Lessons from a Game Trade Show

So, before I begin I want to explain:  I got a special opportunity to go to Alliance Open House.  For those who aren’t a part of the game creator or FLGS scene who I’m talking about is Alliance Game Distributors and their yearly trade show.  Alliance Game Distributors is the other side of the coin for Diamond Distribution who essentially delivers most of the comics and comic collectibles to the United States.  Alliance is one of the largest distributors of board games and table top games here.  Held in Fort Wayne, Indiana various Friendly Local Game Stores from around the United States (and soon the overseas market) travel to a special trade show put on by Alliance and its been running for over 20 years.  The opportunity as mainly a fan and sometimes peripherally involved in game creation; this was a special treat to attend with my wife’s shop. 

Let’s start off by saying I really had fun and saw things that are going to hit big on the market here in the gaming scene of the United States.  Let me also say, this is not a convention!  People who attend this are there to make business contacts and find out what is going to help their small businesses succeed. 

Alliance Game Distributors really impressed me.  They are a very focused distributor who care about customer input and the environment making a huge push for recyclable packaging items and recycling boxes they receive.

That said, I am a Table Top RPG guy primarily and so my view of the show is going to be different from those attending (mainly interested in board games) or from the companies who paid to be there (who really didn’t get to mingle behind the scenes with the FLGSs). 

Who Was There from the TTRPG Industry and presented as TTRPG creators?

Cubicle 7

Goodman Games

Wizards of the Coast

Renegade/Hunter Books

Monte Cook Games

WizKids

Palladium

Green Ronin

Who Impressed Me?

Without a doubt I’m going to have to say Cubicle 7 was awesome. My first interaction with Cubicle 7 was with a member of their staff who had traveled from overseas named Kieran.  He attended one of the demo nights at Alliance Open House to showcase their new box set for Warhammer Fantasy (which looks amazing).  He really demonstrated a heck of a lot of knowledge of the property and the history thereof.  They also did a presentation during one of the luncheons showing off new products for The One Ring, Warhammer Fantasy, and Wrath and Glory… and since Danielle DeLisle is involved with the writing for The One Ring and she’s been a guest of the podcast, we couldn’t be more happy to say this about them!

That said, even with the awesome job they did I really felt that the FLGS group were more interested in the Board Games than the roleplaying opportunities (which may be tied to the timeframe).

Who Impressed the Audience?

WizKids really wowed the crowd.  How?  First, they talked about their major terrain and several upcoming sets.  The MSRP on them is very good and it looks super high quality, however, what really got the standing ovation (no joke) was them saying that none of it was going on Kickstarter and it would only be available thru distributors to FLGS.  Adding to this pretty impressive situation is that WizKids is teaming up with Renegade/Hunter Books for an RPG based upon a property of theirs and you’ve got some surefire winners on your hands overall.

Who Did I Love Meeting?

While at the second evenings Demo Night we had the distinct pleasure of meeting one of the owners of Twogether Studios, Jenn Ellis.  She was absolutely charming and wonderful to talk to at the table.  Their game, Illimat, was a lot of fun and interacting with her was one of the best conversations I had for the whole trade show.  Illimat was designed by her husband, Keith Baker (of Eberron fame) with the band The Decemberists.  Excellent game with a classic feel!

What Didn’t Impress…

One company’s presentation given to the FLGS was essentially a stock investors meeting – where there brand was at, how much money they are making as a company, and their plans to expand into the United States even further.  No sneak peeks, no major announcements.  They went on to mention the expansion of proprietary stores into more locations (which caused sharp intakes of breath from the FLGS owners) even though they followed up that announcement by swearing they weren’t trying to put anyone out of business.  Adding insult to injury, follow this up with discussing that they are doing a line of Barnes and Noble exclusives that they won’t be letting the FLGS have access to and that they will be expanding that line (the audience was not thrilled, to say the least). 

Ending Thoughts

I think I learned some things about the Alliance Open House and having a TTRPG presence for a trade show and I’m going to share it here. 

First, the final expo floor show is three hours—you heard that right, three hours.  That said, there was a preview hour to walk the floor and get an idea of what would be there and to create a gameplan of who to talk to for the trade show. Still that’s roughly 50-90 booths divided by 180 minutes.  So each booth may get 2-3+ minutes of every guests time if they are lucky and you and I know that it’d didn’t work out that way.  Guests had to choose who to give their time to on a glance. What this means is that booths with information overload got little traction.  Also, booths that people were guaranteed to bring in regardless got little visitation in comparison.  If I were setting up at this trade show I’d have one or two main items that I expect to be hot out front to showcase.  Think of it as if you are essentially a little more initially than a billboard on a highway.

Second, having a good representative is key!  Someone who can talk to a crowd without getting flustered and can talk with passion for your product was a big deal.  I’ll remember Keiran and Jenn even if they never remember me and I’ll also remember their product they represented.  Another person I will remember is Joseph Goodman from Goodman Games.  He really believed in his products and was excited to share his company’s vision at the convention.  Now, I’ve never played Dungeon Crawl Classics, but after hearing from him my interest is now peeked.

Third, I think for my first year I would put all my eggs in one of the baskets if it was my company—either I would want to participate in demo night (giving a representative 4-5 hours access to the FLGS owners for facetime on products) or I would want to be one of the presenters at during the luncheons.  I felt you got the best attention from participants and the best amount of time with these two events.  The big game demos where all the stores played the same games were good, but I think those are time slots best reserved for veterans.

Fourth, in store exclusives are the biggest deal for the FLGS owner.  Anytime someone said “we won’t do Kickstarter” or “we don’t allow ordering from our website” hit huge with them.  This isn’t easy and it really isn’t feasible for a lot of game companies, but I feel that making something only available thru distribution to the game stores may be a huge boon (perhaps GM screens, large form campaigns, or special book covers).

  There is still a lot to go over in my mind and process, but I will say: I loved going to Alliance Open House!