So here we are, roughly three days since the halls of Essen closed and everyone went back to their normal lives. It took me a day and a half to get back to my life in Indiana and then another day and a half or so to physically recover and answer all the emails that had piled up since I left. At this point, I think I’m finally ready to talk about my experience.
In one sense, it was really great. I met so many fans and Kickstarter backers, and everyone was very impressed with the game and so excited to see it and talk to me.
In another sense, though, it wasn’t great at all. We were short-staffed, and it was just mentally and physically exhausting to run demos and pitch the game to potential customers for four days straight. Especially when, in the end, our sales were slower than expected, and I hardly got any time to walk around and network with other people at the fair. It was rough.
Let’s talk about the good first, though. There is nothing exhausting about meeting people who are excited about the game. Quite the opposite, really. Their overwhelming enthusiasm encourages me to work as hard as I can to make sure they get the best game possible. Meeting them was fantastic. The Kickstarter backers walk by, they see the giant box with everything splayed out on the table, and their eyes just go wide with disbelief. They start telling me about how Gloomhaven is their most anticipated game, and their wife is annoyed because they can’t stop talking about it, and from everything they’ve read, it sounds like the perfect game for their group – a dungeon crawler with a massive campaign and engaging combat mechanics.
And those are the people I live for and work for. I made Gloomhaven for them, and no amount of exhaustion will make me lose sight of that.
There was a lot of exhaustion, though. My brother was supposed to fly into Germany with me so that we could brave the giant, confusing convention together, but his passport was denied at the last minute and I ended up having to figure out and do everything on my own. I received help, absolutely, most notably from four gracious Kickstarter backers who helped demo throughout the convention – Felix, Florian, Philipp, and Steffen – but we were down a man at the booth pretty much the entire time, which had many significant negative impacts on my experience.
First of all, I am not a salesman. My brother is a salesman, and I was counting on him to do that work at the show. Without him, that work fell to me, and it didn’t go so well. The sales were a lot lower than I expected, and I had to split my time between engaging passersby with the sales pitch and running demos, often leaving the people playing the demo to fend for themselves, which is never good.
I also just don’t do well psychologically when I have to sell people on something and fail to do so over and over. My mind goes into panic mode, I start talking really fast, and it’s all incredibly stressful and draining. I don’t deal with failure well, and our sales figures were very much a failure. I didn’t have the skill to turn it around either.
I remember coming back to my room late in the evenings and I was so mentally exhausted that I couldn’t sleep. As soon as I closed my eyes, by brain would go into dream mode, trying to process all the events of the day with flashing images of mashed up situations, while my body was still awake. It was a little scary.
I don’t mean to sound like I am complaining, but the bottom line is that most of the time I was not having any fun at all. You could certainly make the argument that it was a business trip, and it doesn’t have to be fun, but I’m not sure I succeeded from a business perspective either. The sales weren’t that bad – I was probably able to pay for the trip at least – but I got so little time away from the booth that I got very little networking done, which is a major part of any convention.
In the end, I guess I need to decide whether going was actually worth it. Just saying that I’ve gone is something. I’ve experienced Essen, and I think, as a board game designer, that should be on a bucket list somewhere. I probably did make a profit, and even though it wasn’t as much as I was expecting, that’s still something. And I met a lot of really cool people – all the Kickstarter backers and my hard-working, wonderful demo team – so that’s something too.
It was a hard experience, but, three days later, the soreness is starting to leave my body. The bad memories are fleeting while the good ones seem to linger longer. Playing silly dice games with Florian and his friend Graham. Drinking with Paul, Edward, and Efka. Meeting every single one of the excited Kickstarter backers.
Yeah, I’m glad I went, though I’ll definitely do things a bit differently if I go again.