

– The size of a convention plays a part in how to behave. The bigger it is, the less time people will have. Remember that ALL attendees and exhibitors have their own specific agenda and, for now, you are nothing more than one of the crowd. People are scientifically more likely to trust you if you show trust in them first. Same applies with a positive attitude. If you ask someone to look at your game, they will maybe do it. If you buy them a drink first, they will probably do it. If you buy them a drink and 20 of their games, I can almost guarantee they will look at your game. Understand that this can be seen as immoral, or even as “bribery” in a certain light, but as long as you’re keeping everything friendly and fair it is a very useful tool. eg: “If I come back in 4 hours and bring you and your demo team pizza, will you THEN sit down with me?”. Pizza is the always the key.

7. Stand out & be memorable

– There are two distinct units of measurement in conventions. The first unit of measurement is You & your entourage. Second is Everybody else. The easiest (thus, most recommended) way to break through this barrier of anonymity is by standing out. Being memorable. Exercise: Do you remember that guy in a black shirt that was into wargames you spoke with at that last convention? No? Ok, do you remember that guy with the luminescent green hat with the feather in? If you have trouble purchasing a fancy a green and zebra-stripe pimp hat, then you can make do with a nickname and some business cards.

To sum:

Start with a peaceful haven but get to the point. Bring your notebook, and a watch. Keep moving, give first, and wear a silly hat.