I attend a lot of events each year, of various sizes, mainly around the United Kingdom. Since moving to London, I have started attending even more events as there is always tons going on here. I also started branching out to more events generally around the United Kingdom, I seem to go to at least one event every month! Most of the larger events I attend, I do so as press in order to find new games to cover and to check out which games are being shown and selected.
At events, you do see some of the same faces – developers who show off their game whenever and wherever they can. Some, due to personal preference, are regulars to the same event, but more often than not, you will find a variety of new developers displaying their creations. Being witness to all of the different types of events, different developers, and vastly varying price tags on their booth prices, made me wonder more about being a developer who wants to showcase at an event. Sure, they seem like really fun things to do, but what impact do they actually have on the games? Therefore I figured, who better to ask than the developers who have shown their game at events?
Some events allow developers to set up their games for free, some even have a vetting process to make sure the quality of the games are high, while others simply allow developers to pay for a booth so that they can showcase at the event. A lot of these events are quite different in size, the type of people attending, and naturally vary in their location. Purchasing a booth, to me, seems like the most risky option of the three, so here is what developers had to say about the value of purchasing a booth:
Do you feel that purchasing a booth space at a big event has a good enough return for it to be worth it?
Jonathon Wilson, a game designer at Coatsink – the developers of Shu, Esper 2, and Augmented Empire, who has attended events such as EGX, MCM London, Pocket Gamer, and more, felt really positive about purchasing event spaces;
“Showcasing at events can lead to increased sales whether you are showing a game pre or post launch. This is because the more people you expose to your game the more likely you are to see a increase in sales. Purchasing space at a big consumer event like EGX is worth the investment as it puts your game and company in front of thousands of consumers that will provide brutally honest feedback. It will also help to identify the types of gamers that your game appear to appeal to the most.”
Gaining exposure and showing off your game to larger audiences is one of the main points of going to events. Being able to expose someone to your game in person along with a vivid display, will allow you to make more of an impact than seeing the game on the internet – it makes a personal connection to the game.
QuangDX, one half of the Asobi.Tech, is an expo veterian – showcasing their game MaoMao Castle, a mobile game where you play as a flying cat-dragon on a fantasy adventure to their castle, collecting rainbows and avoiding obstacles on the way, at over 24 events during development. He had some insight on budget consideration;
“Purchasing a booth will come down to your current budget, where you are in your game development cycle, and what you want to get out of the event. Currently MaoMao Castle isn’t quite finished yet, so getting it out to events, is purely for exposure. So for us, as indies with no budget, it doesn’t make sense to pay for a booth space yet.”
Jo Fu, half of the studio Pillow Fight has been touring cons like PAX East, TCAF, GameDevs of Color Expo, GaymerX3 and PlayNYC, to promote their upcoming game Ghosts of Miami. He wasn’t sure about paying for booths at events, as there are a multitude of unknown factors.
“Sometimes! We usually go to events to promote, and our sales never make up for the amount we spend on the table and on marketing materials. For a microindie like us, we try to find savings by staying with friends and applying for grants for our tables, but the bottom line is that we don’t know if these investments pay off in sales or exposure at the end of the day.”
Nyamakop, a Kenyan/South African independent games studio creating their first title, Semblance, raised a good point about booths that provide cheaper prices on showcasing your game;
“The hidden value of a small booth like the ‘minibooths’ Indie Megabooth offers, is that they’re all grouped together in a small area. This sounds awful, but actually it’s a massive advantage. All those other developers you’re grouped with have probably also scheduled press, which means there will be press coming right by your booth all days of the show. Once they’re done with your neighbours game, you should pitch them your own game, and try get them to play it! This process has netted us many an article on even large games outlets.”
These ‘minibooths’ can sometimes be quite a lot cheaper than a full booth, and provide free marketing through the other developers at the booth and the group running the booth as a whole. If you are looking to showcase at large events on a budget, it makes sense to look into these!
The director at Cardboard Sword – an indie studio creating The Siege and the Sand Fox, makes mention of games that may not be right for events.
“The ultimate goal is obviously to increase sales, but even with the high footfall events, there is no guarantee that this marketing tool is right for your game, or for your game right now. If you don’t release for another six months you’ll have faded from memory before launch. If your game is complex and/or slow to play, either visitors won’t be able to invest enough time to really ‘get’ the game, or those that do sit down and play will take a long time, making inefficient use of the event’s traffic.”
Taking the time to consider the type of game you have is something that any developer looking to showcase should think about. Longer, story based games are difficult to show off at events – so creating either a vertical slice, or having a shorter version of the game, is a good way to try and get your game across well to as many people as possible.
The general feeling seems to be that expensive events more often than not, don’t show a good turnaround of the investment. With that in mind, I figured free events would be a better way to go.
Do you feel that showing your game at free events are worth the effort?
Dan Silber, an indie developer who is working on a game called Interstellar Invaders and on the board of directors for the local IGDA chapter, is someone who has attended a handful of local events like The District Arcade, Betacade, Magfest, and more. He felt that free events were definitely worth the effort;
“Absolutely. I’ve found that showing at events has been invaluable. Watching how other people play gives unique insight on how new users interact with the game. There’s simply nothing as useful (nor humbling) as observing first-time players; especially if you can watch without giving instructions. […] I work alone and it’s often very difficult to tell whether I’m on the right track. Without a team it is very easy to become an echo chamber of doubt and it is good to get some external perspective. Getting to see the delight on someone’s face when they see a new mechanic is very rewarding – as well as reassuring.”
Getting both player feedback and reassurance that your game is going in the right direction can be a great motivator, especially when you don’t have to pay a big booth price to get that feedback.
“Showing our game at free events is definitely worth the effort. Your audience instantly grows and you can have people engaging with your game that you never thought about. When we designed Justice Royale we were looking at the 17-30 year olds demographic, however at some free events we would have 10 year olds playing like a pro and telling their parents that they wanted it! Free events are great like that, there’s a certain element of unpredictability that allows you to see your game in a way you may not have.”
Some free events that I have attended have attracted an entirely different crowd than gaming events that have a paid entry fee. I have seen more families and younger children attending free events, as larger families can go without having the cost barrier.
“Even the cheap/free events can be costly when you consider the travel and hotel (if the event isn’t local), equipment transport or rental, promotional materials (banners, swag, etc), and time involved. Showing at local free events is great for receiving feedback on your game, since the time and effort needed to set up is usually minimal. We also found a lot of value in the feedback from Let’s Play Gaming Expo. In that case, the booth cost wasn’t too expensive and travel was just a few hours driving, so we were able to bring our own equipment and booth setup.”
There are a lot of costs when it comes to getting to even free events, as well as having the necessary promotional materials, equipment, and the cost of your time. As someone who has only attended events, I had not considered in depth all of the cost that can add up to events even if they have free spaces.
Dave Cooper, the developer behind Blockships, “the illegitimate love child of Space Invaders and Tetris”, has attended 17 events in the last 18 months, showing up at a variety of conventions around the UK. Being at so many events, Dave is a face I recognize whenever I attend events. He has made loads of contacts in the industry and has won awards at various expos. He provided quite a bit of advice on getting into events for free and making the most of your stand;
“There are bunch of different game developer competitions you can enter to get yourself into free spots. Check out our promoter app that has a list of all the deadlines for competitions and event submissions. You will need to do your homework in terms of getting chosen and whether or not it’s worth paying to enter [the competitions]. You don’t want to just throw down 75 pounds without a better chance of winning. But even entering these competitions it’s a bit of a crapshoot there’s so many people enter them so you may be looking at 10 spots in hundred or thousand entries for some of these things so it’s certainly a lot of luck. […] Other than that one of the key things you’re gonna get out of this is you’re gonna get a lot of people playing your game so make sure you spend the money on getting your stand good and solid because if you want to get your value out of your money you’ve really got to attract people to your stand. Use big bright, bold posters, use things that attract people, use unusual activities, competitions, there’s plenty of resources out there for you read up on how to do a good stand.”
Free events seem to be more worth it, as long as they are the right free events. Events that don’t have a lot of foot traffic, or lots of hidden costs like not being local to you, require more consideration. Keep in mind that you would still need supplies and equipment, as well as food for the duration of the event.
What do you feel benefited you the most from showing your game off at an event and why?
Many developers felt feedback was the best thing they have gotten out of events.
“Definitely feedback. Not just player feedback, but internal as well. Seeing things that were and weren’t registering with the player. In fact, from my perspective, it started the ball rolling in my mind that I wasn’t 100% happy with the direction we were going. The whole process has brought about a massive amount of change to Tether for the better, and for that I am truly grateful.”
“I received invaluable feedback from an actual audience without ties to the project or the team, and thus it felt more honest than not. I did get a small boost in exposure as well, but nothing huge. Some of the feedback I received helped rebalance my game and make it a stronger title overall.”
Steve Sefchick, an indie developer working with Wimbus Studios on the game Island of Eternal Struggle – a super weird turn based JRPG in Steam Early Access, found that along with feedback, community was a huge gain in attending events.
“Definitely our biggest gain has been feedback and community. It’s great to meet new people who have an interest in games, and with a genre like ours, it’s very special to find those who have the interest in investing their time. We love it, and almost always have something on the books! (We’ve got two planned by end of year so far!)”
Feedback and player testing is indeed a really great thing to get out of going to an event. It really helps to have a wide audience of people test your game!
Benjamin Cole, the person behind the development company Pxlplz, has shown off Robo Puzzle Smash, a competitive puzzle game in the spirit of Puzzle Fighter or Dr. Mario, at a handful of events including Too Many Games, Boston Fig, and Game-A-Con. His gains for showing Puzzle Fighter off at events were apparently quite different;
“It’s a good opportunity to practice and refine the pitch for the game. I think feedback from real users in a rather less than controlled setting is pretty valuable (although I’m very careful of how I collect feedback now – it’s far too easy to get carried away with this, from past experience). I think the most valuable thing to get out of showing at conventions though is some solid deadlines. We plan on having features finished and polished for conventions and the con schedule gives us some hard deadlines to hit.”
Pitching your game is a skill that is vital in this industry and having the looming date of a con that you are going to be showcasing at is a great motivator when it comes to indie development! Both of these are really solid reasons to go to events.
Speaking to such a variety of developers, all with different experiences at events, I also got a few really wonderful words of advice that I want to share with you all.
Steven Harmon, an independent solo game dev who is currently working on a twin stick shooter called Ultra Dance Murder for Xbox One, has been to many events, both free and costly. He shared a tip on how to combat bugs at events;
“Make sure you can edit your game on the fly so you don’t have to witness someone fall into the same bug over and over and have to continuously intervene and apologize. Long time developers don’t do this and run into this problem a lot, but taking a minute to fix the problem doesn’t make you look unprofessional, people actually find it really cool to see the developer in their element.”
Fixing bugs right as they happen is a fantastic idea when it comes to showcasing at events. You will get better feedback that way, and having a fixed game will make the game, as a whole, go over better with the players.
“It’s important to give your players ways to engage with your game post-convention and not forget it exists. Make sure you have more than enough business cards, and consider setting up a mailing list (and actually using it), as well as having social media accounts you can point people to.”
I have been to so many events where developers haven’t had business cards or even the name of their Twitter to point me to. Without directing people to places where they can see you/your game outside of the expo, you will not be able to gain much outside the event.
Showcasing your game at events, big or small, is a decision that should be considered. Do take the time to prep for the event, and make sure you do your homework on the events you want to attend, so you get the most out of your time and money. Don’t forget to actively post on social media, research the hashtag associated with the specific event you are going too, and to enjoy the event as well!
Looking for more advice from developers? Check out other roundtable articles!