As we rocketed towards the launch of Lords of War: Orcs versus Dwarves at the Dragonmeet game show 2012, it felt like things were finally falling into place.
I had got the website up, having pulled in dozens of favours and written tonnes of copy. We’d tested our online shop and it was working, and Nick and I had spent two awkward afternoons stood in front of a green screen with our friend Luke, an IT teacher and ex-colleague of Nick’s, who had very kindly given over hours to not only filming us but subsequently editing all the footage into a series of instructional videos.
Elsewhere, we had created a Facebook page and begun whacking up updates, had emailed everyone who had been involved in the development of the game to let them know the launch was coming and we had made several roller-banners adorned with Orcs and Dwarves as well as one massive, twelve foot-high banner, emblazoned with the Lords of War logo, which we have come to affectionately call ‘The Big Guy’.
Just from a logistics perspective by the way, full credit to Nick who made the poles on which The Big Guy stands to this day. It’s a heavy duty piece of booth equipment, and Nick spending a day sawing, hammering, painting and gluing it together was quite a contrast to all the phoning and spread sheet management he had been subjected to for the months previous!
Anyway, with all that done, a van hired, volunteers sourced and some t-shirts hastily printed at our local Worthing print shop, launch was upon us. We were like kids on Christmas Eve, so excited to be finally showing the game to the world!
If you’ve ever attended Dragonmeet then you’ll know that it’s not the biggest game show in the world – under a thousand people attend, but it has a great family atmosphere and dozens of people go to simply play games with friends. Although the floors of the venue are busy with foot traffic, it’s less of a buying show and more of a friendly day out.
With that in mind, we probably went a bit overboard.
Aside from The Big Guy and the roller banners, we ended up with three gaming tables on each of which 4 customers could play demo games. We had my 37” flatscreen TV showing artwork, hanger-type displays (bought for Nick as a birthday present by his children) stacked with stock and myriad technology; aside from my laptop, which was showing an artwork slideshow, we also had Joss and Tom in tow (more on these guys next week!). They had brought the alpha build of the Lords of War app, which they had running across three iPads, four Blackberry Playbooks and a couple of iPhones.
And then there was our staffing level.
First to arrive were Nick, Dnyan and I. We set out at five in the morning from Sussex to ensure we were at the venue early and got set up. Then there was Joss and Tom on their own small table at the side of the booth. Then there was Adi and Niyati, Dnyan’s elder sisters, and Niyati’s then-partner Carl. Rachel, my sister, was also there (she has never missed a Lords of War game show, and I’m eternally grateful to her for that), as well as Nick’s friend Alan, my close friend Tom, Nick’s wife Brenda and their two young children who were on duty too, giving out lollipops and chocolate.
By the time the show opened, the booth was pandemonium. Team Lords of War had basically taken over a quarter of the main hall with the sheer number of people we had there to help. Strangely though, once the doors were pulled open we spent almost an hour struggling to pull in customers. It seemed like, as a brand new game with such a flashy booth and so many staff, we were coming across as a bit intimidating.
But then, almost magically, something clicked into gear.
By noon we had extremely full gaming tables, with a small queue forming. People were becoming extremely curious, and all of our friends and family became tremendously handy for not only running demos but explaining what they game was, who we were and why Orcs versus Dwarves was worth their time while they waited for a demo spot to open up. And we were selling copies – people buying two or three packs to give away as presents. Mums with small babies, Dads with their daughters, pension-age gamers and couples – so many couples!
With the booth so busy it was hard to peel ourselves away, but I managed to at a couple of points. I was interviewed on camera by EN World, which I didn’t expect, but the primary objective of not running demos for a while was to meet with the Esdevium representatives who were down running their own demos.
I caught up with them, gave them copies of the game and asked them to please, please get someone at HQ to call me. They even said how impressed with how busy our booth was. The busiest at the show they said.
Oh, the irony!
Elsewhere I was collecting business cards, as was Nick, with retailers asking us how they could get stock. And then there were other new games companies asking us for advice.
Asking us… for advice!
If you’re one of the people we met at that first Dragonmeet, I have to say a huge thank you to you. Your passion and enthusiasm made us feel extremely special. Plus, many of the ‘Dragonmeet crew’, those early customers, have been amongst our most vocal supporters in the 11 months since. They are our ambassadors, spreading the game as if it’s their own, and a great deal of what success we’ve had comes down to their willingness to take a chance on us.
By the end of the day we were happy, but not over the moon. We were buzzing, but in our naïve minds we had hoped for more sales. We still sold to around 15% of the attendees, which was pretty fantastic from a cold start, but dismantling the booth and loading all the stock back into the van did feel a little depressing – even in spite of the overwhelmingly positive feedback.
Those hundreds of copies of Lords of War felt much heavier going back into the van than they had coming out of it that morning.
Once we were home again, with boxes of stock back in bedrooms, under staircases or stacked in corners in our houses, reality sunk back in. We’d been in touch with Board Game Geek to ask them to create a listing for Orcs versus Dwarves but they hadn’t gotten back to us before Dragonmeet, so that needed to be followed up. We’d also contacted Beasts of War asking how we could possibly appear on something, somewhere on the site, but we couldn’t seem to get through.
We had acquired dozens of business cards, so Nick dutifully began the process of following up with people, and although website sales started to ping through they were few and far between.
Ultimately, with no word from Esdevium, we had just spent all of our life savings and over two years working on games we had no perceivable way of selling. Dragonmeet had helped us shift some copies of Orcs versus Dwarves but there wasn’t another major game show until Salute in April. What were we meant to do next?
Did we double down and finish Elves versus Lizardmen? If so, that meant many more months of taking money from our pay packets to save up. And how could we afford to print them?
The biggest issue was, there wasn’t a road map telling us how to connect customers with our product – the route we had been told about was to find a distributor, and although we subsequently contacted Coiled Spring and Spiral Galaxy Games, two other smaller distributors, they both told us that we were better off working with Esdevium.
Nick and I spoke to some retailers first hand and they started to stock the game, but they said the same thing. Esdevium would be the key.
To a certain degree they were right, and this story does have a happy ending, but what we really needed at that point, far more than anything else, was for word of mouth to spread.
The trouble with word of mouth though is that it only spreads so fast.
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