Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Season of Thankfulness

 “We count our miseries carefully and accept our blessings without much thought.”
-- Chinese Proverb

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches I find myself reflecting on the numerous things in my life for which I’m thankful…and many of those revolve around gaming, both as a player and a creator. Some come thanks to the communication wonders of our Internet Age, but many still rely on good old face-to-face interaction.

Like so many positive messages holidays promote, we really should remain thankful throughout the year. It’s easy to succumb to the overwhelming negative issues in our lives, even as gamers and creators: a general uncertainty and lack of self esteem; producing work in a hobby with such a vast scope and seemingly innumerable others promoting (to various and often more successful degrees) their own product; the challenges of channeling creativity into workable products, through the stages of design, text, layout, playtesting, and publication; and above all (for some of us, anyway) the urge to compare ourselves and our accomplishments to those in our field who seem more popular and successful.

So for at least this month -- and with a mindfulness to reflect on these boons more often throughout the year -- I consider the many game-related aspects of my life for which I’m thankful:

Positive Community of Gamers: The internet has enabled me as a gamer and creator to reach out to gamers across the world: the many customers who’ve purchased Griffon Publishing Studio game titles from my e-storefront at DriveThruRPG.com; intelligent playtesters who provide constructive criticism, new ideas, and some encouragement for my efforts; gaming friends and colleagues, many new, some lifelong, who continue our engaging correspondence; clients like the folks at Wicked North Games who gave me the opportunity to contribute creatures and adventure ideas to their sci-fi steampunk Westward roleplaying game and to D6 Magazine; friends and fans who offer positive comments on my blog and social networking posts. I try very hard (and don’t always succeed) at keeping these interactions positive, but overall my involvement with an encouraging gamer community online has lifted my spirits this past year.

Internet Opportunities: The internet has also exposed me to some opportunities beyond the ability to publish my games in PDF and reach out to gamers, fans, and customers. Kickstarter has brought to my attention several fantastic game-related projects I’ve backed, games that inspire me and encourage me to pursue my own game design work. I’ve also learned of fellow gamers and friends in need and -- through crowdfunding websites -- donated to their charitable causes to do my very small part in helping others.

Family Gaming: I’m thankful to game regularly with my family. As my toddler son -- the almost four year-old “Little Guy” -- learns more about his parents’ geeky obsessions, he’s wanted to take part in such games as the X-Wing Miniatures Game and King of Tokyo (albeit modified for simpler play). It’s only a matter of time before we expand to more involved games, including some basic roleplaying game experiences. (I recently discussed my family gaming experiences over at Hobby Games Recce.) Our weekly game nights offer us a chance to turn off the television and computers and spend some quality time face-to-face enjoying games and learning some lessons along the way. I’m also very thankful that my family allows me the time, focus, and energy to pursue my game design projects.

Local Gaming: This past year I’ve had the opportunity for some local, face-to-face gaming, both with a group trying out new, primarily indie roleplaying games and with some friends who gather occasionally for good food and board games (including the Little Guy when we can). Both have occurred sporadically, but hold the promise of more gaming in the coming months.

FLGS: A new gaming store (with comics) recently opened within a 10-minute drive of my house…it’s already posted a schedule with some interesting events (notably X-Wing Miniatures Friday nights and board games all day Saturdays). It holds some promise for more face-to-face gaming and the chance to expand my gaming horizons. I’m also thankful for the FLGS I’ve frequented over the past few years at a slightly inconvenient 45-minute drive from home; it offers a different selection of gaming product and events as well as staff that remains friendly to a stay-at-home dad who often brings his inquisitive and talkative toddler son into the store.

In reflecting on all these factors that have enriched my life I’m reminded to remember and appreciate them throughout the year. I’m inspired to help others discover gaming as a worthwhile and enjoyable pastime in their lives; indeed to use games as a platform for positive interactions among us all.

“In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”
--  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

As always, I encourage constructive feedback and civilized discussion. Share a link to this blog entry on Google+ and tag me (+Peter Schweighofer) to comment.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

To Attend or Not To Attend

I enjoy attending gaming conventions; but the past few years I’ve altered my con-going habits thanks to changes in my own life and the ever-fluid convention scene itself. A great deal has to do with transferring my promotional activities from live conventions to online venues, leaving me free to enjoy conventions as an adventure gaming enthusiast without the additional obligations required of a gaming guest.

The Way It Was

Years ago, even after West End Games’ bankruptcy pushed me out into the world of non-corporate-affiliated freelancing, I maintained a regular convention attendance schedule at local conventions -- with occasional appearances at a few not-so-local cons -- as a gaming guest. I ran roleplaying game sessions to showcase my own materials (as well as the obligatory nostalgia D6 Star Wars game) and promoted my activities on panel discussions and at a dealers room table when possible. Granted, this was in the early days of the Internet Age (the late 1990s and the early 2000s), with such social networking sites like Facebook and Google+  yet to come into their prime.

As a freelance game designer and publisher of my own material, attending conventions had their benefits and drawbacks. Creators derive a great deal of satisfaction and encouragement from positive interaction from fans, particularly face-to-face. Conventions offered an opportunity to run games first-hand, giving games an in-person taste of my own gamemastering style featuring my original material. Panel discussions challenged me as a guest to speak meaningfully on a relevant gaming-related topic, often one not directly related to my own work but one that pushed me beyond my comfort zone. Downtime allowed me to simply hang out with fans talking about topics ranging from upcoming releases, stories from behind-the-scenes at West End Games, and the inevitable talk of how to break into publishing or produce their own game. Not every interaction generated a sale, but the face-to-face contact helped make the convention memorable for many con-goers who subsequently became longtime fans of my work.

Attending a convention as a gaming guest takes a lot of time, effort, and money which sometimes interferes with other priorities (family, day job, household, and freelance work). My typical outlay of effort for a convention included printing out scenarios, tent cards, pre-generated characters, and promotional signs for games (sometimes even creating a new adventure wholesale instead of pulling material from my gaming repertoire). Travel, hotel, and food expenses require a significant outlay, especially for someone “working” the convention instead of a con-goer with the freedom to enjoy the entire con. Only a few conventions cover their gaming guest of honor’s hotel expenses (a practice rapidly becoming extinct in the struggling economy); even well-known gamemasters with publishing credits simply get a free convention admission badge as compensation for running games. Game designers can sometimes offset expenses with revenue from a dealers room table, but many conventions have limited such venues to “author alley” tables shared with others over reduced hours.

I still post my criteria for attending a convention as a gaming guest on the Griffon Publishing Studio website -- a complimentary hotel room being the main requirement (since it’s the greatest expense) -- along with the various benefits my attendance could bring to a con. Nobody’s taken me up on it in a number of years; I don’t worry much about it, as attending conventions as a guest has passed beyond an essential strategy in promoting my game design activities and become more of a tertiary luxury.

Interacting with the Gaming Community

For years I’d occasionally debate a longtime gamer friend who questioned why I placed so much emphasis on attending conventions to meet fans and showcase my roleplaying game materials six players per game session; he argued my time was better spent using the internet to reach out and cultivate new customers. Interaction with the gaming community has transformed so much since the mid-1990s and even the early 2000s, when I was still regularly attending conventions. Thanks to the glorious advances of the Internet Age game designers can still remain involved with the gaming community and assertively market their products without attending a single physical convention. Press releases go out to numerous adventure gaming news sites. Many of those offer forums for announcements and other dialogue with interested gamers. Podcasts and other interviews offer opportunities to promote one’s work. Electronic storefronts like DriveThruRPG.com provide publishers with tools to directly market materials to past customers, those with related items in their “wish lists,” and those following favored publishers. Blogs and websites allow creators to directly speak to their audience, offering behind-the-scenes insights, word of new developments right from the source, and free promotional materials. Playtesters review and comment on material online. Designers can even run playtest sessions of their own, or just run games for fun, via online tools like Google+ Hangouts. They can even run events at an increasing number of online virtual conventions.

I’m not saying face-to-face interaction at actual events has no value. I still believe it’s worthwhile in building an audience and promoting new product; but the internet has made the daily accomplishment of this objective much easier and more effective than promoting one’s games among a handful of gamers from one con to the next. Certainly game designers should attend conventions when possible; but it’s no longer an essential strategy in marketing one’s creations.

Changes in My Life

Certainly changes in my life have limited my involvement with gaming conventions. Juggling a family, household responsibilities, and some spare time for game writing and development doesn’t leave a lot of time or energy to do conventions properly. Schedules and finances remain subject to other, more important forces, with conventions rating rather low among numerous priorities. As a full-time stay at home dad, I’m also charged with raising our three year-old; as he shows some interest in his parents’ geeky pursuits we’re gradually introducing him to our activities, including gaming.

Most of my interactions with gamers takes place on the internet, posting about my game design activities on Google+ and Facebook, writing weekly about adventure gaming developments on two blogs (Hobby Games Recce and Schweig’s Game Design Journal), posting press releases about product on various websites and forums, discussing new ideas and game materials with trusted playtesters, maintaining the Griffon Publishing electronic storefront and offering occasional deals at DriveThruRPG.com, and occasionally holding conversations through Google+ Hangouts or in forum exchanges. Conventions as the means of interacting with gamers and potential customers have become less a necessity and more a luxury, a marketing opportunity above and beyond what I’m able to accomplish over the internet.

Enjoying the Hobby

After a short respite from attending my regional gaming conventions, I’m returning to look at the con scene with as a means of celebrating the adventure gaming hobby. Conventions offer an opportunity for me to attend as a game enthusiast without the scheduling and time obligations required of a gaming guest. I certainly enjoy running games occasionally, but I’m not beholden to them as a guest who feels a duty to entertain con-goers constantly. I can attend panels and play in games, hang out with gamer fans and friends, and enjoy a far more relaxed experience.

The past two years I’ve attended Historicon, the flagship miniature wargaming convention, in nearby Fredericksburg, VA. This past year I took our three year-old for one day; he enjoyed taking in the vast visual displays, particularly for the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game and a Flames of War Vietnam scenario with helicopters (as I reported earlier). Historicon has enabled me to indulge my enthusiasms for miniature wargaming despite my limited professional publishing involvement in that field.

I’m looking forward to attending some local conventions with roleplaying game programming, in part to run a session promoting some of my own game work, but primarily to play in other games I enjoy. And if I happen to run into old friends and fans, all the better; I’m always happy to talk about my game-industry past, promote my current projects, or just reconnect with old friends.

As always, I encourage constructive feedback and civilized discussion. Share a link to this blog entry on Google+ and tag me (+Peter Schweighofer) to comment.