So now its been a few days and I've had time to digest and look back over our experience at the UK Games Expo this year, I thought I'd kick off with how we got to where we are now. Cue "Carry on Wayward Son" by Kansas as we look at the Road So Far...
In 2016, a couple of friends asked if I’d like to go along to the UK Games Expo at the NEC in Birmingham. Their plan was to go along and mostly get to the “bring and buy” arena and get some cheaper second-hand board games. As a boardgamer for many years, I can tell you that there are some fantastic boardgames out there, but also as I was unemployed at the time, I can tell you that they are very expensive things as well. However, upon getting the NEC, I realised how massive the Expo was. Prior to that, I’d been to a similar show at a hotel just off the Hagley Road, and it was a much smaller affair.
Since then, I’ve gone into business with two of my friends, one of which had to leave us less than six months into our endeavour due to family reasons, and so both Geoff and I have carried on developing our games. We attended Essen in October and saw that there was a lot more to releasing a game idea on Kickstarter than we originally thought. Now in 2017, after building up a presence on Social Media, we took the opportunity this time to book a stand at the UK Games Expo, and managed to get a lucrative corner spot. This gave us the opportunity to showcase all three of our games, but we decided to put the emphasis onto our latest game, one I developed myself, called “Making Time”. This game came about because my previous title “Baggage Train” was still undergoing design and some of the artwork needed a revamp, and the people who were due to do it had become entangled in other projects.
We were too late in booking to get entered into the awards, but had we not booked so late, we might not have got that spot. As it transpired, our neighbours in front of us and behind us were the loveliest people and it made for a much more enjoyable expo for us. We made “Making Time” own main showcase, and I was surprised at how well it was received. “Elementa” also drew some attention, and “Baggage Train” had some interest, but to my own disappointment, I’d not brought the most recent version of the cards. It showed, however that my graphic design skills have come on leaps and bounds since that first game. In fact, when I told members of the public that I’d taught myself how to use graphic design software and made most of “Making Time” myself, they found that fascinating. It was surprising how many people I spoke to that are budding game designers themselves, and I guess it was encouraging to hear that it is possible to do it yourself if you try.
On the Saturday, we had some help with the stand, in the form our old friend that we started the business with. He came along and worked extremely hard for us, reminding us that his forte was always with knowing the business and in particular, how to market it. It’s a shame he’s still busy, as his skills in approaching people and getting their attention would be very useful right now. In any case, it also highlighted the fact that it’s nearly impossible to get the most out of the Expo if you have to man the stall all the time. As it happened, we managed to get some time away from it and during that time, we met with manufacturers and other indie outfits where we could and it was very handy to have people like that in close proximity.
Sunday we upped our game a little, so to speak, by rearranging our set up to include a demo play area for people to give “Making Time” a go. This was very popular in the afternoon, and pretty much all who played it commented on how good it was. The game being only an hour long meant we could get several games in on just one table, and even I was surprised that I wasn’t bored after playing it 6 times in a row. Hopefully in playing it, those people who tried it will remember it when it hits Kickstarter.
When the end of the day came around, the Spanish games sellers opposite asked us if we’d take in their stock for them and store it, because they didn’t want to pay a ridiculous price for storage. In return they gave us each a copy of each of their games they were selling, which was very nice of them. One even said he’d be happy to translate our rules for us into Spanish for free. It was a great Expo in terms of making contacts. We have a copy of our game being reviewed by a reviewer in Scotland, and someone from Starburst Magazine said he would be happy to mention our game in their Boardgame column when it appears on Kickstarter.
Overall, it was an incredibly tiring experience. However, the people who came to see us; our friends and our peers and our target audience really made the whole thing worthwhile. We were humbled by the respect we received from everyone at the show. Security staff and organisers were excellent. Fellow exhibitors were friendly and treated us as their equals, not the shiny new upstarts we thought of ourselves as. The value we got from engagement is yet to be measured, but we felt that we engaged very well with people given our lack of confidence to start with, and the fact we were a very small outfit. Next time, we need at least a third person for each day and even a fourth for the Saturday, depending on the size of our pitch. This will give us time to enjoy the Expo ourselves as well, and we possibly won’t feel as tired and can actually have a proper lunchbreak.
What I did see of the Expo, I quite enjoyed. The Big Potato Games stand was set up like a menagerie, and it was a great idea, possibly better on paper than in practice, but it certainly drew our attention. The Wotan Games bus is always a great idea. A bus filled with gaming tables is both great for setup and pack down, but also can be seen anyway in the exhibition hall. The 4ground games stand had some very nice miniatures. I wanted to play Ore-Some and/or Sub Terra as they have been successful games launched from Kickstarters this year but didn’t get around to it. There were many stands that were selling scenery for games, and the Devil’s Run team still stand out to me as the miniatures skirmish game I want to play when I can afford to buy games again. The Games Workshop Primaris 40k Skirmish stand was similar to the Blood Bowl stand at Essen, but seemed utterly uninspiring, and there were a whole host of card games or games stands that are selling old ideas.
Shadows of Esteren seem to have expanded their multimedia experience this time, with a concert and a beer. Their artwork and deeply involved medieval roleplay looks very pretty, but I’m still not sure I could get a group to play it seriously enough. Lastly the ever-expanding list of Cthulhu or Zombie-based games seems unstoppable. Someone commented that I could use that IP to make an expansion for “Making Time”, while I imagined how I’d adjust the logo to make a tentacle wrapping around the cogs, I had to break out of that creative trance and pinch myself. On second thoughts, it’s a silly idea. There were some games there that didn’t quite work, including a marriage based game and some that were silly ideas that someone once had after a night out on the beer, but really, that is what’s great about this expo, it’s unpredictable and fun, and it’s not just run by the large corporations. In short, you should definitely attend next year, whether you’re exhibiting or just visiting.