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"The pyramids of the Icehouse set are a great example of a well-designed game system. They can be physically configured in any number of ways: stacked on top of each other, aimed at each other like arrows, organized into patterns, or distributed randomly -- different Icehouse games take different advantage of these material affordances. The number of pieces and distribution among the three sizes and four colors also determines the formal relationships and logical groupings that can be expressed by the organization of pieces. The Icehouse Set components elegantly embody a flexible yet expressive set of potential formal and experiential relationships." -- Salen and Zimmerman, Rules of Play, page 547

Thursday, January 20th, 2005
by the Writer's Guild of Wunderland

What's New?

What's Going On? A Radical Decision: No Sales Booths This Year!

In the world of birds who live at our house, the big news this week is a massive upgrade in living quarters! Alison has installed a long awaited new cage in the kitchen for Green Bean.

In the world of trade show planners who live at our house, the big news is the decision not to run ANY Looney Labs sales booths at trade shows in 2005. At first, we all said the same thing: "What? That's Crazy! We can't do that!" But gradually, Kristin convinced us.

Since our first big success with a booth at Origins in 1997, when we first debuted Fluxx, we've been running bigger and better sales booths at Origins and an increasing number of other trade shows and events throughout the year. At these events, our booth becomes our front door to the public, with a little sales counter where I work the cash register (a job I never did in "real life" but now do at my own little store for about 3 weeks total each year). At first we used to bring in only a few hundred dollars in sales in our little sales booth, but in recent years, at least at the big shows, we've come in well over $10,000 in sales. Which is awesome - but it also is a great deal of work. Setting up a tiny but fully functional store and tearing it down again 4 days later ain't easy, and rent ain't cheap, either. When you add up all the expenses, and put it up against the profits, we usually come out a tiny bit ahead, but not always. So we're always asking ourselves: is it really worth all the work?

The logic of the Exhibit Hall is that you buy demo space by the square foot and you pay for it with the money you make by selling the products you have on display. But the Exhibit Hall is not the only way to run events for our games, nor even the best environment in which to enjoy them. The events we do, like the Big Experiment and the Pop-Tart Cafe are really the most fun, and do a much better job of conveying the fun of Looney gaming than does our sales booth in the Exhibit Hall, even when we pay extra for more space in which to run in-booth gaming. (Last year at Origins we built a 400 square foot giant Icehouse arena next to our booth inside the Exhibit Hall, and it was very cool, but sales were about the same as the previous year.)

This year finds us particularly dreading the upcoming task of building and running a series of sales booths. As regular readers know, we are preparing to uproot ourselves and move, and as we pack up our lives it will be an even greater challenge than usual to run booths at all the big trade shows. We also haven't replaced our van yet, and not having a van makes a trade show much harder.

And the thing is, there are lots of vendors who already sell our products at trade shows. All game convention Exhibit Halls (and most sci-fi con Huckster's Rooms as well) have at least one (if not several) booths that are just like hobby game stores which sell a little bit of every type of game from all sorts of different manufacturers. At the three big consumer shows we do each year (Origins, GenCon, and Dragon*Con) these folks normally can't sell our games, since we are there selling them and convention contracts routinely include an "exclusivity clause" that bars retail vendors from selling a product in their booth if the manufacturer of that product is also exhibiting.

So this year we are going to continue focusing our energy on convention support, and on building better relationships with vendors who sell games at conventions. We ourselves will still be running events at the big shows, and we will be working with our rabbits to run a Looney Labs Little Experiment at as many conventions as they can find to run them at. We plan to give away a TON of cute little game stickers and Happy Flowers all over the place this summer - if you sell games at conventions, please let us know which conventions you will be attending this year, and we'll see if we have rabbits in the area that might want to come demo our games and help you sell them!

So it's still going to be a busy summer, but nothing near as busy as it would be if we were setting up sales booths at conventions all summer like we normally do. We'll go to a few conventions and promote our games - but in-between shows, we'll be packing.

What will we do in 2006? Who knows. This is yet another experiment for us. But I have a feeling we're going to enjoy letting anyone else who wants to sell our games for us, letting the sales work be handled that way, and focus instead just on demoing and promoting the games.

Have a Great Week! And Don't Forget to Play!

PS: If you haven't signed up for your Holiday Gift yet, there's still time! We haven't sent them out yet!

Thought Residue
"Game system design is a kind of meta-game design. A game system designer designs the structure within which other game designers will create games. The 'rules' of the system are the physical qualities of the game system components; the 'play' that takes place is game design itself, resulting in sets of rules that make use of the game system. This kind of process requires that the game system designer give up a significant degree of control, as other player-designers decide how the game system will be used in actual games. But this loss of control is ultimately what is so satisfying about designing game systems: as a platform for player-driven creativity, a game system is a catalyst for truly transformative and emergent play." -- Salen and Zimmerman, Rules of Play, page 547

I am amazed to find myself listed in the index of a textbook published by MIT about Game Design. I am amazed that a textbook about Game Design even exists. Back when I actually used textbooks, the idea of Game Design, as a field of serious study or career planning, was quite unheard of. I myself stumbled into becoming a game designer, having planned instead on become a writer. Now I find myself being held up for example in a textbook as a success in a field even more obscure and unimaginable than I had previously figured myself out to be: I'm not just a Game Designer, I'm a Game System Designer! I didn't know I could say that about myself until I read about my own works in a textbook which created a separate category for Icehouse games in its definition of types of games. I find all these things truly amazing.
I have long been a believer in the future reality of marijuana legalization, but always it has been a theoretical someday sort of belief. I have also long been saying that the best chance for rapid change is in a Roe v. Wade-style landmark ruling by the Supreme Court, but even so, it's still always been a vague future hope. Usually they refuse to take cases that would force them to consider the issue. So now, as we wait for the ruling on the Raich v. Ashcroft case, it becomes possible to imagine that The Day When Everything Changes is actually drawing near, that it literally could happen any day now. Each day I wake up wondering, 'Will it happen today? Is this The Day?' For pot-smokers everywhere, it's like waiting for Christmas. Of course, what's different is we don't know exactly when it will happen, and what's worse, we're all worried that Santa Claus will have nothing for us but yet another lump of coal. But imagine the joy that will be felt by stoners everywhere if S.C. gives us all the gift of Freedom.



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