Good Day Internet!
From November 3rd-6th I was in Morristown, New Jersey for my first ever Metatopia. I had a great time, got to meet some awesome people, and completely forgot to take pictures or record names for this blog post (pure blogging professionalism right here). Regardless, after some much needed recuperation, I wanted to share some of my experiences and things I learnt while at the convention. First, let’s discuss demoing our word game: Grumble.
I scheduled 4 two-hour slots to show off Grumble throughout the weekend (which appears to be the standard), for my first slot on Friday afternoon there was only one person who showed up, which was somewhat expected based the fact that I submitted a last second and rather boring description of the game. Despite this, the session went relatively well and I got some good feedback that started a chain of minor changes to the game. Luckily, at the next two sessions attendance picked up with 4 playtesters at each and I also got opportunities to playtest Grumble outside of the scheduled slots.
However, by the time I left Metatopia late Saturday night there was no one signed up for the Sunday morning slot; I fully expected to arrive at the convention to an empty table to nap on. To my surprise, when I arrived there were already 4 playtesters waiting and a 5th joined in. Two of the playtesters had played the game previously on the Friday night, Murph and Karen (if I got those names wrong I apologize), which as a designer is an amazing feeling! Somewhat unfortunate for them though, I had changed and iterated the game multiple times throughout the weekend and we ended up playing two different iterations during that slot; a liberty I was lucky enough to have as Grumble is a relatively short game and playtesters enjoyed it enough to give it a second (or third) shot. At the end of it all though I ended up only one tweak off from a game that many playtesters enjoyed and that fit the core experience I was chasing after.
Personally, I got exactly what I needed from my playtests and was very pleased with how the signup system turned out. However, I do think there are minor scheduling problems with Metatopia playtesting. One of my concerns is that the playtest slots go too late into the night. This concern was validated for me when I saw a relatively well-known designer/publisher walk out early on their 10pm-12am slot because no one showed up. What made it even more surprising was the playtest was for an expansion to a well received game. Although 10pm slots are great for some people, I think it’s too late for most attendees who want to survive the weekend. Next year, I will continue to avoid signing up for those slots and start winding down for the night instead.
I want to quickly mention a few thoughts on something that as far as I know is unique to Metatopia: Hi-Tests. Hi-Tests are basically playtests where the designer has specifically requested that only designers, publishers, or helpers at the convention play the game. The staff behind Metatopia works very hard to make sure that the slots for Hi-Tests get filled with designers and publishers who have experience creating and publishing similar games. All of this is in the hopes that there will be a higher quality of feedback during those sessions in order to better guide the design.
Each designer gets the opportunity to request that one of their slotted playtests for the weekend is a Hi-Test. I did not request a Hi-Test as in my personal experience the majority of people who end up playtesting your game at conventions like these are designers anyway (Metatopia was actually the first convention that it was mostly people with playtester badges who played our games). My other thought was if someone really wants to playtest my game at a certain slot (like Murph and Karen) I don’t want to take that opportunity away from them just because they’re “not experienced enough” to give the kind of feedback I’m looking for. However, that’s my own personal view and doesn’t reflect what Hi-Tests are about. I was very intrigued to find out what other attendees (who actually participated in Hi-Tests) thought about this unique offering. What I got was relatively mixed opinions.
It’s clear that there is value to receiving feedback from people who have experience with your type of game. However, sometimes that type of feedback isn’t very helpful if the game is not at a level that warrants higher level feedback. Additionally, it didn’t help that sending around a select few Hi-Test playtesters means that eventually they tire (just like a regular attendee) and start dropping out. This created a situation where what looks like a full playtest of industry professionals turns out to have just excluded desperately needed playtesters (which was what happened to our friend Peter). In the end, I think the Hi-Test is a unique way to separate Metatopia from other conventions and definitely adds value for some. Personally though, I would never request a Hi-Test for one of my slots.
Developers Work Differently than Designers...I Think
Throughout the weekend I was able to witness various developers in action and examine at a very basic level how they think. The pattern that appeared to emerge was that they could iterate really quickly, their brains always seemed to be coming up with new ideas and they didn’t mind trying out new things. This led me to one of two conclusions: 1) Developers have a different way of looking at games than designers or; 2) I need to change my view on how I design games. From my experiences at Metatopia, I came to the conclusion that good designers think methodically about creating a solid base while good developers can easily identify those solid bases and then iterate on top of them like crazy to make a good game great. Honestly though, I could be completely wrong about this, but it was definitely cool to watch them work and it’s something I will be taking into consideration when I think about our future designs (it’s also why I was more accepting of iterating Grumble so much throughout the weekend).
High Quality Seminars
You may have remembered that we mentioned in our GenCon review that we personally thought that the seminars were not worth the time. The Double Exposure folks who ran the First Exposure Playtest Hall at GenCon assured us that the seminars at Metatopia (which is also their event) were much better. Having a thirst for knowledge, I decided to give them a try. I ended up only signing up for 3 seminars as to keep my schedule open and I have to say that they were definitely worth it. There were still things said that I knew, but I came out of them very satisfied and armed with a lot of new knowledge.
At “Life after Kickstarter” presented by Gil Hova (Formal Ferret Games), and Diane & Nick Sauer (Shoot Again Games), I got a crash course on the different options for selling additional copies of your game after a successful Kickstarter. I gained some extra knowledge on how to make your game stand out and be retailer friendly at “Designing for Retail” by Melissa Lewis-Gentry (Modern Myths), Cat Tobin (Pelgrane Press), Matt Fantastic (Prettiest Princess), and Zev Shlasinger (WizKids). I also had a very satisfying and personal Q&A session at “Developing Legacy Games” with JR Honeycutt (Artana Games and developer of SeaFall and the upcoming Charterstone). Overall, I was very happy to see that the quality of the seminars reflected the quality and quantity of awesome professionals at the convention. It was surprising though to see that some panels had almost no one show up and others were really crowded. Additionally, some panelists were well prepared and others winged it, but still did great.
Relaxed Schedule = Better Con
I was very happy with how I spaced out my schedule and left it mostly open with only 7 scheduled events for the whole weekend. Having an open relaxed schedule made sure that I was never rushing from one event to the next and allowed me the freedom to sit down at games that really needed the extra playtester. I quite like doing this because it usually introduces me to some interesting games I’d never play otherwise. Additionally, it allowed me to participate in all the other opportunities that I usually miss out including: lunches and dinners with groups of other designers and publishers, opportunities to casually playtest games, and meet some amazing people (it’s much easier to meet people while taking a break than at a scheduled event). In the end, I got a lot more out of the convention and missed less by not scheduling as much, which is kind of ironic.
Another happy accident that occurred from not scheduling as much was a revival of energy on Saturday night from playing Brew Crafters (which I’m currently obsessed with by the way). A group of us had just come back from dinner and although you would think that’s usually a nice break I was still exhausted. Playing Brew Crafters, a game I thoroughly enjoy and don’t have to examine in order to provide feedback for, completely reset and re-energized me for the night. I’ll definitely remember this for the next board game prototype convention I attend.
Overall, the experience was great and I look forward to the both of us attending next year! If you’ve been following us along you may remember that Allysha was one of the IGDN’s Metatopia Scholarship winners for 2016, but unfortunately she was unable to attend. Luckily, Avie at Double Exposure was kind enough to hold Allysha’s scholarship for her and so she will be coming down with me next year. YAY! Lastly, another big thank you to Chris & Suzanne of Cardboard Edison for letting me stay at their place.
Reminder that we will be hosting a board game prototype convention: Play & Pub in Toronto from February 24th-26th. We’ve confirmed two more publishers: Mercury Games and Jellybean Games and hope to be opening registration next week! Again, if you represent a publisher or would like to help sponsor in some way please feel free to Contact Us or send an e-mail to DancingGiantGames@gmail.com.
In other exciting news, we have been bestowed the honour of being Cardboard Edison Award Judges! We will be heading down to North Carolina in late March/early April for what promises to be an awesome weekend of judging. We also be taking the time to see a Carolina Hurricanes home game; Kevin’s favourite team (I know, it’s a weird favourite team for a Canadian) and an experience that’s been on his bucket list for awhile.
That’s it for now. Just a heads up that we do plan to be blogging through the holiday season, so there shouldn’t be any interruptions in our regular programming! If there is anything specific you want us to write about though, let us know!
Thanks for dropping by! If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.
You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.
Good Day Internet!
Last week we took a look at some lessons from Protospiel Michigan. This week, we’re moving on to lessons we learned from attending our first Gen Con!
Overall, the experience was great and we had a lot of fun: we played some games (including our own), met great people along the way, did our best to explore the entirety of the convention areas, and stayed under budget somehow (probably because we only bought two games the entire weekend). From this amazing experience we came up with 10 takeaways that every new attendee should know before their first time at Gen Con:
1) Book Early
We booked our Gen Con hotel about a month after initial registration opened as our plans relied heavily on Allysha’s dance training in Buffalo the week before. We got a hotel about a 25 minute drive away with a free breakfast for me, which we thought was pretty good at the time. The drive down and back each day was clear, even on Thursday when we arrived during rush hour. However, as soon as we started walking around the Indiana Convention Center (ICC) we immediately regretted our decision.
Gen Con involves a lot of walking with a backpack for water, snacks, and games, which quickly becomes tiring. Having the ability to go back to the hotel to take a nap during the day, or to leave some of your items there is very valuable. It also gives you the freedom to individually decide when your day ends (instead of having to facilitate everyone’s bedtime needs), plus you get an extra hour of gaming activities in each day. Luckily, there are many hotels close to the ICC (many with skywalks that connect them directly to the ICC) that if you book early enough you can get into. They basically sell out immediately though, so make sure you’re waiting for the housing portal on gencon.com to open, or booking a room via another route ASAP. From what we saw, you’ll be paying close to $200/night (approximately $50 more/night than what we paid) plus about $25/night for parking at the hotel. Despite the extra cost, we’ll definitely be going that route next year (and I’m pretty frugal).
2) Parking is Quite Excellent
If you do stay further away like we did this year, driving to the Indiana Convention Center and finding parking isn’t as much of a nightmare as you may think. There are plenty of parking garages and lots near the ICC (as in multiple in every block) with varying rates. We paid between $12-$30 for parking each day, depending on the day, how long we stayed, and at which parking lot. We highly suggest researching the parking lots ahead of time at downtownindy.org.
To get a spectacular parking spot and avoid walking multiple blocks to get to the ICC, you’re going to have to get there pretty early (about 8am or earlier on Thursday and Friday). The furthest we walked was about 6 blocks on Thursday, and personally, I thought it was worth it as we got to see some awesome architecture on our walk to and from the ICC. Allysha, with a sore back, begged to differ. On Saturday and Sunday though you can definitely afford to sleep in (which we did) as we were able to get a parking spot in the mall parking lot a block away from the ICC at around noon both days.
3) Do a Recon on Wednesday
Gen Con is MASSIVE. The Indiana Convention Center is 2 floors and covers 1.3 million square feet. Gen Con takes up all two floors of the ICC, many of the meeting rooms and lobbies of the 8 connected hotels, plus part of Lucas Oil Stadium where the Indianapolis Colts play. It is easy to get lost and overwhelmed, which we did during our recon on the Wednesday night. Luckily, there are program maps, plus general layout and Gen Con specific maps littered throughout the convention center. Take as much time as needed to walk around the convention center, get yourself acquainted with the maps, and ask questions on the Wednesday night to prevent stress come Thursday morning (especially if you have an early event).
4) Don’t get Intimidated by the Will Call Line
When we arrived Wednesday night for our recon the Will Call line was approximately the entire length of the ICC, and then looped around some. We heard rumours of the line being 2 hours long and that they’d stop accepting people in line at 10pm so we decided we’d take our chances Thursday morning instead.
When we arrived Thursday morning the line was only slightly smaller. We asked how long it would take and were told about 45 minutes, which we almost couldn’t believe. Turns out, 40 minutes later we were at the front desk grabbing our event tickets. Next year, we’ll definitely get our event tickets on the Wednesday evening (even if we do have to wait a little longer) to get it out of the way and give ourselves some extra sleeping time.
5) The Exhibitor Hall is a Dreamland
We already mentioned that Gen Con is massive, and the Exhibitor Hall is one of the biggest spaces at Gen Con. There is so much going on and it was so hard to not spend all our money in the first half hour and instead simply walking by most booths to check them out. Allysha may be the one with ADHD, but we both felt like a kid in a candy store wanting to see, try, and buy everything.
In terms of what you’ll see there, you’ve got: tons of publishers demoing and selling games, a lot of “geek” accessory and clothing booths (gaming table manufacturers/sellers, dice rings and geek jewellery, t-shirts, onesies, etc.), plus an artist section for both artists and writers. For a lot of Gen Con attendees this is Gen Con, and you can definitely tell by the crowds you’ll run into there (explore in small bits if you’re claustrophobic or have anxiety). However, it is only a small portion of what makes up the totality of Gen Con halls and events. It was definitely a high point for us, but we’ll probably only spend one full day, maybe plus a half day there next year because there is so much to do and see elsewhere too.
If you are looking forward to a game that is releasing at Gen Con, or has a lot of buzz around it, we 100% recommend going in early on Thursday. Seafall by Plaid Hat Games sold out in a matter of hours! Our lovely friend Jonathan Lavallee also premiered his game J’accuse! at Gen Con and it sold out by Saturday (of course we got a copy), leaving many others empty-handed. If there’s a game you’re interested in get it early or it’ll be gone!
6) Seminars are Debatable
We originally signed up for a lot of seminars and events, waaaaay more than we probably ever would have been able to attend. After doing our own research before the event and finding this guide (which is very useful and covers different items than we are here), we decided to cut down our seminars and events for the weekend. After cutting down, Allysha ended up with 2 scheduled seminars on Thursday and I had 3 scheduled. At the end of the last seminar on Thursday, we decided to not attend anymore for the weekend.
For us, the seminars didn’t give us enough (or any) new information to justify them taking away an hour and half of our day (one hour for the seminar, plus 3o minute travel and waiting time). There was simply way better ways for us to spend our time and make connections with other gamers, which what we really wanted to do. That being said, if you see a seminar on a topic you know little or nothing about and what to learn, then you may want to check it out. As far as we know, they’re all free and you can’t beat that.
7) Avoid Spacing out Your Schedule too Much
It sounds very counterintuitive, but if you have multiple events at the same location you will suffer from splitting those events up. For us, we decided to split up our First Exposure Playtest Hall (FEPH) gamemaster slots to one each day, which ended up being a terrible choice (for us). We would have been much better off doing them all back to back and save the travel and setup time (about half an hour at least each time). In total, we could have saved at least 2 hours and not have been as worn out from walking around so much if we had done it all back to back. Of course, if we had a hotel that was connected to the ICC, this may not have been such a big deal as we also wouldn’t have had to carry around our prototype all day. Still it would have been nice to get all done and then get rid of that burden on our backs for the rest of the convention.
8) Hidden Open Gaming
There are a lot of open gaming areas at Gen Con; there’s the games library (which you need to pay for, but then can stay as long as you like from what we understand), others are small events that are usually ticketed, some are just open tables in lobbies where people decided to start playing (usually pretty loud), and somewhere there’s a designated open gaming area (for free) that we didn’t find until Sunday. Turns out it was located in the tunnel connecting the ICC to the small part of Gen Con that is in Lucas Oil Stadium. It was Sunday, but it seemed to be a very quiet area (a nice bonus) due to it being tucked away from the rest of the convention and not having any secondary entrances/exits. We were fine without it this year, but will be taking advantage of it next year. Open gaming times are 8am-2am Thursday-Saturday, and 8am-3pm on Sunday.
9) Explore the Food and Architecture of Indianapolis
Beyond parking lots and garages, downtown Indianapolis seems to be littered by great restaurants and amazing architecture. Although not a part of Gen Con, the nearby restaurants are often main highlights for frequent attendees as they get to get away from the mayhem of Gen Con, relax, and catch up with friends over good food and drinks. We had the great fortune of being invited by the first playtesters of Pulled into Darkness on Thursday at the FEPH, Aaron and Tara, out to lunch on Friday at Yard House. It was a fantastic time, and I only wish we had more time to try out all the draught beers they had on tap.
Additionally, there are many outstanding food trucks that take over part of Georgia street for the weekend to provide quick meals to attendees. Some actually even spill over onto South Capitol Avenue and are less busy despite still having great food and the farthest one being maybe 50m away from Georgia street.
10) Don’t go to Dick’s Last Resort
This is a public service announcement for attendees going with young children or for those who just don’t appreciate or can’t handle the humour and kinds of shenanigans that go on at Dick’s Last Resort.
Dick’s Last Resort is one of the closest sit down restaurants to the Indiana Convention Center that looks to be something like a rough around the edges jungle themed cafe. However, it’s the kind of place you would suspect those who think Cards Against Humanity is absolutely the funniest thing ever would not be able to get enough of.
Their motto is “service with sarcasm”, but it’s usually just crude. For example, part of the experience is a server coming by and placing/forcing a paper hat with some sort of “funny” insult on your head. The nature of the “joke” varies, but at least a few are something you would expect to see on a Cards Against Humanity card. It was also clear that they weren’t general remarks but were personally made to put on your head, so if you do have issues and insecurities with yourself watch for that. You can take your “hat” off but the waitstaff may or may not comment about how you are “being rude”. We actually watched someone who had young children walk in and immediately walked out after hearing the server getting the restaurant patrons to yell “You suck!” to a patron to wish them a happy birthday...good choice on her behalf.
So if you have young children or struggle with Anxiety, mental illness or other personal insecurities, we highly suggest not going there as it can be stressful and demeaning in your eyes. And if you love that kind of humour, knock yourself out.
It’s been over a week since Gen Con finished and it feels like we still haven’t caught our breath. Last night we were at Snakes & Lattes Designers Night playtesting an updated version of Pulled into Darkness and this weekend we’re helping to run Toronto’s first prototype convention: ProtoTO. Designer tickets are sold out, but there are still plenty of playtester tickets available for those who want to help design the games of tomorrow. Many of the participants are published designers, including Eric Lang, Chritopher Chung, Paul Tseng, Daryl Andrews, and Francois Valentyne, or are playtesting games soon to be published. We’re going to be exhausted by the end of it, but it should be a great weekend.
Next week, we’re going to get back into game design posts with “The Playtester is Right...Usually”.
Thanks for dropping by! If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.
You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.
Good Day Internet!
Welcome back! We hope you had a great July :)
Our July was very hectic, but also quite enjoyable. Part of our many July travels included heading down to Protospiel Michigan from the 15th-17th. This was my second Protospiel in Michigan and third overall. During the weekend I learned a few lessons, and was reminded of some that I failed to recall from the previous year. Hopefully the following list will help to improve your prototype convention experiences (and remain fresh in my mind for next time).
1) Bring a Sweater
This has nothing to do with the weather, which was quite hot all weekend, instead, it has to do with convention halls trying to make sure visitors don’t overheat by blasting the A/C. The downside to this is that by the time the sun begins to set it stops being refreshing and starts becoming uncomfortably cold. Every evening I was forced to wear my bright yellow jacket to keep warm (even then my hands were very cold and I looked forward to getting back to my hotel room to warm up). To be honest, I should have known better, but bringing a sweater never crossed my mind when packing.
Beyond a sweater, I was very happy to have a water bottle that I could fill up in the bathroom after the water jugs emptied (taking one of the provided glasses to do the same just doesn’t feel quite right). Snacks were another great thing to have to survive until the typically late lunches and dinners, and I just found out this year that the area is licensed so you can bring in some beers if you’d like (it’s an easy way to make friends assuming you’re sharing).
2) Dinners are a Great Time to Connect
My plan was the same this year as last year: when I got to Michigan I went and bought enough groceries to last the whole weekend. That turned out to be a mistake (something I should have known and remembered from last year).
My thought process was that by not having to go out for meals I would get in more valuable playtesting time, but I missed out on the lunches and, especially, dinners with large groups of great designers and publishers. So although I managed to maximize my playtesting time, I missed out on the other half of what makes Protospiel so great: making connections. Of course, I did have the chance to make connections during playtesting, and I met a lot of great people. In terms of meeting publishers though, I didn’t. I played exactly one game with a publisher over the whole weekend, but never actually talked to them directly. Part of that is my fault for not seeking them out, which is something I definitely need to work on in the future.
Next year I’m going to bring some extra cash and expect to go out a few times for meals. That way I won’t only get the bonus of making those connections, but I can potentially negotiate getting one of our games in front of a publisher after our meal. From what I’ve seen, it seems that groups that go out together for meals always come back and immediately sit down to play a game by one of the designers. I can only assume that happened by discussing it during their meal.
3) The Best Designers ask Questions
This is something we’ve been touting for a while, but it comes to light every prototyping convention:
There is no shortage of people with (strong) opinions on games at these conventions (including the game designer). Opinions are fine (you’ll always hear a wide range of opinions on your game(s) at prototyping conventions), but when a designer asks for feedback and then defends their game to no end (especially experienced designers), it’s very tiring.
When I see a designer looking for feedback by asking more questions, writing them down, and processing/working them out, I get excited about the development of the game (regardless if my feedback is taken or not). This indicates to me that they are open to trying new ideas that they may not like but instead, may be good for the game. More importantly, it indicates that the designer is passionate about making the game the best it can be, and making themselves the best designer they can be. That’s the kind of designer you want to be. The one who is eagerly asking questions for feedback and willing to try new things.
If you make it to Protospiel, Unpub, or another prototyping convention, pick the brains of the designers and publishers on general game design and the world of publishing. There is a lot of great knowledge out there so take advantage of it (at Protospiel Madison 2015 we got to pick the brains of Jay Little which was awesome). Your game, and your knowledge of game design will improve by leaps and bounds.
4) Conventions are Better Together
Somehow I managed to be the one person out (literally) near the end of the convention on Sunday. Everyone was in game or mid-discussion for playtest feedback, which I didn’t want to interrupt. Last year I went down with three other people (including Allysha). This year I definitely missed them and especially Allysha for the times when I didn’t know what table to head too (when they were clearly all full), and when I needed someone to bounce ideas off of.
Find someone to bring down with you to these conventions. It’s a great time for everyone (including playtesters who have never playtested games before) and it’s so much better to have someone you can always just hangout with and discuss ideas.
July was hectic and August is only slightly less so. We were in Buffalo from July 26th to August 2nd for dance training for Allysha (there’s a reason we’re called Dancing Giant Games). During that time we headed out to meet Dan of Letiman Games in Rochester to do some playtesting and I headed down to playtest some games at Spielbany on the Saturday in Albany. At Dan’s we had the privilege of playing the very cute Gadgeteers which will launch on Kickstarter at the end of the month. Spielbany was a much smaller gathering than usual, but still a great time with some great people (and we still highly recommend it). We’ve also been working on revamping Swept Ashore and making minor adjustments to Pulled into Darkness.
Speaking of which, we had a great time at GenCon this past weekend and specifically playtesting Pulled into Darkness and Swept Ashore at the First Exposure Playtest Hall. We met a lot of great people and learned some lessons there too, which we’ll mention in next week’s recap blog.
Hopefully our hiatus wasn’t too long for you guys, it’s really great to be back!
Thanks for dropping by! If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.
You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.
Board game designer and developer discussing the ins and outs of game design.