Welcome to Unscripted – a lighthearted and unrehearsed Q&A series with Rose Gauntlet Entertainment founders and tabletop game designers Isaac Vega and Lindsey Rode. Perfect with a side of tea or coffee.
In this edition of Unscripted, the focus is on Cons – which we go to and why, the effort behind them, what we’re excited for at Gen Con, and more!
As an independent game company, it's not possible to attend every gaming convention. How do you decide which ones to prioritize?
Isaac: Well, I think it's pretty simple for a small company. It's about choosing the events that you can afford and that you believe will have the most impact. Currently, we tend to focus on larger shows like Gen Con and PAX Unplugged.
This year, we went to Origins because we hosted an event, but we didn't have an exhibit booth. It was a deliberate decision because we felt that Origins isn't typically as big as those other shows, so it wasn't the right place to invest in a booth.
Essen is usually out of the question for many smaller companies based in the United States, but if you're in Europe, it's an ideal place to go. It's also beneficial to attend smaller local shows to establish connections, hold meetings, and explore potential collaborations.
When it comes to setting up a booth, it's really on a case-by-case basis. If you believe it will resonate with the crowd and attendees at a specific event, it would be smart to research its history. Maybe attend one year as a visitor and then decide if you want to set up a booth the following year.
What's really nice about this industry is that if you ask other booth owners at a show, they usually provide insights into how things are going, whether sales are up or down, and if the audience is gravitating towards certain booths.
But yeah, that's how I would go about evaluating things. Lindsay, do you want to add anything else there?
Lindsey: Yeah, I actually think it can often be difficult to decide which conventions to attend, especially as a small company. The goal of the convention plays a big role in the decision. Is it to sell products, recoup your investment, or focus on marketing? Starting with local cons is a great idea to gain experience.
Conventions are complex and require various skills, like understanding freight unions, navigating schedules, and compensating volunteers or workers. There are many factors to consider, and with the ever-evolving nature of conventions, it's challenging to find the perfect formula. So, start small, gain experience, and adjust accordingly.
Isaac: I highly recommend as well, especially because we've had firsthand experience as volunteers before starting in the industry, that if you've never been to a convention, first and foremost, attend one before you exhibit yourself.
Secondly, if you've never set up a booth, I strongly suggest volunteering to understand the flow and dynamics of it. That experience will be much more helpful. Getting that experience under your belt will certainly help you approach having a positive experience with your own booth.
You can also inquire about the specific materials used by the people you volunteer with and which shows work best for them. So, yeah, it's a lot of information to navigate, but as long as there's an audience present that you believe will be receptive to your work, it's usually a worthwhile experience.
Lindsey: Absolutely, it's a truly rewarding experience, even if you end up exhausted by the end.
How do you determine what your presence at a con will be, whether that’s in the form of advertising, having an exhibit booth space, hosting events, or other activities?
Lindsey: I think a big factor in determining our presence at a convention is our experience. We’ve attended numerous conventions, and one of the things I like to do before committing to a new convention is to personally scout it out.
That means, either Isaac or I, or both of us, will attend the convention to get a feel for it. Does it lean more towards board games or RPGs? What’s the audience like? You can gather valuable insights just by experiencing the convention firsthand. For example, at BGG Con, the exhibit hall is not as significant, and everyone is focused on playing games. On the other hand, at Gen Con, the exhibit hall takes center stage, while the game rooms are less popular. Understanding the nature of the show is crucial. And I believe the best way to do that is by attending as an attendee or even volunteering for another company to see what works.
Then, based on your observations, you make the best possible decision, take a leap, and adapt as we move forward. Isaac, what are your thoughts?
Isaac: I completely agree with all those points. How we approach a show greatly depends on our budget and our goals, as Lindsay mentioned.
If our purpose is to establish connections, network, collaborate with manufacturers or marketing teams, or meet industry professionals who could be potential employees, shows are an excellent platform for such activities. Just make sure you have a plan of attack for these goals, and always set up those meetings in advance!
So, if your aim is to sell products, it's crucial to familiarize yourself with the costs associated with having a booth and the specific rules regarding product sales, as each show may have different regulations in place.
On the other hand, if you’re focused solely on marketing, you need to ensure that your booth stands out with eye-catching signage and various enticing elements to capture people's attention and promote your brand.
Considering the different ways you can approach each show will help you invest appropriately.
On the topic of exhibit booths, what goes into creating an engaging space that visitors may not realize?
Isaac: Number one, there are many established methods and companies specializing in setting up booths. Trade shows are not limited to the board game space, but are prevalent in various other industries as well. So there's lots of places that you can draw inspiration from and there's lots of companies that you can reach out to that specialize in different banners and different show expertise.
The possibilities are vast, and there's no right or wrong way to do it as long as you adhere to the convention's rules. Avoid exceeding height limits or encroaching on neighboring booths, which would be rude.
You have the freedom to be creative and unique, and it's often these out-of-the-norm approaches that truly capture people's attention. Many people have already explored innovative booth designs, and online platforms offer great examples of how different booths of various sizes have been decorated. The key is to consider what will resonate with your target audience, what will attract the type of people you want at your booth, and ensure there are visually appealing elements that catch their eye. Once you have their attention, think about how you can keep them engaged during their visit.
Lindsey: Yeah, and budget is certainly a significant factor, but creativity can go a long way as long as you adhere to the rules. I've seen people push the boundaries, just as Isaac mentioned. There are numerous fantastic examples of this.
The most successful booth I ever encountered didn't have any visible staff present. It was an empty booth with a massive cat head, possibly reaching the height limit of 10 or 8 feet. Behind a black curtain, people operated a vending machine-style contraption that dispensed products from the cat's mouth (their game was cat themed). For a dollar you could see something random come out of the mouth. And I mean super random, to the point where hoola hoops, stuffed animals, and cabbages were flying out of the mouth! This unconventional approach was so popular that the fire department had to be called to help manage the line of people waiting to give the booth $1.
So, don't be discouraged from pursuing unique and captivating ideas as long as they comply with the regulations. It can truly make an impact, especially at a convention like Gen Con where many booths tend to have a similar aesthetic. Take the chance to stand out, but always make sure to thoroughly understand and follow the convention's rules to avoid any issues.
Shifting to Gen Con – we’re just a few weeks away – what can visitors expect from Rose Gauntlet this year?
Additionally, we're delighted to once again be hosting the BIPOC Lounge. The lounge will be bigger and better than ever, with some incredible plans in store. I'll let Isaac share more details.
Isaac: Yeah, so our aim with the BIPOC Lounge is to create just as inviting of an atmosphere as there was last year. This time around we’ll have special gaming tables that have been generously donated, additional office space for people to utilize for meeting, and captivating art displays on the lounge's exterior, so that Gen Con attendees not participating in activities within the lounge can still appreciate the incredible work of talented BIPOC artists.
At our booth, we're thrilled to have the talented artist Lyss Menold, who has been doing amazing work on Wild Gardens. You'll have the opportunity to get postcards featuring her artwork, as well as check out a wide variety of adorable Rose Gauntlet pins. We might also have additional previews, signings, and exciting things to explore at the booth. If you're attending Gen Con, be sure to stop by. We can't wait to see you, answer your questions, and hear how you're engaging with what we’re doing. We're also interested in knowing what you'd like to see from us in the future!
On a personal level, what are you most excited for at Gen Con this year?
Isaac: For me, I'm thrilled to interact with the fans and the people we hope to reach through the BIPOC Lounge. I'm also super excited to see the new artists who will be attending the show. I always love walking through Gen Con’s Artist Alley and discovering the unique talents that artists bring to the table. It's something I'm really looking forward to.
Additionally, I'm really excited to reconnect with old friends. This is only the second Gen Con we've attended since the pandemic, and there are people who couldn't make it last year but will be there this year. So it's really cool to be able to see them in person again because this is probably the first time I've seen most of them in four years.
Lindsey: Absolutely! I agree. I'm most excited about the people – this is like the one time where you get to see a lot of your industry friends all at once from all over the U.S. and sometimes from other countries too. So that's really exciting.
But I think one of the other things for me too is Gen Con is such a controlled chaos and to an extent I really like that.
I have a vivid memory of being in the exhibitor hall before they opened the doors on the first day. You can feel the energy building up outside, like a battle about to begin. I love that moment, and I can't wait to experience it again in the exhibit hall. It's one of my favorite moments, right before the doors open and everything becomes pure chaos. It'll be a blast!