In person marketing doesn’t have to be expensive, in fact in its most basic form it can be free and it’s up to you how much you wish to spend. Personally, other than petrol money I didn’t spend anything on in person events until after my first Kickstarter, I always took the cheapest route.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invest, I wasn’t living in a location where the more expensive options were viable. You should judge your own situation accordingly to your geographical location and finances before making your own decision.
In person marketing is the best way to make direct connections with people and lifelong community members.
Board game groups
I live in Bristol in the UK and there are countless board game groups around me, I could name 20 public groups that meet every week. I have no doubt there are many other groups around as well which are filled with gamers but perhaps don’t advertise themselves as much.
The important thing to note with these groups is they exist so people can play games and have fun together. They are not there for you to advertise your game and if you just turn up with the intention of selling them on your game, you’re going to leave a bad impression.
I recommend searching for local groups and emailing the organisers, ask them if it would be OK for you to bring a prototype along and if people might want to try it.
If you can’t find contact details, then simply attend (without bringing your prototype) and just play games for the evening. Learn how the group works, who runs it, and how the average event goes.
Not every group is right for taking prototypes to, but as someone making a game, you’ll probably just enjoy a night out gaming regardless of what happens.
Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to make many friends at a variety of gaming events and many of those friends have become my primary playtesters and biggest community members.
Board game cafes
Board game cafes work differently all around the world and the best starting point for building your community through board game cafes is to reach out to the owners.
Simply ask them if they run events or would be interested in running an event for a designer.
Some board game cafes will have regular playtesting nights which are a great way to get designers in to mingle with gamers as everyone playtests each other’s games.
Other cafes are happy to organise special “guest appearance” events where the focus is all on you and trying to give their own community a special night.
You may find they have other ideas and it’s really about finding what works best for you both. Keep in mind, they want to gain something out of this too and you really need to find the best middle ground.
Board game stores
Board game stores are in many ways similar to board game cafes and you will want to take the same approach.
In addition, it’s worth seeing whether they would be interested in letting you have a demo table inside their shop store for a day. I’ve done this myself and seen many designers doing it as well, it can be a great way to meet random people as they come in off the street.
The shop gets to market a special event “come this Saturday and try out a new game from a local designer”, and you get to practise your pitch as you present your game to lots of people.
If you do take this approach, please just remember to not overstep your mark. You should not interfere with the day to day running of the store, interrupt any potential sales, or try to convince someone to get your game over something else already available in the store.
There are many types of conventions and I’ll talk more about this in other articles in the future, but for the purposes of this article I want to cover some key points.
The big conventions like Gen Con, Essen, Origins and UKGE are fantastic events but they are also very expensive. If you are newer to the industry and trying to grow a new community then you don’t have to attend these big shows.
Smaller local shows that only have a thousand attendees are going to get as many eyes on your game as big shows will and you’ll be paying a fraction of the money.
Become familiar with how to demonstrate your game at smaller shows, give people a taste and let people try the game. With a 30-minute demo and 4 people per session, you’ll only be seeing 8 people an hour (maybe 60 a day) so be sure to leave an impression. Have a volunteer or 2 who can help give other people an overview around the demos and let others discover the game.
As a final tip, don’t worry about having games to sell at your first events. While growing my community I used conventions as a way to connect with people, give people a taste of my game, and put zero emphasis on sales. In fact, I didn’t have any games to sell as I was still in pre-production and yet I still have lasting connections today that I made 5 years ago at those early shows.