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  • Writer's pictureXeo Lye

5 Lessons for Small Publishers from the World's Largest Board Game Convention: Spiel Essen 2016

When I first started writing about my adventures in the world of board game design and publishing, I thought that nobody will bother to read my blog. It seems like I was proven wrong. During my walk around Spiel Essen 2016 this year, I went around to say "Hi" to some of the new Asian board game designers and to my surprised, some of them actually recognized me and thanked me for sharing on my blog my Asian perspective of board game design and publishing. I was told that my article actually inspired by my article I wrote last year which gave them the courage to set up a booth at Spiel Essen. As an author, nothing makes me more happy that my writings have changed the lives of others and this encouraged me to make a new resolution to write more about the world of board game, from an Asian perspective. So, without further ado, let me share on the 5 new lessons which I learned from attending Spiel Essen for the 2nd year running. For those who are unfamiliar, Spiel Essen is the largest board game convention in the world held in Essen, Germany, and this year, it broke new record in attendance with more than 170k attendees with another 2 additional new halls opened to meet the growing demand for board game enthusiast.

Lesson 1: Register For New Product Launch

Last year, we did not know about the existence of a Spiel Essen Games debut day and merrily went about doing some sight-seeing in the city of Essen after we have set up our booth. The purpose of the event is to bring the media and publishers together, showcasing the new games that is to be due to debut in Spiel Essen. This usually happens on set-up day which occurs on the day before the actual Trade Show and last year, we missed a great opportunity to showcase our product and mingle with the media. This year, we registered for the event for the debut of Wongamania: Banana Economy. We thought that we will be allocate a number and a table space and so we took our time to reach the event ground just before the cut-off time at 10am. It turns out that there is no pre allocated slot for the games and it is a first come first serve system whereby the prime real estate are snapped up quickly by the early birds. The display visual merchandise of some of the publishers are eye popping, with dressed up actors and elaborate set-ups. Our set-up was at a corner of a table and plain vanilla. Improvement definitely needed in the future. Lesson learnt: Set-up early during Debut day. Bring an extra tablecloth and visual merchandise.

Lesson 2: Hotel Bookings are not reliable

Securing an accommodation to Spiel Essen is similar to that of the Munich Oktoberfest. Booking early will ensure getting decent accommodation at a decent location at a decent price. Previously, we booked an Air-BnB at Mulheim which is a neighboring city and spent much time traveling between Essen and Mulheim. To cut down on traveling time, we decide to increase our accommodation budget booked a hotel at the city center of Essen. In my previous experience, we have Air-BnB landlord cancelling our reservation just before our designated stay and we went for hotel this time around to secure our stay. Afterall, hotels don't cancel customer's reservation on a whim! We were proven wrong again. One month before Essen, the hotel wrote to us through our booking agent saying that they are unable to honor our booking and this sent us into a mad scramble looking for a new place to stay. Without saying, everything thing Essen is fully booked with the exception of presidential suites and we were forced to relocate to Bochum, a city which is even further than Mulheim and with a higher fee. This forced us to re-evaluate our transport options as now we need more help to transport our marketing collateral and merchandise. Hence, we decided to rent a car and that led to the next problem... Lesson learnt: Book early for accomodation and be prepared for the unexpected

Lesson 3: Allocate time for Traffic Jams

As the result of the forced re-location to Bochum, we decided to rent a car in to move our stuff between cities quickly and efficiently. We have read that driving to the exhibition ground will be a grueling and challenging task but having braved the customs traffic between Malaysia and Singapore, we are confident in navigating any possible traffic jam. We tried to reach the exhibition hall every day at 9am but ended up having the other 2 passengers jumping off the car at 950am to set up the booth as the fair starts at 10am in a traffic slowed to a crawl. The driver (we took turns to drive) usually arrives after 1030am cursing and swearing. We talked to our fellow exhibitors and they suggested arriving at 8am to avoid the jam. Many swore that this year was the worst in terms of driving experience to Spiel Essen... Lesson learnt: If you want to drive, wake up early, else take public transport or walk from a nearby hotel.

Lesson 4: Attractive Booth Design Draws Eyeballs

Drawing from our experience last year, we worked with our illustrator Andy Choo to come up with an attractive booth design. The centerpiece of the booth is perhaps the two comics strip. We have people stopping and commenting, "What! You think US has high tax? Wait till you see my country!" Other people spend time on the Debtzilla comic strip and later sat down to find out more about the game. We had many people telling us that they loved the artwork and the satire take on money and economy. Many recommended that we start manufacturing Debtzilla plushtoys.... Lesson learnt: A well designed booth makes people more willing to find out more about your product.

Lesson 5: Board Game Community Shares and Cares

With a bigger and bigger crowd at Essen each year, it is no wonder that exhibitors are often overwhelmed with requests to demo the games, network with interested distributors and performing transaction for the sale of games. Inevitably, huge crowd attracts crime syndicates to try their hands in stealing the money box of the exhibitors. Many of the exhibitors are small independent publishers and often do not have a dedicated cashier machine for their transactions and the thieves will distract the exhibitors during peak periods when most of the staffs are busy and distracted. Apparently, these thieves had succeeded and I have heard of stories from fellow game designers and publishers who have some cash or property stolen from them. One of the fellow publisher, Ludicreation, had their money box stolen, and in it, 3 days of revenue from Spiel Essen. They took this incident with a positive light and decided to design a game called "Steal This Game" on the spot and the game involves around thieves who are trying to steal the money box from a Essen exhibitor. They put the game on Kickstarter and the entire board game community rallied and raised more than $30,000 for the publisher. We were lucky as we only lost a couple of game components and bananas, as a result of our very vigilant financial manager, Sam. Lesson learnt: Keep an eye on your money box and help your fellow neighborhood publisher to watch each other backs. Spiel Essen 2016 was another fruitful trip for Capital Gains Studio. We were helped by old friends (Thank you TBD!), made new friends and shared ideas and information with other game designers on how we can move forward the board game industry in our home country. We were also glad to have met Mark Koh who designed Megacorp and Shin who designed Lawless Empire and are fellow Singaporeans who are trying to bring a piece of Singaporean design into the international design arena. See you next year at Spiel Essen 2017!

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