Games Expo – Kickstarter, demos and niggles 

I had an absolute blast at expo this year, as I have had every year. I have gone from the early days as an exhibitor, to punter and now as a member of the press. You can read my overview of each here: Day 0, Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3.

There were a variety of topics myself and my friends chatted about over the course of the con and I would be really interested to hear people’s opinions as I try and make up my own mind as to what I think.

Types of Exhibitor

As you will have been able to tell from my extensive preview there was a galaxy of exhibitors at Expo this year with everyone from independents to FFG flying the flag for gaming. I loved the diversity of games on display and I am without doubt that whatever part of the hobby you are into, or how seriously you take it, you will find something for you at Expo.

What I would like to discuss is the different stages exhibitors were at from my point of view as press. I’m still finding my feet with the whole press side of The Giant Brain, so I am changing writing style, figuring out how to review and all sorts of other subtle bits and pieces that make up the whole. One thing I am really struggling with is when I should review a game and to an extent when I think an exhibitor should attend something like Expo. This is partly out of concern for smaller companies that may be paying a premium to attend something like Expo.

Here is how I see the different types of Exhibitor. This is only looking at the spectrum of publishers involved in actually selling a game to me, not those selling apps, services etc… as I am much less interested in those for the most part.

Publisher: These are the folks like FFG, Pegasus Spiele etc… They range in size a lot but they are all established companies with a stable of games. They have several staff and do design in house as well as optioning external designs. They have product for sale but may be showing off expansions or future products. All good.

Independent with games: Small designer/publisher who has product to sell and is running demos to promote their game. They will range in size from an individual to a small group but don’t have a large stable of games yet. They may also have a Kickstarter about to launch or mid-campaign that they are promoting alongside. All good.

Independent currently on Kickstarter: Small Designer/ Publisher with a game currently running on Kickstarter, probably deliberately to coincide with the con. From a press point of view I can review the game but the components are unlikely to be final, though may be a proof copy from the manufacturer. They are betting on picking up enough traction from the con to fund their project, or add to an already funded one. As neither press nor customers can really walk away with stock there is an inherent financial risk for these folks.

Independent with only future products: Small Designer/ Publisher with ambitions to be on Kickstarter at some point in the future. This is where things start to get really murky from a press point of view I think. If I go and review a game that is months or possibly a year out from launch, what is that I am reviewing? How much will it change between now and then?

Post con I’ve been thinking a lot about what these companies get from the con. It’s exposure for sure, and maybe you get people signing up to a mailing list or so, or entering a competition to win a game when it eventually goes to print. Is that worth it though? When expo offers a first time rate, is it worth using that to preview your game to the public so far in advance? I honestly don’t know.

Now some companies will be a mix of these things, but it is especially the last type that I have the greatest concern about. I’m not sure what an outfit at this stage really gets from expo. Some exposure sure, but every ‘customer’ at the stall has to make sure they remember your game and back your kickstarter. When they are surrounded by other stalls doing demos with games they can actually buy, then where does that leave you? I genuinely don’t have an answer, and I am going to reach out to those outfits I saw at the con at this stage and see what they thought about it. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some insight that others may find useful.


Let’s talk about Demonstration games or demos as they are more commonly called. One of my ‘jobs’ as a member of the press as far as I was concerned was to go round and get demos of games that I could write about on the blog. I didn’t get round all the companies I had intended to and there were a couple of reasons for this. Sometimes the game didn’t speak to me, and so I moved on, and sometimes the time they were asking from me was enormous. A couple of companies asked for 45 mins to 1 hour of my time for a demo! That’s not a demo.

To me a good demo has the following traits:

1) It gives me an overview of the game: its theme, how to win etc.

2) It is not a full play through of the game, a couple of turns will suffice.

3) It shows me the really cool thing about your game, highlight the awesome, I don’t need to know how to set it up etc.

4) It’s short, I don’t want to play a demo for an hour. I think 20 mins top should be how long a demo lasts. Half an hour at a push.

5) It leaves me wanting more. A good film trailer leaves me intrigued, makes me want to pay to go and see the film, so should it be with a good demo.

I think this is especially the case for small publishers with limited space on their stall. If you have product to sell you should be able to do a short demo, get over the salient points of your game then sell them the game. Wash, rinse and repeat. When I was exhibiting with The Collective Endeavour many moons ago we had the short pitch down to a fine art, even for RPGs. My game ‘Revenge of the B-Movie’ was a very quick playing card game, but even so my pitch was even shorter than the full game. I sold out my first con, and that was partly due to a refined pitch.

It surprises me that many of the larger companies don’t seem to have this down and I think it is a real shame that this sort of pitch seem to have been lost. Sure for some of the biggest folks like FFG you can have loads of space and run longer games, but I still think even for them that short demos can go a long way.

Next year I would love to see people refining their demos down. Practice them before you go, really make that pitch sing and make your demo as compelling as you can.  Ideally you would have a table running short demos and then people could book themselves in to a longer game? Something like that I think would work really well.

Getting Review Copies

I asked no one for a review copy, though was kindly given a couple. I have no idea how to go about doing this, and especially with the smaller folks I didn’t feel confident in asking them for a review copy as it would impact their sales and I am still small fry in terms of eyes on my writing.

How do others go about this?

Expo Niggles

No con of this size can go without a few problems and expo is no different. I’ve read some complaints about the size of the crowd on the Saturday, but honestly I thought it was fine and the corridors were much wider than last year leaving me still feeling that I had room to wander around.

Launching your app 2 days before the con was not  a smart move, and there were numerous problems that I heard of including my friend Matt not being able to check people into his game. If previous years are anything to go by Expo will already be on top of this and it will be better next year.

I’ve also heard some complaints about people not being able to get to the new hotness and I have a few thoughts on this:

a) It’s the New Hotness. If you can’t get a demo of it that shouldn’t be a complete surprise.

b) Saying that, I think this is related to the demo issue I spoke of above, not only weight of punters.

c) There are loads of stalls that maybe don’t get the attention they deserve, take a punt on something and be surprised!

Slight rant over.

I thought the open gaming space could be bigger in the evenings, though I understand there were other events at the hotel. Apparently hall 3 was open for gaming in the evening, though I don’t think that was made very clear: maybe I missed something.

And obviously the most unforgiveable thing they did this year was not have my Beer Bus waiting for me. I almost didn’t come. Bring back the Beer Bus. I’m getting t-shirts made, come and join my protest movement.

There we go, some thoughts to mull over and hopefully some discussions to start. Whatever you do, don’t forget to bring back my Beer Bus.

Iain McAllister

Tabletop games reviewer and podcaster based in Dalkeith, Scotland.

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16 Responses

  1. Breacher18 says:

    You just have to build relationships, took me 4 years of going as press. Now I know them they just ask what I want to review for them.

  2. The notion of doing a demo that is just a fraction of the game makes a lot of sense. I hear that Gangs of Brittania did this well.

    Do you think this is also useful for a 15-minute game like In A Bind?

    Definitely some food for thought for 2018.

    Regarding future games, I think everyone needs to look at their own budget and make their own choices. I wouldn’t do it, but am sure that most of those who took the plunge will be happy with their decision.

    • Actually Gangs of Britannia offered an hour long demo. They were showing off a very brief example of their Prisoner Dilemma mechanic with a prize entry thing, but that didn’t really give a flavour of the game. If In a Bind is only 15 minutes I think you can show the whole game no problem. I had a demo of Cadaver at the Triple Ace Games stall that was similarly short but showed the whole game.

      • Ah, I was talking about their example. I didn’t know exactly what it entailed – only heard about it as I never got a chance to sit down at any exhibitor’s stand. Shame to hear it didn’t really offer enough to give any flavour, but I suppose at least it worked as a teaser to perhaps get folk intrigued and allowed them to show something interactive to the maximum number of people.
        I suppose you think that they should have been doing that, along with a cut-down version of the game?
        Ideally I suppose you might have 3 tables for that game – 1 with a 1-round demo, 1 with a full-game demo, 1 for the dilemma. Of course, that would require more floorspace and money.

      • The teaser was a great draw and they had two tables setup. Ideally I would see the teaser to draw you in, a table with a short two round demo or so and then a table to book people in for a longer game.

  3. With reference to review copies, at Polyhedron Collider we only tend to ask for review copies from publishers that we already have a working relationship with and as your channel grows then people will come to you. I am very self-conscious about asking for review copies, especially from smaller publishes as I am worried that I’m coming across as rude.

    • Yeah that was my worry as well. I didn’t want to be ‘I’m press give me the things’. I’m just starting out on this journey so totally understand that it will take some time for me to build up momentum.

  4. Tom Clare says:

    Hi Iain,

    An interesting read & I agree with you on most points.

    I am one of the “stands advertising future games” folk and thought I’d share my experience in case it’s of interest.

    I had a 2m x 2m starter stand for our first game, The Champion of the Wild. It cost £132 for the whole weekend and I could stay with family so saved on accommodation.

    I think our game works particularly well at this sort of event as it’s very accessible and can be explained with a 5 minute standing play through. So even though we only had a small stand & 2 people, there was a high turnover of people. We added 137 people to our mailing list, most of whom were very keen and I’d expect the majority to back the project in September.

    More fortuitously, the game was spied at the press preview by the Shut Up and Sit Down gang, who played it on their Friday night podcast which brought us some Saturday traffic and will bring even more exposure beyond the expo when that is uploaded on their site. There’s no way this could have happened outside of the expo.

    So for me, £132 was incredible value for money and as a first time publisher I’m sure it will prove crucial to building the crowd needed for a successful project.

    But I think if the game were less accessible (ie more complex strategy), there could be diminishing returns given the length of playthroughs? I’d be interested to hear others’ thoughts.

    Thanks for the thoughtful article!

    • That’s great to hear Tom and I am glad it had worked out so well for you, sorry I didn’t get round to you myself! This sort of feedback was exactly what I was hoping to hear when I posted the article . Do you mind if I reach out to you over the course of the coming months and maybe do an interview about your experiences?

  5. I completely agree with your thoughts on demos. Many moons ago I used to work for GW, so I was literally trained in giving Demos of games, something that put me in a good place for working the expo. That being said, I think some games just really don’t work in 20-minute bursts, especially with the rules explanation first.
    I’d love to see something along the lines of table talkers/sell sheet – essentially a big poster giving the pitch of the game with a giant reference card for how to play that punters could check before sitting down
    Also as press, I found that I really struggled to get in on the smaller stands. I’m a big supporter of the UK Indie scene in particular and “unfortunately” they always seemed so very busy, all weekend long

    • I think the majority of games can be given the 20 minute demo, or shorter, treatment. There are the exceptions, but for the most part I think it is doable with even very complex games.

      Part of my bringing this up was to target the smaller stands offering long demos. I might do some video stuff on this, showing a bad demo and a good demo or similar. Have to give that some thought.

  6. Really interesting article, Ian. I was a nomadic designer with a single prototype this year, but next year will be an “Independent with only future products”. You’ve raised a lot of useful points for me to think about.

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