Thursday, August 17, 2006

Demo Teams

I've been poking around online, doing GenCon follow-ups and keeping track of what people had to say about Asmodée at GenCon. Nearly everyone that I've been able to find has said that our Demo Team was one of the best.

I (personally) take pride in this, as I was the person who added a couple of members to the team. Asmodée contacted me a few weeks before the convention and asked me if I could find a few friends who were able to go along. Initially, I was told to find three friends, so I knew exactly who to ask - Katie, Jon and Stephanie.

It didn't even take me three minutes to list this as my "Dream Team" for demoing games. All three are hard-core gamers who are serious about the hobby. All three are pleasant people with whom I enjoy associating (in the interests of full disclosure, I should probably state that Stephanie is my wife). I put a cattle-call out in several places, but I specifically contacted these three and saved spots for them.

Circumstances beyond my control transpired, and the three spaces shrank to one and then - last-second - expanded back to two. Katie and Stephanie were the two who attended with me.

It got me thinking, however:

What makes a good Demo Team?

I was chatting with my friend Thomas (who works for Steve Jackson Games) about GenCon, and he also commented that our team was one of the best he'd seen. He also didn't use the word "Demo" - he used the term "Booth" (Actually "Freelance Booth Weasels" is the full phrase he used). When I asked him about it, I realized that we had slightly different ideas of what our job at GenCon was.

To my mind, our job was simple: Teach Games. I feel that Asmodée's games are strong enough that they'll sell themselves, once players have been exposed to them.

But there are more elements that I hadn't considered that Thomas reminded me of - and he was absolutely correct. A lot of these are specific to being a Demo Team at a convention, but some of them will still apply to in-store (and other) demos.

Being a good Demo Team member means not only teaching people to play games, but doing so in a way that makes the game entertaining enough that said people will want to own it. So Demo Team members should be enthusiastic.

Product knowledge is important. A good Team member will have extensive product knowledge about the games, rules, release dates, and distributors - not only for the specific game you are demostrating, but also for the other games carried or produced by the company you are representing, and some information about the company itself. Even though my GenCon focus was supposed to be Hell Dorado, I spent a great deal of time introducing other Asmodée games to people as well.

Demo Team members should be approachable by the general public. After all, if people are too scared to learn the play the game from you then you've already failed at one of your basic tasks. This means being well-groomed and friendly with a good attitude.

Demo Team members should be able to communicate. I realize that this is common sense, but you'd be surprised. If you lack the ability to re-phrase unclear rules to answer customer questions, then you shouldn't be teaching people to play. A good portion of our team at GenCon had French accents, but they were still able to (for the most part) communicate effectively with native English speakers in a loud room.

Demo Team members need to be confident enough to approach the public, especially if the public isn't approaching the demo team. Asmodée gave us a great excuse for this - catalogs and other promotional literature. "Good morning," I'd say as people strolled by, "would you like a free catalog?" (If you use the word "Free," it becomes very difficult for people to turn you down.) Also: Handing them the promo material and then walking away/ignoring them is a bad idea - wait until they walk away. They may, after all, have questions about the materials you just handed to them.

Demo Team members need to be alert and perceptive to opportunity. One woman was standing in our booth waiting for her husband to finish a Dungeon Twister demo - it took two seconds to get her involved in a Jungle Speed demo with two other people that we were introducing to the game. It kept her from getting bored and wandering off or trying to drag her husband off before he'd had a chance to decide if he liked DT or not. It also sold an additional copy of Jungle Speed.

Demo Team members should be able to work as a team. At GenCon, I was the only Asmodée Booth Weasel (now he's got ME saying it!) who was able to demo Hell Dorado, so if I was in the middle of a Dungeon Twister demo and someone else wanted a Hell Dorado demo, then I would either need to ask the new person to wait or else get another team member to tag in for me at DT. Obviously, the tag team action is preferable. Since my DT demonstrations always proceed in the same order, I could tell my teammate, "I've covered character special abilities and was about to go over items," and they'd be able to tag right in with no problems. At one point, when I started to dehydrate, I turned around and was handed something to drink - without even needing to ask for it. That's how well we worked as a team.

Speaking of "in the same order" - be consistent. If you have a pattern to your demo, follow the pattern. It helps the rest of your team.

Demo Team Members should be honest. When Mission: Red Planet didn't arrive, we didn't tell people outrageous lies about it. "It's on a boat," we'd say, "in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We are as disappointed as you that it isn't here." Gamers should, by now, be well-acquainted with printer-related delays. Most gamers are understanding.

Demo Team Members should be aware that not all gamers will be understanding. My wife was yelled at on Thursday because Mission: Red Planet wasn't available at GenCon. "What terrible Customer Service you guys have!" And he kept coming by to complain. For the entire weekend. About something that we were frustrated and annoyed with, as well.

Demo Team members should be reliable. If you're only working for four or five days, show up. Our team this year was incredible. They worked through blisters, migraines, dehydration and heat stroke. And they smiled and loved every minute of it.

Some teams have other responsibilities and/or hardships - Asmodée's team, for example, didn't have chairs this year. We spent four days on our feet. We were also expected to hang out and play games in the public gaming area after the exhibit hall closed. Were we exhausted by the end? You betcha!

Many companies have organized teams who run in-store demos and demos at local conventions. Steve Jackson Games has their MiB's. Deep 7 has their Pathfinders. Many of these companies also have reward systems set up for running the demos - Privateer Press, for example, gives credits for running demos that can be cashed in for figures and books. Other companies will pay admission to local conventions. If you're interested in joining a demo team for your favorite company, look into it and contact them! Many times, the application information is clearly posted right on their website. If you're serious about gaming, go for it! What's the worst thing they can do?


  1. I've definitely enjoyed the last 4 years as a Cheapass Games Demo Monkey and Looney Labs Mad Labs Rabbit.

    Having convention attendees return to my events in later years is amazingly validating!

  2. I'm told by several people that Looney Labs is a great company to demo for.

    I've met James Earnest several times (I live in Seattle, so he and I bump into each other at local conventions, as well), and he's incredibly cool. I love his goal: get games into the hands of gamers. Anyone whose every action supports that simple goal is A-OK in my book.