Role Selection is an interview series in which we chat up folks who work, live, and play board games in a variety of ways to learn about the roles in the hobby they’ve chosen.
Character Name: Mark Corsey
Role: Game Demo Master and designer of The Game of 49
Location: Nashua, New Hampshire
First Games Played: Dominoes, Monopoly, Card Games
Qualities To Look For In A Game: Tile-Laying Mechanics, Something New
Number Of Demos Run: Hundreds and Hundreds…
Quote: “One of the central things I’ve reminded myself over time is that when you’re doing a demo, your audience wants you to succeed.”
Character Bio: If Mark Corsey has a favorite number, it’s probably 49.
Corsey – who runs a small book-publishing business as his day job – has done well by that number. His first published design, The Game of 49, got thumbs-up from reviewers and landed in Target stores this summer. But the road to nationwide, big-box store distribution wasn’t smooth or assured.
Corsey came up with the idea for The Game of 49 in 2008, and after working out most of the abstract game’s auction and area control structure, he began shopping it around to traditional publishers. He didn’t get any bites. Kickstarter had barely launched and wasn’t yet a major player in game publishing, so without a way to get his design out into the world, Corsey put it on a shelf.
But in 2013, Corsey dusted off his game to take it to Unpub and the Boston Festival of Indie Games, where budding game designers gather to test out their prototypes. The game was still solid, feedback was positive, and he met Shari Spiro of AdMagic, which had printed the runaway hit Cards Against Humanity a few years before.
In 2014, Corsey ran a modestly successful Kickstarter for The Game of 49. AdMagic printed the game, and that could have been the end of it. Except Corsey kept demoing the game, traveling to conventions and game events. Around the same time, Spiro had begun the game publishing company Breaking Games, and she worked to get Target stores to carry a spiffed-up second edition of The Game of 49.
“I tell people she opens doors and closes deals,” Corsey said of Spiro.
But a lot of the credit also goes to Corsey, who had been tireless in demoing The Game of 49. I asked Corsey what he brings to a demo session.
Mark Corsey: The attache case I always carry – which has garnered more than a few comments – has in it a copy of the game. It also usually has a copy of my questionnaire when I’m playtesting, but once I’m at the state where I’m only demoing, the questionnaire goes away for an extra set of demo cards – typically seven cards from the deck; it doesn’t take a full deck to demo the game. Plus my second lanyard.
I’m always the guy with two lanyards – one for my I.D., and one for my demo cards.
Matt Golec: So you put your demo cards in your lanyard?
MC: That’s something I did spontaneously way back because I got tired of flipping through the deck, looking for the right cards to demonstrate things. I thought, “You’ve got more than one deck of cards, just take out the cards you need from the second deck, keep them always on hand.
I could keep them up my sleeve, put them in my pocket, but this thing was always hanging around my neck and I could literally pull the cards out and have what I needed.
MG: Tell me what those seven extra cards do. They set up all the different rules you want to get across?
MC: They do. It’s a simple matter of having a few cards to represent the standard types of cards in the deck, and a few others that represent the exceptional cards in the deck. In The Game of 49, those are the wild, pay-off cards. So I’ll have one of each of those wild pay-off cards to show people, and I will have two of the 49 cards…because it’s important to show that the card can come up more than once in the game, and it has different ramifications depending on whether it’s the first time or second time or third time it comes up.
So duplicate of that card, individual copies of the wild pay-off cards, and a few standard cards to point out different areas around the board.
MG: And after those seven cards, people don’t keep going with the game, right? You clear the board and start over with a new game?
MC: Yes. In fact, when I’m using those cards, I’m literally explaining the game and teaching the rules but not actually playing the game at that point. It’s after I’ve given what typically amounts to a two, two-and-a-half minute spiel explaining the rules of the game…that I invite people to play the game. Then I shift over to the actual box materials and say, ‘Here you go. Here’s your deck, here’s your chips.’
One of my standard lines for folks is, ‘Choose chips in your favorite color, and I insist that you use your favorite color, so in case you don’t win you can’t use that as an excuse.’
MG: Sounds like you have a lot of lines memorized. It’s like you’re a traveling showman.
MC: I recall some years ago reading about a study about evaluating the performance of surgeons. The question was, ‘what made a good surgeon?’ …There were many things that mattered, but what it came down to was the best surgeons were the ones who had performed the most surgeries.
It’s not that aptitude or skill didn’t matter…but what mattered (most) was who’d done a lot of surgeries, and that’s what I’ve found to be the case with demos.
MG: It’s practice.
MC: Practice is what enables you to figure out what’s working, what’s not working, to hone your presentation so that it’s efficient, and engaging, and informative, and – one hopes – successful in getting people to sign on to at least play if not purchase.
MG: And you said you can get people up and running in two, two-and-a-half minutes? That’s impressive.
MC: It’s a game with a straightforward rule set…Now, if I move from that stage to where people are actually playing the game, I’ll introduce another rule or two as they’re playing – rules about bidding restrictions or special options or that sort of thing – ones that you don’t have to have to start the game. And those are things better introduced when you encounter a situation where that information is pertinent.
MG: So instead of dumping everything up front, you give people just enough to get started, and then once they get going and have the context, you say, ‘Okay, now here’s this and this.’
MC: Context is the perfect word there.
The Demo’s In The Details
MG: Do you get a lot of common questions during demos? Or have you tweaked your demo so you answer all the questions you typically get?
MC: The answer is yes and yes. You get common questions, and certainly over time I’ve refined my presentation so I’m anticipating and answering those questions, but part of what you learn in doing this over and over again is how to identify personality types. There are people who are going to be asking questions when you’re four words into your presentation.
MC: And that’s fine. Because you start to recognize who they are and how to steer your presentation to appease them. But certainly the most common question is, ‘How do I get money?’ Which I guess is a question we all ask, even outside of board games. (laughter)
Because in the beginning of the presentation, you’re explaining to people that you spend money to put chips on the board, which everyone is keen to do. But what they really want to know is, ‘Once I spend that money, how do I get more back?’
That’s one of the common questions, and you definitely do get things that start to become familiar after a while.
MG: You’ve taken your game to a bunch of different places – Boston FIG, Essen, Unpub. Do you have to tailor your demo when you go to different places?
MC: It’s pretty much the same. The difference is at a toy fair, which is Februarys in New York. That’s because there you’re presenting to buyers, not players. You’re presenting to managers of stores.
There you want to emphasize where it’s been well-received…You want to mention that it’s being carried by independent stores in their area, if that’s the case. And you want to let them know that it plays in this amount of time for this amount of players, and that it takes this amount of time to teach. Not that you don’t want to give them an idea of what the actual rules of the game are, but those are the characteristics that are equally important to them.
MG: Can you even estimate the number of times you’ve demoed the game?
MC: (laughter) I wish I could give you an answer. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds.
MG: Sometimes I hear a band, or see someone on tour, and I wonder: How do they keep it fresh, singing the same songs in every town they go to? You’ve done the same patter hundreds of times. How do you keep it fresh? I’ve seen you demo, and you’re always energetic and engaged with the audience.
MC: A couple of things help. One is that it’s my game. There’s a connection that I wouldn’t have with anything else, no matter how much I liked another game or product that I’m demonstrating. It’s never going to have that same tug at my heart that my own creation does.
In recent months, as it’s become more established, as Breaking Games has done a good job promoting it to wider distribution, more people have become aware of it. When people come to the demo table and I say to them, ‘Have you heard of this game?’ they say, ‘I’ve heard of this but I’ve never played. I’m interested in it.’ When you’re working with that, it’s not hard to be enthusiastic and energetic.
When the folks who come to you are already interested and engaged, I’m just reflecting what they’re giving me.
One of the central things I’ve reminded myself over time is that when you’re doing a demo, your audience wants you to succeed. They’re there because they’re interested, and they’re on your side…That makes it a lot easier to engage and to be enthusiastic when you recognize these folks are here because they want to have a good time and specifically have chosen you or your product with which to have a good time.
So give ‘em what they want. It’s not that hard.
One more tip: Corsey calls watching other people demo “tremendously valuable.” Whether it be veterans in adjacent booths talking up their games or Corsey’s wife, Ruth, explaining The Game of 49, Corsey says that he’s learned a lot seeing how other people approach demos.
Corsey also mentioned that he’s working on other game ideas, and while he’s not ready to share details quite yet, he is out on the convention trail demoing an expansion for The Game of 49. Fans can look forward to seeing a few new demo cards tucked into his lanyard.
For more information about Mark and his current endeavors, you can visit his webpage.
Matt Golec is game designer with a background in print journalism. Combining these skills, he aims to explore and give voice to the many different jobs within the hobby industry that don’t frequently get reported on. He can be best reached via Twitter.
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Photo Credits: Multiple Photos from the Markee Games site.