Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Dominique Thobaben

Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Dominique Thobaben

'In Focus: Women of Board Gaming' is an exclusive series from Punchboard Media that spotlights women in all facets of the board gaming industry. Our guest this week is Dominique Thobaben, the Social Media & Marketing Manager for the Game Manufacturers Association, also known as GAMA, which is the organization behind Origins Game Fair and the GAMA Trade Show. The interview was conducted over email by Eric Buscemi. 

Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, Dominique. You are, for anyone unfamiliar, the Social Media & Marketing Manager for the Game Manufacturers Association, which is better known by its acronym GAMA. In addition to working in the industry, do you also like to play board games?

I can’t get enough, so you can imagine the feeling I get every time I remind myself I work in the board game industry. It’s like the feeling the kids had in the scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when they took their first steps into the candy room—pure bliss.

What kind of games do you like to play? Do you and co-workers get to bust them out at the office? Do you find opportunities to play them at GAMA events? 

Give me a good memory game or worker placement game and I’m happy. We have talked about meeting up after work to play a few games, but some of us are very new to the organization and are focused solely on absorbing all the knowledge we can. I’m sure we’ll play games with each other eventually! We talk about games all the time in office though! I always share the defeat or triumphant victory I faced in my Thursday night game group with the team. I did get a chance to play a few games at Origins in the evening. This is my first time going to the GAMA Trade Show, so we’ll see what kind of game play opportunities there are.

What is it like working for GAMA? What does being their Social Media & Marketing Manager entail?

I find it fascinating to see the inner workings of the industry—publishing, manufacturing, retailing, all of it interests me. To have the opportunity to sit and talk with some of the most creative people in the business is just an awesome bonus. Being the Social Media & Marketing Manager entails a lot of outward facing communication. If something great is coming up, I’m writing a press release about it! If a staff member has an exciting announcement that needs to be shared across the social map, I’m creating Facebook posts and tweets. It’s fast-paced, allows me to let my creative flag fly, and the thesaurus is my best friend.

GAMA runs two big events every year -- the GAMA Trade Show in Nevada in March, and Origins Game Fair in Ohio in June.  Let's talk about the GAMA Trade Show first. How is this industry event different from a convention? What are publishers looking to accomplish here? How does GAMA help facilitate? 

So this is where I put on my novice hat. I have not attended the GAMA Trade Show, yet. I started at GAMA two weeks before Origins 2017, so there’s still so much to see and learn! Here’s what I do know about the trade show—you said it right up top, it’s an industry focused event. The GAMA Trade Show is a phenomenal networking opportunity. Industry professionals from all over attend and enjoy catching up with old friends, meeting new faces in the business, and enhancing their professional development with the seminars and workshops offered at the show.

What are the best parts about the GAMA Trade Show? What are some of the difficulties?

I had the opportunity to talk to some professionals about their experience at the trade show last year. From what I gathered, it’s a great event to connect with people in the business from varying areas of focus. Whether you’re new to the industry or have been working with board games for over 35 years, everyone gets something out of this show—beneficial information from seminars, tips on how to grow their business, new connections, and an overall enjoyable time.

Origins is the second largest board gaming convention in the U.S., after GenCon, and attendance this year was at a record high. What is it like putting something together of that magnitude? What is the most rewarding part of the convention for you? What are the biggest challenges?

Hectic! Since I came in two weeks before the show I’d say my experience was different from that of my teammates who were here during the months leading up to Origins—they went through all the phases while I joined them at phase Z: “This is it, we’re all in now!” There is a lot to think about when putting on such a large show and you want to make sure that things run as smooth as possible from start to finish. Saying that, it was probably the most stressfully fun event I’ve ever helped put together in my life. I am part of a very competent team, made up of staff and dedicated volunteers, who love this event and work to make it better each year. It’s a long five days, but it is five days surrounded by games and awesome people! Seeing attendees having a good time is definitely the most rewarding part of the show. A big challenge is getting enough sleep during the show, but I’m sure anyone who has ever attended a convention can relate to that!

I heard you judged a costume contest at Origins this year, tell us what that was like. What other cool events are at Origins that people may not be aware of?

Sitting to my left was Jennell Jaquays, GAMA Hall of Fame member and a legend in the board gaming world. Sitting to my right was Grant Wilson, a rather dashing fellow from Rather Dashing Games. I was having the time of my life. The cosplayers created some jaw-dropping pieces that made it impossible to judge! Each costume had such a high-level of detail, some came with detailed backstory to their original pieces, we had the most difficult time picking a top three for each category. I respect cosplayers and their art—they have mad skills.

I know there have been improvements to Origins over the years, most recently this year with the new badge pick-up system, which I can personally say worked quite smoothly.  What improvements are you working on for next year and beyond?

We’re constantly trying to improve registration and make it a smoother process. This year, we did add more self check-in machines which decreased time spent in queue—thus leaving more time to enjoy games and events. Every improvement is made to create a more immersive experience and make the show easier to navigate, especially for those who are joining us for the first time! We’re working toward increasing the number and quality of events outside of the main scope of the convention—as an example, the costume contest has seen several upgrades and this year was the best turnout we’ve ever had—both with number of participants and audience members. The anime track and video game room have grown over the years and they are elements of the show that people really enjoy. This year, we had two comedians join us at Origins for the first time. Having them there to bring the laughs was a nice addition to the show. We look at what we can add or improve to make the overall experience a great one. In 2018, you can expect upgrades to the registration process and great events and interactive activities that will revolve around next year’s Origins theme, Mystery!

There were some challenges with a lack of open gaming tables during Origins this year. Are there plans to expand the amount of tables going forward?

There were gaming tables spread throughout the main gaming hall on either side. We did notice some were underutilized, and we want to make sure that attendees know they have those tables available to them. Moving forward, we will be improving signing letting attendees know where the tables are.

What is your day-to-day like when one of those events is not going on?

When I’m not working on marketing the events, I’m working with GAMA members and researching everything and anything that is happening in the board gaming industry. I keep up on trends in marketing, ways to update communication processes, all that fun stuff!

Before we wrap up, is there anything we should know about you? Any hobbies, interests or passions?

Hiking and riding roller coasters are two of my favorite activities. My goal is to visit every Cedar Fairs park and as many National Parks as I see fit. Borderlands, BioShock, and Mirrors Edge keep me in front of my computer for hours! I’m very much into Legend of Zelda, so the fact that Legend of Zelda is everywhere right now is fantastic.

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