Interview with Andrew Smith about Proto ATL.
Thanks for joining us Andrew to talk about Proto ATL. Let’s start off with an easy question. What and when is it?
Andrew: Proto ATL is a networking, game pitching, and playtesting event. The event allows designers to meet publishers in a relaxed environment, put the finishing touches on their best games, learn the business side of board games at various seminars, meet industry influencers and make new friends. This year it is May 3-5 and will be held at PSI headquarters in Atlanta.
This is the second year it is taking place. Why did you decide to start Proto ATL? What is the story behind it?
Andrew: Proto ATL actually started as Protospiel Atlanta in 2017. I moved up to Atlanta from Tampa, where there were great spots to play games and fantastic groups of folks for playtesting. The Atlanta area has a ton of designers and gamers, but there were many groups fractured across the area. I was hoping to create a common hub for folks to interact.
The 2017 event was held in a cabin in the woods. It felt almost like a retreat and was definitely a unique event venue. We had just over 70 badges issued and 2 publishers show up. I invited some representatives from PSI (http://pubservinc.com/wp/) and they brought out a nice crew for a day and hosted a pizza party. A few pitches to the publishers happened, but it was mostly playtesting games, like your typical protospiel.
The feedback was excellent, and it was very obvious that folks were interested in attending again. I’m pretty sure I lost about $50-100 .. hosting the event, but got some playtesting time in for some of the games I was working on, so it all worked out.
What events and guest speakers do you plan on having this year?
Andrew: We definitely invited Sen, Ken, and Eugene back again, because the talks they gave last year were amazing. We may see some repeats of topics from them simply because not everyone at the event last year got to attend all of the presentations. We have also extended invitations to some other industry experts but at this point, we’re still finalizing the roster.
Some offsite activities that we’re considering are a meet and greet dinner, a cocktail hour at the hotel, and an Escape Room. We did one as a group last year and were mere seconds away from breaking the all-time record for the room we did.
There will be several raffles throughout the event, with PSI and the attending publishers giving away games, and we’ll still be doing the warehouse tour and pizza party.
How is Proto ATL different from say Protospeil or UnPub?
Andrew: There were two key things that happened which made the next year, 2018 such a success.
The first is that I gained a co-host in Stephen Avery. He’s a long time resident of Atlanta, several-times-published designer, and just an all-around awesome guy to work with. Steve shared with me after the first year that he was skeptical that such an event could work in Atlanta, but was glad to see otherwise, and wanted to be a part of the next year. He came to the table with huge amounts of energy (for those of you that know Steve, you know what I’m talking about) and a real motivation to grow the event.
The second is that we partnered up with PSI and hosted our event at their facility, basically tripling the amount of available space, so we were able to issue over 150 badges. We probably could have sold more, but we were approaching fire code maximums.
The change of venue allowed us to move away from calling the event a protospiel, and to rebrand as Proto ATL, as we had room to do so much more than just playtest.
Partly because our relationship with PSI, and partly because Steve was relentless with his emails, we were able to coordinate over 20 publishers to come to the event, which added massive value to the designers that attended. Proto ATL allows designers a much more intimate, far less hustle-and-bustle interaction with publishers. That’s going to be a major focus going forward, which is why we want designers to bring their best games to Proto ATL.
The extra space allowed us to add seminars, with the likes of Sen-Foong Lim, Ken Shannon, and Eugene Bryant giving awesome talks on things like building relationships in the gaming community, elevator pitches, and contracts. Attendees also got a tour of PSI’s warehouse that hosts over ONE MILLION board games. It’s pretty surreal.
We also got a ton of networking time in at the hotel after the event each night. People made some great connections by hanging out with the other designers and kicking back with the publishers.
What kind of games and prototypes are welcome?
Andrew: We welcome any type of unpublished analog game at Proto ATL. The only caveat I’d give people is to be aware of the time it takes to play your game. While plenty of the folks that attend Proto ATL (myself included) have roots in tabletop RPGs, finding an audience willing to play a 6-hour campaign might not happen. If you think you can get representative play-thrus and meaningful testing accomplished in a 60-90 minute time frame, then you should be alright!
You can certainly bring games at any level of development, and you’ll get a lot of benefit out of the numerous other designers willing to give you feedback, but we encourage people to bring their very best games to Proto ATL.
You mentioned pitching, will we see pitching based events? And has there been any success in designers finding publishers through Proto ATL in last?
Andrew: We’ve previously entertained the idea of having official events for pitching, but we found out last year that a vast majority of the attending publishers preferred to set their own schedules at the event, or to maintain flexibility throughout. The publishers are there to play games, so pitches will 100% be happening all three days. We may revisit the idea at some point, but right now our current model is to keep everything very low-key and casual.
I think that approach really paid off for designers last year. We had over 25 games get taken by publishers for further evaluation, which is a fantastic stat. Unlike giant cons where there is a big focus on booth sales, or meeting with partners and manufacturers, the publishers are coming to Proto ATL looking for games to sign.
As we come to a close, is there anything we haven’t covered you like to add?
Andrew: We’ve covered a lot! I just want to encourage any designers reading this to bring their games out to Atlanta, show them off to publishers, get feedback, and meet some really great people along the way.
Also, Save yourself $10! Early bird tickets are on sale through February 28th.
Thanks again, Andrew, for joining us to share about Proto ATL.
If readers would like to get more info or tickets for Proto ATL, you can find its official website here: https://protoatl.com/.