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Author Topic: GenCon Forge Booth -- The Good, The Bad, The Ugly  (Read 8976 times)
Luke
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« on: August 23, 2005, 08:56:20 AM »

This thread is for Forge Booth members only. See the Customer Feedback thread if you weren't  a member but want to comment.

Ok folks. Time to air our dirty laundry while it is all fresh on the mind.

In regards to the booth:
What went wrong?

What went right?

What would you like to see changed?

Keep your comments in the realm of constructive.

-Luke
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TonyLB
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« Reply #1 on: August 23, 2005, 09:19:18 AM »

Opportunities to improve

Demoes were universally too long.  I was astonished by the results of simply putting myself on the clock.  Perceived time inside a demo is very non-objective.  Frankly, getting these times down would solve some other problems (booth crowding, inability to track down designers when a customer asks).  I worked my fanny off late in the con to bring the demo time down, precisely so that I wouldn't feel guilty about really pushing to get a demo table every time a customer was interested.  I think forcefully drawing that connection between self-interest (I want tables!) and responsible use of common resources (I will demo quick, quick, quick) early in the con would be a great help for people who don't realize the importance of the issue on their own.  Like... y'know... me for the first few days.  I hang my head in shame.

There was a desire, often voiced, to get attention shifted around to products that were unjustly languishing.  There wasn't, however, a system for doing so.  For instance, Ron pointed out that we should all be pitching Death's Door.  And I agree that it's a quality game, and I meant to get a demo so that I could get stoked up and enthusiastic about it.  But I didn't.  I don't know why.  I feel bad about it.  It wasn't laziness, there was just... there wasn't a juncture where anything about the lumpley-system of the booth gave me a path to do so without taking 100% of the initiative myself.  Or if there was, I missed it.  Urgh... guilt and shame.

Strengths to capitalize on

Okay, first?  Jasper.  If the booth isn't paying for his badge next year somebody has to tell me in time for me to do it personally.  He's a huge asset.  He had some direct influence on sales as a Roper (roping people in) but I think the big deal was his second-order effects.  He convinced me, at least (and I think others) that we could jump out there and be friendly, aggressive Ropers in our own right.

On a similar note:  The cash register was held down for most of the weekend by about six very capable people.  I will list Julie, Erin, Emily, Meg, Ralph and Andy because they deserve big props.  If I've forgotten anyone it's because of my lameness, not a lack of appreciation.  I'm sure I'd remember the face in person.  They all rawked out loud.  My sense of justice and fair play says that we should spread that duty around, and my sense of selfish efficiency says that they've earned their unhappy place at the top of the meritocracy because they're so damned good at what they do.  I don't really know how to reconcile the two.

We have some terrific known pitch-patterns.  For instance, on sunday, everyone who came by with a shirt like "Joss Whedon is my master now," or Buffy LARP tags, or Serenity RPG games, got a PTA pitch by way of the Whedon-connection.  Everyone.  And a large number of them bought.  There are a lot of these pitches that are known by one or two people, and could spread as a meme:  I know that I, personally, was fishing for people who were in performing arts outside of RPGs, and then hitting them with my "it's a theatre troupe" lead-in for selling Kayfabe.

What would I change?

Okay, I'll be the first to ask.  I'll be very surprised if I turn out to be the last.  How much does it cost to get a full island?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: August 23, 2005, 09:52:38 AM »

Hello,

So we can all be on the same page about stuff: GenCon Indy homepage, and the 2005 Exhibitor Application. Please note the extreme jump in price between the endcap (what we had) and anything larger.

Let's take any and all discussion of "should we get a bigger booth" to its own thread. Although this thread is fine for voicing the desire one way or another, if it applies to you.

I will sit back for a while and not post to this thread for at least a couple of days. I have plenty to say in it, but I need to see the range of others' feedback first.

Best,
Ron
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Andy Kitkowski
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« Reply #3 on: August 23, 2005, 10:55:17 AM »

What went wrong?

The credit cards. Big fucking mess. We need to:
1) Get the same kind of phone (buy as a group?) as the Key20 folks got, or
2) Get a dedicated Phone Line, and process credit cards that way. $200 for the weekend. That's about $20 per buy-in.

On demo length: They were painfully long (save the BW ones, which were just right. There were others, too). I actually did a long one of PTA as a favor, because the player showed up to a PTA event where all 5 other players cancelled. So I ran a 25-30 minute demo. All of my others were about 15 minutes.

On that note, though, when I DID see a demo going on too long, especially one where most of the players were Forge folks, both myself and Luke would politely tell the GM that they need to wrap up.  That is both polite and necissary, as really you can get caught up in that kind of thing. We need to have everyone keep an eye on that, even when the Big Guys (Ron, etc) roll over too long.

Oops, back to work for now, more later.

-Andy
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Luke
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« Reply #4 on: August 23, 2005, 11:48:43 AM »

Let's take any and all discussion of "should we get a bigger booth" to its own thread. Although this thread is fine for voicing the desire one way or another, if it applies to you.

To be clear: Please post your feedback about the booth, just don't post any solutions/mechanics. Hold off on that. I can tell you from experience, that solutions discussed now are just going to get lost in the shuffle.

-L
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Jasper the Mimbo
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« Reply #5 on: August 23, 2005, 12:22:11 PM »

Stuff to work on:

1) Fix the credit card problem.

2) Tighter demos, short and sweet.

3)  Retailers need take the initiative to make sure that the booth monkeys know what their games are about. We can only sell games we are exited and informed about. I didn't know anything about Mountain Witch until the second day, and I didn't know anything about Conspiricy of Shadows until the third.

4) have water more easily accessable. Talking that long is dehydrating and hard on the throat.

5) more efficiant use of personel. When things started to get crowded or the tables didn't look like they were going to empty for a few minutes, I walked around the Con with a few Forge cards. "Hey guys, what do you play? yeah? Have you checked out the Forge booth? They've got some really amazing stuff, it's over by the batman begins sign over there. Here's a card. Yeah, you should check it out. See ya." This worked way better than I thought it would. Don't clog the booth, take short breaks, widen the funnel.


Stuff that Rocked!

1) Everybody! Hot staggering *&#$! are we a bad-a$$ crew. The energy level was absolutely amazing.

2) Ben's sales stratagy: "This is my game, I wrote it because I want people to have fun. This is how it works. Did you like it? I'm glad. If you bought it, I think you would really enjoy it, and that would make me happy. I want you to join the Forge and tell me about the stories you're telling with my game. Can we get you a copy?" It's all about the human intrest angle. Awesome. Not a drop of Hard Sell to be found.

3) Watching people walk away from the booth was amazing. They would walk up looking like zombies or frightened animals and leave looking like assertive, exited humans. Our games are changing people, even if just for a little while.



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Allan
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« Reply #6 on: August 23, 2005, 01:20:12 PM »

Good stuff:
The Booth did very well at what I'd hoped and expected for it to do, which was provide an entry point for new designers to gain exposure and experience.  I don't know how much of a priority this was for other participants, but I met awesome people who changed the way I think about playing and making games. 

Not enough knowledge between us about all the games.  I recognize that for myself, this was my fault.  I hadn't read up on all of the represented games, and I hadn't made it clear that the Big Night was a kids' coloring book.  Sitting in on each other's demos helped a lot, but there needed to be more of that information shared early on.

What Tony said about Jasper.  Malcolm too. 

Highlight for me was having kids and parents come by the booth, and talking with them about the Forge and what it does.  There are young players and designers who want a constructive plce to discuss games on the web. 

Problems
Yeah, the games on the back of the rack were being overlooked. 

My own sales exceeded my expectations, but I felt like I was a drag on the overall quality and sales of the booth.  For me, this was a learning experience, and I now feel I have the tools to prepare much better for next year, so it was well worth it.  If anyone else feels that expectations of production value, and sales numbers were not met, then those expectations should be stated more clearly up front.  

If the proper place to discuss these specific issues is elsewhere or in PM, great.  I'm looking forward to your comments on how I can make next year even more productive for everyone.


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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #7 on: August 23, 2005, 02:59:37 PM »

What was bad:

1) Our demoes are not as rockingly honed as they could be.  Polaris was about 5 minutes longer than I wanted it, and other people were way longer.  Also, it isn't simply a matter of time.  There's a basic set of techniques for demoing that we could all, myself included, benefit from.  I think this is a matter of a seperate thread.

2) We formed the "wall of customers" way too often.  I tried to break that up when I saw it, but sometimes felt that I didn't have the authority to do so.  We need everyone but everyone to be conscious of exactly how visible the booth is.

3) Space was cramped, especially around the rack.  Then again, we're paying blood sweat and tears for that space, so we may as well use it, but in my ideal world the Forge has a big ol' Wizards sized space full of books and demo tables.

4) While the ability to demo each other's games was better than last year, it still wasn't ideal.  I tried to demo other folks games, but often there was a game (Final Twilight had this problem) which no one but the creator knew.  This is for shit and, frankly, I'm pinning the fault directly on the creator / owners.  Guys, if you're going to spend a lot of time away from the booth, teach two other people your demos.  And I don't just mean run it once for them

5) Likewise, we need to communicate talking points and target audience to each other.  I didn't know anything about The Big Night until Sunday, which was sad, because I could have moved a ton of copies to the families that were shopping at the booth.

What was good:

1) Everything else.

2) Especially Jasper (and, yes, TAO Games is paying for a chunk of his expenses next year.  Others are welcome to pitch in.)

3) And everything after-hours.

What I would like to change:

1)  In a purely pie-in-the-sky mode I'd love to see more space, although I understand the restrictions and difficulties involved.

2) More and different folks at the booth, especially more children's games.  Diversity is awesome.  Having something to sell to families is also awesome.

3) Communication needs to improve, especially around points 4, 5 above.
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drozdal
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« Reply #8 on: August 23, 2005, 03:00:40 PM »

Only unpleasant things first:

The Bad:
1) Booth was too small (or we had to many people floating around it, but it was probablu size of the booth).

2) Display rack - it served us well thru 2003 and 2004 but not it just gets in the way all the time. Also product placement was a big issue with some people. I think we have to have a flat book rack set up on the table or something else like this.

3) One or two exchibitors smelled really bad on sunday. People you're scarring customers away. Deodorants and chewing gum are your friend, really.

4) We have to figure out some storage space or just clearly state that if you buy some stuff you're taking care about it yourself. When I was taking care about register on saturday and sunday stored shit was getting in my way all the time.

The Ugly:
1) This is hard for me but someone had to say that: I know how hard it is to write a game, promote it and sell it afterwards, but people PLEASE if someone is interested in one title go with it explain everything you know about it to them and if your knowledge is not sufficent find someone else who knows more about this product, do NOT put your game in their hands instead and and attempt to hard sell it to them. I've seen it happen a few times.

2) Never "steal" customers from recently finished demo to run them thru your own. It usually takes some time and talk after demo is finished to close the deal. PLEASE do not STEAL people away from each other wait a minute or two and then (if they do or do not close) ASK THEM IF THEY ARE WILLING TO CHECK SOMETHING ELSE OUT.
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Blankshield
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« Reply #9 on: August 23, 2005, 03:03:11 PM »

I find myself in much the same place as Allen.  I got everything I could possibly want out of the booth this year, but felt like I was a downward pull on the booth as a whole. 
Part of that was (I hope!) the fact that I was sick and doped up much of the weekend, but most if it was that I wasn't able to be there most of the weekend from other committments.  That's gonna change next year, although I'll still be spending large chunks of time out of the booth, it won't be 27 out of the 30 operating hours.

Hell, I rode home on the same plane as Allen, and we hadn't met until we introduced ourselves on the steps into the plane.

Jasper's point about making sure your game is known to the booth is spot-fucking-on.  I super-appreciated Ron's pumping of Death's Door after hours on Saturday (for all kinds of reasons), but I was seriously not assertive enough in my follow-up on Sunday morning.  It is part of my job as a publisher to make sure that everyone at the booth can, at a minimum, pitch my game ("It's about ordinary people who wake up one day and know they are going to die."). 

One thing I would like a better grasp on next year, is how the hell the demo tables worked.  I get that there was no hard schedule, and that a hard schedule wouldn't work, but man it felt like there was some kind of weird, arcane shuffling order to the demos and I totally didn't get where I fit into it.


And just in case this gives you the impression that it didn't work well for me:  Damn, baby!  The forge rocked!  The booth, both as a "guy there to have fun" and a "publisher there to sell games" was head-and-shoulders the best part of my whole weekend.

thanks,

James
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Valamir
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« Reply #10 on: August 23, 2005, 03:41:02 PM »

I really don't think there was much ugly at the booth this year.

The credit card thing was annoying...but it was also the first time we've tried it and the fact that it worked more often than not is a pretty good thing.  I think there were definitely a large number of sales (well into the thousands) that we got because we could take plastic.  So I think the "credit cards on the cheap" made a great proof of concept and allowed us to dabble with it without large up front investment.  Next year, we know it can work, we know it translates directly into sales (and larger sales as we can capture more of the "I'm not really sure but I'll try it" sales with plastic than with cash).  So next year we need to upgrade and eliminate the PITA elements.  

I saw alot of active selling going on.  That's a GOOD thing...in a HUGE way.  I know there are some customers who balk at being sold and label any kind of active close to be a "hard sell".  I spent alot of time in the booth.  I didn't observe anything that would be categorized as a "high preasure"  Persistance is a good thing and to be encouraged.  We had ALOT more persistance and active closing going on this year and it showed.  A signficant chunk of our year over year sales increase I attribute to the higher degree of salesmanship going on.  I wandered the exhibitor hall alot.  There were alot of booths were people were just waiting for customers to come to them...and for the most part...the customers didn't.  I know active salesmanship isn't something gamers see at most game stores...there's a reason why so many game stores go out of business.  Every year we get better at this.  Next year I expect to see even more.

We've now reached a critical size.  With 23 seperate publishers represented in the booth this year (hooray) we need to approach things in a much more organized fashion next year.  We got through this year without any major fiascos but honestly, from an organizational standpoint I think we're playing with fire if we continue to wing it.

Needed:
Organized game stocking space:  I'm thinking break-downable rubbermaid-esque shelves with bins / crates to hold stock, in sorted alphabetized fashion.  Poorly or un-labeled boxes crammed under the cashiers table doesn't cut it any more...we just have too much stuff.  There were occassions where games were not on the shelf because no one could find the stock, and they remained not on the shelf until the one person who knew which corner they'd been crammed in returned to the booth to find them.  

More display space:  I will go on record as saying Paul's Trifold shelf rocks.  The addition of the tension bars this year was clutch as well.  Its unique, its distinctive, and to me...its home made...which I think is actually pretty cool in a booth about home made games.  The rear shelf is actually a good thing.  It pulls people in.  It makes them navigate into the booth to see the cool stuff rather than do the scan and walk.  The only weakness is the lack of floor space made it less navigable than ideal.  Good stock rotation helps with the exposure issue.  We've simply outgrown it.  Unless we have a dramatic shrinkage in the number of participants and the amount of produce, next year will require (as in require, not just "maybe a good idea") more display shelving.

More organized booth monkey support:  Booth monkeys rock hard.  These are people who travel hundreds of miles pay for their own housing for the ostensible "privilege" of spending huge amounts of time working during GenCon helping other people make money.  That's pretty insane.  What's even more insane is how many people like that we have.  Organization will be a key improvement next year.  We've talked in the past about t-shirts or some other emblem that can identify booth folks (maybe a hat that can be worn everyday).  I think that's a good plan.  I think we also need to consider a sign up sheet.  By and large booth folks do a pretty good job of regulating their own arrival and departure, but as number increase I think it would be worth thinking about signing up for specific 2 hour blocks (and being scarce at all other times).   Those blocks should be established with an eye towards maximizing game knowledge coverage.

More universal knowledge:  This is a hard one because it involves a degree of commitment to pull off, but there were ALOT of new games at the booth and not enough people knew enough about them.  

More Space?:  From a financial perspective I'm certainly willing to entertain ideas about how to improve flow and organization that don't involve spending more money...but right now I'm thinking we've pretty much hit a wall on space useage.  Unless we're planning to cap participation and number of products (at some number lower than this year) it looks to me like more space is required.  This is especially true as we consider one of the primary functions of the booth to be making GenCon accessible to new publishers.  We could easily make a booth out of the top 5 (or even 10) selling companies and have none of the above problems.  We'd have no space or organization problems, no product knowledge problems, and no demo time problems.  It would also be a total failure of what the booth is about.  I currently see only 3 options...none of which are particularly attractive:
1) Kick out the successful companies who can more readily afford to go out on their own and limit the Forge booth to primarily new designers looking for a start.  Bad all around I think because without the proven games to attract existing fans I think sales for the new games would suffer.
2) Limit total booth participation to 15-20 publishers tops.  At 23 we were really walking the tight rope of what was "too much" and as existing publishers add more products that number will have to get lower.
3) Expand: and find some way to structure the buy in fee such that its still affordable for the newer publishers without raping the older ones.

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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #11 on: August 23, 2005, 03:51:44 PM »

What went right is easy - great energy, great people, great games.  The dedication of the register folks and the suport of everyone in doing what had to be done before, during and after each day.  The cash register at the end of the booth, rest of the booth open = right choice, but we kinda knew that.  Keeping the demo tables full - really, REALLY full - and making sure not all that fullness was due to booth-memebers went even better this year than it has before.  And I still think the walk-around rack is superior to any currently available alternative.

What went wrong?  Well personally, I arrived exhasted and insufficiently prepared to really quick-demo SNAP.  Bad for me, my game, and the booth.  Never do this [/Zathras voice].  Also, in general, we had before the con (from Andy, right?) some GREAT ideas about cross-training for demos; how to keep excess monkey's from piling-up at the booth yet still have their time support the booth by doing that cross-training thing (and having some fun, longer demo's in the process).  I think we made more progress there than in previous years, but basically we didn't deliver on the promise of that brilliant idea.  The absence of the in-hall "free space" tables we'd hoped for is part of it, but there's more - e.g., even for games I could demo, where were the supplies (demo kit) that would allow me to do so?

What to change?  Fix what's wrong.  Manage space . . . somehow better (may be impossible, but this isn't where we talk about detailed fixes, right?)

And that's all I've got,

Gordon
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Emily Care
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« Reply #12 on: August 23, 2005, 07:02:35 PM »

What didn't work?
Add my voice to the space issues. Though I recognize the challenges with increasing it.

As a first time monkey, I felt a bit lost at times & wondered what I could/should be doing. Watching experienced folks, asking questions & trying to stay out of the way seemed to get me through, but more of an orientation might be good.

Cross-demo'ing each others games was weak. 

Having many people work the register was a dual edged sword.  It helped those who do so much of the work (esp. Ralph, Julie, Danielle),  but opened us up to errors since many of us were inexperienced with it. 

Primary booth sponsors may have needed more time/energy put toward their games.

What did work?
I don't know how we would have done anything if Meg hadn't labeled the boxes.  Ralph is dead on, we need even more organization.

Ron pointing out the games to be targeted was great. I was grateful to know what to focus on & wish I could have done more towards it.

Playing in eachothers' demos in the morning happened especially on Thurs & Friday.  This helped me a lot. Both by helping me talk about other folks' games and by giving other people something tangible things to say about my game, since they'd actually played.  It also gave the booth a strong look right off the bat, since there was activity at it starting first thing in the morning. Set the tone for the day.

From what I saw, people were very likely to point someone towards someone elses' game.  There was a ton of teamwork going on, from stocking the shelves, to hawking eachothers' games to playing pass the customer to the appropriate game designer for a demo.  Over and over again I kept being impressed  by peoples' willingness to do all these things.  In other contexts all these games would be seen as the competition.  At the Forge, it's clear to most everybody that having many games in fact strengthens everyone's ability to sell since so much energy is raised and so many hands are put to the work of selling. 

I loved Ron & Luke taking a day each to focus on their games. Primary booth sponsors should get something like this officially. Maybe that is the policy & I just didn't know.

The folks who did not have games like Jasper & Andy, who spent incredible amounts of time & energy selling, demo'ing and encouraging folks.  Thank you, thank you.
 
What to change?

More cross-demo'ing and/or training.  Someone suggested having everyone know how to demo 3 games solidly, and if we coordinated that we would have better coverage. Each designer could be responsible for making this be so.

If booth monkeyage time is to be coordinated, maybe signing up for half days when you'll be "on" or "off" would be easy enough to keep track of.  2 hour shifts might easily be forgotten or missed due to something coming up. Or have guidelines about how many folks in the booth is too many.   We can be more active about letting folks know when there are too many of us & send folks off to learn demo's or pass out cards like Jasper did.

An orientation for new folks, so people like James, Allan & I who had some questions would be able to know what to do with demos, have a chance to talk about their games and so on.
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Matt Gwinn
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« Reply #13 on: August 23, 2005, 07:40:52 PM »

Quote
What went wrong?

- The booth was definetly too crowded, but IMO was better than previous years in regards to the walls of people.

- The book shelf was definetly crowded and hard to get to at times, but this has been a problem for a few years now.

- I thought some games were demoed a lot more than others.  Coincidentally those were the games that sold the most, so I'm not sure if the overabundance of demos was the result of greater interest or if it was the other way around.  Or maybe I was just at the booth at the wrong times.

- There were quite a few games that I don't recall seeing demos for at all, like SNAP.

- Demos were too long.  Quite a few times I couldn't offer customers a demo because there were no empty tables.  It's great that we were so busy, but we could have run demos for a lot more people had we shortened demos (or stuck to Ron's 15 minute rule)..

Quote
What went right?

- Everything else.  The booth environment was just awesome.
- I thought we did much better avoiding the "wall of people" problems of past years.
- I played far more demos than I had in the past and had a great time.

Quote
What would you like to see changed?

- Not to beat a dead horse or anything, but I think a bigger booth or a separate sales booth would be a lot of help.  Our biggest crowding problems revolved around the demo tables directly behind the register and book shelf

On a personal note, I'd like to appologize if I seemed a bit whiney about my crappy sales those first couple days - I was a bit frustrated.  I do appreciate all the support I received, and my sales did pick up considerably on Sunday.

,Matt
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daMoose_Neo
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« Reply #14 on: August 23, 2005, 08:00:31 PM »

This was my first year at the Forge Booth, but not my first year showing, so I felt a little...odd.
I'll take Ben's critisism- as owner/creator of Final Twilight, I really dropped the ball, especially the first couple days. First order of business should have been to say "Hey, I know I've got people coming for this, could someone sit in on some games so they know the system as well?" First day was (personally) fucked up and rather stressful, but Friday I could have/should have done something about it, and I didn't. *slaps own wrist* Goes on my notes for next year and I formally appolgize for being a pain in the posterior.

The other, I kind of have to echo Emily's remarks about being lost, especially coupled with having done this once before. I've done shows of somekind since I was knee-high to a grasshopper and am quite used to doing *something*, but space and a general lack of organization of labor prevented a good bit of that, and left me feeling a little like a deer in the headlights. I really got a "Go. Play. Learn!" vibe, which I tried to take advantage of, and tried to net a few folks for showing off my games, but which kind of fizzled.
I *did* learn one thing about myself, and that is I'm a lousy salesman, which really had a good chunk to do with my earlier failings. As some noticed Sunday, I, Nate Petersen, wasn't the Nate Petersen everyone had met earlier. My partner, DJ Miller, really covered our (Neo) ass on the sales front, and got the chance to jump in and help with some others, which was awesome.

I'll toss my hat in the ring with space as well, and voice my support for paying a little more for larger space.
Aside from that, I'll agree: The energy level was awesome, I had the opprotunity to sit in on several demos and check the games out, it rocked, and the booth as a whole rocked.
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Nate Petersen / daMoose
Neo Productions Unlimited! Publisher of Final Twilight card game, Imp Game RPG, and more titles to come!
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