I'm one of those "AAA to Indie" guys, and while I learned a lot while at the big publishers I've also gained the terrible habit of expecting a magical marketing department to take care of the project's marketing needs. One area where this really hits home is at conventions. I can't even begin to describe how great it feels to show your game, not some giant company's game that you work for, but the game that you conceived, created, and somehow acquired the good fortune to actually exhibit at a major convention such as PAX or E3. This past weekend in Las Vegas, PlayStation Experience marked the third expo this year that I exhibited our upcoming game “Source” and I thought I'd share what I've learned along the way.
Set Up Meetings With Press In Advance
Don't hope that you'll get press organically during the show. On days that I've had press scheduled we always had a lot more coverage and activity in the booth than on days that were scheduled lightly. It seems to be a little like the crowded restaurant effect: people are attracted to busy rooms. Plus, you're more likely to get more coverage organically as a side effect when other press members walk by and see you mid interview at a busy booth. It's that positive snowball effect. Of course, this can just as easily go the other way during periods of booth drought, so take advantage when your booth is busy.
Booth Layout And Signage
The more screens the better, period. We did best with one screen dedicated to looping our trailer video and two other screens with playable builds. This lead to a gathering of people watching the video and got them asking for more info about the game. After that crowd gathered from our trailer a natural line to play the game formed. All this attracted press walking by and got us a lot of organic coverage.
For signage, we made the mistake of showing our company name instead of the game as our top booth banner. As a result people wanted to play “Fenix Fire” (our company name) and were confused when they couldn't play it, especially since we have a comical 'fire chicken' mascot. Since then we have focused on showing one game at a time and dedicated all the signage, including the top booth banner, to that game.
The Art Of Playtesting
Once that moment finally happens when people pick up the controller to play your game, there's a lot of playtesting directions you can go. Some devs just like to observe, others like to guide them through a demo. What has given me the best results has been to give them one objective to do verbally if they walk up and ask "so what do I do in this game?" Otherwise I just let them rip without any direction, which has been valuable first hand focus testing. After a few minutes I usually walk up and ask what they think and if they're interested I point out all the details we've put into the game. For some reason, this has worked really well for us since we're doing a lot with graphics, particles and physics: gamers seem to really appreciate all the details. Lastly, I paint the picture on where the game is going as far as story, features, locations, etc to give them an understanding on the grand vision for the game. Obviously, I need to do this because our game is still in development.
What About Handouts?
I've tried everything from buttons to business cards, and I've learned that expo collectibles go a long way. Buttons are huge with gamers and last a lot longer than post cards, plus they're wearable. In the future I plan at looking at more items that play up the specific event collectability.
Remember To Be Friendly
It might sound like common sense, but you'd be surprised. Remember, it's a really small industry so it's in your best interest to treat everyone you meet with mutual respect.
A Word About Sony
Hands down, Sony's indie program has been nothing short of fantastic. A far cry from the closed greenlight committees of last gen, Sony has been there with us since GDC 2013 when I first pitched Source in a hotel lobby. Since then they have helped us with a loaner dev kit, two kiosks at E3 (next to Blizzard's Diablo 3), and now a private booth at Playstation Experience in Las Vegas. Everyone at Sony had been very supportive and I couldn't be more honored to make a game on a platform driven by such a dedicated group of professionals.
If you're curious, you can check out Source here. I also co host a podcast about game development called “Game Design Dojo”, and have an in depth account of our adventures at PAX East 2013 here. Happy developing!