At CGR, we focus mainly on information for casual gamers (consumers) — but from time to time we also like to provide useful tips for industry folks like game designers and publishers. We recently discovered an industry program to help publishers of all sizes demo their games far and wide: Envoy by Double Exposure. Envoy "Heralds" sign up to receive games in exchange for a certain amount of time dedicated to demoing the game at local conventions, game stores, and group meetups.
The concept seemed intriguing, so we reached out to one of the earliest supporters of the program, Curt Covert of Smirk & Dagger Games, for his perspective on the service.
Casual Game Revolution (CGR): What led you to becoming a part of the Envoy program?
Curt Covert (CC): As a fairly small publisher in the industry, I struggled with getting my games proper exposure. Smirk & Dagger Games has been around for 14 years, but it is still a one man company — and that one man still has a day job. The limited vacation time I had was spent attending the few cons I could, but I didn't feel it was enough to drive significant awareness or demand for my games. Those who know my games often grab everything I've got, but those who haven't even heard of me, including many store owners, posed a significant challenge to reach. As you know, this is a word of mouth industry and nothing leads to purchase more than actually playing the game. But there are so many games introduced every year, it is easy for people to miss a lot of great stuff. Maybe they didn't see our review videos or stop by at our Gen Con booth. I simply couldn't be everywhere I needed to be.
I was just starting to plan and cost out the feasibility of sending a handful of people on a national goodwill tour during the summer, hitting as many game stores and local cons as they could, demoing our games — and in the midst of that, I got a call from Vinny and Avie about a new idea they had conjured, about a national demo team organization dedicated to showcasing games wherever alpha gamers go to introduce people to new games. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. I was one of perhaps two companies they first approached to discuss the idea of this new venture and I was very excited, right out of the gate. Well, except for their current name for the program. At the time, Vinny had created an acronym, "Strategic Play... uh.... something." I forget, but the point being that when you put all the letters together, it spelled, "SPACE". I laughed and said, "You want people to join the SPACE program?" Being a creative guy in a marketing agency, I recommended a new name, based on what he was calling program participants (Heralds) and coined the name, "Envoy", literally meaning a messenger or ambassador.
CGR: Had you ever heard of Double Exposure before becoming a part of Envoy?
CC: Well, that's why I was approached so early, yes. Double Exposure has a long history of organizing and running some very unique conventions in the New Jersey area, which I only started attending as an exhibitor about twelve years ago. I consider their events gold standards as far as regional conventions go. Not just welcoming for all and extremely well run, but innovative. They like to try new things and defy people's expectations of what is possible. Their convention, Metatopia, was one of the first dedicated to the play testing of unpublished works. At the time, no one thought people would pay admission/hotel costs to play publisher and designer prototypes for three days — but they did it right and it proved wildly successful. They now run the First Exposure play test hall at Gen Con, which mirrors this same concept. The point of all that is, I had known Vinny, Avie and their team for years and had confidence that they could see this new plan through. If it was possible to go full time as a national demo company, I knew they had the insight and dedication to achieve it.
CGR: What are the benefits to gamers who become Envoy "Heralds"?
CC: The short answer is, Envoy supports gamers in doing what they already love to do: show off cool new games. It is an important point. For so many gamers who really love the hobby, a lot of the fun comes in being the first to hear about a new game and share it with friends or even strangers. They go to board game meet ups, board game night at their local store or conventions, including running events at those shows for the games they love. The brilliance of the Envoy program is that they are not trying to change behaviors or ask Heralds to do anything they wouldn't do already, but rather, support them in new ways. So, Heralds can look through a whole catalog of games from any of the participating board game publishers and choose games that sound fun to them. No one is assigned a game to go push. The games are provided at no cost, with the understanding that the Herald will dedicate X amount of time showcasing the game wherever they go and play games (X based on the cost of the game). The benefit of this system is that Heralds are more likely to be excited about the games they've chosen for themselves — and that excitement is contagious at the demo table. In addition, Envoy trains their Heralds and verifies they know the game's ins and outs before they run demos, assuring they feel comfortable with the rules and create the best experience for the demo. Oftentimes, Envoy will also help coordinate their appearance, if it happens to be at a retailer or convention, to make it more official, more of an event that will drive people to the table. Heralds can call for rules support or other event troubleshooting on the fly. And, I think most Heralds would say that they feel a part of something bigger as a result, more connected to the hobby of gaming.
CGR: Would you recommend the program to other publishers? What has been the biggest benefit you've seen?
CC: I would and do recommend the program to other publishers. Demos are so important to getting your games noticed. It is the reason we all go to conventions, to have that one-on-one interaction, to let people see, touch and play our creations...but most companies simply can't be everywhere. Envoy is helping me get my games played across the country. And they are dedicated to help grow my business, open to ideas and input. One of my company goals was to reach more retailers, encourage them to stock my games (if they didn't already) and support the sell through of those games through demos. Many retailers don't have the manpower to run events, and when they do, MTG is the cash cow they can realistically and reliably dedicate those resources to. The structure of the program was such that Heralds could not be asked to go to retail stores, nor did anyone want to require such attendence, so instead we worked together on a fun way to encourage it. Splash Events typically are centered around new products within the first week of launch and we all know the excitement of a new game you are looking forward to is quite a motivator, so you can be the first on the block to show it off on a single day across the nation. It has been fun for Heralds and addressed my hopes as a publisher.
Envoy also helps me in lots of other ways too. They are a resource to help brainstorm about marketing and promotion. They have helped evaluate games for my line, proofread rules and functioned as a defacto part of my company. I'm sure their interactions with other companies is equally custom tailored to their needs.
CGR: After being a part of the program, could you see yourself ever not using Envoy as part of Smirk & Dagger's marketing?
CC: The program is not inexpensive for publishers and my accountant seriously grilled me about the cost and its value. Can I measure one-for-one return on investment? Perhaps not. But at this stage in my company's life cycle, I feel Envoy is important to my growth — or any company for that matter.