PAX Prime 2015 was the first time that Skybox Labs has been at any conference, and it was a real learning experience for us. While titles we’ve worked on have been shown by other publishers, Lethal Tactics was our first time representing ourselves at an exhibition. It was a fantastic experience for us, and not only did we learn a lot about showing a title at a convention, we learned a lot about how people perceive our game and what really resonates with players. It was an awesome opportunity to engage with the community and we had a great time.
There are some fantastic posts already on Gamasutra about devs’ time preparing for and presenting at PAX and similar exhibitions. Our experience was similar, so I don’t want to rehash the same aspects. Instead, I’d like to share with you the key things we learned at the conference and hopefully if any of you get a chance to exhibit at PAX or other conventions, you can learn from us.
That was our booth just before day 1.
Here are some of the key things we learned from our booth layout:
- Bright, Visible Banner - Our banner was quite dark and once the lights were dimmed in the hall it didn’t pop out very well. Some of the more noticeable booths had brought lighting to highlight their banners. Be sure to find ways to bring some extra life to the title of your game.
- Demo Station Placement - As seen in the photo, we originally had our demo stations pushed all the way to the back of the booth so that people had more room to walk around in the booth space. What we found was that people were very hesitant to walk into our booth space at all, though. This presented a pretty big problem because it was hard to see the gameplay on the demo stations without entering the booth. On day 2, we moved the demo table to the front of the booth. This made a HUGE difference in the number of people that sat down to play the game. Plus, people that were casually walking by could now easily see what was going on and so would stop to watch the gameplay and ask questions. Pushing our demo stations to the fore of the booth successfully caught people’s attention and got a number of them playing the game, even causing a lineup to form.
- Live Presentation - We very quickly learned that gameplay is more important than attract videos. We originally had a big TV in the back of the booth playing a loop of our trailer video and a selection of attract videos. After successfully gaining more demo players on Day 2, we changed the TV to broadcast their gameplay. At PAX, when you’re fighting for ten seconds of attention, gameplay is king. Watching other users play the game was more effective than marketing videos: highlighting how users were playing the game in a real world way, even if they were terrible at it, attracted way more attention than any trailer video could. Gameplay cuts through the noise at PAX.
This was the handout card that we had printed.
We were concerned that we would have a hard time getting people to come to our booth to check out the game, so we printed these cards with the intention of handing them out at the entrance, driving people to our booth. What we found was that most people took a card and put it in their bag without even looking at it. Not quite what we were hoping for.
However, after playing our demo people wanted a way to remember the game when they got home, so we started using these cards as reminder cards/information cards. Notice how the cards have almost no information about the game? Don’t do this :) In hindsight, adding screenshots, feature lists, quick synopsis, etc. would have provided an easy way for players to learn more about the game and where to find it when they reviewed their loot bags at the end of the convention.
Talking to people
Be outgoing, but leave people alone.
When you don’t have a well known game most of your audience will be people casually walking by your booth who happen to stop for a moment to check it out. Note the above lessons: it is key to have an eye catching, attention grabbing way to draw these people to your booth.
At first we interacted with these people right away, telling them about the game, seeing if they had any interest in playing the demo, offering to answer questions, etc. But we quickly realized this approach seemed to overwhelm our audience and scare them off. Instead, we started giving people a chance to just hang out and watch the game, allowing them to warm up and get interested, at which point they would come to us for a chat. The lesson: like most devs, we are part of the community not salesmen. Give people space and let the game speak for itself, when they’re interested people will come to you.
I’ve been to PAX three times in the past, but this was my first time as an exhibitor. When you go to PAX as a regular attendee there’s this awesome energy because everyone’s caught up in having fun and celebrating being a gamer. As an exhibitor, being on the receiving end of some of that positive energy is an amazing experience.
When you’re working a booth at PAX, despite being totally exhausted you’re energized by everyone else’s enthusiasm. When people are excited about what you’re working on it’s a great feeling, and whether they liked your game or not everyone has great feedback, it’s a very positive, inspiring vibe.
If you get a chance to exhbit at PAX, I hope you have the same experience. Hopefully you can learn from us and our lessons will help you be that much more prepared and ready to capitalize on the opportunity. No matter what, though, as a first time exhibitor there’s always new and exciting mistakes to be made: we worked long hours, we made mistakes we had to learn from on the fly, we were totally drained and exhausted and it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had as a gamer and as a developer.