This post was originally published on the League of Gamemakers blog on Feb. 25, 2015. Since this was posted, we have organized two more Unpub Mini San Diego events and we are currently planning another event for Saturday, June 4. Designer preregistration begins April 1. To sign up for email updates about the event, visit unpubminisd.com.
If I told you that I hosted an Unpub Mini event in San Diego last November for tabletop game designers to run playtests of their prototype games, you might think I’m part of a big game design studio, that I’ve done this before, or that we even have a published game. You’d be wrong on all counts, but we did it anyway!
In fact, I’m one-third of a small game design company, Galvanized Studios, which also includes my husband, Dave Berlin, and our friend, Ryan Beck. We have one game, called Micromanage, that’s actually made it to a place where we’re trying to get it published. Late last summer we decided we really needed to kick our playtesting of Micromanage into high gear, but we weren’t quite sure how to do that.
We heard about all these great Protospiel and Unpub events, as well as other gaming conventions all over the country, although none of them were happening anywhere near us. So, we decided to host our own event and see if we could help out other Southern California game designers too.
How Did We Do It?
While we were researching playtesting events, we came across a couple blog posts by Sarah Reed, another game designer, about planning an Unpub Mini event in the Sacramento area and her lessons learned after the event. Her posts and other discussions with her were very helpful and inspirational to us in our planning efforts.
Unpub also has a list of the steps to host an Unpub Mini event, and we basically followed that list in order to plan our event:
- Find People (designers): Unpub says to find people who will play the games first, but we felt we needed to make sure there were other game designers interested. We had participated in the San Diego Board Game Design group meet-ups and we asked the other designers there if they’d be interested in participating. They were, so we figured we’d go for it!
- Find Tables (a location): Your friendly local game store is really the best place for an event like this, especially one with a big game room. Our first choice was Pair A Dice Games, located in northern San Diego County. They have a great game space and the San Diego Board Game Design group already meets there regularly. Also, because of its location, we were hoping to attract game designers from Orange County and Los Angeles too (which we did!). The owner of Pair A Dice was more than willing to host the event (for free, which is important because Unpub Mini events are ideally free for players and designers).
- Find When (date/time): Unpub Mini events are usually just one day and run about six to eight hours. After consulting with the store’s schedule, we picked Saturday, Nov. 15, from noon to 9 p.m., in order to have the event before the end of the year and the holidays.
- Tell Unpub: Fill out the Unpub form once you have all the major details figured out. Then they post the information about your event on their event page, which is one way designers can find out about the event and also makes it an “official” Unpub event.
- Tell Everyone Else: This was what we spent the majority of our time on – marketing! Full disclosure: before I became a stay-at-home mom a few years ago, I worked in public relations for about eight years. So, this wasn’t difficult for me. Here are some of the ways we marketed the event:
- Event website: We originally created a Facebook event page, but then decided that having a separate web page for the event would be helpful. We bought the domain name unpubminisd.com, bought a website template (they’re pretty cheap – $10 or $15 and easy to use), and Dave, a software engineer by day, put the website together. This wasn’t a necessity, but it gave us an easy way to promote the event in other ways and a way for designers to register for the event.
- Designer registration/schedule: One thing we decided to do based on one of the lessons learned from Sarah Reed’s blog post was create a schedule with time slots for the game designers. We had six 75-minute sessions throughout the day, with two half-hour breaks. We had 10 tables set up in the game room. This allowed designers to pick times they wanted if they couldn’t stay the whole day and also made the event a little more organized for attendees, so they could try to pick games they were interested in playing. As designers registered for the event, we updated the schedule on the website.
- FLGS marketing: Pair A Dice Games helped a lot with marketing to their existing customer base. They posted the event on their website calendar, handed out flyers at the register, and sent emails about the event to their 5,000-person list.
- Raffle prizes: One of the big ways we thought we could encourage a lot of people to come and playtest the games was by offering raffle prizes throughout the event. The game store offered gift certificates and we also contacted several game publishers and designers and asked them to donate games to raffle at the event. Most of them we contacted were very willing to send games and we ended up getting seven sponsors and many games donated.
- Board gaming Meetup groups: We contacted all of the San Diego-based board gaming Meetup groups and asked them to post our event for their members, and most of them did.
- Social media/online forums: Other things we did to promote the event included a few Facebook ads and promoting through our Twitter feed. We also posted the event on several BoardGameGeek pages, Board Game Designers Forum, and Facebook groups Card & Board Game Designers Guild and Tabletop Game Playtesters Guild. In addition, we sent email updates to the game designers participating in the event and encouraged them to share the event and bring friends.
How Did it Go?
Overall, the event went very well. We had a total of 17 game designers with 22 games registered before the event. Playtesters trickled in at the beginning, but by about an hour or so into the event, we had a pretty good attendance and everyone had people playing their games. We had about 50 to 60 people show up throughout the day and playing games until the very end.
We provided copies of the Unpub feedback form to the designers to use with their playtesters. We were also inspired by Luke Laurie’s blog post on How to Playtest and what he did to prepare game designers and playtesters for the Celestispiel event he hosted. We made our own version of his flyer with dos and don’ts for designers and playtesters and handed that out at the event.
The schedule we had set up mostly worked, although as the day went on, things got a little flexible and moved around, depending on who was still there and who needed playtesters.
The game designers were all very happy with the event, the number of playtesters in attendance, and the quality of the feedback they received. They all said they wanted to do it again and were very appreciative of the event. Playtesters also had a good time and several said they stayed a lot longer than they thought they would because they were just having such a good time playing the games.
- It’s a lot of work, but definitely doable. It helped to have two of us working together on the event. I could focus on the event planning and marketing and Dave could keep working on our game to make sure it was ready for playtesting at the event.
- Game designers are out there and looking for ways to playtest their games. We had absolutely no trouble filling our schedule up with game designers. There could be events like this every couple months and there would always be designers that want to sign up.
- Finding playtesters takes some work, but is also doable. Going to where there are already gamers is a good idea. Pair A Dice Games really helped us to get playtesters there and I also think the board gaming Meetup groups were a good resource.
Should I Run an Unpub Mini?
If you are a game designer looking for ways to get your games playtested and there aren’t any playtesting events going on near you, I would definitely recommend that you host your own event. It takes some effort, but is really not that hard and has a lot of benefits. Team up with a friend, your spouse, a fellow designer, or a game store owner, and you can do it!
For us, in addition to getting our game heavily playtested that day, we also met some other great designers, made some great connections in the board gaming industry, and got our name out there. We were very happy with the event and were glad we were able to help out other game designers too. We received great feedback on our game and ended up making many changes after the playtests we ran.
We do plan on hosting more events in the future, but don’t have a set schedule for the next Unpub Mini San Diego.* If you’re interested, you can sign up on our email list at unpubminisd.com to get updates on future events.
*The next Unpub Mini SD event is now scheduled for Saturday, June 4, at Pair A Dice Games. Sign up for emails at unpubminisd.com for more details.