Gen Con Wrap-Up (An Exhibitor Perspective)

Background

Inkwell Ideas was at GenCon for the first time at GenCon 2011!  The primary reason for going was to promote & sell Hexographer, Dungeonographer and the Coat of Arms Design Studio programs.  While thinking of a free give-away, I stumbled onto the idea that led to the DungeonMorph Dice Kickstarter project.  I had hoped to have the dice ready for GenCon, but unfortunately they are taking a little longer than planned.  However, we did have the matching cards and font at the convention.

Since we were there for the first time, we qualified to be part of the Entrepreneur’s Avenue section.  This gave us a better rate ($1000 for a 10×10 booth instead of $1200-1400 for the same size booth, depending on deposit date.)  However, we missed the chance to enter a mini-contest to get a free upgrade to a 10’x20′ booth.  We didn’t go the Entrepreneur’s Avenue method earlier because we were considering sharing a booth, but that fell through for completely amicable reasons.

In the past some felt the Entrepreneur’s section was too far in the back, but this year it wasn’t too bad.  I would have loved to be further in the “front” but overall it met expectations.

How We Did

I’m a little hesitant to talk specific numbers because I’m a bit shy about such things.  On the other hand I love to get data when other small publishers share it publicly.  So I’ll try to give some detail but not exact numbers.

Costs:

  • I already mentioned the booth was $1000.  But there was an extra fee of a little over $100 to supply electricity to the booth which was necessary for the software demos.
  • The hotel was about $1000.
  • There were other travel costs that also added up to nearly $1000.  (One of the people helping me with the booth needed to fly–but that was a good investment for other reasons.)
  • Then add meals to that.
  • Normally I sell online, download-only versions of the software.  But for the con I felt I should make instruction booklets with license keys.  Unfortunately I had no idea how many booklets to print.  My only data point was that another game-related software maker told me not to expect to sell over 200 of any title.  So I made 200 booklets for each of the three programs.  Those cost upwards of $500.
  • I also wanted to provide a USB option for people that adamantly wanted a physical copy.  I did charge a premium for these ($3), but that was less than my cost.  I bought 250 drives because there was a discount at that quantity.  Still, it was over $1000 in all.

So as you can see, unless you share a booth and/or you’re local (or can somehow keep your hotel/travel costs very low) you can’t do it for under $3500.  And that’s not counting the cost of the product itself.

Anyway, I’ll let you guesstimate my costs based on the above info.  As for earnings, if I don’t include the USB cost (which I still have most of them for later use) I earned back 80-85% of my costs.  From want other exhibitors have said, if you come close to making your costs back, you’re doing great.  (Most lose money.)  But the hope/expectation is that this counts partially as advertising (leading to later sales), is a great chance to meet the people who play the games/use the programs, and the con is a networking opportunity.  So I’m calling it a success!  Further, I feel that based on what I learned this year I can make some better decisions regarding my costs next time.

Also, Thursday and Friday were about the same sales-wise, and Saturday was about 20% better.  We had great hopes for Sunday but unfortunately Sunday’s sales were about 50% less than Saturday.

Lessons Learned

  • Get a dolly/hand truck.  I didn’t want to deal with the “marshaling yard” where exhibitors waited for a chance to pull into the dock to unload/load.  I figured it would be a madhouse one way or the other.  I had planned to get a hand truck to move the booth stuff from the car to the booth, but I ran out of time and thought one of my helpers and I could do just carry it in a couple of trips.  We did it, but it was a 3/4 mile walk each way from the hotel parking garage to the booth.  (And our hotel was “adjacent” to the Exhibition hall.)  Later we discovered we could borrow a hand truck from the hotel.  Of course, that could run into timing problems if all were in use when we needed one.  Luckily when leaving, we did get one from the hotel.
  • I wish we had a better booth display.  We just had a few posters hanging behind us and placed two monitors for demoing on the table.  The table also had a few 8×10 frames for product sheets, instruction booklets, and samples of the dice, cards and font.
  • The USBs weren’t really needed.  Just about everyone (especially when we described things in more detail after day 1) was fine with just downloading the software.  I probably just needed 10 USBs for the number of people who strongly desired one.  That said, we probably used 40-50 drives because we didn’t push the download route as much at times, especially on day one or when otherwise rushed.
  • I wish I had some way of knowing how many sales after GenCon were due to GenCon.  Maybe in the future we’ll add some promo code to the free giveaway/business card.
  • I wish I had more time to roam the floor.  I had two other people helping me man the booth, and usually it was just two of us while the 3rd person got to see the exhibition hall, have lunch, or go to an event.  But in my case since I know the products best, I felt I should be there 80-90% of the time.  Maybe next time I’ll be able to roam more due to more help and that the two people helping me with the booth this year will have been through it once, if they are willing to go again.  I did talk to several other vendors and make some tentative plans to do some things with them in the future, but I wish I had 3x the time to meet with others.

Things We Did Right

  • Our promos were awesome!  While the DungeonMorph Dice were one idea for a promotional item, that became a whole project of its own.  But the promotion we went with (an 11″x17″ inn 1″/square battlemat made in Dungeonographer with a lost/pirate/whatever island made in Hexographer on the other side) really allowed me to show off those two core products.  And I’m pretty sure they weren’t quickly thrown away.  In fact, one of the people with me was curious about that and checked the hall’s trash cans.
  • Having demo videos of the 3 software programs made it easy for us to talk about the core features instead of trying to “drive” and talk at the same time.  However, I did switch to live demos in 2-3 cases when asked.
  • Square’s credit card reader for smartphones worked very well.  But cash was still easier.
  • Our 2-minute description of each product went really well.  It was a little rough the first morning, but I think by that afternoon we were able to quickly tout each product’s key features.  I especially loved to be able to tell everyone that not only is Hexographer/Dungeonographer so easy to use that my 5-year-old likes to make maps with it, but she actually taught my 3-year-old.  That is true, and I hope/think it came across that way.  Especially when I could show people the part of the demo clip where one draws in all the terrain for a hex map within 3 minutes.  (I did usually leave out the fact that the 3-year-old’s maps are usually 40-50% volcanoes.) 🙂

If you saw me/the booth at the con, what would you recommend for improvement?  What did you love?  If you are an exhibitor, what advice would you give?

 

Posted in advice
6 comments on “Gen Con Wrap-Up (An Exhibitor Perspective)
  1. Many thanks for sharing your experiences.

    Even without the exact numbers, it gives a really good impression of what a small RPG business can expect from GenCon.

  2. OnlineDM says:

    First, thank you for sharing the exhibitor perspective on GenCon. I’ve never seen that before, and it’s very enlightening.

    Second, I was one of the people who stopped by your booth at one point (on Friday, I believe) and I think you did a great job of describing the product that interested me (Dungeonographer). The promo map helped to keep the product in my mind (I believe I kept it through the weekend but didn’t bring it home with me). I have not ended up buying Dungeonographer so far, but that’s no fault of your presentation.

    I can say that with all of the vendors I talked to about map-making tools or online tabletop programs, I ultimately started asking, “Why should I switch from MapTool to your product?” I don’t believe I was asking that question yet when I talked to you, but I will say that this is the question that gets me to actually buy something or not. If I can understand how the program will make my life better than MapTool does (higher quality, easier to use, etc.) then I’ll buy it. If not, I’ll stick with the free option.

    It’s hard to compete with free, and I don’t envy any business that has to do it! But since you asked for honest feedback, I thought I should share my thought process.

  3. Joe says:

    Thanks for the feedback. Re: free Maptools vs. a paid product, honestly I’ll need to look at what map editing is available out-of-the-box with it. It has been a couple years since I’ve looked at it. But I do think Hexographer and Dungeonographer have some special features such as the terrain wizard, the random dungeon generator, and the ability to switch map styles (line art/battlemat) with a single click.

  4. drow says:

    fascinating, thanks for sharing that.

  5. vstraydogstrutv says:

    In regard to MapTool: I didn’t go, unfortunately, but I did purchase a copy of Hexographer early on in development. I use Hex to build my maps and then import them to MT. I imagine that the same could be done with Dungeonographer. The thought here is that anyone using any in-game program with the ability to import mapping technology would be hard-pressed to find another program easier than Hex to utilize with the other program. I think it’s well-worth the cost, and I appreciate the work you’ve done on all of your supplements. I’m certain I or my friends have used everything you offer at least once.

    I hope your social networking goes well. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through working technology into my table-play, it’s that having the ability to tie different programs together for different purposes makes for a more robust game overall, and I think developers should actively contact each other and see what they can do to support each other’s creations. Less like competitors and more like party-members! It seems counter-intuitive from a business standpoint, but it makes sense for this market made of friends who share an undying love of gaming.

  6. Doyle West says:

    suggestion. why not add a “did you hear about us at gencon” checkbox on your purchase page, or something similar, for feedback. of course, you’ll only get a percentage of the truth, but it’s better than blind.

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