Ronin Round Table: Chris Pramas on GAMA Trade Show

Last week Hal Mangold and I were in Las Vegas for the GAMA Trade Show (AKA GTS). GAMA is the Game Manufacturers Association and it runs the only real trade show in tabletop gaming. It’s a chance for us to talk to our partners in retail and distribution and promote the company and our upcoming releases. It’s also a show that has changed some over the years.

I went to my first GTS in 1996. It was in Atlantic City that year, and as I was living in NYC at the time it was a short ride to attend. I was getting my first company going and it was a learning expedition. This was a time when the internet was becoming more important, but most retailers were not getting their publishing news from it. There was thus a lot of key information being transmitted at the show. It was also a great place to make big announcements. New games and new licenses were commonly revealed and promoted at GTS. You often saw new games announced at GTS in March and then released at GenCon in August.

GAMA Trade Show also used to move around the country from year to year (as did Origins, the summer convention that GAMA also runs). The idea was to give various regions of the country a chance to host the show, so local retailers would have an easier time attending. This went wrong at the notorious 1998 show in Miami, which was a ghost town. The show might well have died after that, but in 1999 it moved to Las Vegas and has stayed there ever since. This gave the show some much needed stability, and the allure of Vegas as a destination has certainly not hurt.

In the early 2000s GTS regained its luster, and the d20 boom saw a lot of new companies attending. By 2003 nearly every other booth was selling d20 books of some sort. Things continue to change though, and the show we attended last week was different than those of a decade ago. For one thing the number of RPG publishers in attendance was much smaller, since so much RPG publishing is focused on electronic distribution, POD books, and direct sales now. The number of big announcements has also decreased. With news sites, social media, and blogs, info now travels so fast that there just isn’t a lot of oomph in timing an announcement for a show with a few hundred attendees.

At this point you may be wondering why we still attend GTS. Some of my colleagues have asked me the same question. The answer is that we still find it valuable to have face time with retailers and distributors. I do see them at shows like GenCon but such conventions are hectic and not conducive to sorts of discussions we have at GTS. I get sales numbers from our distributors but that doesn’t tell me how things are going in individual stores. I want to get sense of how things are on the ground in gaming communities all over. I want to know what’s working for them and what’s not working for them, from Green Ronin and other companies as well. And of course we want to promote our game lines and our upcoming releases, and doing this can give us some valuable feedback as well. I discovered at GTS, for example, that A Game of Thrones Edition of A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying was the book retailers seemed most excited about. I answered more questions about that than anything else, and showed off the printer’s proofs continuously throughout the show. (We had hoped to have advanced copies of the finished book to display, but naturally they showed up two days too late.) I had figured that with the release of A Dance with Dragons and the second season of the HBO show coming soon that our new core book would do well, but it was nice to see that reinforced.

GTS is also a good place for deal making, networking, and brain storming. Whether it be in formal meetings, casual drinks, or dinners out, a lot of business and collaboration happens at the show. There’s something about being face to face that cuts out a lot of the bull. I came back from the show with several fresh prospects that should lead to good things for us. I don’t know that they would have happened via e-mail when I’m in my head down, day-to-day mode at GR HQ. I should also add on a personal note that it’s just nice to see my friends in the game industry and have a chance to hang out after hours and catch up.

At the end of the show, I signed up for a booth for next year’s show. It is different than it used to be, but it’s still a valuable event for Green Ronin. The enormous caipirinhas I make sure to enjoy on every trip are just a bonus!