Guerilla PR at PAX East
Everyone at Ananse Productions is heads down working on Stem Stumper and we're finally starting to see the light. But it would be nice if people knew about the game when we release in Mid-April. So I armed myself with business cards, packed up our stickers and buttons and brought Ananse Productions to PAX East. Below are some thoughts on how our weekend went and what we've learned about trying to show our game to the 70,000+ people in attendance.
I'm normally not a very pushy person. But for Stem Stumper, Ananse Productions' first title, I honestly believe we're doing something that sets us apart from other mobile games. Stem Stumper is a blind accessible puzzle game designed for both the non-sighted and sighted.
This makes me confident that I'm not wasting your time when I talk to you about Stem Stumper. And remember that everyone at PAX East is excited about gaming in some way shape or form. Even if Stem Stumper isn't their cup of tea no one's going scream bloody murder if you politely introduce yourself and try to start a conversation about your game.
Demos are different from Betas!
We've been preparing to get a build of Stem Stumper out to remote testers. I've been worrying about things like tutorials, getting the levels to unlock in order and what to show on that final screen when you beat the game.
The problem is none of that matters on an expo floor. While its important to the overall timeline of getting Stem Stumper out the door, on the expo floor you have a very very short amount of time to show your game. Count out 10 seconds to yourself right now. It's a surprisingly large amount of time when people have 100 booths with long lines that they want to see. I needed to be obsessive about shortening our pitch, cutting every extraneous word, every advanced feature, every small fact that we wanted people to know about Stem Stumper. I practiced the pitch until it rolled off my tongue. And then, only when someone is deeply interested, did I introduce them to the advanced features.
If you can't shorten your sell that means your game's learning curve is too steep. We showed Stem Stumper at Made in MA, the PAX East pre-party that highlights games made in the New England Area. We still had some big usability issues that got in the way of people picking up Stem Stumper and playing it right away. While seeing everyone fumble over the same issue was disheartening, we had a clear point of attack for what needed to be fixed and had it addressed the next day. When we showed the game to people on the first day of PAX East Stem Stumper clicked with them right away.
Always Be Demoing
The great thing about working on a mobile game is that you can walk around the expo floor with an iPhone and headphones in hand and have people play it then and there. I walked up to everyone that had a yellow media pass and didn't seem like they were speeding to another booth.
While I did talk to ~100 press members over this entire weekend, I know I'll be lucky if 10 of them followup. But even if I don't hear from them again, we just got 100 people who've never seen Stem Stumper before giving us valuable information about our initial user experience. While I did use our quick spiel instead of our actual tutorials, we got a huge amount of people to help figure out what the most pressing issues with our controls are. So now we can make Stem Stumper even better for all of our players and for the 10 journalists that do followup.
Go to Panels!
The expo floor is great for meeting sheer amounts of people. But panels were our chance to meet people who are directly aligned with accessibility and diversity and gaming. Everyone in the room already has something in common which makes it easier to introduce myself.
Don't be afraid to ask questions! At a conference like PAX East, standing up in front of a packed room and asking an intelligent question is an easy way to set yourself apart. Even when I wasn't able to ask my question during the session, I would talk to the panelist afterwards. They're panelists because they're passionate about the session idea and in my humble experience always want to chat more about it.
The Press is Friendly but Busy
Last, but definitely not least, remember that the press are people too. At an event like this you're going to start running into people who's names sound eerily familiar. I made sure to tell myself the Stem Stumper and Ananse Productions aren't too small for their attention. They're at PAX East because they're excited about games and they want to make sure their readers find out about the good ones no matter who makes them.
However, I kept in mind that a lot journalists already worked out who they're talking to and what panels they're covering. Especially ones from from the bigger organizations like Kotaku, Gamespot, and Joystiq. Respect the fact that they're doing their job just like you are. But I was always ready to exchange cards so I could follow up with our press kit (you're never too small for a press kit!).
I wasn't picky about who I talked to. If they have a press pass, they belong to an organization that talks to gamers that we're never going to meet face to face. There's no way to tell on the floor whether they reach 10 or 10,000 people a month and frankly it doesn't matter at this point for Ananse Productions. Establishing relationships, getting people excited about Stem Stumper and honing my ability to quickly describe what stands out about Stem Stumper are things I can work on no matter who I'm talking to.
Monday was email madness day. I emailed everyone that gave me a card with our press kit and more information about Stem Stumper. For people who I remembered being especially excited about Stem Stumper I made sure to include couple of lines about our meeting. Remember, this person probably has a million stories from PAX East that they're trying to keep in their head at the same time. A friendly email reminder makes sure that we're still visible on their todo list.
It's too soon to see how much press Stem Stumper is going to get. But in my humble opinion all of PR comes down to establishing a relationship with your player base. Game journalists are an important part of that. Ananse has some other leads that we're following for media exposure but this weekend was an important step in getting everyone to know about Stem Stumper.
All external images used under fair use.
Clock ticking image from: http://campyellowfever.blogspot.com/
Learning curve image from: http://dementiagaming.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/learning-curve-of-eve-online/
Gleegarry Ross image from: http://www.michaelfruchter.com/blog/2009/02/abc-always-be-closing/
Image of hands raised from: http://vickicaruana.blogspot.com/2011/01/are-you-afraid-to-raise-your-hand.html
Overworked Journalist Image from: http://www.aspectuspr.com/blog/2011/02/churning-it-out-a-question-of-quality-content/