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How to use live events to promote your game

For all the talent that small, independent game developers may possess, they're not typically so skilled in the art of marketing and self-promotion. Antichamber dev Alexander Bruce and Double Fine's Greg Rice offer some tips.
For all the talent that small, independent game developers may possess, they're not typically so skilled in the art of marketing and self-promotion. That's not the case for one-man Antichamber developer Alexander Bruce. The Australian has become known in game industry circles as one of the most effective marketers around. The proof is in the results: Released in January this year, Antichamber has sold over 100,000 units at its full $20 price tag. Bruce has yet to pull the trigger on any promotional discounts.

The one-man studio

How was he able to achieve that? Aside from Antimchamber simply being a good game with striking visuals, Bruce used the convention circuit to promote his game, playtest it and network with people who increased his chances of the game being a commercial success. Over the course of about three years of development, he brought the game to 15-20 conventions. At GDC 2013's Independent Games Summit, Bruce offered a few basic pointers to keep in mind when promoting your game: Develop your process: You need a plan -- and saying, "I'll sell a game on Steam and sell a lot of copies" isn't a "plan." There are plenty of case studies of commercially-successful games. Bruce researched those successes and emulated their strategies. This research can be done at live events -- talk to these developers and learn from them so you can form a better plan for success. "What happens when you put all this time into meeting people...[is] you'll have a network of people who can tell you what works and what doesn't," said Bruce. Bringing your game to a show might involve buying booth space. While a booth can offer advantages to drawing attention to your game, "Having a booth at an event isn't a guarantee of anything," he added. Instead of spending money on a big, flashy booth, Bruce relied on Antichamber's striking, unique visuals to draw attention from showgoers. The game was essentially designed to bring people in and pique their curiosity. "A booth gives people a reason to seek you out, instead of others seeking you out," he said. Bruce also stressed that if you rent booth space, it's a good idea to actually hang out at the booth and show your game to people (not every developer does this). Get reliable feedback: Live shows also allow the opportunity to watch people play your game -- watch how they play, how long they play it, their reactions to it. Take that feedback home with you and iterate, and do it all over again at the next show. Attain critical mass: A booth alone won't change your fortune. A small developer must take steps toward gaining a large audience. This involves "getting people to care about you and your game," Bruce said. "...[That's] a skill just like any other. Have a story, and think about what really makes you stand out. For Bruce, he was open about the mental and physical strife he endured while developing Antichamber. That resonated with the press more than the typical rundown of game features. Bruce made a conscious effort to develop relationships with the press and tastemakers, making himself "open, honest and readily available." His takeaway is that there is no magic bullet for success -- the ones who have found success had a plan and executed effectively. Stop and think your plan through.

The Double Fine perspective

Greg Rice, brand manager and producer on the Kickstarter-funded game Double Fine Adventure was also on hand to offer the perspective of how a larger studio takes advantage of live events. Rice offered his own tips: Choosing your venue: Think about what venue is right for your game. Is the event industry-facing, or consumer-facing? What kind of audience are you trying to attract? Does the timing of the event mesh with where you are in the development cycle? Crafting your demo: Carefully consider the content included in your demo, and its length. "Think about smart ways where you can show what makes your game special, in a short amount of time," said Rice. ...And make sure you bring the correct build to the show, Rice laughed. Running the show: When you're actually presenting in front of an audience at an event, there are some things to keep in mind: Keep a positive attitude. "Ultimately that'll make the person playing your game feel more comfortable when they see you're having a good time," Rice said. Practice your messaging. Rehearse how you'll present your game and demo while in front of a player. Practice talking about your game, while you play it. Provide a clear takeaway for players at the show. Make sure questions are answered, and that they know how to get more information, such as a website. "Be as creative as you are in your games with your marketing plan," Rice said.

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