It’s a new year and a new exhibition and event season. There are dozens upon dozens of tabletop game exhibitions each year around the world, from the giant, annual, international Essen Spiel, GenCon and UK Games Expo filling many exhibition halls held over several days, to the smallest local events held in a single room and running only for a single day – and of course many sizes of events in between. It’s impossible to attend all of them, even though it would be very tempting. So here are some tips to help you choose which events to consider for yourself.
I think the first step to narrowing down the list of possible exhibitions is to write down what you’re trying to achieve during your visit. For me it is about meeting the people I have got to know via Twitter, YouTube, Patreon and other means, in particular my patrons, so I can thank them for their support and offer them direct help. It is also about trying to speak to tabletop games designer and publishers and find out if they would be happy for me to review one of their upcoming games, so I can slowly build up my blog with more up-to-date games. I will also be taking photos and maybe some videos to use in a write-up and maybe a short video of the event.
It is important to keep your list of goals small. You really only want to have one or two things you want to achieve. If the list is too long, you’re probably trying to do too much, and end up achieving very little. Maybe have a couple of goals ready on stand-by, in case you achieve your first two very quickly, but if your first two goals are ambitious enough, they should keep you going for your whole stay.
Once you have worked out exactly what your goals are, then start to narrow down the possible list of exhibitions to only those where you can realistically achieve them. For me, events such as Essen Spiel, GenCon and UK Games Expo are realistic opportunities to meet my Patreon supporters and Twitter people, as well as plenty of games designers and publishers to boot, as well as have plenty of photo and video opportunities, and of course plenty of material to write up afterwards. However, don’t make a complete list of exhibitions at this point, because that would still be too overwhelming. Instead, evaluate each event as you look at it.
Think about what would be involved to attend each one – the time and cost of travel, the number of days you’d need to stay to make it worthwhile, the cost of staying those days and also the time of the year, because you don’t want it to overlap with other important dates in your schedule. Also consider how it would impact other work commitments, as well as how it would affect your private life. You will quickly realize if an event is a reasonable opportunity or if it’s more of a dream event that would be amazing to attend, but realistically too expensive, too much hard work and too little reward.
Bear in mind that some events offer paid work, by demoing games or otherwise helping on an exhibitor. You’d be swapping time walking around the event trying to achieve your goals with a financial reward to offset your travel and accommodation costs, which is something to think about. However, depending on your goals, working for an exhibitor might actually benefit you. It might help you meet new people or get to know that exhibitor better, if that’s your goals.
So as you look at each exhibition, compare your goals with the effort and costs involved, and ruthlessly remove any event that simply doesn’t achieve a good balance. It may seem tempting to take an eight hour flight and stay three nights to attend a huge, international event, or you may even feel it’s your duty to attend, because everyone else is there – but if you’re too tired while you’re at the exhibition to actually do what you set out to do, then it’s simply not worth it. Doing what you think is right for your audience is important, but it still has to offer enough benefit, or your audience won’t actually gain anything.
Speaking of being worth it, do consider staying an extra night, just to give you more time to recover and make the journey less exhausting. You could arrive a day early, so you can familiarize yourself with the area around the halls, as well as the layout of the halls, even if you don’t have access to them before the event. It also means you can have an early night and attend the exhibition fresh and rested, especially if it involved a long journey over. It’s an extra expense, but might be worth it, especially if it’s only a small amount to add a night to your booking. In fact, you might want to arrive a day early and leave a day late, so you can make the most of your attendance. Most hotels charge little for certain nights of your stay, because these are their quiet days of the week. So definitely check it out.
Finally, don’t forget to remind yourself of your goals just before you go to an exhibition, so you are focused. Continue to look at your goals during the event, ticking things off your list as you achieve them. If necessary, update your goals while you’re at the show, because you may come to realize that you were a bit too ambitious – or maybe not ambitious enough. It’s fine to change your aims, as long as you adjust your plans accordingly. If your goals change, then chances are your schedule and who you want to see will have to change too. After the exhibition is over, compare your goals with what you actually achieved, and again update your goals as necessary before the next event. In fact, you may decide you want to attend different exhibitions given how your goals have changed.
It’s going to be fluid, which is fine. Don’t let it make you feel overwhelmed, but embrace the opportunity to change your plans as necessary. There is no point sticking to the list of events you drew up at the beginning of the year, if you have changed your mind about what you’re trying to achieve. Also, keep an eye on new events during the year, which may be more appropriate for your plans.
There are plenty of tips on how to get the most out of attending an exhibition and how to make it a positive experience, as well as how to stay safe. I won’t go into these here, but if you search online you will find articles and videos giving you some useful advice to think about, such as having a drinks bottle with you at all times, wear comfortable shoes, maybe have a deodorant handy for a quick “top up”, etc. As I say, check the web for tips from other people.
Personally, I’m going to attend UK Games Expo this year, and if you’re going to be there too, do let me know. Maybe we can find time to meet up and compare notes on what our goals are for the exhibition season and what events we plan to attend. However, whatever you plan for this year, have fun and keep playing tabletop games.