by Keith Avallone, PLAAY Games
Thank you, PLAAY Gamers, for an absolutely incredible year in 2018. It was another "biggest and best-ever" year for us, as we saw new high-water marks in sales, social media likes/follows, newsletter subscribers and website traffic. What started out as a spare-time hobby has become a full-blown cottage industry! I feel it starts and ends with the community. We have a wonderful group of sports gamers who are not only passionate about the hobby, but who are just plain "good folks" as well: kind and respectful to each other, thoughtful, sensitive and gracious. That is a combination that just can't be beat, and I an forever grateful for you guys (and gals!).
So where do I begin in recapping the year? I think the most significant development of 2018 was having my son Sam sign on to help. Sam joining the PLAAY team started out as an informal arrangement to help with his college tuition, but it quickly blossomed into something really special for both of us. Sam signed on just before PLAAY-Dot-Con (more on that in a minute), not really knowing much about sports games or the people who played them. Once the convention rolled around, he discovered first-hand what a great community we have! He really enjoyed hanging out with everyone—for all the reasons I just listed above, just plain "good folks." He was also VERY energized by the design work and technology challenges that this hobby/business presents. I was impressed by the vision he had for adding contemporary graphics touches to the PLAAY Games world of games and card sets. My first glimpse of what added oomph would look like was with the materials Sam put together for PLAAY-Dot-CON. The convention logo, program, baseball card "wax packs" inserts and other touches were all products of Sam's creativity, and I can't overstate the response these touches generated.
Which brings us to the other significant highlight of 2018: PLAAY Dot CON! The convention was easily the watershed moment of the PLAAY year. SO much fun, so many great tabletop sports moments, so many friendships made or grown. It was a lot of work, but worth every ounce of the effort. I'd announced plans for the con in the 2017 "Year in Review" article, and stated there that I had pretty modest expectations. I figured if we got a couple dozen people to attend, that would be awesome. We had that number by January, and I wound up having to cap attendance at 35 by mid-March because that was the capacity of the facilities I'd reserved! (Our 2019 convention facilities are almost three times larger!) I created several pages of photos and content about the con, so I won't rehash here. We learned some great lessons, though, and had a lot of fun doing so. The "Sports Board Game State of the Union" panel discussion, featuring thoughts on the hobby from Al Wilson, Steve Tower and Mike Boling, was memorable and insightful. We streamed it live on the PLAAY Games Facebook page, and it quickly zoomed past 1,000 views. It's must-watch video for anyone who has a passion for the sports board game hobby and an interest in seeing it survive past the baby boomer generation should.
As has been the case the last couple years, I spent a lot of time in airports in 2018! The PLAAY Games Live Events schedule called for visits to Milwaukee, Charlotte, Dallas, and Pittsburgh. Midway through the year, we added a two-day stay at the Recruits Convention in Kansas City. Each event had its own special moments, and our community of gamers really showed its enthusiasm and good sportsmanship. Each of these visits is chronicled on the PLAAY.com community page, just click the link that corresponds with the city to get a recap of the event and photos of the people who took part.
One of the aspects that I've felt to be crucial for the advancement of the hobby is to try some new things. So, we made that a focus in 2018. With the World Cup being one of the key sports events of 2018, we took a calculated risk by preparing and releasing a projection set based on projected team rosters and strengths, rather than a retrospective set based on actual rosters and results. My thinking (gamble?) here was that there's more buzz about the World Cup in the weeks and months leading up to it than there is after the event is over. So we commissioned Matt Kulikosky, who did such a great job with the home-brewed 2014 World Cup set and asked him to make his best guess on rosters and apply his in-depth knowledge of the world soccer scene to this card set. We couldn't have been more pleased with the results. Additionally, wanted to make the card set extra-special in appearance, so we came up with a new design and format. It was extremely well-received, in fact a late surge of interest left me flat-footed, out of cards with not enough time to re-order and re-print a second run. We took some of the design cues from the World Cup cards and implemented them into the English Pro Season cards.
There was more "new" to 2018 than just the World Cup cards, though. The success of the HMB trading card tournament at the convention prompted us to create an official "Quick-Rate Trading Card Package," which is now in its third print run! And capitalizing on Sam's design skills, we dug deep into the game development archives and released Fury Football! It has created its own firestorm of interest and fun!
2018 was also our most tech-intensive year ever. We announced at the beginning of the year a three-month pilot program of mid-month Facebook video streams. The "Mid-Month Info-Mash" gained a foothold in our marketing mix, reaching about 500 gamers each month. In addition to the mid-month news updates, we held several Facebook game webcasts, including a Memorial Day Weekend "History Makers Who Served" Army-Navy baseball game, and a Canadian Football Kickoff "Fab Finish" webcast. We also activated the long-dormant PLAAY Games YouTube Channel, and began work upgrading our webcast "look" with better lighting, sound, camera angles and graphics. We expect to continue to focus on this aspect moving forward. We did two joint webcasts with AFR's Steve Tower: an "All Hallow's Eve" webcast in October and our Fury Football "Snow Bowl" just a couple weeks ago. Late this year, we connected with PLAAY Gamer Chris Dinkins' internet-based sports talk call-in show "The Sideline Pass", and did a couple segments covering ground in both real and tabletop sports. We're planning to make this a monthly thing in 2019, details to follow.
Looking Ahead to 2019? Well, we DO have some exciting things planned, including a bigger, better convention, expanded social media and web streaming, and some added focus on development of a basketball game. We welcome YOU to be a part of it! And we offer a heartfelt THANK YOU for your participation, enthusiasm and encouragement in 2018.