7 MIN READ
Guerrilla marketing at E3 without a booth – does it work!?
Our new game, Oh, Deer! Alpha, came out during E3. We didn't want to get snowed under, so we took the game To The People and showed it round to folks at E3, without a booth. How did we do!?
Our new game, Oh, Deer! Alpha (so-named because it's an alpha version of a game we mean to finish), had the misfortune of coming out during E3. We're a small independent company, and E3 is a crazy time for just about anybody, let alone a small 49 cent title that could easily get lost in the shuffle.
Because we knew E3 was going to dominate the discussion for the next week, we decided to try some guerrilla marketing at E3 itself. I recruited Kevin Slackie, a writer for coin-op.tv, to go round the convention center and make people play our game. Since Oh, Deer! Alpha is a PlayStation Mobile game, it's easy to bring a Vita around to show people, and at certain E3 chokepoints you've got a captive audience. So how well did this work for us!?
The precedent and the plan
But first! A little backstory. Oh, Deer! Alpha is a driving game, Outrun 2-style, with a heavy emphasis on drifting. The hook, aside from tight controls, is that the aim is to hit or avoid as many deer as possible on your way to grandma's house. We have Motohiro Kawashima of Streets of Rage 3 fame on sound, so we felt we had a couple interesting tidbits with which to grab people. Plus, I'd done a bit of this sort of thing casually before.
In past E3s, with our other game Gunsport, I'd bring it round to E3 afterparties on a laptop with 4 controllers in my bag. There, I'd get industry luminaries to play it, taking notes, and documenting the experience. I found that since most of them were in meetings all day, they hadn't gotten a chance to play many actual games, so this was a welcome surprise for most of them.
This time, Gunsport was at an Amazon party, the MIX, and in the Indiecade booth on the show floor for a little while, so that was covered. But I took the key learning from showing Gunsport into this new venture – essentially, I told Kevin to go for bored people, as I'd done with Gunsport in the past. For the E3 show floor, that means people in long lines. They're just standing there, they're bored, and they want to be playing a video game. They're the perfect folks to show your game to. Now, let's dig in to some stats.
• About 15% of the people Kevin asked to play the game decided not to for various reasons ranging from not enough time to being bad at that genre.
• Unfortunately 70% of the non-media that Kevin approached didn't have a Vita, but all media had access to one.
• People had far more difficulty learning button controls, with all of them preferring the slightly easier stick controls
• Honestly no one got weirded out by the game, with even people who said no being eventually intrigued by it. It's easy to sell a game to people who go to a place specifically to be sold on a game (well, besides swag hunters).
• Most of the comments were about the graphical style being close to the Genesis or even Neo Geo, and many wished to see the different assets promised in the final release.
• Of the journalists who played, five gave business cards (four to Kevin, one to Brandon), and one covered the game during E3, in a video that got more than 44,000 views.
• Best places to talk to people: Lines, hotel lobbies.
• Worst places to talk to people: Hallways, Media Hospitality Room (unfortunately – we hoped this would be a gold mine).
• Getting famous video game luminaries to play is a general PR win (unsurprisingly).
Originally I had wanted someone to go round in a doomsday prophet outfit, with a sign saying “the end (of PSM) is near,” since Oh, Deer! Alpha is the last PSM game. People could then play on a Vita tethered to this person's midsection. But that was a lot of work, and I was worried we'd get kicked out. Plus, stupid ideas like that don't always work out to be as funny as you'd hope, and might offend someone.
So in the end, I just got Kevin to walk round like a normal human with a Vita, targeting press especially, and whoever was in line for something amusing. I gave him a Vita during the 2nd half of the 2nd day of E3, meaning he had about a day and a half in which to show the game off. We couldn't do it any sooner, because the game had only come out earlier that day! He also brought over-ear headphones so people could hear the music, and a lanyard, so it wouldn't get lost. In the end, there was no damage to any of our devices – preparation is a good thing!
I, meanwhile, had to go to a bunch of meetings, primarily, but showed the game to people I met along the way, targeting notable folks with whom I already had some rapport. This resulted in an amusing interaction with Castlevania director Koji Igarashi.
Likewise, Cliff Bleszinski asked for a code, which honestly I love. It doesn't matter whether you've got a Lamborghini in your garage, free stuff is still exciting. That code is coming, Cliff! I also made some folks play the game at the MIX, since I already had a booth there.
While you might think Guerrilla marketing would only be effective at smaller more intimate events like Indiecade, its definitely a quality over quantity atmosphere. With E3 growing larger and larger every year, so too do the lines and the waits that inch people toward their familiar distractions in a place you expect to find something new. Of the couple dozen people who decided to give it a try, many were journalists that were in the best state to show a game to: boredom.
Hardly anyone said “no” to me when I pulled out a Vita and a sales pitch, save for a few swag hunters and some people claiming to not have the system. Other developers were particularly interested and some even offered feedback. Easy controls seemed to win the day as people had an easier time flicking the joystick back and to accelerate and drift as opposed to button controls, even though the difficulty difference was minor at best. Everyone I showed this to seemed interested at first, and people only decided to check out of the conversation at either the genre or system if they did so at all. People would light up as they started to understand the game with many asking to try again and again to get a better score. Even people who professed to be bad at racers seemed eager to try their luck.
This felt like a fun and more personable way to market games. While I had a base pitch, I could change it based on how the person played or their interest in the game. I also felt like I was given more time than I ever have from a faceless email because there was an actual physical person they'd have to say no to. There were some areas no one seemed interested in the game, like the Media Hospitality room or in between the halls, but anyone standing in line was fair game.
Guerrillas in the Midst
In all, we got a few dozen people to play the game – hard to ask for more when you don't have a booth – and got a bit of press coverage, and generated a fair amount of free goodwill. I would call the experiment a resounding success.
As Kevin says, “If properly prepared I feel like anyone could easily benefit from this type of marketing, not just at E3 but at any convention you can attend, if for nothing else but the sight of someone enjoying your game.”
And that's really it. While this was pretty successful for us, even if it hadn't been, just watching people play your game with a smile on their face is fantastic as a small developer. Speaking of which, we've put up a forum in order to get feedback from folks who have played, to inform future versions. But really, just knowing people are able to understand what you were trying to do is golden.