It wasn't something I was planning to do. Don't get me wrong, I wanted to do it, but from a financial stand point, it just wasn't going to happen. Up till then, I've only been exhibiting Demons with Shotguns, a fast paced local multiplayer arena game where you battle for the souls of your friends, at very small local NYC shows hosted by Playcrafting.
It's a little over one month before the show. I had just launched Demons with Shotguns on Steam Greenlight, which debuted strongly earning great numbers out of the gate. Of course, Greenlight traffic slowly started to plateau, which is to be expected. I needed to come up with ways to drive traffic to the page.
It's also little over two months till my wedding, and there was money in the wedding budget for a bachelor party. It suddenly hit me that I can do one of two things. Have your typical bachelor party or use the money for that to exhibit at PAX. I've had plenty of alcohol flooded nights out with friends in my lifetime. I've never exhibited at PAX before though. The choice was easy to make.
The goal of attending PAX was to raise awareness of the game with gamers and hopefully boost Greenlight traffic. I also wanted to meet other developers and start building relationships outside of Twitter.
With a new influx of money, I was able to cover the cost of a 10 x 10 booth and (most of) the require booth equipment and marketing materials. I only had a month to prepare for PAX East 2015. Thus began the mad dash to get everything in order.
Here's a breakdown of what I ended up needing to buy (in order of their expense as I can remember it).
- 10 x 10 booth
- Hotel for 3 nights
- 55" TV
- 286 miles worth of gas
- Free standing TV stand with adjustable height
- Parking permits for 4 days
- 4 Xbox 360 controllers, wired
- 2 vertical banners
- 500 business cards
- 500 flyers
- 6 t-shirts
- 2 banner stands
- Additional folding table
- Table cloth
- Foldable hand truck
- 6-pack hand sanitizer
- 3-pack Clorox sanitizing wipes
- Power strip
- Extension cord
- Additional HDMI cables
- 24-pack of water
- USB hub
The total cost of everything was around $3,500.
Here's a picture of the completed booth, in all its glory!
What Went Right?
The game was a huge hit. Everyone that played absolutely loved it. The most common question asked was "can I buy this now?" and I even had several people tell me this was the most fun game they played at PAX. There was always a group of people playing the game, and there were even lines being formed on several occasions. More then a few groups came back to the game over 5 times over the course of the show.
Being a local multiplayer game, I knew the importance of showcasing the game on a large TV so that passbyers would get a glimpse of the game in action and draw them in to watch and wait to play. Purchasing a 55" TV was a smart (albeit expensive) choice as the game definitely caught the eye of people walking by. A lot of booths had multiple TVs displaying the game propped high above for this purpose, while players played on smaller monitors. For a local multiplayer game, I felt this was unnecessary. A large enough single TV could serve both purposes.
Besides the game playing, the vertical banners also did an excellent job of drawing people in, featuring artwork from the amazingly talented Milan Jaram. The game's title alone seems to intrigue people, with tons of people just blurting it out and laughing as they walked by, but the artwork on the banners made people stop in their tracks and look. Many people even took a picture of it.
An average match in Demons with Shotguns only lasts about 5 minutes, which allowed more people to quickly jump in, play and hand the controller off to a new player. Of course, this didn't stop people from playing multiple rounds. In fact, I was really surprised by how many people came back to replay the game.
I was lucky enough to have been assigned a corner booth, which gave me a bit more room to play with. It was also at a high traffic area, exposing the game to more eyeballs.
The current goal with Demons with Shotguns is to feature 4 different environments, with 10 arenas each. Before PAX, 2 of the environments were completed (Cemetery and Hell). However, I really wanted to showcase one additional environment, the Metro arenas. Kyle Nunery, the game's artist, was just starting to work on the artwork for the Metro arenas as I decided to exhibit at PAX. This put us in a bit of a crunch to get at least one Metro arena completed for the show. Thankfully, Kyle was able to deliver his work a week before the show, which gave me ample time to put together a single arena.
I needed to decide on which game modes and arenas to showcase at PAX. This had to be a balanced decision, as I wanted to honest feedback about the game as a whole, but I also needed to give a great first impression of the game. Some game modes and arenas are more advanced, not something that'll be easily picked up by the first time player. I ultimately decided to showcase two game modes, Deathmatch and Capture the Soul (which is a variant on Capture the Flag), game modes that have very simple concepts that players would most likely already be familiar with and are easy to pick up. Deathmatch ended up being the most played game mode by far, probably because it's the most familiar concept to everyone.
Bringing my fiance along to help out ended up being the best decision I could have made, for reasons that I'll go into further detail in the What Went Wrong section. Point is, I couldn't imagine having to attempt exhibiting at PAX alone, especially given some special circumstances that arose.
A picture of my fiance running the booth. She did an amazing job, thank you so much Sarah!
What Went Wrong?
Word of advice: do not get food poisoning the night before you're scheduled to leave for PAX. Just don't do it. I did, and I was a hair away from not being able to go to the show at all. Thankfully, my fiance ended up being my saving grace as she took over the next morning, packed the car, drove us up there, and did the majority of the booth setup. Meanwhile, I was barely able to stand. Thankfully I came around a bit Friday morning, enough where I could stand at least, but my fiance ended up having to take over the booth for the most part. By the time the expo was closed that night, I felt like I was hit repeatedly with a sledgehammer. Saturday morning, I felt much better and was ready to rock and roll.
Not contacting press prior to the show and inviting them to check out the game. This was probably my biggest mistake. My stupid rationale was that the press list was going to be bombarded by all other developers and adding my small voice to the screaming crowd would have been fruitless. This was dumb to assume and I really had nothing to lose.
No SWAG. I simply couldn't afford anything else besides flyers to hand. This was a bummer, but I decided handing out flyers with QR codes and URLs to the Greenlight page was more important.
Game crashes. It was a rare occurrence, but it did happen. In my defense, it's actually a Unity issue and their multi-threaded rendering. Regardless, it was embarrassing to have the game crash, forcing me to restart the computer. Thankfully, players were very understanding and even willing to wait for the computer to restart so they could play again.
Not enough time networking with other developers. While my fiance did an amazing job handling the booth and instructing players, I couldn't leave her completely alone as there were instances when someone like a representative from Playstation came by to check out the game and she wouldn't have been able to answer the questions they had. I only got to chat with developers near my booth, for the most part.
I didn't have a newsletter sign up sheet. This was probably my second biggest mistake. So many people were enthusiastic about the game that I'm sure I could have filled up a few pages of email addresses. Instead I'm relying on the hope that people will be following the game on their own.
No tournament. This was a missed opportunity on my part. I should have organized a small tournament for players to help draw an even bigger crowd and buzz about the game.
Flat tire. I fought a Boston pot hole, and lost.
Did It Help Greenlight?
So the million dollar question, how did PAX affect my Greenlight numbers? I saw a bump in visits, votes, followers and comments, though the number of votes wasn't anything earth shattering.
I am very pleased with how many comments were left on the page, all very positive and encouraging.
Here are my current Greenlight numbers.
Overall, PAX East was a challenging, exhausting, yet positive and succesful experience. While the goal of exhibiting was to help the Greenlight campaign, I think the biggest takeaway was being able to watch countless players play your game all weekend. I learned a lot about their playing behavior and came back with a nice list of things that needed to be addressed.
About Demons with Shotguns
Demons with Shotguns is a fast paced local multiplayer arena platformer where you battle for the souls of your friends. Armed with a powerful shotgun, bullet deflecting shield and explosive holy water, 2-4 players will battle it out in multiple game modes, across multiple arenas, each with their own unique mechanics and hazards.
The making of Demons with Shotguns is also featured in Episodic Content by David L. Craddock, a serial e-zine that tells the stories of how games are made, the people who make them, and the culture that surrounds them.