GenCon Lessons Learned
It’s been a little quiet over here since I went to GenCon at the beginning of August. Some of that was an unexpected bout of covid and some of it was a stronger than expected con drop. I went to both Origins and GenCon this year, which are separated by only a month. Basically, I was pretty exhausted and a little bit burnt out. But I wanted to circle back on the things I learned going to GenCon this year, my first year attending as a designer.
I signed up to do playtesting in the First Exposure Playtest Hall at GenCon this year. I spent a lot of time in that hall last year, playing unpublished games, and absolutely loved it. It seemed like the perfect fit for me and the games I’m working on.
It was fascinating to revisit FEPH after a year in which I attended Unpub, Protospiel, Protospiel Online, and live playtesting events through the Game Makers Guild. It turns out there are many ways to organize a live playtesting event. For example, FEPH gives you a table for 2 hours and finds your playtesters, whereas Unpub gives you a table for 4 hours but has playtesters wandering between tables, and Protospiel has a free-for-all style where you grab a spot, play your game, then pack up and play other peoples' games. I hadn’t realized that I cared about the style of playtesting events, but it turns out I do.
FEPH is a well-oiled machine, but what I learned this year is that it’s not for me. I had good playtests, gleaned some important insights, and met some great folks! But for whatever reason, the Unpub and Protospiel styles of playtesting resonate more with me. So while I will likely go to GenCon again in the future, I probably won’t sign up for FEPH again. And to be fair, some of that has nothing to do with FEPH at all. There are so many things going on at GenCon that I wanted to do but by committing my time to playtesting, I wasn’t able to. I think part of what I learned is that GenCon is not my favorite convention for playtesting. I would prefer to spend my time at GenCon doing the things I can only do at GenCon.
I also set aside some time at GenCon to pitch games to publishers. This took two forms: speed pitching and meetings with publishers. Interestingly, this was the first time that I was doing any of this in person. I’ve participated in online speed pitches and had several online pitch meetings for Knitting Circle but I’ve not pitched with the physical game in front of me.
While I had the option to sign up for Unpub’s online GenCon speed pitch, I instead went with two in-person events. These were unfortunately less useful than I’d hoped. One event only had a small number of publishers and both events had some challenges keeping on time (a fairly common problem across speed pitches, even online ones). I found myself doing a lot of nervous waiting, which was stressful in and of itself, and I got a huge feeling of FOMO. I couldn’t get out of my head that there were other things I could be doing with the time that might be more fun or more fruitful.
And that’s a key insight for me and speed pitching: I really like that some speed pitches are NOT during the big conventions. Given the smoothness of the online speed pitch that I participated in (shoutout to Unpub!!!) and given that there are so many other activities that are only available at GenCon, I will likely stick to online speed pitching in the future.
I also set up a couple of meetings with individual publishers to pitch them Pirates of the High Teas and/or Good Kitties. One of them went well and I feel like I’m building a relationship with that publisher. The other unfortunately didn’t happen due to some calendar confusion. I hear that other conventions might be better for publisher meetings and that GenCon is a little tough because the focus is on sales.
I also had a meeting with the publisher who has picked up Knitting Circle and it was GREAT! I’m so excited to participate in the publication process and can’t wait to see how the final product comes out 🙂
Networking & Socializing
I attended a handful of networking and social events in the evenings at GenCon, which ended up being a mixed bag. They were GREAT for socializing with people I already knew (mostly from Discord) and I did make a couple of new connections, primarily friends-of-friends sorts of things. What they didn’t accomplish was meeting a lot of new people or significantly expanding my network. I’m pretty good at making friends once I’m introduced to someone, but part of the challenge in this network-based industry is growing my professional network. I’ve had decent success at previous conventions using a more organic and less organized networking approach. I think that might be a better fit for me and will probably deprioritize official networking events in the future.
I also had a couple of more social “meet for coffee” kinds of things. These kinds of personal interactions are great for me and I enjoy building deeper connections with people. Loved them, would do again!
Playing Unpublished Games
Interestingly, there weren’t a ton of designers that I know at GenCon this year. Combined with the fact that my days were highly scheduled meant that I didn’t get a chance to play many unpublished games. I missed that, it’s one of the things that I’ve really enjoyed about the conventions I’ve attended thus far this year. That being said, I did get to play a handful of games by folks that I know primarily online and it was wonderful 🙂 And so glad to meet folks in person that I had only met online!
Playing Published Games
I was so busy with the playtesting, pitching, meetings, and networking events that I played almost no published games. And that’s a real shame, because GenCon is PERFECT for playing published games. The expo hall plus all of the demo rooms for different publishers are great places to see what’s going on in the industry. I think this was a huge missed opportunity for me to do a bit of research on where the industry is right now and learn more about what specific publishers are doing. So this is moving to the top of my priority list for next GenCon!
I think GenCon is an awesome convention and has lots of great opportunities. I also think, based on my personal goals and the strengths of GenCon, I have a lot of things that I will do differently next year 🤣 But that’s how we learn, or at least it’s how I learn. The experience has helped me remember to be more intentional about how I use my time, especially the precious time at a convention that happens once a year. And to make sure I’ve got unscheduled time to be agile and dynamic. And to carry a lighter backpack. So with those lessons learned, I’ll see you all at PAX Unplugged!