I'm finally back home after 4 days in Kyoto attending my first Bitsummit. Bitsummit, for those who haven't heard, is a conference for indie game developers that has been held in Kyoto for the past two years. Spearheaded by James Mielke, the original Bitsummit was meant to showcase the indie game developers of Japan to the wider world. Because of the success of last year's event, the organizers decided 2014 would be bigger and to also accept foreign developers.
The decision to include foreign indies is a huge booon for for indie developers in the region, giving us access to Western press that would have otherwise been near to impossible. I would highly encourage any indie devs in the SEA region to put BitSummit on their calendars for next year. To help any prospective attendees next year, I wanted to jot down some notes on practical advice for attending Bitsummit or other events of this nature.
Keep an eye out for when Bitsummit 2015 is announced. I had the good fortune of learning about Bitsummit as soon as they announced the ads for 2014 and luckily there was also a seat sale on Cebu Pacific Airlines for the same dates, meaning my round trip ticket cost me about $140 dollars. Your airline of choice will differ, but buying earlier is almost always cheaper than buying closer to the date.
If you're flying into Kansai airport the most affordable and convenient way to get into Kyoto is to get the icoca + haruka package, which costs 4000 yen. This package gives you a round trip ticket on the airport express straight to Kyoto station at a pretty hefty discount (about 2000 Yen with the round trip ticket), but it also comes with an icoca card, which can be used on subways and trains around Kyoto. The icoca card comes pre loaded with 1500 yen and should be good enough for 2 to 3 round trip tickets on the subway, and it can also be used at convenience stores. Once you're done with it you can have it refunded at any JR station for 500 yen. That's enough for 5 onigiris, what sweet deal!
If you're flying into Tokyo via Narita there is a similar deal called the suica + N'ex for 5500 yen, or you can take a shuttle bus to Tokyo station for 900 yen. Going to Kyoto on the bullet train can be pretty expensive but you can take advantage of the purrato kodama ticket to save 1200 yen on your trip. There are a few disadvantages to the puratto Kodama, which are discussed further here. But generally speaking this is the cheapest way you're gonna get to try a bullet train.
Willer Express offers great deals on overnight bus trips to Kyoto, with a great selection of buses to fit all budgets. They range from 4000 yen for standard buses to 8000 yen for business class buses with lazy boy chairs. I took the business class bus once with my wife during our honeymoon and it was probably the most comfortable ride I've ever had on a bus. I'm notoriously bad at falling asleep on moving vehicles but I managed a few hours of sleep on this bus, and the bathroom on this bus would not have look out of place in a hotel.
Location, Location Location!
I know I'm gonna sound like an idiot for having to say this, but the best thing you can do when attending a conference is to pick an accommodation that's near where the conference is. Walking distance, if possible. Of course I tried that, but because I was so keen to save money on this none of the locations near the venue were quite cheap enough for me, and I foolishly picked a location that was both far from the venue but that also took a bike ride to get to the nearest subway station.
The airbnb machiya I got had free bikes and biking to the subway station took all of 5 minutes downhill. The station nearest to the venue was merely 5 stations away and a 10 minute walk from the station so that wasn't too bad. It was the trips back that killed me. After a night of drinking in izakayas I would stumble to my bike and have to slog uphill in temperatures that my body was not accustomed to. I also have bone spurs in my knees, which means if I put too much pressure on them fluid builds up and saturates the knee joint, making it very difficult for me to move. I could have solved all of this by just spending a few more dollars to get a better location. Your physical ailments may differ from mine, but you'll still be well served by trying to get a location that is just walking distance to the venue to save yourself the trouble.
Pre Summit Networking
Before even arriving at Bitsummit I was already on twitter scouring for people who were talking about bitsummit from last year. Any event will want to hype up the social networks before the actual event itself, so use this time to try to get to know people who attended before or are planning to attend. I already had the advantage of knowing a few people from my previous visit to Kyoto, but knowing more people is never a bad thing.
Twitter is an excellent way to do this, since it encourages open conversations. In the weeks before Bitsummit I would be searching for the use of the hashtag #bitsummit and replying or retweeting where I felt comfortable. It was in this way that I met people like @crowbeak, @winningblimp and @funktroniclabs. So when I finally met them it was like “oh you're @ryansumo!” Meeting strangers is always a tiring ordeal for me, so that small sense of familiarity can be really helpful.
Use this to your advantage when communicating with reporters as well! I noticed that a Verge reporter was going to be in bitsummit do I made sure to reach out to him on twitter with a message saying “hope to see you there and if not here’s a link to my project!” I eventually did find him on the show floor, but I'll talk about that later.
Figure Out What Your Goals Are
Knowing your goals helps you prepare and takes a lot of the stress out of actually being at the event. It also helps you to take stock later on whether or not the trip was successful and/or useful for you. Even though I bootstrapped the hell out of this trip that's still an expense I have to justify to myself (and if you're already incorporated, to your team). My goals for this BitSummit were very simple, to get some facetime with press and to let them know about Party Animals. Get feedback from fellow developers on the game's theme and presentation. By the second day I'd talked to a reporter from the Japan Times as well as the Verge, amongst other outlets. At this point the game is in such early development that I could not expect anyone to really write about it, but I'd at least planted ( I wanted to use incepted, but I don't know if that's a proper word yet) the idea of the game on their minds. Ideally this means that once the game actually has a demo out, any reporter I talked to would think "oh hey, that game I heard about at Bitsummit has a demo!" By the third day I'd still bring out my iPad and talk up the game if a reporter was within striking distance, but in my mind I'd done what I came to do and so I was very relaxed.
Printing Stuff Takes Time
You're going to want to print some brochures, business cards or posters to show off your game, especially if you've got a table or booth. Make sure to do this weeks in advance. I made the mistake of assuming business cards could be made on the spot and didn't realize that the better printing companies need at least a few days notice. For special cards, likes the ones with rounded corners, it can take more than a week and a half notice. I ended up going to Bitsummit with substandard business cards which did the trick, but did not look very professional.
Make sure to include QR codes with your printed materials, especially if the event is in a typically non-English speaking country. QR codes might seem dead in the US, but they still have value in countries like Japan, especially since it's so much easier to have someone scan a QR code and be taken to your game's page on the apstore rather than having them manually type out your game's name on their phone or iPad. Getting someone to download on the spot is pretty hard, so try to remove as many barriers to that as possible!
War ( and Bitsummit) Favors the Prepared
I've listed here a bunch of the preparations you can make for traveling to an event like Bitsummit. In the next part of this blog (Which I will try to get to in the next couple of days), I'll talk about my actual experiences during the summit and suggestions for things you can do during the event proper to maximize your experience.