Selling to Play

April 19, 2016 Leave your thoughts
Show off your assets
Show off your assets

At events like San Jose Protospiel and Unpub, players come to test out and provide feedback to games in all stages of development. One would assume that players would go up to your table, regardless of how the game looked, and ask to play.

One would be wrong though.

Like any event where there are many booths, things to see, things to do, just because the players are around to playtest games doesn’t mean that they’re going to play it regardless of how it or you look. At San Jose Protospiel, it took me an hour to realize this after my table remained empty (while others had many players). Not sure, why I thought that things would be different, but you try and learn, right?

There are a few takeaways that I wanted to expand upon here related to my experience of having a table at Protospiel. Hopefully, these lessons will prove useful to other game designers.

Notice and Befriend Wandering Spirits

Wander Spirits are those players that come to an event and idle about, looking for something of particular interest to them. Most of the time, I feel like they’re just looking for someone who’s friendly with a game that’s fun. It’s hard to know this, unless these players spend a lot of time idling around—watching from the sidelines.

These are the perfect targets to reach out to and bring to your table.

A couple of the best playtests I had came as a result of me jumping out of my chair to reach out to these players.

What’s the worst that can happen anyway?

Make It Clear What You Offer

Most of the players that came to me noticed that I had relatively short games. I can’t stress the importance of letting players know the time your game really takes. Especially where time is short, many players will seek out a short game before leaving the event. Moreover, if you have a long game, players will probably get annoyed if, midway through a game, they realize that there’s another hour left.

Being upfront about the time a game will take will remove the burden from you and make the player’s experience overall, that much more enjoyable.

Make Friends with Others

Still thinking about creating a 2v2 version because of this test
Still thinking about creating a 2v2 version because of this test

Protospiels are events where game designers and players of all different backgrounds come together to have fun and develop cool games together. Networking with others and making friends can not only help from a professional perspective but in terms of marketing by word of mouth. By day two and three, many people who I had played games with and befriended earlier were sending other players my way.

Think About Ditching the Forms

Feedback forms and sell sheets
Feedback forms and sell sheets

After a game ended, there would often be a long pause marked by players wanting to know what to do next. Many tables used detailed forms to collect feedback. Although I had similar forms ready, actually didn’t use them as I felt like I could get better information by talking informally about specifics. Many players seemed to appreciate the fact that they weren’t handed at form to fill out at the end of the game. There is definitely merit in using forms, but I venture to think that the utility depends on your audience and the stage in development that your game is in. Don’t use either approach blindly, but do consider how filling out a form might affect experience and players’ willingness to refer others to your table.

Show Off

"We need to escape. What are you doing?!"
"We need to escape. What are you doing?!"

Perhaps my biggest takeaway from the event is that you still need to sell your game. To do this, show off the best of what you have going on.

Day two and three, for me, were marked by influxes of interested people wanting to play Hackronyms, Paper Airplane, Escape the Room, and Night Market. The first few games have some interesting attributes about them that I believe contributed to their curb appeal.

For Hackronyms, the acronym cards utilize Internet slang. Anyone who knows LOL or HMU would be apt to pay a bit more attention to the game to understand what is going on. Paper Airplane utilizes a slew of sand timers to keep planes afloat. The sight of seeing players constantly flipping timers around is amusing to look at. Lastly, for Escape the Room, understanding why players are chaotically flipping things around, rolling dice, and communicating with one another was more than enough to bring over onlookers.

When players were playing one of these games, I would get up to talk with onlookers about what it is that was going on. I got a few future players in this manner.

During times when, I wasn’t playtesting a game, I put out my sand timers in the middle of the table as if the game were ready to be played. There’s just something about seeing so many sand timers than makes people want to come over and learn more.


I saw some pretty cool displays and met a lot of awesome people. One of the best displays I saw was a therapy game that showed off what the game was about using a cork board with information pinned onto it. It was well thought out and definitely piqued my interest.

This highlights an interesting point.

When all is said and done, I think the best way to think about how to sell your game is to think about what would interest you if you were walking around. It’s easy to think of yourself as a category onto your own, but Protospiels are collaborative events. Game designers are as much players as players are designers. Stopping to think about how you might increase interest in your game will go a long way towards getting more and higher quality playtests.

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