Two weekends ago I attended a small, local, design and testing focused convention put on by the SUP Guild called Prototype Con. After going and reflecting on the weekend, I feel that this sort of Con is something that every designer should take part in. Talking to other designers face to face and playing other unpublished games will give you such invaluable experience. I met a ton of great people, played some really fun games, and received an immense amount of useful feedback on my own designs. Here’s a few tips based on the experience that I had.
Even if you haven’t started a company or don’t have an official name for your game, have something that you can give to people with your preferred method of contact so they can find you again after the Con is over. Hand them to every person who you sit down with regardless of what side of the table you’re on. You never know who you’ll meet that will have an impact on your life or career.
Leading up to the Con I was having more instances than normal with card sleeves splitting while shuffling. I ended up having a couple of blowouts during testing at the Con, but fortunately, I brought a few spares. All of your games have different needs, but be sure to have spare bits, dice, or whatever your game requires…just in case.
I didn’t think of this one ahead of time. On Friday, I noticed several people who had brought their own. The Con provided very simple ones with our names and game name, but if you bring your own you can customize it with your games’ art and any other pertinent info. My official testing slots were on Saturday, so when I got home Friday night, I quickly threw together a couple of simple signs. They don’t have to be overly elaborate. Mine were just on regular paper, but in color and I used a piece of game art to help them stand out just a bit.
I really wasn’t prepared for how much talking that I needed to do. I left each day with my throat feeling very raw. I pretty much talked non-stop for 2 days straight and didn’t drink enough water. Keep a bottle of water with you at all times and refresh it whenever you can.
Prototype Con provided feedback forms for everyone to fill out, but not every Con will do this. Be sure to bring your own in case they aren’t available. Either find a template of one that you like, or create your own based on the info you want to collect.
Play other designer’s games
Don’t just set up camp at a table with your own game. You really need to roam around and interact with lots of other people. Play their games, give honest feedback, and invite them to play yours. The other designers are much more likely to seek you out and play your game if they have a positive experience with you.
Bring one (and an extra pen!) and take lots of notes! Don’t just rely on the feedback forms. There are a lot of non-verbal things you’ll notice that you should be writing down. Sometimes, players will tell you things, but not write it on the feedback form (or not fill one out at all) because they told it to you and assume you’ll remember. I suggest reading two of my other blog posts: Playtesting and Playtest Feedback for lots more thoughts on this part of the process.
What other tips and tricks do you use to prepare for and have a successful convention and testing experience?