Essen, or to give its full name “Internationale Spieltage SPIEL” is the main trade fair (arguably globally) for games held in the City of Essen in Germany. It’s held over 4 days and importantly, it is open to the public as well as game designers and publishers.
Everybody who loves playing board games or creating them should at least visit Essen once to get an idea of the scale of the industry. All too often you buy a board game and you just don’t have any thoughts on how it ended up in the shop for sale! It’s not essential to make a trip to Essen, but here’s a few reasons to consider going:
1 – Scale of the industry
Essen takes place in a massive (and I mean massive!) convention centre and it is packed with game stand after game stand. As a game designer you get a good idea of just how big and competitive the industry is. You will also get to meet all the different facets involved in bringing the game to the market. Artists, manufacturers, distributors, transportation and lots of other support services are all featured in Essen.
The scale of the industry can be daunting, but it’s good to understand the market place you’re getting involved in at the start so that you can have realistic ambitions!
2 – Trends in the market and what’s competing to be bought
Just like fashion, board games exhibit trends. By looking at the newest games in Essen or those that are on pre-release, you will get an idea of what is likely to be hot. That doesn’t mean that you should change your game design, it’s just something to be aware of. At present, “Zombies” and “Undead” seem to be popular themes but nothing beats great gameplay.
3 – What’s competing to be bought?
One of the best things about Essen is that you can test loads of games – new ones and old ones. This gives you a rare opportunity to check out and test new game mechanics, artwork quality, production and component quality. All this can be done without actually buying the games! I would recommend planning ahead on which games you want to check out and getting to Essen first thing to avoid the inevitable queues.
4 – Making contacts
Last and perhaps the most obvious point is having all the different representatives under one roof allows you to go around and pick up contacts that may be of use in the future. There is one section that was very useful which had several stands of artists showing their wares – giving a good opportunity to talk first hand to the professionals who may end up supplying the artwork to your game.