Alliance Open House, what an experience!

Let’s start with what’s an open house… I know that some of you already know, but just for the sake of clarification: a distributor open house in the hobby industry in an “internal” event, without (much) media and without games – our final customers – attending at all. It’s a lot of retailers and maybe one third as many publishers talking to each other and presenting / demoing / advertising current and upcoming titles.

For NSKN Games, this year’s Alliance Open House was the first event of this kind to attend ever, and it was quite an experience. As it took place in Fort Wayne, IN, we flew to Chicago for 20 hours, followed by a 4-hour drive to the heart of Indiana. Nothing spectacular, except we saw a double rainbow on the way.

Due to the time difference of 6 hours between Poland and the East part of the USA, we took one extra day to accommodate and sleep off some of the jet lag. We spiced this up with a local baseball match, the first one any of us has ever seen live. Rules are not that complicated and with the help of some local folk, we manage to follow. Home team won!

Day one (Friday) was all about the giants of our industry holding seminars and getting retailers up to date with their latest inventions. Since we’re not playing in the same league, we got face time with our partners in USA (PSI) and the organizers of the Open House – Alliance. We had a chance to talk about our upcoming releases and to learn a few things about the their expectations regarding publishers’ marketing effort. We were pointed in the right directions and felt overwhelmed at the same time.

We are happy to report that our upcoming titles in 2018 and 2019 are on schedule according to the expectations of our distributors. But let us tell you what that really means… Let’s say that you want to buy a board game on day 1 of its US release, to be the first to get it off the shelf when it hits your FLGS. Say that date is 1st of September 2018 and here is what is expected from us, your friendly game makers: ideally 2 months ahead of the release (1-Jul) the games have to be in a US warehouse. For that to happen, games have to be on a boat from China or Europe to USA another 45 days before, so that makes it 15-May. Production takes 30 to 60 days, so let’s go with an average of 45 (1-Apr). So, when you draw the line, for a September release, we – the publisher – have to have our game 100% ready to print 5 month before the street date, and that is an optimistic scenario. No wonder some our of colleagues from other companies where unhappy when distributor are saying that many titles fail because the whole cycle is still too short and missing any deadline undercuts marketing efforts, thus good games go by unnoticed.

Finally, at the end of day one, we had the first gaming night. With half a table allocated, we were lucky that our neighbor failed to appear, so we could demo both Shadowscape and Pyramid of the Sun (from our division Strawberry Studio). We talked to a lot of retailers, and we must admit that more than two thirds had never heard of NSKN Games. It is important that we make it to such events over and over again!

What made us feel a little better was that our largest competitors (and no, we won’t give names) had about as much “visitors” as we had and the playing field was almost even. We also got to see a few new releases, although we can’t really talk about it, since many of them are 2018, with no mention on the publishers’ websites.

Day 2 – Saturday – was almost a clone of day 1, just longer. We put together marketing plans up to 2019 and we did our best to talk our distribution partners into buying our stock, help us market and guide us to better use their tools. At the end of Saturday, we went back to dead tired status, as the gaming night was significantly busier that the previous evening.

Day 3 – Sunday – was very different. It started late and it featured a booths area, much like what you see at Dice Tower Con or BGG Con, each publisher getting a little space to display all their upcoming games. We walked around for hours (since our setup was about 20 min) and peeked at… everything. Some items came with “NO PHOTO” signs and we respected that, but we could still at least take a look at what’s new and hot. Let’s just say that Spiel Essen will be memorable, if all the new releases make it on time for the event – some of these games were presented as rather early prototypes.

All in all, Alliance Open House was a great event, which gave us the opportunity to learn a lot of new things about our industry and to be ever more ready to make better games and to release them in the right moments. Because it seems like it’s all about the timing and the marketing… but we can discuss that again in a future post.

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