Aug 24 2019
I just heard today about the passing of my friend, Rick Loomis. His battle with cancer has ended and another hero has been taken from us by that boss monster we have yet figured out a way to slay on a regular basis.
I did not spend a lot of time socializing with Rick, but he and I served together on the GAMA Board for three years. He was President and I was his Vice-President, which meant that he did most of the work and I would show up for the early morning GAMA meetings and help keep the Board focused on what was important. It was my honor to serve with him. And for years now I have seen him roaming the halls, and I didn’t call him by his name. I would just say, “Hello, Mr. President”, and he would smile and say hi.
Rick loved the gaming industry. He started Flying Buffalo long before I joined the industry. He ran his business, ran a small booth at shows, and I must admit that I was guilty of saying more than once that “AEG needed to be more successful faster, I don’t want to be working the AEG booth when I am Rick’s age.
I turn 55 in a few weeks. I think about my younger self thinking that, and now all I hope is that I get to live as complete and as good a life in gaming as Rick got to live. Others will be able to laud his achievements better than I, so I won’t try. I will just say this. You will be missed,
Mr. President. You lived a gaming life to be proud of.
Aug 1 2019
My career, before starting with AEG as a partner, was advertising sales in the golf industry. It was great; I would travel from city to city with my partner Eric Tivoli selling ads, golfing, and looking for fun. Selling advertising to golf courses and golf shops was interesting. A lot of time these shops would not want to spend the dollars. Lucky for us, my partner Eric, who was an ad salesman long before I met him, understood the power of bartering and ultimately the value of golf rounds and golf equipment to people in the real world. We would try to sell our ads for money, if that did not work we would try to do a partial sale and trade deal for golf equipment or free rounds of golf. A free round of golf was nothing to the golf pros, but it had real $$ value outside in the real world. We never paid for anything when we traveled: Hotels, Rental Cars, Airline Tickets, or even food. We would either trade ads for those things we needed or we would find the golfers working at those businesses and “perk” them with the items for which we had previously traded, like free rounds of golf, shoes, equipment, clubs, etc. I believe we could have lived cash free without ever exchanging a single dollar if we needed.
When I first joined the gaming industry, at the end of every show, other industry professionals and volunteers would come around to the booth with games from their booths looking to make a trade. As owner of AEG, I was an easy mark and I would trade for anything, but my staff and volunteers had specific games they were looking for and they would find someone from those companies that wanted our games. Those swag trades had value to both sides and people would leave shows not only with games they got for working the booth but also games they wanted from other companies.
Over the years the swaging tradition started to break down. Too many people were coming around looking for trades and, also, a lot of people would hang out on Sunday looking for free stuff knowing some companies did not want to send home opened cases of product. Now, many companies do not swag as a general rule; it is sad to see that tradition lost.
The core truth about swagging and bartering is that you must look for a situation where both parties want or need what the other party is trading. The process falls apart if one side “wins” the deal and the people with the best stuff are always trading down.
My advice, if you are looking to swag now, is set up the swag deal early in the show. Drop by the booth on a Friday and tell them what you have for trade. Find out if there is anyone at the booth looking for a deal. Always say. “If you have any left in stock at the end of the show.” Value YOUR item appropriately. A hot list game is more valuable than a closeout from 2 years ago. Finally don’t expect a deal. Maybe the boss said no deals or your game is not their cup of tea.
The way I see it, we are all gamers and working hard to demo games and run our booths. Taking home a game from a booth you did not work at is a gaming industry bonus we should try to bring back.
NOTE: Since I am not at Gen Con this year I apologize to my friends who now have swag hounds showing up tomorrow.
Jul 31 2019
The Journey from There to the Edge of Darkness
I don’t know if we have ever had a development and production challenge quite like the one we conquered with Edge of Darkness. Maybe the first time we published Legend of the Five Rings with all the sheets and packaging, but that was because it was new. Edge was different. We knew better and yet we still decided to tackle this monumental challenge.
NOTE: There are a lot of John’s in this story, try to keep up.
Let’s go all the way back to the beginning, four years ago. Right after BoardGameGeekCon in October of 2014, John Goodenough (Goody), who is a hard man to impress, saw a game at a publisher speed dating event hosted by the late James Mathe (You are missed James) and told me that I needed to look at this game from a Los Angeles designer. So I, John Zinser (Z), followed up and set a meeting with John Clair (JohnC).
JohnC showed me the game and I instantly knew it was something special. JohnC had sent it to two other publishers and gave them until January 1, 2016 to make a decision. Lucky for us neither of those companies played the game before the deadline and JohnC accepted our offer.
The first thing I did once we locked up the game was to grab a copy and play. One of the great things about JohnC’s prototypes is that they are so very well made. The starting point for the game came with everything you needed to play and it felt like you were playing a complete game even with the prototype components.
Prototyping a card crafting game is not easy. Especially before we had Mystic Vale cards. JohnC would build a cardboard tower and tray, then to make the cards he would first create them from plastic film and then sticker both sides with the advancements. I spent a day making cards with him at my house and aligning the stickers straight was hard enough. I also made lots of mistakes on which slots to place them and what cards to back with each other. We ended up with an assembly line, but prototypes took a day to make at best.
After we knew that we were doing Edge, JohnC showed us Mystic Vale and it was obvious for multiple reasons that Mystic Vale should come first. It allowed us to figure out how to print plastic cards (which we had to do all over again anyway) and it introduced card crafting as the base mechanic which makes Edge easier to teach and play.
Mystic Vale went from prototype to press-ready product in record time. It definitely fell into place and as expected was our big hit release in 2016. The ad for Edge made the Mystic Vale rulebook and players were asking about it from day one.
We knew that Edge had to be a Kickstarter game due to components and scope alone. We did not feel comfortable making it our first Kickstarter so we decided to do Thunderstone Quest first because it would be “smaller” and “easier”… umm right. At least we got some good lessons on the process but TSQ was no cakewalk either.
At Gencon 2017 we set up multiple tables and had a bunch of hand-built cube towers from our friend Frank so we called them the Frankentowers and the full play demos were a hit at the show. We still had a lot of art to finish and details to complete but the game was starting to look like the product we had envisioned.
We really wanted to get this game widely exposed to potential players. That proved extremely hard to do because of the challenge of making prototypes by hand. In mid-2017 we were able to start receiving pre-production samples of cards which eased that burden, and about 10 people were issued copies of Edge we were comfortable showing in public. Demos were done at conventions all across the country and in many game stores but we know that we could have had more exposure if we’d had a better plan. This is one aspect of this project we would love to be able to do over again.
We dove into the production plans. It took forever to figure out how to make the tower work. We had 4 to 6 versions. We always knew we wanted a nice 3D tower and we wanted the cards to be facing the players, not flat on the table. I spent a week in China with the final tower design making sure it sounded right and worked correctly. The tower is awesome but it came in over budget.
We assumed incorrectly that it would be a simple jump from printing single sided plastic cards to printing double sided cards. Our Mystic Vale printer could not print the card without risk of damage to the printing. That is why the protective film is on the Mystic Vale cards. So we had to start from scratch and find a printer who could do it. We ended up in Taiwan with a playing card printer that does plastic cards but it was expensive and it was time-consuming. Those cards are the most expensive component in the box. Also way over budget – see a pattern?
The final components are some of the best we have ever done. This was a complex job. The development took a long time because we commissioned one of the greatest landscape artists in our industry to build a look for the game. Alayna Danner did an amazing job. The production process took us using 4 different printers – in two different regions – and pulling it all together.
5 years, hundreds of play tests, 6 trips to China, 5,284 backers, one very big box, and the highest production cost for any single game we have ever produced, and we can finally present the results of that very hard work.
Edge of Darkness is the second game set in the universe introduced in Mystic Vale but it is actually the first game designed using John D Clair’s unique card crafting mechanic.
Edge of Darkness is a game where you are one of four Guildmasters in the city of Aegis trying to grow your guild and reputation by making contacts and also protecting the city from the blight. It is a worker-placement game driven by a shared resource card crafting engine, that uses a specially designed cube tower to randomize which Guildmasters the monsters attack. Each game uses 10 Locations and their associated card advancements from a pool of over 35 options. It is the most unique and deep game AEG has ever made and one we are very proud to have completed and delivered.
The first games are being delivered to Kickstarter Backers as you read this. AEG will also have a few limited copies for sale at our Gen Con booth and a few select retailers who have supported AEG during this process will also have a few copies for sale. Look for more info about the future of Edge of Darkness soon.
Jul 24 2019
I did just say that we were ready for Gen Con right? We are, but the chaos that comes the week before the show is here nonetheless.
Gen Con and maybe Essen are shows that I think everyone should give publishers a pass on. There are just certain things that should happen at these shows that set up the rest of the year. Having a successful release at Gen Con often translates into much better sales in the coming holiday season.
There is now also a big group of game purchasers who buy 80% or more of their games at shows. They show up at Gen Con with pockets full of cash and ready (or not ready) to max out their credit cards to buy most of the games they have missed before their last show and bring home the new hotness. If you do not have a product to sell to these people you may never sell them a game. So it is imperative that companies sneak out a few copies early if they can even if it means during KS campaign fulfilment or ahead of a retail release.
The number one reason someone quits or starts playing a game is someone to play with and Gen Con is the biggest place to find like-minded friends and share a play session and fall in love with a new game. We (publishers) need to be able to do everything we can at Gen Con to excite the thrall of players without fear of reprisal from retail, distribution, and our players. This is not an excuse and we are also responsible for good communication and not making promises we might have to break at Gen Con. I am just saying, if you favorite company is pulling out all the stops at Gen Con and you can’t be there or get a game you want faster than someone else it might be the one time that it is OK to cut them a break.
Did you know that Gen Con is the single most expensive marketing cost on most game companies marketing plan? In fact most companies look at spending at Gen Con with a sort of break even plan. How big can we be and find a way to break even with sales at the booth. Booth space, travel, hotels, new signs, volunteers, uniforms, giveaways, per diems, and schmoozing put a big dent into the pocket book. On a good year we walk away with just a bit more than we spent and if you notice there is a station outside the hall where Gen Con takes the down payment for next year’s booth right at the show. That extra money does not come home: it goes full circle right back into preparing for next year’s fun.
It’s a wonderful circle and the reason why I say the gaming year runs Gencon to Gencon.
Here are – in no particular order – my personal top 6 goals for Gen Con this year:
- Swag trade for at least 5 new games for the Larkstone house. I am looking to trade our new hotness for your new hotness. Come find me. I have a big suitcase.
- Have a non-business dinner with old friends. Currently I have this scheduled for Saturday night. It would take an Avengers level threat to get me to cancel.
- Make a real connection with a new to AEG talent. There are a lot of talented designers, artists, and developers out there and we spend a lot of our time trying to find undiscovered talent. I want to connect with some all stars as well as find fresh faces.
- Have our booth plan work. We are really trying something new this year and while it’s not a crazy expensive plan I don’t think anyone else is doing it so we will see how the booth quick change goes over.
- Take an hour of personal time each day for the gym and just centering myself. I get caught up in the 14-hour days so often.
- Leave the show with one thing. One idea, one relationship, one feeling that could translate into something big for AEG. I get one every year because Gen Con is magic.
Jul 20 2019
Wow Gen Con is in 10 days. Crazy how quickly the time between the GAMA trade show and Gen Con flies but we are ready and excited about the show.
A small piece of useless marketing knowledge. When Peter Adkison bought Gen Con he called to tell me and I said. “That is just like you to buy the best 4 days in gaming.” He laughed and said he might use that line and it became the marketing tag line for the show.
I’m not going to talk about how much work it is to prepare for a Gen Con… blah blah blah. Let’s talk about all the cool stuff we are doing this year and why I think it will be one of our best Gen Cons ever.
My excitement starts with Edge of Darkness, the game we debuted and showed people at Gen Con two years ago is finally reaching backers now and we will have a limited number of copies to sell at the show. In fact we are taking pre-orders on our website for this special product. https://alderacstore.com/edge-of-darkness-guildmaster-for-gen-con-2019-pickup-gencon/. It’s a magnificent beast make sure you bring an extra bag.
You can pre-order the following items for Gen Con Pick-Up:
Edge of Darkness Guildmaster (all Stretch Goals and Exclusives included)
Edge of Darkness Dunestar (All Exclusives included)
Thunderstone Quest Champion
Smash-Up World Tour Part II Culture Shock
Space Base Command Station
Go to https://alderacstore.com search for “Gen Con 2019” to see the offers. Only these items are available for pre-order. Please bring a copy of your receipt with you to Gen Con.
We are also doing something absolutely amazing with the booth this year. Every day we are going to change out the booth and put up completely new signage and be demoing different cool games every day. So don’t go thinking: “Oh I’ll wait until tomorrow to demo Edge at the AEG booth.” It might not be there. (But don’t worry something super cool will be going on at the booth every day.)
Speaking of super cool. One wall of our booth will have a riddle or question on it. If you know the answer come to the sales booth and tell the riddle master. He will let you draw to see if you win a game. There will be a new challenge each day.
Speaking of best Gen Cons ever: I think this is going to be our best Big Game Night ever. The three games we are debuting, Walking in Burano, Curios, and Point Salad are all getting rave reviews. Don’t worry if you miss Big Game Night there will be a limited supply of these new games at the booth for sale starting on Saturday.
Whew. I am not done yet.
Don’t miss the special DEAL OF THE DAY. Every day we will have limited quantity of one of our great games on sale at the booth for an amazing price. First come first served, limited quantities. The even better news is we will be offering this deal on our website for those of you who cannot make it to the show.
Have you tried our smash hit Tiny Towns yet? Yes!! Awesome! Come show off your skills. No? Why not. Come to the booth and learn to play it and buy your copy at Gen Con you crazy kids.
Not only are we demoing our hot games and debuting the Big Game Night games we will also have Atelier, The Captain is Dead Episode 3 Dangerous Planet, and of course the new Smash-Up Expansion World Tour Part II Culture Shock.
We will also have some special pins at the booth for sale or free pick up with your Smash-Up Back Stage Pass.
We will have designers at the booth doing demos. John Clair, Josh Wood, Mark Wootton, Peter McPherson, Tom Clever, David Short and even me. Yes I am talking time away from meetings this year to demo some games.
Come play a game with us. I hope you are all excited about Gen Con and if you are not coming to visit one of the pop up Gen Cons or one of then more than 150 stores debuting our Big Game Night games early for Gen Can’t peeps.
Have an excellent week and travel safe. We can’t wait to see you in Indy!
Jul 18 2019
I am in a tavern…..
The GM who runs the reality game about my business looks over his screen at me:
“You have gathered an excellent party, but for this great quest you will need one more. Someone like minded and with synergistic skills and who speaks your language. John, your party needs a Salesman!”
“I’ll do it.” I say. “ I have multiple levels in sales and marketing. I am essentially a gaming industry Super-Bard.”
“You do remember your promise to the people when you locked yourself in the Larkstone tower to become a development Wizard. You said fewer better games. Your team is delivering on that promise. Are you willing to risk all that you have gained, when finding the right party member is a better and more permanent answer?”
Damn you GM. I think to myself. But I know that the Game Master of Life wants a good story. If my quest is to find a legendary sales person then I will take on that quest.
Easier said than done.
In an industry full of Development Wizards, Design Clerics, Graphics Warriors, and even Marketing Magicians it is super hard to find a Sales Bard. A Legendary Sales Bard.
It really is hard to muster up the courage to post a sign up in the town square that says. “Sales Bard wanted – enquire at the local tavern.” But to start my quest I will do just that.
What skills does a Sales Bard have?
Let’s start by separating a marketer from a sales person. A Marketer makes sure that people know about your product. A sales person connects with people who could buy your game and gets them to say: “Yes send me a case (or a pallet, or a container-load)”.
A Sales Bard :
• Would have a current and ever-growing deep rolodex of people who purchase games. Core market, extended, mass market and closeout.
• Would be personable, have a high charisma, and like interacting with people.
• Would love adventuring, travel , sales calls; making new friends would be like life force to this person.
• Would love games and know a lot about them, but a Sales Bard has no interest in being a game designer, or developer. They are single-class specialists all the way.
• Would be creative, would have valid opinions about things we should put into or do to our products but would be able to point to that thing and say: “If you do this we will sell more copies and here is why.”
• For AEG they would be able to sell more of our new games and be able to sell our awesome evergreen lines as well as we do now plus find new places to feature them.
• They go on an adventure with development and marketing exploring a wide range of options and attributes of the products, where the end goal of each adventure is to sell more games and make happy customers.
• They would believe that “make great games” is the number one priority and when you have those great games it is easy to find bigger markets. You just have to connect.
A special note that to be Legendary at AEG you must be able to say “No” to me – the party leader – but whenever you say”No” you must replace my idea with something better and back it up with results. This is when AEG is at its best.
We are looking for this person right now!
Our current sales are pretty good but we have to do better. A sales person who can deliver better sales than we are currently averaging, and who deliver new customers and channels, and long term relationships will be a senior member of our team, have key decision-making responsibility, management oversight over others in sales & marketing, and excellent compensation.
I need someone who understands and believes that AEG is making the best games it ever has and that everyone should own them. They know that their job as Salesman Bard is to kick down doors and help us conquer the worlds in front of us and discover new worlds we have not yet discovered.
If you know you are Legendary, are tenacious, have had success in sales at a high level, and believe that you can sell great lines like Mystic Vale, Smash-Up, Space Base, Istanbul, Thunderstone, Cat Lady, Warchest, Tiny Towns, and our other great new and old products then I want to talk with you.
High level PC’s only. Years of experience in a sales leadership role with responsibility for hitting the numbers and making the numbers grow. Our current team is excellent at managing our distribution relationships and flowing orders through our system – but we need to go beyond that to expand our business in many directions. We want someone who can make an instant impact and doesn’t need to be told what to do or how to do it. We need people who will be able to start growing our business on the day they start work.
We look forward to your contact. I will be taking a limited number of meetings for this role at Gen Con. If you think you have what it takes to be a Legendary Sales Bard at AEG e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. I am not going to tell you what to send to impress us. Your first challenge is to get the interview. Good Luck.