This is my fourth year attending the GAMA Trade Show (GTS) and it occurs to me I talk a great deal about the exhibitors but not much about what actually happens at GTS besides the exhibitor area. There is much more to GTS besides the exhibitors, so I thought I would give you a more holistic view of what happens at GTS.
The GAMA Trade Show 2012 starts Monday with GAMA educational tracks (seminars) for retailers with exciting titles like “Store Design” and “Negotiating Commercial Leases.”
I know retailers learn much from these seminars, but the real action for your humble author begins after my Wednesday morning arrival. I arrive just in time to catch a couple of the publisher seminars. Publisher seminars are usually an hour-long where the game publisher talks about upcoming plans and often announces new releases. Sadly, publsher seminars are less fun than one might imagine. Sure, you get to hear all about the cool new games and plans for the new year (marketing, organized play, etc)…in a room filled with deeply skeptical game store owners trying to make a profit.
I have yet to attend one that did not have some level of griping from the retailers about something ( eg. missed release dates, too many releases, too few releases, product price too high to sell little Timmy, publisher supposedly not supporting brick and mortar retailers enough etc.). Verbal slings and arrows directed at the innocent marketing guy is painful to watch. Dodge well marketing guy!
Once past the morning seminars, the afternoon brings the exhibitor hall and all of its glory!
Most people do not realize that the exhibitor area is only open 10 hours! Yes, the trade show runs five days and the exhibitors area is only open for two, five-hour blocks on Wednesday and Thursday. It means I really have to move to speak with everyone. 10 hours seems like a lot of time, but one “ooh, that is cool” moment can cost 30 minutes playing a demo and chatting with the publisher. It passes in a blur. That said, it does give you an opportunity to pick your targets for “Games Night.”
“Games Night” is only on Wednesday night and is basically a mini-convention. Publishers setup tables and you can sit down and play any game on a first-come, first-served basis. Most games are too complex to get in a full game on the exhibitor floor so it is hard to get a “feel” for a game until you truly play it. Many of the games are prototypes held together with tape, placeholder miniatures and photocopied rules because the actual release date is months later, usually for the Summer convention season or Christmas. Remember GTS is at its heart an opportunity for retailers to choose which products to stock. Stocking games you believe will sell in the coming year is the difference between bankruptcy and another year of operation. “Games Night” is fun, but this is serious business. Money is on the line and publishers make or break sales at game night.
The only remaining events are the sponsored dinners/lunches. Free food served up while the sponsoring company discusses why their product line will sell in your store. These are retailer-oriented events, so I usually skip them. I get the same information from the various vendors directly anyway at their respective exhibitor booths.
Which brings me to the attendees. GTS primarily draws retailers and publishers, with some press and a few of what I call “wild cards,” game designers shopping for a publishers. To a man (or woman) they are all hardcore gamers. How hardcore? Think about it, these are the people who chose gaming as a profession, not a hobby. (Gamers, what is your profession… Sorry, I could not resist the image). Much networking takes place in dark alcoves and hallways throughout GTS.
That is just a quick overview, but I hope you find it informative. If you have any specific questions about the show, I will do my best to answer them in the comments.
Trask, The Last Tyromancer