tl;dr – Holy nutballs, GenCon was big, amazing, and personally gratifying.
Guest of Honor
I didn’t expect the badge to actually say that. It’s not like people look at that part much anyway. And the badges on the provided lanyards flip backwards more than half the time, so you’re lucky to get a name. Still, that title meant six panels beyond the three I’d scheduled myself, and I had a fantastic time.
Leading up to GenCon, I’d been… well, a massive pile of negative feelings. Moreover, I’d been broadcasting those feelings online. The the point that people noticed, and said something Wednesday night of the show. I needed that. It was the start of being reminded why I had GoH on my namebadge.
My convention consisted largely of panels, and they deserve to be talked about.
Designing for Players – This first panel ended up being about designing campaigns for players, not games, as I’d originally thought. Someone referred to it as “how to baby your players” which I think is unfair. Lots of GMs come into campaigns with a more… traditional mindset: that they’ll deliver the campaign to the players using their (the GM’s) vision. I don’t dig that too much. I thrive on player input (some might say I utilize it too much), and I think that getting buy-in from players is key to running a successful campaign. We talked through all of those topics, and had some good Q&A at the end, mostly “how do I deal with player X.” The answer, invariably, was “talk to them about it.”
You’d think that, for a hobby predicated on talking to each other in character, that we’d be better at talking to each other as people. We’re not, but we can get there. Doing that, communicating well, will get you a long way towards having a great campaign.
Getting Started in the Game Industry (both of them) – There were two panels I did on this topic, and in both cases, there were multiple answers as to how to get started: freelancing, doing your own design and self-publishing, etc. However, there was a common theme: get to know people, prove you can do the work, and don’t be an asshole. Those might seem trite (Q: how do you not be an asshole? A: It’s hard sometimes), but they’re correct, in my experience. However you try to begin, put out solid work, show yourself to be reliable, don’t compare yourself to others (that way lies madness), and be kind.
If you keep doing those things, you’ll get some traction. And always focus on improving your craft, whether it’s writing, design, editing, art, layout, whatever.
1. Know what you’re making. Seems simple, but it’s easy to get lost in your vision of things, and not realize exactly what you’ve made. For example: Iron Edda is kinda grimdark. Most of you are saying “well, duh.” I didn’t figure that out until a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve published three products in that line.
2. Know who your audience is. If you made one cool thing (School Daze), don’t assume that the same audience will go for something with the same system, but different tone and content (One Shot). Also, know how much you can cash in on your social capital. These things are about engagement. If you’re not getting engagement, reevaluate how you’re approaching the marketing.
3. Give yourself enough lead time. You need 3-6 months of lead time and promotion to build your social capital, and to get people excited about your game/product/widget/whatever. Talk about its development. Talk about its content. Crowdsource parts of it. Show off art. Prepare.
4. Have the funds or trust to get assets early. That means your art, or layout, our video. You need to be able to show things off before and during the campaign. This leads into…
5. Have it done before you launch. Used to be you could fund an idea. Maybe if you’ve got enough fans, you can. Now? I’d have it done first, and I say that knowing we missed the boat on that one with the Iron Edda Setting Expansion Project.
6. Keep it simple. Product should be clear (not a setting book and a novel, which we also tried to do), rewards should be clear, goals for funding should be clear, and stretch goals should be clear. Also, don’t reveal too many stretch goals too soon (I AM REALLY BAD AT THIS).
7. Know your goal. Some people like the idea of setting a lower goal because it can fund faster, generate interest, etc. I prefer setting a goal that gives you what you need to make your product, but that can be overdone. That happened with the Setting Expansion Project. (There’s going to be another post coming that breaks down what happened with that project).
8. Be ready for the long haul. That means every day of the campaign, all the follow-up afterwards, all the fulfillment, and marketing and selling your product after the campaign is over. (There’s a post coming about this, too).
SO. Lots of content. Lots of information. Onward.
Is My Game Done? – Done enough for what? Publication? Your friends? A pitch? There are various stages of done, and really, what we talked about is done enough. You can always tweak and revise and try to resolve things, but you get to a point where you’re done enough to publish. Learning where that stage is, after playtesting, after talking to people about it, after gauging interest, that’s the trick. Again, we advocated getting opinions, and talking to people to learn these things.
Building A Studio From The Ground Up – This panel discussed a lot of why the panelists chose to start their own studios, and how you need to love the business side of things if you’re going to run a studio. In fact, you’ll be doing business stuff more than you’ll be doing design work. You need to want that, to be a business professional, if you’re going to run a studio.
Getting The Word Out – Social Media & Gaming – This panel discussed a lot of the ins and outs of various social media platforms. Most of us agreed that Twitter and Instagram are the biggest and most effective platforms. However, the key is to use a platform that works the best for you and how you communicate. Also, be willing to engage, and (say it with me now) don’t be an asshole.
Many thanks to all of my co-panelists. There were so many of them, and I didn’t write down everyone’s names, so just thank you. It was great talking about games and business with you.
The Exploding Rogue Panel!
The 1st Annual Exploding Rogue Summit was awesome. Brian and I work very well together, and we spent 90 minutes talking about where we’re going to go in the next year. Consider this a teaser for now, but there’s going to be an upcoming post detailing what we have planned for Karthun, Iron Edda, DEAD SCARE, and a few other products we have cooking away. Look for that information soon!
Friends and Foods
The other side of GenCon that thrills me is getting to see everyone that I don’t get to see in person during the year. This year, a great thing happened for me: I didn’t worry about what I was missing out on. GenCon is huge. 61,000+ attendees across the four days of the show. Even at shows a fifth of the size, you miss out on people and events. This year, I was content to go where I wanted to go, see who I was able to see, and during the show, I didn’t worry about what I wasn’t getting to.
That means I got to run some Iron Edda, take a few spins through the Dealer’s Hall, eat some great food (shout-out to Oceanaire), hang out at BasementCon (a huge group of friends outside the White River Ballroom in the JW), and relax as I needed to. It was a wonderful time that helped to remind me why I love doing this gaming stuff.
Brian is going to be doing a recap, likely over at d20Monkey, once con crud stops making his stomach empty its contents on a regular basis. We’ve got a lot planned for this year, and we’re excited to talk about it.
GenCon is amazing, and I’m looking forward to next year.