GenCon 2011: at the booth

Started by Ron Edwards, August 01, 2011, 01:49:44 AM

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Ron Edwards

Hey everyone,

It's going to be a little lonely at GenCon for me - not too many indie companies, and Vincent won't be there to share with me either. So ... if you are going to be at GenCon, consider coming by booth 1713 to say hi and maybe spell me for a bit if you can can.

I will have some drafts of the current annotations for discussion if people are interested, and will definitely be up for gaming right there in the booth, including Sorcerer boot-camp stuff.

No need to confirm or sign up or anything like that in this thread, but if you can make it, I'll be very happy to see you.

Best, Ron

Ron Edwards

I lived!

1. As Vincent wasn't able to make it, as he'd told me a while ago in plenty of time to plan, I was by myself. Plus I didn't set up a posse of assistants or get exhibitor badges for anyone, or anything like that, which would have been a good idea.

2. I found myself a bit stuck on flooring and shelving. I was hoping for the all-black flooring we'd used last year, but it ended up buried deep in storage in Massachusetts, and then Greg Porter and John Kolb came through with the rest of it. So it was almost all black; I put the red ones toward the back of the booth. I was able to avoid the weird Goth Christmas effect of black and green draping with red and black flooring.

As for shelves, a few days before the con and just before I went shopping for some Target Special shelves, I was talking with the guys at Posthuman Studios (this is because they do hip stuff with the Germans, and I drive and room with the Germans, hence this is all a German thing even though PHS and I are Americans in Chicago) and they had bought some shelves which weren't quite big enough for their books. They were willing to let me take them off their hands for a nominal fee (and I owe you guys big).

And then there were the tables. Sick of paying GeoFern Inc ruinous fees for renting their cheap-ass tables, I figured I'd buy my own at Target. Target had some nice tables at a wee bit bigger than I wanted, and I didn't know if two would fit  ... I bit the bullet and figured it was easier ignore one if necessary rather than wish for it if I didn't have it and needed two.

The point: it worked out beautifully. I and my little eye, if I do say so myself, put together the cay-utest little book-nook you ever saw. The shelves popped out my titles; they complemented the poster of the Sorcerer cover perfectly; they even had a high spot which served well for my long-standing square Adept logo poster. I was able to put the tables end to end and angle them perfectly to create a corridor for looking at the books and sitting down in comfort.

3. Of course, there was the placement. I have about a million GenCon "points," meaning whatever booth I name in the application, I get. Or have for a few years anyway. I chose a spot which was very nicely placed for traffic from one of the entrances ... but who knew that Catalyst Labs would buy up everything in front of it and block that aisle totally? So the artery I'd hoped for was entirely blocked.

Also, Luke and I typically name one another to be closely placed, and last year, for instance, we had a great three-booth aisle with the separating curtains taken down, creating a real indie alley. However, this year, he and the rest of the Burning Wheel / Memento Mori posse got a last-minute chance for a fancy spot somewhere else. I was near Pelgrane Press but they were around the corner. As for my immediate neighbors, the entire block of booths in front of me was taken by the t-shirt people, meaning an enormous cube of t-shirt displays right up to the aisle and proceeding 30 feet straight up, i.e., no real aisle of booths at all and absolutely no visibility from anywhere. My immediately adjoining neighbors were both very nice groups, who happened to have curving standup displays on either side of me.

You got it. I was a mole hole, completely invisible to casual glances, observable practically only from being right in front of me and not looking at the t-shirts. As in, fucked. It would all come down to my very brief contact with passers-by, my estimation of whether they'd be interested in my stuff, and my ability to strike up contact.

4. My Sorcerer titles were there, as well as four metal chairs, so that was great. But a software/communications screwup meant all my other titles didn't arrive until Friday afternoon. Argh!

5. My car battery died for no known reason at some point during the stay, meaning a stressful jump that almost didn't work in that crucial post-con breakdown and load-up phase. As with a few of the other logistic hassles, I owe getting through that to the inestimable Jürgen Mayer, my roommate of how-many-cons now, nine? who totally brought his Teutonic game forward and kept me sensible throughout.
Annnd, drum-roll please, what was the upshot? All by myself, in the situation described, working the booth eight hours straight for three days and six hours Sunday, I grossed more than I'd done in years, maybe ever with the exception of 2001. Helpful friends mattered a lot - both for occasional company and clearly for a lot of recommendations to con-goers. Thanks to you all, especially the aforementioned Burning crowd, who I think really went above and beyond.

Here's the real issue though: (i) I sold a bezillion book to people who'd never heard of me or my stuff before, which shows me my work is still relevant and not merely known to a niche; and (ii) due to some well-chosen phrasing on my white board, I discussed and playtested dozens of home-grown RPGs right out of people's backpacks. It was indie grassroots fucking awesome at my booth, all con long. In terms of internet page driven indie "scene," this GenCon was weak: hardly any indie companies with booths aside from Luke, Chris Engle, me, Posthuman, the OSR, and a couple others; a minimal presence for IPR. But that is not what defines the true indie scene.

Coalescing around the success of the moment is not what independent publishing is all about. That success of the moment, status and lauds, is NOT the guts, the teeth, the drive, the muscles of her pussy clenching on you, and the enemy's blood spattered away from the flick of your contemptuous fingers. Sure, I was the success of the moment for 2001-2004. Luke was the success of the moment in 2005-2006, and Evil Hat is now, or maybe it's Jason with the first two-time victory for the DJA (and more power to you, star of the morning!) ... or name whom you like! Vincent, John Harper, whoever, man, it does not matter. That is fun, yes, but it is not the point. It is not what I am here for.

The guts and the teeth and the et cetera are those gamer backpacks with those games in design sitting in them. I just spent four days in direct contact with them, answering questions about design, publishing, and promotion, talking to and listening about everything from haunted-house tile-based boardgames to post-Game Chef deconstructed Shakespeare to crazy-ass space opera with twelve races of aliens. And I will take that over all of it. Over my DJA in 2002. Over my Guest of Honor in 2003. Over any of the people who look a bit submissive and say, "Oh, Ron Edwards," when I remember to flip my badge around. None of that is any God damn thing compared to the guts and teeth and eyes of those people halfway though our conversations.

I made a lot of money and can now print Trollbabe and get that Sorc anniversary book out and do a bunch more stuff too. But what I really did, I think, was warm myself at the fire, yet again.

Get the fuck out my way.

Best, Ron


It was a great pleasure to finally meet you and get a chance to sit in on a demo of Sorcerer. It was also very satisfying to put into a few spoken words and gestures what would have taken paragraphs to hammer out.

He's not kidding about the mole-hole status. He took me several attempts to find the booth. I just learned to look for the t-shirt booth across the aisle. But I did find the booth.

It was great fun to see people come up, play in the demo, and have Ron put screws to their PCs - because they looked as if they were really getting into it. It made me want to run Sorcerer again!

Thanks for making my first GenCon just that much greater.


Paul Czege

Quote from: Ron Edwards on August 09, 2011, 04:14:50 AM
...and listening about everything from haunted-house tile-based boardgames...

Are you describing House of Whack? Did you meet Andre Monserrat?

"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton

Ron Edwards

Hi Paul,

No, the guys I met with that game were very much in prototype/paper design phase. The thing is, they run one of those real haunted house things, every year, where people go in and get scared. So they had some design work for a game which corresponded to their event. I thought that was a pretty good crossover product idea. We talked mostly about how to phrase what a game's about and how to promote it.

Best, Ron

Christoph Boeckle

Wow, great news for you and the indie potential!

Would you agree to give us some numbers? Like, what are a great year's sales like? How many copies of each game did you move, and what does it compare to internet sales and total sales history?

Also, what was that well-chosen phrasing? What does it look like to hook in one of those game-draft-in-my-backpack-guys and start discussing his design? I guess you hardly drop the whole Big Model on them in 10 minutes, right? Is it all about what the game is about and colour and reward and stuff? I'll probably be at a booth next April, where we expect to sell bezillions-in-Swiss-proportions games like this year, but I'd like to extend to those gals and guys in another manner too.

Ron Edwards

Hi Christoph,

In book terms, I sold 20 copies of Sorcerer core book by Sunday morning, which I'd underestimated the demand for; 5-10 each of the Sorcerer supplements; about 10 Spione, about 5 Mutual Decision, about 5 Elfs, and about 15 S/Lay w/Me.

In money terms, I brought home almost exactly $1000 in sales. In terms of raw printing cost and the low shipping costs, that was a huge profit compared to ordinary on-line and store sales. But in terms of booth and hotel costs, it definitely did not even meet them, not by a long shot. The booth cost me $1400, the various furniture cost me about $160 this year, and the hotel cost me about $500.

The real benefits lie in regarding con expenses as flat-out expense at the yearly level, without seeking to meet them with sales, and seeking instead to treat the book sales as a matter of printing and shipping just like any other. And that is only sensible if one thinks of the con expenses as buying intangibles: outreach to people who've never heard of the titles before, and maintaining and strengthening good will among people who have. The hope is for the company to achieve a stronger position than it had before going to the con, in terms of yearly sales.

A simple example would be someone who bought one book, then finding how much they like it, goes on-line and orders a bunch more some time in the next few months. And beyond that, the possibility that their friends will buy my books too. A more complex example would be something like my interactions with Posthuman Studios - it so happens that I bought their new English-language version of DeGenesis, which I probably wouldn't have done if they'd not helped me with the shelves. (I was previously intrigued by the game, but not must-have about it.) But it so happens that I really like DeGenesis and am now organizing a pretty serious long-term game, with hopes of posting lots of actual-play as soon as possible. My actual play posts have been known to help people's sales, sometimes. So their help for me generated what I hope will be positive publicity for them. I can't say whether any of my actions during the con will have similar possible reciprocal effects, but I've seen that happen a lot in the past and can at least hope.

Let me know if that makes any sense. I'll get to your second set of questions later.

Best, Ron

Ron Edwards

Part 2

Here's what I did.

1. The white board
This is a typical cheap dry-erase board I put up at conventions with various points or notes on it, like "non-Sorcerer titles arrive tomorrow" or whatever. Like last year at GenCon, I included a call for people to talk about their games in design. This year, it read:

What about your game?
(star) Design effectively
(star) Publish independently

People asked about this several times a day. Some asked directly, others stopped in their tracks and stared it, and then responded to my inquiry about what interested them. That's in addition to the several people per day who arrived either through others' recommendations, or being dragged by a friend who knew me.

The discussion
My how-to-publish discussion stands on four equally-important legs with one connecting topic. They can be addressed in almost any order based on the information or questions the person seems most concerned with at the beginning of the conversation.

1. The game topic. This consists of two crucial questions, based on a stated "X" for what the game is supposed to be about. Let's say someone says "pirates." The two questions become, (i) why a pirates game, and (ii) why a new pirates game? I.e., what's fun about pirate-play anyway, and given that, why not use an existing game to do it?

If a person is openly baffled by these questions, then I clarify that to them, the answers are obvious, but they aren't to anyone else; and that the answers aren't supposed to convince me of anything, but rather simply to open the person's mind/intentions about the game to the light. If a person's opening conversation actually includes the answers to this question, then I articulate them anyway and congratulate the person on being ahead.

In either case, once the answers are apparent, then I tell the person that everything in the game needs to reinforce these two concepts, and that anything which distracts from them or worse, contradicts them needs to get jettisoned.

2. The source of fun. This is GNS with the serial numbers filed off. The tricky thing here is to keep the discussion focused on social payback and not on techniques, although the latter are fine as examples of how the game facilitates the fun.

I found that everyone I talked to was instantly able to identify which of the agendas was just right for their vision of playing the game. I also found that they were a bit relieved that the discussion was not about defending the merits of 2d10 vs. 3d6, or endlessly debating "balance," or stuff like that.

3. Defining economic success for this person. This most often yields the sensible answer of "making a bit more money than I put in," but sometimes two other problematic answers show up.

(i) "I don't care about the money, I just want to see it published," in which case I ask if it's literally OK if they lose money; usually it's not and they adopt the "make a bit more than I spent" after all. Or they realize that they'd prefer to make it cheaply and offer it for free.

(ii) "I'd like to support my lifestyle, to pay for an apartment and a car," i.e., the person wants to make a living via game design and publishing. This usually leads to a discussion of the financial history of TSR and White Wolf.

4. Production and presentation, including distribution/fulfillment. This is clearly a complex topic and I focus strictly on the basics: physical qualities of the item in one or more forms, the primary means for people to encounter, how it gets to them, and how the money is handled and possibly divided up.

I found that every person was deeply affected by the brutal detail regarding taxes: in the U.S., inventory that you have not sold is treated as an asset. Therefore if you print 5000 copies and sell 500 in your first year, you will be taxed the following year according to your "holdings" of 4500 copies at retail value. The historical solution has been to mulch those 4500 copies immediately. I provide real-life examples of people doing this and ask the person if that's what they really want to do.

(i) I was pleased to find that most people are now comfortable with website sales in addition to store sales, and with PDF and book products being offered simultaneously.

(ii) I was stunned to discover that someone, whose name I did not find out, is still promulgating from a bully pulpit of a GenCon seminar all manner of grotesque stupdity concerning copyright and trademarks: to register-trademark every detail and to patent the system, to keep people from stealing your idea. If I find out who that person is, I plan to attend his next seminar and basically call him out from the audience.

The connecting concept among these four points concerns establishing a positive internet presence early in the process, i.e., don't follow the intuitive-but-mistaken model of designing in private, printing in private, and only then going public with marketing the already-printed product. The concept includes issues of social decency, establishing respect for one's ideas, successfully communicating #1-4 above, and being open to interested playtesters as well as giving them social credit on-line.

I hope that helps!

Best, Ron


Wow.  I assumed you got stuck with that booth through some unfortunate situation; I didn't realize you'd selected it specifically and then had all the benefits of the booth kind of implode on you.  Congrats on making things work with it anyway.  Just about every time I was there there was somebody who'd seen the whiteboard ready to talk about their baby, and I could tell you were jazzed about it.

I think a lot of people get hung up on the theory that's been articulated at the forge, and forget that that's all just there to help people design their own shit (and that it all comes from people designing their own shit).  It sounds like there was a certain amount of new creative birth, or at least the stirrings of life, that took place in the void left by the comparative dearth of people from the existing indie games community.

Hope they show up here and bring their ideas with them. :)

Thanks for the rocking Sorcerer game, btw!

Christoph Boeckle

Perfect, Ron, thanks a million!

Ron Edwards

Hi Ed,

I was looking at this phrasing of yours more closely:

QuoteIt sounds like there was a certain amount of new creative birth, or at least the stirrings of life, that took place in the void left by the comparative dearth of people from the existing indie games community.

That's not the way I see it. The way I see it, is that the "life" you're talking about is and has been constant throughout the past decade, or rather, for the entire history of the hobby. I think that 2005-2009 brought us too much emphasis on recognized community, at best, and on fashionable stupid cliques to put the worst face on it. The indie scene at GenCon became too much about people who knew one another hobnobbing, and not enough about what the Forge booth, and my grassroots activism even before there was really a Forge, were originally all about.

Those people with their games in their backpacks matter most. They didn't need any dip or void in overt/commercial indie activity to appear in order to exist. They've been here the whole time. I should know: I'm one of them and have never left that category.

Best, Ron


Fair enough: not new things, but a recognition of what was already there but might have been obscured. :)