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I’m sitting in the living room and still recovering from the exciting blur of showing my game at MAGFest. Although I’m exhausted and wish to do little other than sleep – it would be best to capture my thoughts while they’re still fresh in my memory.
Overall the event was amazing and just about every single person was friendly and interesting, and my game seemed to be very well received – but it was loads of work. I loved meeting people and ended up standing and talking beyond what my body should have put up with.
THINGS THAT WORKED WELL:
- Learning from local shows
I had the good fortune to show my game a few months ago at a local event called The District Arcade, put together by the local IGDA chapter. This gave me super useful experience on showing in public. Specifically I came into MAGFest having recently learned the following:
- Manage turnover – At the District Arcade I had 1 computer running the game and I quickly realized that this is not ideal for a one player game. When people liked the game they would play for quite a while, so others would stand and watch – but eventually move on to a game that was available to play. (I fixed this issue completely for MAGFest by setting up 4 machines to play).
- Vertical displays work exponentially better for a vertical game. - ‘Nuff said.
- Invite people to come try the game – People are a little intimidated by trying new things, even when they are interested and games are no exception. It seemed that usually a small invitation was all people needed to try something new.
- Bring plenty of contact information – I ran out of cards at the District Arcade. I did not want to repeat that mistake!
Beyond these things, I noticed that my game showed very well in this kind of setting. The game’s rule set is small and the balance for new players seems fairly solid.
- Going in with a goal – I came into this with a specific goal in mind: that very soon I want the game to get through Greenlight and on to Steam. This being the case, the immediate goal was to try to get as many people to sign up for my ‘newsletter’ as possible – so that I could send an email when the Greenlight page goes live. I had other things I wanted to do such as connect with people and be part of greater gamer/developer community, but those were secondary.
By the end of the festival, over 100 people left their email on my sign up list - and many said that they were willing to write a testimonial for the game!
- DIY booth - I put together this booth on a shoestring budget, but all in all I guess it worked out pretty well. In this picture you’ll see
- Rug - $20 on craigslist
- My younger daughter’s craft table (on loan). In truth this was a last minute add on when I realized there was no room left on the table when there were 4 monitors set up.
- Folding chairs borrowed from my dad
- Tablecloth (actually drapes)– $16 - from thrift shop
- 2 nice monitors - borrowed from work (with permission!)
- 2 good monitors - $12 each from thrift shop
- Lawn chairs from home
- Computers - $100 each (old as dust) x3 (my laptop made the 4th)
I also ended up buying some print transfer paper and ironed my own shirts (which actually seemed to work!).
Print paper - $20,
6 shirts - $24
Not bad considering the shirts were homemade...
There were also some other expenses such as parking and snacks but it's not worth going into fine detail. The bottom line is that I spent about $400 on the display itself - focusing most of the cash on additional computers for playing the game.
- There were 3 machines running the game all night – This worked beautiful. There was quite a lot of play on the game outside of core hours. I didn’t track this play but would occasionally walk by to see if I needed to reset anything – and there were often people happily at play! The fact that the machines were cheap (and huge) made it easy to walk away without too much concern.
- Added display features – I added in a couple of features to make the game more functional for being left alone for long stretches. Specifically:
- Created an “attract mode” that adds a small animation if the title screen is idle for a while.
- Made a script that would reset the game to the title screen if it was left idle too long. This ended up being a HUGE win. There was one game-freezing bug that would occur on the boss level. While I was there, I could simply restart the game – but it was great that it would reset itself at the points where I was away. Each morning I was pleasantly surprised that all three stations were still fully operational.
THINGS THAT COULD HAVE GONE BETTER
- Poor voice & energy management – By the end of day one I was already hoarse from talking to people and my voice was almost completely shot by the middle of the second day. I used throat lozenges and gargled with salt water but I could still barely talk the whole second half of the event.
In the future I will take extra precautions to ensure that my voice lasts. Next time I vow to:
- Introduce the players to the base mechanic with a cutscene that is completely visual – so it can be understood in a loud room (saving me the voice strain of explaining to each new user)
- Take breaks each couple hours to let my voice rest.
- Not enough speakers – Yeah… I brought one set that was loud enough and another that was too quiet and didn’t bring speakers for the other two units. I just ran out of time and never got out to buy more sets. I was fortunate enough to be set up next to @mommysBestGames, who lent me a set of speakers - They are the best!
- I should have tested the full setup at home! – When I tested the game on my new computers, they all ran reasonably fast – in the 45 to 60 fps range. But when I hooked everything up in the exhibit hall the frame rate dropped to about 12 frames a second. I panicked and stayed up all night making a build with no particles or special effects. I also made a full build with some of the display settings changed. As it turned out, when scaled to fit on the big monitors the program was using a setting that made the machines chug. Fixed but at a very high rate of anxiety.
- My organizational issues (and control issues?) made it difficult to accept help – My brother agreed to help me show the game which was a huge act of kindness. Unfortunately we never really got on the same page as to what form that would take. Having someone to come take over during core hours from time to time was a huge relief à but I was never sure when he was coming or how long he was planning to stay.
I think he would have appreciated more guidance from the beginning but I never seemed to get organized enough to functionally coordinate with him. Sorry bro!
It was also hard for me to leave the display area even when he was there to give me some respite. I’ve been working on the same thing for 2+ years - primarily in isolation - and this was my chance to connect with the gaming community and put my best foot forward… It was difficult to step away, even when I needed to.
- Should have figured out a plan of where I was staying each night – This is a pretty obvious thing to work out but… I was torn between staying at a buddy’s room there on the waterfront or driving the ½ hour home each night. Most of the nights I ended up driving home and it would have been better to go in know where I was going to lay down.
All in all it was a great experience and I learned a lot! I hope to keep refining and getting better at publicly showing my game... I mostly wanted to process some thoughts and get the ideas down before they faded - but I hope you were able to get something out of this. Thanks for reading!
Oh - and please vote for Interstellar Invaders on Steam Greenlight!