Monday, 20 October 2014

An Englishman at Spiel...

So it’s been quiet for a week over on the blog, the longest time it’s been so since I started things way back in January.  The simple reason for this is that I’ve spent most of the last week in Germany at my first European convention...



Spiel...

And from the point of view of a convention goer and a convention organiser, it’s been one hell of an eye opener...


Everyone knows about the size of the convention, it’s supposed to be the largest of its kind, with numbers exceeding those of Gencon Indiana.  It’s impossible to get a bearing on the numbers that were in the convention this year, but I have to say that even though it’s spaced over a smaller area, there seemed to be less people attending the convention than there were at Gencon last year when I attended that.  A part of this might be the sheer amount of space given between the booths, with enough space between stands to drive a van through (and given the amount of stock on the stands, this turned out to be not only desirable, but required.  Another part of it may well be the train strike that occurred over the entire weekend, shutting off access to the line that runs directly down to the convention hall.  Those who were committed to attending the show would still have found a way to make it, but I suspect the casual trade was down significantly.
 
Pat and Lindsey at the Expo Desk
I went as part of the UK Games Expo team, so didn’t see the convention completely from the eyes of an attendee, but also as an exhibitor.  We set up our Booth in Hall 2 (of 4) and put our office together for the meetings to resolve the advance bookings for space at the Expo.  Wednesday was taken up entirely in the construction of the stand and making sure that we had everything in order for when the world descended the following day.
 
Note the negotiation settlement device at the end of the table...
Thursday arrived and the general public were allowed access to the show, a good number even without it being one of the main days, the booth saw plenty of action from both the public and the traders, and things were never quiet as traders continued to arrive and set up their own stalls.  I got a little time in the afternoon to wander around and take in the show itself before things got too busy for me to be anywhere apart from on our stand. 
  


Whenever I go to a convention other than Expo, I like to get a look in to see where we could improve things, or in some cases where we could learn the lesson before we make the mistake in the first place.

Observation One - Spiel is about Endurance...

That may not seem like much of a Observation, but when you’re putting together a convention, you need to consider the different parts of it.  While I was wandering around, what struck me most of all was that there were no place within the entire convention to sit down, relax, or take stock of what you were doing.  This is similar in a way to Gencon Indiana, but the difference here is that there are no space to play the games you buy at Spiel.  There’s no space to sit down and eat the food that’s supplied there, and there’s certainly no space to take a break from the convention before going back for a second go.  I said similar to Gencon Indiana, with the primary difference being that Gencon has mostly carpeted floors that can be sat on, and there are places to get sit down games where you can take a break from things, saving you from going back to the hotel or having to find a Cafe somewhere before you go back in for the second half. 


The overall feel of it (and I’m speaking from an attendee point of view) is that the convention is very much about going with a list of games that you want to buy, buying them, and getting out.  There were more than ten of us that went to the convention, with between a Hundred and Six Hundred Euro’s in saved up capital to buy games, none of us were there the whole four days, we got the list and then retired to comfortable spaces.  It’s just too exhausting when you don’t have any place to take a break over the course of the weekend.  I know that I’m built on the big side, like many gamers if the truth be known, and that doesn’t lend itself to spending long periods of time on the stood up and moving around stage of a convention, but many of those who were with us aren’t built on the same scale and they were having similar problems.  It’s good to get have a break out room to get away from the scrum, here the whole convention was the scrum...



Observation Two – Demonstrations

While there were no places to play the games you were buying at Spiel, there were a number of places where you could sit down to try out a game or two.  Make no mistake, most of these were set at a rapid rate to get people on to the game and then give them a round or so before seeing if they wanted to buy the game, rather than sit down, play the whole game and then consider buying it.  I found less than ten traders in the entire of the convention that let you play a larger game from start to finish, but those that were doing were getting a lot of interest. 



The only difference to this was in the kids games, where a number of the larger distributors were running continual games through the day specially catering for the new generation.  This was the only part of the convention that seemed more focussed towards the playing of games than buying them.  An interesting side note is that at many English conventions, the kids games sections are half and half, with every kid being accompanied by a parent who was watching them play.  Here, the kids were merrily by themselves, wandering from game to game as it took their fancy with no one looking for parental approval before setting to in teaching the kids the game. 


I have to say I liked that a lot, because the inherent problem with the English side of things is that there’s so many rules that you’ve got to follow to make sure that the kids are looked after and everyone is vetted and you’ve got consent to teach the kids, and here...

They just teach them...

In England, there’s hundreds of rules that we all endeavour not to follow, and I was particularly impressed as a first time visitor to Germany, that the rules aren’t written down, but by Grapthars Hammer, they’re followed, and without anyone needing to follow them up...  This may well extend to the childrens zones, everyone is so used to the rules being followed without being asked that they consider it to be normal to leave your kids to play games while you wander around a massive convention.

I’m not sure I could do it, but it was good to see that there was a lot of trust in the community.

Observation Three – Scale

It’s not just the show that’s bigger than other conventions, it’s the amount of product that’s packed into the show.  In England, most stalls have a good amount of product placed on tables that are raised to the height where you don’t have to duck down to pick something up.  At Spiel, the product was literally stacked from top to bottom, and all of it in order with regular restocks to make sure that the levels never dropped too far.  

This was the case all the way through the convention until the latter half of saturday when the stock started to finally run out.  While it’s good to see that the traders were organised and planned to sell the whole stall, it was another example that the entire point of the show was to continue selling things till they ran out.



Observation Four – Language

It’s widely accepted that most Europeans speak more than one language, particularly when it comes to the second language being English.  While that’s certainly the case in most of the larger booths, a number of the smaller traders and independents don’t speak English, so when you’re looking at the games, having access to the net and by extension the various websites like Boardgamegeek is a godsend, translations to English are available for most games and while we were there, we were offered the services of a number of professional translators who do this sort of thing on a regular basis.  


Having the presence of Boardgamegeek direct at the convention was excellent, they were very knowledgeable and friendly, and from a non-native point of view, having game experts on hand who were happy to help was a great benefit.

The food vendors all spoke sufficient English to get across the point of what you were after and how much, and the local supermarkets all have prices coming up in numbers, so the language barrier isn’t as much of a problem as you might think.  For those thinking that you need to speak to people to get anywhere, live in London for a month and you’ll be disavowed of this notion, it’s no different here.

Observation Five – Have something to do at Night

It’s not an all day convention, opening for the public at ten in the morning and closing at seven in the evening. There are no activities planned through the evening and just as there’s no organised play through the day, so there certainly isn’t any through the night.  Given that we were spending most of the day dealing with trade enquiries and public questions, the evenings were the best time for us to wind down, catch a meal, and play the games we’d bought that day while on break with those we came with.  Most of the groups coming in from outside of the area were travelling in small groups and usually retired to their hotels to do the same and that seemed to be the best way of doing things as Essen isn’t very much of a party town.  There are a number of restaurants reasonably priced with good sized portions, but you need to have something planned for the evening or the nights are going to be long.  There was some kind of motor festival on at the same time as Spiel, because there were a lot of very expensive cars out on the streets, all of them making a lot of noise till the early hours of the morning.  It could be that this was a one off, but it did make for trouble when it came to sleeping through the night.


On one of the evenings, being part of the traders group, we were invited to the trade seminar on the Friday night, which Tiny Wife and I went along to.  Excellent evening talking to other people who have been around the industry as long as I have and have similar motivations when it comes to making and playing games, but as it’s only available to the traders, that’s not much help to everyone else who comes along.

Conclusions

So what remains among all of this are my own conclusions to the show, and they are my own personal conclusions, certainly not those of Expo or any other organisation I work for, which I do feel the need to point out, because some of the things about the show I didn't like and I wouldn’t want people considering that these thoughts represent other shows which would make it sound like sour grapes. 

Spiel has the feel of a number of English Wargaming Conventions in the early part of the century, where people turned up with a long list of precisely what they wanted from the convention, they came to the con, went around the stalls that they knew they would find their want list on, and then left. They weren’t interested in socialising or playing games with people they’d never played against before, they had no interest in the things that they could find beyond what they came for, they were just interested in coming to the convention and getting their shopping list. 

Spiel for me felt very much like that, there wasn’t much talking going on beyond the conversations on the stands (and that was mostly buying and selling), people were going around small groups, talking to each other and no one else.  Most of the social interaction that I engaged in was with my own group in the evening when we all got together and compared the games that we’d picked up that day or talked about the places we’d been that hadn’t been the convention...

There were some exceptions to this, such as Paco Jean and GMS Magazine, who can always be counted upon to be interesting, even in the middle of the show when they're working...
I’ll most likely be returning next year as part of the Expo crew, but forewarned is forearmed, I’ll have my shopping list and my evenings planned, and I’ll have done a refresher course in German as well, just to be sure.  In all, it’s a good convention, well organised and laid out, plenty to see, but if you’re built like most gamers...


Take a spare pair of legs for when the first set wear out... 

1 comment:

  1. John - a very good round up of Essen. Especially the point about Endurance. Somehow we managed to keep the energy up for our demos of Frankensteins Bodies sadly my throat was less happy at the end! I'm still suffering after all the explanation. But it was worth it. The world now knows about. Especially getting up into the Geekbuzz ratings. Lots to learn for next time. But we'll be back!

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