At the time of writing, the Mottokrosh Machinations team has returned from Internationale Spieltage, or Essen Spiel, or Spiel, as it's more often known. Possibly the biggest boardgame convention in the world, with six massive halls stuffed with the latest and greatest. Among them a smattering of tabletop RPG publishers too, including us, for the first time.
We met friends, made some new ones, ran a great many demo games, sold a bunch of books, and hopefully turned a whole load of people onto Hypertellurians and the rest of our catalogue (including the new and gorgeous Capes and Cloaks and Cowls and a Park).
For reasons™️, we arrived by public transport, schlepping all but two pieces of luggage that we sent ahead, by ourselves. Bit of a mistake that, as it turned out. But you live and learn, and we were determined to put up a beautiful stand. Here it is, from zero to go-time.
As the doors opened at 10:00 each morning, a crowd a people stormed in, knowing exactly where to dash, presumably for a hotly contested spot in a demo game, or wares in limited quantities.
This appeared not so common for roleplayers, who sauntered around, passive Perception checks at the ready. For our own crew, it was a mixture of gentle strolling to take in the sights, sounds, and smells, and frantic zipping between folks to get back to the stand before break's end.
Among the hardcore visitors with trolleys, suitcases, and Bollerwagen for games, were the more laid back ones with one or two bags straight from the vendors, but also a number of awesome cos plays.
Work hard, play hard, they say. They don't mention wait forever with a huge crowd to get onto a tiny U-Bahn train, or desperately try to find a restaurant with free spaces during con weekend, or the hotel bar running out of beer on tap, but there you go.
Nevertheless we had some great food (excepting the place that served me fries with some stuff on it instead of the ordered poutine I had been mouthwatering about), played games, met folks, and generally had fun. Of particular note was The ASH, a steakhouse with a range of vegetarian options to put many other eateries to shame. Also, fantastic steak.
Room for Improvement
Had it not been for the very expensive stand packages (plus a couple of mandatory add-ons), travel and accommodation costs, I would go so far as to say Essen Spiel 2022 had been fiscally successful. As it stands though, we will have to see how much of it works out as a longer investment into brand awareness and repeat customers.
Rant about exhibitor experience (skip to spare high blood pressure)
But frankly the real annoyance was simply the draconian organizer/exhibitor experience. It's not enough that signing up as exhibitor is a case of filling in a PDF, each communication or interaction thereafter was different from the last:
- Let them know about your new releases by filling in a spreadsheet. Yeah, not a Google spreadsheet, or something universal and online like that, no, an Excel file that you had to fill, rename, and email back. And hope that whatever software you have to open it doesn't mess it up too much—the assumption here being that everyone is on Windows and owns the Office suite.
- Receive a stack of papers in the post with "all" the exhibitor information, including your stand number handscribbled on (yay, deciphering hastily scrawled numbers and letters), and a photocopied map with your stand manually highlighted. Thankfully some third parties do great maps so you have a chance of putting together a half-decent graphic to use for advertising. The whole thing is filled with legalese, and sorely lacking in actual information (nothing about WiFi, lots of regulation about handing rubbish to a particular service firm at the end with not a speck on how or where to find them, and so forth).
- Receive emails on how to get staff and customer passes (customer passes? never explained, but from what I gather they're discounted entry tickets an exhibitor might use, somehow), which is a URL that leads to a CSV file with the codes. You then visit a separate website to redeem them. Here I briefly got my hopes up that there was in fact an online exhibitor portal, but no, it was purely for this one activity.
- Sleuth for information about stand furniture from the "exhibitor pack", to be directed to a website that has, and I kid you not, an enormous PDF with forms for each piece or set you might want to rent. Yes, a PDF form, and not a short one. Also, extremely high prices, and not enough of the basic wooden tables you actually need to go around.
- Desperately try and find information about WiFi, discover a note on a website that says the password is on your access pass, discover that this is not so, and eventually find out that you're supposed to go to a service office somewhere (perhaps not so daunting if this isn't your first Spiel), and of course pay extra for WiFi access. For one device. Presumably per day. Unclear, we just continued to hotspot.
One last point, not so much related to antiquated modes of communication, and an apparent contest to see how many different ones they could get in there, was the utter lack of consideration that exhibitors might want to arrive by taxi, like we did, since we had arrived to the city by public transport. So much so, that we were turned away and forbidden to approach the halls for a simple drop-off, and had to lug our massive bags a huge distance (at least until a sympathetic fellow exhibitor with a large trolley gave us a helping hand towards the end).
As someone who lives in Germany, I am not terribly surprised by this state of affairs, and I do understand that the convention is largely geared towards board games companies, who have different logistical hurdles to RPG publishers, but it is disappointing nevertheless. I dearly wish that the organizers would drag the exhibitor experience into the 21st century, with a simple, but all-encompassing online portal, with registration, payment, furniture ordering, information, decent maps, direct support, and yes, "free" Wifi for exhibitors goshdarnit.
Will we be back? Quite possibly. At least we know a lot more about what to expect. And despite my big rant above (hey organizers, I've been making websites and apps for 30 years or so, I can't do it for you, but I can consult), we had a great time, and made a bunch of sales. I particularly enjoyed the demo games. And the custom brewed beers for The Belgian Beer Race. 😅
Beyond Essen though, we've got our sights set on more conventions too, perhaps not this year. We're unlikely to return to the UK ones for now, great as they are, as it's incredibly difficult and expensive to actually legally sell there (and get your books over) as a foreigner. Brexit is the poisoned gift that keeps on poisoning.
And beyond conventions, we have a lot of fresh irons in the fire. Look for a future post for more on those!