At the GAMA Trade Show

I haven't been blogging (much) for several weeks because I got an email March 3 that upended my whole month. In a good way. I learned I had the incredible opportunity to do Designer/Publisher Speed Dating at the Game Manufacturing Association Trade Show in Las Vegas. I was thrilled, terrified, and, ultimately, way behind. (From here on out, GAMA refers to the association and GTS refers to the show.)

I spent the next two weeks frantically making changes to Jane Austen's Dreams based on new playtest feedback.

I booked the cheapest flight and motel room I could find — this trip was not in my budget — and made arrangements to stay through Tuesday night.

I made some mistakes, had some encouraging successes, and learned a ton from the whole experience. Here are a few of my insights, in no particular order.

1. If you go to GTS, at least stay through Wednesday night.

Why, you ask? Because the exhibitors don't even open their booths until Wednesday. I didn't realize this, and my flight left early Wednesday morning. I missed out on seeing new products, meeting with publishers I couldn't get hold of before I left, and following up in a more casual way with those I had pitched to.

I was doing this trip on a shoestring, and my kids are too little for me to stay away for too long, but if I'd realized how much I was going to miss, I would have stayed another day.

2. If you go to GTS as a game designer, you won't get the full experience.

GAMA doesn't tell you when you sign up as part of the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design that your badge with the "Academy" ribbon won't get you into everything, most notably the meals.

This is completely understandable, since I learned that the meals are a chance for publishers to get a word in with the retailers, and they pay for that privilege, but it would have been nice to know up front. Even the networking cocktail hour was off limits, although I schmoozed my way into that one.

Since, if you are a designer, you are more than likely going to GTS to network, you need to know that some of the biggest opportunities will be closed to you.

That doesn't mean it's not worth going. Keep reading.

3. Designer/Publisher Speed Dating is incredibly overwhelming.

If you have a fairly simple game, this is a great place to pitch it. I had six minutes with a bunch of publishers. It was supposed to be 12, but I have no idea how many I actually talked to. A lot, anyway.

The tables in the room were tiny, giving me a small panic attack before I just jumped in and set up my table anyway. By tiny, I mean my board was hanging off the sides of the table, and I had to stack some components (and there are a lot) on the board. I put a bag on a chair behind it with my sell sheets, the rulebook, and my player books because there just wasn't room.

It didn't matter in the end. The publishers are used to this format. They could see that the table was too small, and they were engaged in the process and the pitch.

I don't know if it's common in these events, but there were several people in the room who weren't participating. They were just sort of wandering around. This made it hard to know what to do with them when they sat down at your table. I just pitched like they were supposed to be there.

The room is loud. Really loud. If you're going to do an event, make sure you have some water because you will be yelling for more than an hour straight, and some folks will still have trouble hearing you.

I found it hard to adjust to the different publishers because the time is so short. Some clearly didn't want me to go through my whole pitch, but after a half-dozen times doing the same thing, I found it very difficult to switch gears and respond to each group (and they were often three people at my table) individually.

4. Designer/Publisher Speed Dating is incredibly affirming.

Jane Austen's Dreams wasn't right for most of the publishers there. I suspected that going in. The game is a tough sell partly because of the number of components and partly because there are some people — though not nearly as many as I thought there might be — who don't understand how large the Jane Austen fan base is and don't believe such a game would be marketable.

That said, I found most publishers to be generous with their feedback and very encouraging. They saw the work I had put into the game, asked interesting and specific questions, and a few came back after to offer me their contact information and advice should I need it, even those who weren't interested in publishing the game.

I walked away feeling like a real game designer, something I've struggled with in the past year of dedicating so much time to game design.

No one looked at me as if I didn't belong and no one even hinted that Jane Austen's Dreams shouldn't or couldn't be published.

5. Not all the companies who sign up for Publisher Speed Dating show up.

Honestly, I might not have gone if I had realized that. The company I thought was the perfect fit for Jane Austen's Dreams wasn't there. I spent all of Tuesday evening trying to find one of their reps and failed. Frustrating, to say the least. So if you're looking into Publisher Speed Dating, make sure there are several companies on the list that you think would be a good fit for your game.

6. There are a lot of really nice people in the board game industry.

I didn't go to GTS as a member of the press, so most of these people didn't know they were talking to a blogger. I want to respect their privacy, since they obviously weren't speaking on the record.

But I will say that John Rogers from Arcane Wonders, Emerson Matsuuchi from Nazca Games (whose game Specter Ops I cannot wait to play), Shari Spiro from AdMagic/Breaking Games, Jeff Tidball from Atlas Games, the whole team from Rather Dashing Games, and Joey from Mirror Box Games were extremely generous with their time and feedback.

7. Larry Roznai is one of the most outspoken people in board gaming.

At the encouragement of several people, I spent Tuesday in the manufacturing seminars rather than with the retailers.

I'm fairly confident that was the right choice. Larry Roznai, head of Mayfair Games, led the panel.

I'm not going to quote him since I wasn't wearing a press badge, but if you ever have a chance to hear him speak, don't hesitate. You'll learn a lot. He might offend you, but you won't forget him.

8. Read the Kobold Book of Board Game Design.

Seriously. My husband gave me a copy for Christmas and we read it together within days.

The designer track at GTS was largely a rehashing of people's essays in said book. Good stuff, but a lot of review.

So if you're lamenting being unable to go to a seminar with the biggest names in board gaming, just read the book, which is edited by Mike Selinker.

9. Contact publishers ahead of time.

I emailed every publisher I thought might be a good fit for Jane Austen's Dreams asking if I could meet with them at the show.

Some weren't going, others weren't going to be there until Wednesday (yes, I should have stayed), and some weren't looking for acquisitions at the show.

But I heard from three companies — all of whom I think would be a good fit for the game — asking for more information, even though I couldn't meet them at GTS.

10. Prepare.

Read everything the Bamboozle Brothers have ever written about pitching. They know their stuff, and they're willing to share. (Sen in particular is also very active on Twitter and on several Facebook groups. I believe he is one of the most generous people in the game design world. And no, I don't know him.)

Check out the videos from the League of Gamemakers regarding speed dating. They made me realize how loud the room would be and, more importantly, what to include and what not to.

(Didn't keep me from forgetting — once — to give the object of the game. Or to completely lose my train of thought with Jeff Tidball. I'm a Tempest series fangirl, and Mercante is one of my favorite games. I was most nervous with him even though I was pretty sure the game was too component-heavy for Atlas.)