Last weekend was PAX East, a gaming convention held in Boston, and Stone Blade Entertainment made the cross-country flight to show off our games for three days. This marked my first show with Stone Blade, as well as my first time at PAX East. Both were awesome first experiences.
I haven’t been to Boston in many years, and I was dubious of it as a convention city. The city looks like it was designed by a minotaur, with numerous awkward traffic “circles”, nonsense one way streets, and generally heinous traffic. Also, spring doesn’t come to New England until May, so I was anticipating a level of cold I rarely experience in San Diego. That said, Boston was not intolerably cold and the city was reasonable to navigate. And Boston does come with some upside. It has an insulated vibe that I enjoy and one of the better bar scenes in America, which was significant for us and our staff at various points during the weekend).
PAX East was held in the Boston Convention Center, and it was by far the most comfortable convention I’ve ever been to. In stark contrast to ComicCon or GenCon, walking around was pretty easy and most of the booths seemed spacious. We were fortunate enough to have a booth near the center of the hall, so we got a lot of visibility from people walking around. And, at the risk of bragging, our booth was awesome. I remember the early Ascension booths from GenCon years ago, and it’s safe to say that Stone Blade Entertainment has come a long way in a relatively short amount of time.
On one side, there was a set of tables where new Ascension players could demo Chronicle of the Godslayer, or experienced players could try their hand at our newest expansion, Rise of Vigil (which made its debut at the show). On the other, a row of iPads were at the ready for SolForge demos, both of the original demo decks and our relatively new starters. The iPads were mounted on columns, and TVs overhead displayed the games in progress. In the middle of all this action was our Stone Blade tower, featuring art from both games. Overall our booth was super sweet, and I’m excited about getting to improve upon it further at future shows.
PAX has the reputation as being more video-game centric (as opposed to hobby/tabletop gaming), and I had that experience when I went to PAX Prime a few years back. Because of that, I assumed that we would get a lot of attention for SolForge, but Ascension demoing might be a little slow. The last bit of that assumption was certainly not true. Our Ascension demos were humming from open to close, all three days. Primarily it was people playing for the first time, but we had plenty of interest in Rise of Vigil as well. SolForge, of course, was getting a ton of attention, and people were jamming a ton of games against their buddies or the AI.
I noticed a cool trend during all of this. Even though Ascension and SolForge are very different games, many people who sampled one wanted to try the other, or someone would introduce themselves as a Kickstarter backer for one game and come to the booth to demo the other. I’ve worked at other game companies that had a portfolio of different games, and often people wouldn’t be interested in trying products outside of the one they were already a fan of. I think it says a lot about the quality of our stuff and the enthusiasm of our players that so many people wanted to try both games, even though they share very little in common.
This was also my first time working with our volunteer staff, and I was blown away. I knew very few of them in any capacity before the show began, but they were all charismatic, enthusiastic, and informative. It’s easy to lose track of sometimes, but the first demo that someone takes has a huge influence on the experience that person has. In many cases, it’s more important than the quality of the game being played. I’ve never been this impressed with the staff for a show before, and I imagine a number of our volunteers from this weekend will become regular fixtures at our shows.
Even though the show was a huge success, we’ve already identified things we want to improve. The way the iPads were mounted caused some straining, so we’re already looking at ways to re-mount them at future shows. We look at every part of the process. How should our display case be set up? What should we bring to shows to make the volunteers have a more comfortable experience? We’ve already come up with a bunch of ideas (some practical, some fun) to make future shows like GenCon even better, and I can’t wait for our convention season to get underway this summer. If you came to the show and have any feedback, or if you just have any cool ideas for ways we could make our presence at conventions more exciting, please let us know in the comments. We’re listening.
With all of this said, I would strongly suggest hitting us up at our next convention. I think we killed it this weekend at PAX, and like I’ve said many times I think our booth is going to get better. Or, if you’re looking to get more involved, put in an application to volunteer. We’ll be formalizing this process a bit more in the future, so stay tuned for more information. Experience is helpful but not required; some of our demo staff were working their first show in such a capacity. And as many of our volunteers will verify, we’re even more fun after the show then during it. On Friday night, we [redacted] until Mark stole my shoes, then on Saturday night, we [redacted] until nearly three in the morning, then on Sunday, we [redacted] until [redacted].