Running a Con Stall, an RPG Publisher’s Contemplation

Running a con stall makes sense if it’s right for your business. In this Write – Design – Program post we look at the business of RPG Publishing and how to best sell your books and games at a geek or gaming convention.

Write - Design - Program
Write – Design – Program

2018 is in full swing, and the big geek and gaming cons draw rapidly closer. It’s decision time; do I run a stall this year, or let some great opportunities sail by? Being visible at some of the major local conventions could be a big game changer for my fledgeling business. But it could also be disastrous?

Prepare yourself for some doom and gloom.

Some Facts About RPG Publishers

Intelligent publishers plan their con involvement wisely.

I do a fair bit of freelancing in the gaming industry, and, although most of it is in table-top roleplaying, I’ve also worked with digital game publishers. No matter what type of games the publisher is involved with, they choose which cons will give them the best bang for their buck. Sometimes, this means they don’t have a convention presence at all.

The thing is, if a 3 x 3-meter stall at a con costs $215 for the weekend, then you have to ensure you fill it with enough merchandise to cover the vendor free, plus all the other expenses you’ll incur.

Let’s look at my situation, as a small operation:

  • Although I work closely with several people, I’m practically the only staff member I have available. I would need to hire someone for the weekend or beg a friend to help.
  • I sell digital books, so I’d need to either fork out cash to print up stock or devise some clever way of selling digital products at a convention that may or may not supply WiFi to its vendors. Either way, I’d need plenty of products to ensure I end up in the black.
  • I have no buffer if things don’t work out. Anything I put into the stall needs to work, repeatedly, for any other con I attend.

 

Some Facts About South African RPG Customers

I make very little money from local sales, and I don’t suspect that a con would change that.

Here are my observations:

  1. Most role-players don’t attend cons. Of the three groups I play in, only four other people attended the biggest local con last year. That’s about one-quarter of the players.
  2. A very small fraction of role-players play at cons. Over two days I played one small demo game, with players who now play in my Monday night Stranger Things campaign. The Pathfinder Society game I prepped never had any players sign up and general morning game attendance was poor. But, okay, that was one convention.
  3. Con players are a staunch group of die-hards. After five years in Japan, I was surprised to see the same faces, without much new blood at the tables. Don’t get me wrong, many of those die-hards are my friends, but maybe we need to do more to encourage new players.
  4. South Africans don’t have money. Okay, I’ll admit, a big generalization. But the Rand/Dollar exchange rate is only just improving, and high shipping rates mean that POD from sites like Drive Thru RPG is unfeasibly costly.

 

The Other Options

I am new to this game, so only just learning what it takes to succeed at RPG publishing. But it seems that there are two tried and tested options worth considering:

Demo Games

Running a demo at a con seems like a great way to sell to the people who matter; those players who’ll go back to their group and evangelize your offering. Besides the networking opportunities, it’s a great chance to improve your pitch and get some game testing in. GMs are always needed, so it’s likely that you can run your game without having to pay for a table.

Shelf Space

It struck me, while writing this post, that the best option is the one most publishers use: shelf space. There’s probably an industry term for it, but having other vendors sell your books is ideal. If I can put 2–3 copies of my best books in the hands of vendors, and have them sell them, I can limit my risk, reach customers, and test the market.

And the best part? I can action both options at the same time, and each option has the potential to benefit the other. Win-win.

 

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

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