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The whole team (well, minus the folks who help us out part-time with sound & music) was at PAX East a couple weeks ago to show our arcade strategy game Skulls of the Shogun. Since I wrote up some hopefully helpful lessons learned from our trying to get early press on the game, I figured I'd write up some tips we learned showing at PAX East.
First off, if you're an indie dev thinking about showing your game at something like PAX, you should really read Nathan Fouts (of Mommy's Best Games) post-mortem on exhibiting at PAX. Tons of good stuff in there, and we were using it as a blue print for what to do. Big things to keep in mind - register early to get a good booth location, and keep in mind all ancillary expenses like equipment rental, shipping, promotional materials. Here's a few additional tips we learned this time around.
- Register early! Yeah, it's worth repeating. We got a sweet spot at the end of the main isle and just to the left. Intersections make for great traffic spots, getting lots of people to walk by.
- Cool neighbors - find 'em or get your own! In that area there were only 10' by 20' booths, and we picked one next to other indies like Robot Entertainment, showing Orcs Must Die! The 20' long booth was too big for us, so we split it with our friends from Moonshot Games, showing off their recently announced game Fallen Frontier. This brought a great crowd of people interested in checking out new and interesting indie games.
- Rent vs Buy? Renting equipment can be quite expensive. We found it was actually cheaper to *buy* two 50" TV's, ordered to a friend who lives in Boston, and then ship them back to Jake's in Seattle, than to just rent two TVs for the show. To rent a single TV for the show was $800, buying one on amazon (on sale with free shipping) was $500 & $90 to ship back. And now we have extra TV's for PAX Prime!
- Overload on either usb hubs or wireless controllers & chargers. Wireless controllers are easier to deal with in the booth, but battery life is an issue. Our laptops only have 3 USB ports a piece, and we forgot a USB hub or two, so we had to run a 3 player match on one machine, and use two wireless controllers (always plugged back into a charger when not in use) along with two wired controllers on the second machine. Next time we'll make sure to bring extra hubs as well as extra batteries to not have to rely on chargers.
- The more people who can see your game, the better! Ideally you want anybody walking by to see screens of folks playing, but that usually means buying much taller TV stands, which we didn't want to shell out money for. We took our two TV's and faced them forward, which made for a bit cramped space for multiplayer, but ended up doing showing the game well while still avoiding the extra cost to taller stands.
- Private press showings, just like the big boys - Since the table for the TVs was moved forward a bit, it gave us a small space in the back of the booth, about a person wide across the length of the booth. It ended up being great for breaks and to give press private demos.
- Staffing- We could've barely managed with three people manning the booth, and been functional with 4 (esp w/Paul's organizational skills). With GDC the week before however, Jake, Ben, and I were all wiped. Thankfully my girlfriend Marissa & Ben's girlfriend Jenny both came to help out, and having the girls there made it doable post-gdc so folks could take breaks and not wear out our voices from constant talking (we still wore out our voices, just not as quickly). Hopefully next year they'll move PAX East a week later but if not we'll try to at least aim for 5 people to help manage all the traffic.
Two big TV's facing front made it easier for passers-by to see the game.
Ben shows off the space behind (well, under) the booth.
- Branding, branding, branding - We had fliers we handed out with more info on the game (a brief description, some positive press quotes, and the website), pretty straightforward. Even though we had several hundred of those printed out, we inevitably ran out. We had also printed some cool retro box art in two forms (one made to fit in a jewel case, one made as a jewel case cover), and we had to start handing these out, but unfortunately they only had the game name on them. Sure, people should figure it out, but you don't want to put any barriers in the way of people keeping up with your game. Next time, everything we hand out will have the website on it!
- Never rely on Google for spellcheck. This is problematic when half the internet makes the same spelling mistake as you. While we had at least one team member proofread everything (flier text, trailer text), in the crazy run upto GDC & PAX we perhaps overestimated the number of people who needed to proof something to be sure. We had a typo on the first run of fliers (thankfully small), and a typo in the first version of our trailer, even though multiple team members went over it. Everything ended up getting fixed in time, but I think we'll still go with at least 2 proofreads from different people (keeping in mind the hectic period makes errors easier to gloss over).
- T-shirts! You won't make money on these, but they are nice to sell so fans can walk away with something and, especially if they wear them the next day on the show floor, help build awareness. Besides a few sorted T's on display, we had them all lumped together, next time we desparately need to pre-sort them, even if it's just storing different sizes in plastic bags, to save us time finding the right sizes. We had poor labeling on them as well at first - once we cleared hung them on the booth wall & labeled them properly as glow in the dark, I think our sales about doubled.
- Contests! We really wanted to have some twitter oriented contest for fans to win something. We didn't manage to think of anything in time, unfortunately, but Supergiant Games had a great one: They gave out bandanas like the one the main character in Bastion wears, then they had fans tweet pictures of themselves wearing it to be entered in a giveaway.
Our merch table.
- Press kit - we previously covered the useful elements of the press kit, but it's super handy here. We were able to give anybody with a media badge a CD with include our trailer, screenshots, and more info on the game. The one thing we knew we should include, but didn't manage to get to in time, was gameplay footage (which several people asked for). Next time we'll make sure it includes general game footage as well.
- Mailing list- we've put off doing this for a long time, since it felt dirty. But lots of people would ask to be put on our news list to get updates when important stuff happens for the game (like say, when we sign our console publisher!). It would have been great to use to ping everyone that we were gonna be ax PAX East, but we had to scramble through emailing the folks we could and hoping they'd hear about it anyway, which worked out ok.
Hope those tips make your next exhibiting experience go just a bit easier!
Us kicking ass (also known as the "before picture").