This post is a resource for designers and gamemakers looking for events to:
- Playtest Games
- Improve Design Skills
- Make Connections in the Industry
- Get Face Time with Prospective Publishers
You may find that many of these events occur annually or more than once a year, so don’t despair if you have already missed an opportunity, another is right around the corner. Not included on the list below are regional designer meet ups. There are many of these, and perhaps another feature will cover them. If you know of additional large-scale events, or if you have additional information about the events listed, please post information and appropriate links in the comments below. For up-to-date news on events for designers, be sure to follow the League of Gamemakers on Twitter and Facebook.
Luke Laurie and Tom Jolly showing “Drill, Baby, Drill” to James Mathe (Minion Games) at Gencon 2014 – Minion signed the game and it will be released as “The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire”
About Unpubs and Protospiels
If you’ve never attended an Unpub or Protospiel don’t be frightened. Peter Vaughan wrote a guide to help you: “Do You Protospiel?” These events allow designers to bring their tabletop game prototypes to playtest with other designers, industry professionals, and others who just like to playtest games. Participants will get a lot of feedback on their games, and will get to learn from other professionals. Occasionally, during these events, a publisher will find a game they really like, and the next thing you know, that game is on its way to being published!
Pay attention to deadlines and signup requirements for the event you hope to attend, and be sure to adhere to expected conduct guidelines. In general: Playtest other designers’ games at least as much as they play yours, and don’t hog the tables if they’re unassigned!
Kelsey Domeny of Two Penny Games shows “Epoch Rift” to Cosmic Wombat Games at the publisher speed dating event at Gencon 2014.
About Publisher Speed Dating
Many members of the League have taken part in publisher speed dating events, some as designers, some as publishers, a few as both. These events allow designers to get just a few minutes to pitch their games to several publishers in a lightning-fast format. Previous posts on the League of Gamemakers have described these events, and how one should prepare. (See Speed Dating Part 1 and Part 2, and How to Build a Sell Sheet). This year, there are plans to have publisher speed dating events at GAMA Trade Show, Origins, Gencon, and BGG.con.
James Mathe, President of Minion Development Corporation (Minion Games), has been running and promoting these events at various game conventions for several years. Probably the best way to get updates on these events is to join the Card & Board Game Designers Guild on Facebook, a group run by Mathe that now has over 5000 members!
Spring Events 2015
- March 13-15, 2015: Protospiel Houston Houston, Texas
- March 16, 2015: GAMA Trade Show Publisher Speed Dating. Las Vegas, Nevada
- March 28, 2015: Unpub Poland
- April 12, 2015: Unpub Mini at P.J. Gallagher´s Sports Bar & Bistro. Sydney, Australia
- April 17-19, 2015: Protospiel – Milwaukee, Wisconsin Three days of playtesting in one of the larger annual protospiels, located in the heart of the game basket of America.
- April 18, 2015: Unpub Mini at Atomic Empire, Durham NC
- April 24-26, 2015: Unpub-Protospiel San Jose, California Several League members attended this event last year, and found it to be a great opportunity for networking and playtesting with a great group of people. Registration for 2015 is being done through Kickstarter. The League of Gamemakers is a sponsor of this event.
- April 25, 2015: Unpub Mini at The Adventure Game Store, Davie, Florida
- May 15-17th, 2015: Indie Dash at Ancon, Hudson, Ohio
- May 17, 2015: Orlando Indie Tabletop Showcase Orlando, Florida
- May 30, 2015: Unpub Mini at Pair A Dice Games San Diego. (Vista, California) Jessica Berlin of Galvanized Studios recently did an excellent guest post focusing on this event for the League of Gamemakers: “Hosting and Unpub Mini Event”
- May 30, 2015: Unpub Mini Game Haven. Bountiful, Utah
Summer Events 2015
- June 3-7, 2015 Publisher Speed Dating at Origins Game Fair (exact date and times TBD) Columbus, Ohio
- July 10-12, 2015 Protospiel – Ann Arbor, Michigan
- July 30 – August 2, 2015 Double Exposure Playtest Hall at Gencon Indy Indianapolis, Indiana
- July 30 – August 2, 2015 Publisher Speed Dating at Gencon Indy Indianapolis, Indiana.(exact date and times TBD) This event will be run by Michael Lohr. He can be contacted with questions.
Fall Events 2015
- September 5-7, 2015: Celestispiel, Fremont, California This event is held inside the Celesticon game convention on Labor Day Weekend. There is quite a bit of gaming space in the hotel, and a steady supply of playtesters. There is a Facebook group, and a couple of posts on the League of Gamemakers were written about Celestispiel: Making Conventions Better for Gamemakers and How to Playtest – Part 1
- November 5-8, 2015 Metatopia – for Designers and Publishers by providing 72 hours of scheduled playtests, demonstrations, seminars, panels and discussions. Morristown, New Jersey
- November 18-22, 2015 Publisher Speed Dating at BGG.con (exact date and times TBD) Hyatt Regency DFW International Airport, Texas
Winter Events 2015
- Date TBD Spielbany, Albany, New York
Do you have more information about these or other events? Do you have some favorite events you want to talk about? Leave your comments below! I’ll update this page as new information comes in.
Game designer by night, and middle school science and pre-engineering teacher by day. He lives in Santa Maria California with his amazing wife and two unrealistically well-behaved children.
Latest posts by Luke Laurie (see all)
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- How to Playtest – Part 3, Being a Good Playtester – August 24, 2016
- Why do gamemakers go to GENCON? – August 8, 2016
27 Readers CommentedJoin discussion
Double Exposure’s Metatopia (nominated for a Diana Jones award) is November 5 – 8, 2015.
here’s my favorite review of the con:
Thanks Avonelle! I’ll add Metatopia
If I recall correctly, Dice Tower Con in Orlando has an unpublished prototype event every year. This year is 6/24-6/28.
GenCon will also have a Speed Dating event. I’m thinking both Origins and GenCon may be only 2 nights this year as publishers have complained about spending all their evenings at these events but they are to important to miss. That and Saturdays tend to get less publishers showing. But Origins and GenCon will have events most likely 7pm Thursday and Friday.
James, will you be reviewing sell sheets this year to determine who gets included at GenCon and Origins? I really want to participate again and want to make sure I am ready to submit.
Yes we’ll be reviewing and filtering as there are only 16-24 spots we can provide. The fee will be at least $25 and I hope to get Origins/GenCon not to allow signups until a week after they open the doors for other signups so we can filter people out.
Thanks, I will keep an eye out for the submission process.
Check out the Indie Dash as a great way to get playtesting and feedback from the gaming public. Also happening that weekend is the Iron Geek, an Iron Chef-like competition for game design. All events on the calendar for AnCon in Hudson OH, May 15th-17th.
I am working with Jessica and Dave Berlin of Galvanized Studios on the UnPub mini San Diego and wanted to share that designer registration is now live on the website listed above.
Something I’ve observed about these types of events that I think is of paramount importance to a designer attending one, but is often not discusssed, is this:
There are really 3 types of designer events. Each type of event is good for a designer at a particular point in the process… if you are an amateur designer with just 1 game you’re working on, some of these events may be better than others for you at that stage, and some are really not appropriate at all. Let me take a stab at describing the three types of designer events…
Publisher Speed Dating
Speed Dating events are for designers with finished games ready to be shown to publishers. They are great for getting many publishers’ eyeballs on your product in a somewhat targetted and certainly time-efficient manner. If your game is not FINISHED and ready to be published, then you are wasting your time and the publishers’ time signing up for this event.
Unpub (and I believe Metatopia is similar, but I’m not sure) is an opportunity for designers with games that are READY or ALMOST READY TO PUBLISH to get good playtest data and feedback from gamers. This is very valuable information, because it most closely approximates the end user experience players will get when they buy your game off the shelf. I just attended Gamestorm in Portland, and they had an extensive and well run Game Lab section along these lines.
Protospiel is a chance for a designer to play their games with other DESIGNERS, which yields much different feedback than playing with regular gamers. This is much more useful for games that are EARLIER IN DEVELOPMENT, as often times designers give feedback that is based on redesigning large portions of the game. This is great when you haven’t necessarily gotten the game too far along any paticular path, but is less useful whan you’re nearly done, and the feedback turns into “basically, make this entirely different game instead.”
That’s been my experience, and of course there are exceptions… your milage may vary. Hopefully it’ll help you decide which types of events to prioritize based on the current status of your designs.
Well stated Seth.
Thanks Seth, I never put it together that there was a clear distinction between Protospiel and UnPub. From my experience at large events, like the FEPH at GenCon, players really are looking for ready or almost ready games to play, not early concepts or ideas. On the other hand at smaller UnPub mini events I have been to, the crowd has been more receptive to playing a prototype that might break part way through. In that case, however, I find it important to let the players know what stage the project is at before they commit to playing. This generally results in a better experience for them and often better feedback for me as a designer.
I think the one I find most challenging is Speed Dating. As you might remember, I participated last year with Goblin Toboggan. As a first time designer I felt the game was ‘finished.’ Six months of development with a publisher later I realize it was ‘finished’ in the sense that it was a complete and playable game with rules and no potential for breaking part way in, but it was not finished in the sense that it was the best game it could be.
Seth given your expertise as a game developer who sits on the publisher side of the speed dating table, I am curious how you would advise a designer like myself to make the determination that a game is truly ready for a speed dating event? I recognize that there may be no easy answer for this; but as I prepare to potentially go through the event at GenCon for the second time, I want to make sure I am representing myself well as a designer and not testing the patience of publishers by pitching things that are not ready.
Pat, you’re right… there’s no easy answer. And it’s likely that even if a designer thinks their game is perfect and as finished as it can be, the publisher may well want to change things, or add player powers, or whatever.
That said, the best you can do is make sure you’re confident that your game is as finished and polished as you can. Don’t ask “is it done?” because it’s too easy to answer “yes.” Instead ask “If I bought this game off the shelf at a store, would I be disappointed?” I often ask playtesters that question to try and gauge whether or not my own games are approaching “done.”
It may be helpful to define “ready” as “on par with already published fare” – and I’d suggest striving for “on par with other, top shelf published fare.” 😉
Seth, this is a great barometer for determining when a game is ‘done,’ and I agree that ‘top shelf’ published fare is a valid distinction. Thanks for the insight, I believe I’ll be asking my play-testers a similar question on my feedback forms from now on.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this comment since Seth said it. I would venture to say that to some people the differences are either unknown, of moot importance or not discernable. Not to say that people don’t care per se, but if I told Unpub San Jose that they aren’t really an Unpub in my opinion based on this ruleset, I don’t know that they would care to change to only a “Protospiel” tag for the sake of that clarity. Not only because connecting to Unpub is important, the event no doubt does have “ready” games too. I’m not trying to single that event out (and it’s one of my favorite game events I’ve attended) but I immediately wondered about the Unpubs I’ve seen on this list. It made me wonder too if Unpub wants to have the distinction of “Ready or Almost Ready”. It’s a fascinating topic. I may strive to call events more by these terms because I too am getting into development, and I like having some lines drawn for events. I want to encourage more knowledge of what stages exist to all the growing designers coming into the hobby who haven’t seen the granularity of the stages yet.
It’s not about whether an event is appropriately titled or not… UNPUB is designed to be a place for designers to run games for random players. Same with First Exposure, I believe.
Protospiel is designed as an event where designers gather – almost everyone in attendance is a designer.
The point is, look at the event and see what type it is, and use that information to prioritize and determine whether you’re going to the best event for your game at its current stage.
I’m not sure drawing lines between the events is helpful. There’s definite overlap and similarity of purpose. Protospiels are weekend-long events that are focused on designers, so they are more _tolerant_ of less-developed designs. Unpubs are one day events with a higher concentration of non-designer playtesters, and it’s a truism of game design that if you abuse playtesters with games that have obvious problems, you’ll have trouble finding playtesters in the future. I’ve tested games at Protospiels that have never been playtested before. It’s not ideal, but I’ve done it. I wouldn’t do that at an Unpub.
Carl, I don’t think I represented my point well.
Think about your last statement. ‘I wouldn’t do that at an Unpub’. You know that, but there are designers just learning this lesson. So what I mean is… if a prospective designer comes up to me with a game that isn’t right for speed dating, I might stop and think – this person should be directed to a Protospiel based on where they are at. (and for that matter, if they were totally green, I’d of course suggest local and home game design nights first). So I’m not saying drawing a strict name/label, but rather in whatever we post on this site, it might be helpful to make sure early designers know the game’s state might factor in the testing success.
Those are good points Seth. Do you mind if I quote you? I did leave out defining the distinctions you described. It would be GREAT if all the games at the three types of events did match the intended level of readiness for the event. However, what I’ve seen in practice is that the subjective nature of how ready a game is makes that nearly impossible. Some inexperienced designers bring games that aren’t ready for anything! Experienced designers usually have a good grasp of what’s ready – but until that game hits the table and gets the scrutiny of discriminating players and publishers, a game’s “readiness” still has a degree of uncertainty. I guess the key here is that whatever WE can do to educate prospective attendees may help get games to the right events based on how far along they are.
Yeah, go ahead and quote me.
I wish the formatting on these comments was better, and I also wish I could edit my previous comments… but oh well.
Note that Protospiel – Ann Arbor’s website is currently showing the dates as July 10-12 in 2015 rather than July 25-27.
Thanks – I missed that. They have last year’s date on their “Location” page.
Hi, For game designers in the Netherlands: we organize a monthly open boardgame testing. It’s focussed on game designers testing each others prototypes. And non designers are invited as well, to join in testing. Every first friday evening of the month, in Groningen, NL.
Check out: http//:spellenmaakgildw.net
Or twitter: @spelmaakgilde
Seth mentioned it in passing, but Game Lab at Gamestorm in Portland, OR should be on this list. It was March 19-22. Next year!
Thanks for pointing this one out Joe! I’m so glad we have this list, and thanks to Luke for making it happen, but I definitely wished we had tackled for Jan 1 – you know, for the OCD nature of having a clean “there’s still time to attend any of these”, but pondering such a thing, you quickly realize it’s impossible due to your knowledge and updating required. AND it’s done in several places – there’s lists on BGG too.
The league will be making a resources tab to attempt to keep at least a basic list up there. I think it’ll help keep this list more active than it can be as a post in the blog at large. We’ll let go of the OCD part, since there is truly another one around the corner as Luke says and there’s no way to get it all. But we’ll always encourage folks to help us stay on top of new events and correct dates. So yes – next year indeed for Game Lab!
Just wanted to let everyone in the northern California area know there will be an UNPUB mini in Folsom (FUNPUB2015) on Tabletop Day from noon-6. Designers and players can get more info and sign up at https://funpub2015.eventbrite.com