PAX Unplugged 2019

PAX Unplugged 2019

I recently attend PAX Unplugged for the first time. I heard good things about it and my good friends Adi Slepack and Liz Roche from episode 5 asked me to help at their booth so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to explore the con and see some board game friends at the same time.

They asked me probably 2 months before the con.

About a month before the con I realized I could ask my fulfillment company to air freight me 2 cases of Fry Thief to sell at the event. And as luck would have it they arrived in time and I was able to sell Fry Thief which was incredible.

In this episode I’m going to chat about:

  1. The con itself
  2. Working the booth 
  3. Selling Fry Thief in person

PAX Unplugged

PAX Unplugged was pretty darn big. It felt about as big as Origins in terms of the number of people. 

I want to differentiate between big and crowded. Gen Con is both big and crowded while PAX Unplugged is just big. It’s sooooooooo nice to walk down the aisles and not be shoulder to shoulder. That’s one of the most frustrating things about Gen Con and it’s totally relieved here.

If you don’t like huge crowds I’d strongly encourage you check out PAX unplugged. I’m going to talk about booth sales in a minute but I just want to say upfront there’s still a ton of people who want games and will buy from you. Our group has the best sales day of any con they’ve ever gone to.

In terms of other things

  • There were some pretty fun panels
  • I attended one two-hour workshop about puzzle design and it was excellent. I’m not always impressed with sessions at cons they’re usually pretty basic but this one was choc-full of information. So from the one workshop I went to it was great.
  • There aren’t a ton of events like Gen Con
  • I have to mention the venue. They created a horrible flow. They have this massive convention center and they force you to enter through one set of doors. And the food is outside of the doors on the opposite side of the building. So if you want to get lunch it’s going to take a long time just to walk to the food and walk all the way around the building to get back in. I heard this was a recent change so hopefully they fix that next year.
  • The last thing is the security. They have metal detectors which seems weird for a board game event. To be clear this is “security theatre” meaning this is done to make you feel safer without doing any actually security. A friend of mine brought in a huge duffel bag and they unzipped it, looking inside, and moved the top item. Then pushed it through. So you can’t bring in a knife but you could bring in a bazooka in your bag. I hope they get rid of this. It’s not a rowdy football 🏈 game where everyone is drunk and one team is going to lose.

Working the Booth

Okay so let me move onto working the booth.
I’ll include some photos of the booth in my show notes so you can see what it looked like. We had a 10 by 10 booth. And we were able to have a table upfront to sell the games, a tall table to pitch the game, and in back a small table to run the occasional demo.

Gather Round Games booth
The Gather Round Games booth

We only needed 2 people at any one time since players can pretty much run a demo in their own since it’s a pretty simple game. But having 3 at a time was great. There were a total of 4 people helping at the booth which was perfect. 

We each had time to get lunch, coffee, snacks, walk around the floor and buy things ourselves. Liz and Adi had meetings and panels during the day as well. So if you’re ever going to run a booth make sure you have extra people so you can take plenty of breaks. It makes sure you actually enjoy the con and don’t just treat it as work because that’s no fun and you’ll burn out.

Fry Thief Display
Fry Thief display

And you’ll want to rotate jobs. Pitching felt like the hardest part of the job because you’re talking constantly. I’d say pitch for and hour and then swap positions with someone. Dylan on our team was one of the best at pitching but early on Sunday he started losing his voice because he did so much of it. You gotta swap to less intense positions if you want to keep your voice for 3 days.

The game we were selling is called Someone Has Died which is a storytelling improv game that came out ~2.5 years ago and they’ve Been going to cons for over 2 years so multiple times Over the weekend people came up to the booth saying it’s their favorite game and asking us if we had any expansions.

That’s exactly the type of game you want to create! It’s memorable, it’s played often, and people actively want to buy expansions to get more from the game and to support you.

Unfortunately we sold out of the Kickstarter exclusive expansion and won’t reprint. So we left a lot of money on the table. As game designers if you have a few of those true fans who come to you asking for expansions you gotta has something for them. 

I know I want to create a billion different types of games. But from a business perspective I’d say you have to create an expansion first. 

The interview with Dario Reinhardt Fabian Fischer coming out in a few weeks is a good example of this.

Now there is something to having complimentary games. Fry Thief is designed for 2 players. And Someone Has Died is 3-6 players. So if someone said they’re looking 👀 for a 2 player game then we can point them to Fry Thief and if they mention they love playing games in groups we showed them Someone Has Died.

But I really think and expansion is a great way to support existing customers and it still helps bring in new customers.

Selling Fry Thief

I really want to share how selling Fry Thief went. It was the very first time I sold it at an event. And it was terrifying! Like legitimately terrifying.

And the thing I forgot is that 99% of any group is NOT your target audience. Even at a board game event. And that’s true for any product you sell.

You get told “no” or in this case people politely leaving your table all day long. You have to really learn that someone else’s choices doesn’t reflect on your creative project. People have different tastes and circumstances.

Fry Thief fan
A real live Fry Thief fan

I will say the first hour or so we didn’t sell any copies of Fry Thief and I was really nervous! Maybe people don’t like it in person. Maybe it only looks cute online. You wouldn’t believe the stories you tell yourself until you’re in that moment asking for people to trade dollars for your creative project.

Fry Thief actually sold pretty well. Especially since no one had really heard of it.

We sold a total of my entire stock of 32 copies over the weekend. We actually sold out by Saturday afternoon so I might have been able to sell 50 or 60 if I had thought to bring that many.

A couple things really stuck out to me

  1. People play your game quickly! People came up to me on day 2 with a rules question and one person was missing a component and asked if I could help. I was of course happy to help both of them. It was nice to see that people were so engaged and interested to get the full experience.
  2. People talk about your game. Day 3 people came up asking to buy the game saying they heard someone talk about it at a bar. I was pleasantly surprised.
  3. Naming a game is important. I made a banner for Fry Thief and it did it’s job. So many people laughed and said “look honey they made a game about you”. Naming a game is important, and then with a good name create a banner that stands out so people can see that title immediately and clearly.
  4. Let your pitch evolve. I think because my game isn’t as hardcore as a lot of games I wanted to show off the gamyist parts of the game. And it sold fine. But then Adi focused on the basics like having asymmetrical cards an how each players cards have different themes. That really resonated with people. Honestly my teammates sold my game better than I did. They saw it in that new light that I had forgotten. So let you pitch evolve.
  5. Have a backup plan. Maybe you sell out, maybe your credit card reader breaks, maybe your games don’t show up on time. A million things could go wrong and you want to maximize sales. I should have had a plan in case my games sold out and I didn’t. I could have taken Preorders but my POS system wasn’t ready. And then I tried to set up a landing page where people could signup and get a free shipping coupon but for whatever reason my landing page software wouldn’t let me login and I couldn’t figure it out all weekend so my backup backup was to collect hand written emails. This will take time to read and there’s bound to be illegible emails. So I lost a few sales there. Next time I’ll be more prepared.

I think that’s all the major points.

Overall I had a great time with great people. A lot of “success” in board games seems to come from who you know. I never would have gone to PAX or sold Fry Thief in person. If it wasn’t for meeting Liz and Adi. So make sure to get out there and be friendly. Offer to help. Luck will probably come around someday down the line.

I hope you learned something. As always feedback on the episode is welcome. Leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter although I will say I’m experimenting with a Twitter hiatus this month so I might not get back to you Immediately.

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