A poem by Cody Diefenthaler
I've been a do-it-yerself music dude for over a decade now. I'm not mentioning it for authorial bona fides, but rather to set the stage for this piece. The cornerstone of the DIY movement is a rejection of corporate and profit-driven modes of production and distribution and the search for more personal and local alternatives. I've been making games for a handful of years on platforms owned by huge monied interests, and squaring these two worlds has been a struggle. There are hundreds of thousands of words written about the inequity in this industry, but that's not point of this article.
I'm here to bring good news!
You don't need industry to solve your discoverability issues!
Stop worrying about market curation, it doesn't matter!
What matters is YOU, YOUR STORY, and YOUR AUDIENCE.
I had a launch party/show for a game I released at the end of 2013 called DUMPSTER DIVE!. The game is an endless runner with grimy pixel art featuring bratty tunes from rad folks, so in keeping with that spirit, we had a punk rock show. Some bands featured in the game played, I made patches and did giveaways, had a spot for people to play the game, and everyone had a great time. I even setup a wall where people could spray paint their tags or whatever. Afterwards, I integrated the graffiti from the release show into the game.
Bridging these physical and digital experiences gave me a different perspective on game development. I want to bring people into the culture around my games. Seeing and hearing the artists, musicians, and designers who make games shouldn't be reserved for conference attendees and expo pass holders. These artifacts we create are best understood in a personal context, and I want to take that context on the road.
TEMPLE OF YOG is a roguelike adventure for Wii U that our team of super talented people have been working on for the past year. The gameplay foundation focuses on puzzle solving and maze navigation between two worlds: one displayed on the TV, the other on the GamePad. Because the core experience relies heavily on two screens, getting the game in front of people before release presents a hefty obstacle. There is no "early access" for Wii U titles, and a split-screen PC version is a poor port. If we want to bring in our audience, we'll have to take it to them.
People in our team have spent the past decade writing music and playing shows in various folk, punk, thrash, hip hop, chiptune and metal bands promoting DIY ethics and methods of distribution. We've done numerous regional and national tours playing for small to mid-sized crowds in clubs, venues, houses, bookstores, coffee shops, and festivals.
Right now, the common model for promoting a game is to go to conferences and expos. For us, that would be like a band only playing big festivals like Coachella or SXSW. While those are fun, that doesn't really mesh with the DIY stuff we've grown to love. We like going on tour and interacting with people on a more intimate basis and on their terms in their town or city. So we're taking that same approach with promoting TEMPLE OF YOG.
February 20th to 28th we will be doing a 3800 mile 7-stop tour across the Eastern US and Canada. We have created an event that showcases not only the game, but the people and culture around it. Local organizers are bringing their community's voice as well, helping us craft an experience that makes the digital more personal.
And the economics are in our favor. There are numerous post-mortem laments on expo space pricing and the insane cost of conference WiFi access. We're replacing those with van rentals and gas money:
Compare that to Indie Megabooth estimated costs for "a typical 10ft x 10ft MEGABOOTH space at PAX...$3K-$7K depending on your setup" (source).
Being on tour means making the game setup lean and mean. We've got two arcade-style cabinet kiosks with Wii U hardware so folks can play as we intended. These cabinets break down and stack to maximize space efficiency. If a stop only has room for one, that's ok. We make sure to accommodate a spectator experience.
The spaces we're performing at allow the entire team to be on display, not just the game. Pieter Montoulieu, the maestro behind thrash chiptune act Dr. Zilog, will be showcasing the original soundtrack and also his upcoming album. Our lead artist Lee Bretschneider will have his Adventuring Company art, prints, and shirts available. Louie Castro-Garcia is bringing his hip hop act Buster Wolf on stage and orchestrating all the giveaways and prizes planned for the event.
These are the people and the passions that rarely make it onto the expo floor.
Game development doesn't happen in a vacuum. You don't need a festival or conference or expo to show your creations. Stop waiting for marketplaces to "solve" discoverability. Reach out to your local and surrounding communities and make an event that brings people not only into your game's world, but the world surrounding your game.