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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Essen Game Show

The Essen Game Show is an annual affair, and is reputed to be the largest game show in the world with 150,000 people attending. Every year, a dozen or two American game companies make the pilgrimage and rent booths and try to sell American wargames and RPGs to the Germans and a few other Europeans. Attendance was down this year due to the schedule. (The Essen show is always on the German "half-term" school holiday week. This year it wasn’t, and next year it won’t be, and that means fewer people showed up this year and presumably next year. At least it felt like fewer and was not as crowded; show officials insist they had more people than last year.)

ADB attended this year for the first time. (We plan to attend again, but probably not in 2007 due to it not being on the school holiday and besides that's my 30th wedding anniversary and Leanna isn't thinking in terms of game shows for a vacation.) Leanna and I met and talked with a lot of existing German and European customers, and met a lot of potential future customers (gamers, retailers, wholesalers). We got some ideas about what Europeans want and expect in a game, and how that differs from what Americans want and expect.

While the Essen show is ten times the size of Origins (in attendance, maybe five times the size in dealer booths) most of those customers are not interested in "wargames and RPGs" but only in "family games", so the actual number of potential customers is much closer to the number of gamers at Origins. Because most Europeans had never heard of ADB or the Star Fleet Universe, we didn’t have people heading straight for our booth as we do at Origins, but had to rely on the circulation of the crowd to bring them past our booth where a combination of posters, product displays, and demos attracted the attention of thousands of people. Thanks to the graphics created by Jolene Settle and the marketing packets created by Vanessa Clark, we had some success in attracting the attention of these future customers.

We have a new German distributor (Ulysses) which has our latest products in stock for German retailers. We spoke with other wholesalers (outside of Germany) and retailers who are considering our product lines.

The really marvelous thing about the Essen Show is that all of our "rivals" and "competitors" go out of their way to make it easy for other American companies to attend. Nobody told Mayfair Games that they had to be responsible for shipping everybody’s products to the show; they just do it (for cost) as a service to the manufacturer community. GAMA reserves the entire Hotel Jung and parcels out the rooms to publishers. Many publishers are only too happy to share booth space, rental cars, and other expenses, saving everybody time and money and mistakes. I am deeply indebted to Rick Loomis of Flying Buffalo, who not only shared booth space and drove us from Frankfurt to Essen at 100mph in a shared rental car, but who made the deal with Ulysses for us.

Germany (and Europe in general) are not the US, and it was interesting to see how things work in other parts of the world. The Germans, for example, like to see a lot of meat on their dinner plates but just cannot grasp why Americans want ice in their soft drinks (or in anything else for that matter). What you expect in American hotels is not what you find in German hotels. Whoever told the Germans that cold cuts and half-cooked eggs were proper breakfast fare may have been playing a joke. The hotel did, however, have some super-great yogurt and didn't complain when we used the huge cereal bowls instead of the little yogurt bowls for it. We got to see a little of Germany outside the show and it seems a pleasant country.