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Postmortem of Anime Matsuri Expo

As an indie developer with your first commercial project, it is difficult to know what to expect and what to prepare for. This postmortem was a way for me to share with other indie developers my personal experience as a first time indie game exhibitor.

A first-time indie game exhibitor experience in a big expo.

I have done it, there is no going back now. We brought Rabbit Hole to show off at a convention for the first time: Anime Matsuri. Oh boy! I did not know what I was getting into.

As an indie developer with the first commercial project, It is difficult to know what to expect and what to prepare. There were so many little questions: what to bring? Where do I get those? How much to bring? What should you get from the guests? How to get traffic to your booth? Can I bring food? Is the table big enough? Can we setup extra chairs? How much should I spend? How about meals?  The list of questions just goes on and on.

This blog post is a way for me to reflect on the experience and share it with other fellow aspiring indie developers, or other creative individuals who want to share their works with the world. It is full of answers to the little things that you didn’t even know to ask. If you have never gone to an expo as an exhibitor, read on. Even if you are a seasoned exhibitor, I hope you will find something interesting and relatable.

Preparing the booth

To prepare for the booth, I started off with our good old friend, Google search. I looked at dozen of articles, listened to a few GDC speeches, and scanned through hundred of booth photos from PAX and other gaming events. There are lot of advice, and you can spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on the booth trying to follow all that advice. Who am I kidding? an indie guy like me can’t afford that.

When you are not sure what to do, the best option is to pick a goal, pick a budget, and then optimize for those goals. Since Rabbit Hole is still in development, my goals are just to get email addresses and build up a list of potential players/fans for the game, and all with a budget that is less than $600 for the entire booth. Here is a list of things that I bought, and why:

  1. A refurbished 30’ TV from Best buy ($90): I needed a large TV to show gameplay footage, and to let people play the demo. I couldn't bring my computer monitor, and the spare one I got is too small. Also, moving images and video help capture people attention as they walk by the booth.

  2. A 8’x’4 vertical banner with stand from Vista Print ($83): I feel that a portable large banner facing oncoming traffic is a good way to catch the eye of each passerby. The art is one of the biggest assets of Rabbit Hole, so it is important to be able to show it off.

  3. 500 business cards to Rabbit Hole website from Vista Print, with UV finish ($42). Again, not sure how effective they were, but it is nice to have something to give to those show interest, but did not want to sign up that very moment. A great way for them to find the game online, after the expo.. More about this in the “The Script” section.

  4. A 4’x’4 banner from Vista Print ($43): This was used as the table runner. The default table provided by the organizer is too ugly and it just looks bad without some branding.

  5. A Small T-shirt with Rabbit Hole artwork ($10): I just wanted a t-shirt.

  6. A 8’x4’ banner from Vista Print ($69): To use as the backdrop. Again, another great way to grab the attention of those walking by,

  7. A Studio PhotoShoot Stand and Backdrop support from Amazon ($32): I needed something to hang the backdrops.

  8. Clamps and Clip Holders from Amazon ($15): These are super useful. I speak of this in greater detail in the section: Things that went well.

  9. Black Linen tablecloth from Amazon ($8): Super cheap, work greats due to the dark theme of Rabbit Hole.

  10. Props and miscellaneous from Michael Craft store ($130): The whole booth needs to have a theme that ties them all together, so I went shopping: sketchbooks, blackboards, prop trees and greeneries, bookstands, lantern, table lights, power cord, rotating display stand…

Here is how the booth looks after we put everything together, the bunny girl not included:

Not too shabby, and at around $550, the whole thing comes in a little bit under my targeted budget. The only thing that I would change is that I would have bought extra black linen to cover the whole booth. They are super inexpensive, and the red/white default color of the provided booth looks so weird.

The script, the script, and the script

Thank god for the scripts. If you are not a natural extrovert that becomes energized by talking to hundreds of strangers, you need a script. I’m glad that I put some time in before the event and thought about the script and it totally paid off. What is a script you may ask?

Simple. The script is the steps of events that you want your guests to go through to accomplish your goals. I’m very introvert, having a script helps so much because it makes everything repeatable and comfortable. My goal, as stated above, is to gather as many email addresses of potentials fans and players as possible. This was my script:

  1. Identify and approaching interested guests: If anyone looks at the banner for more than 4 seconds, or pointing at the booth, or carrying/wearing something that indicates that they are an RPG gamer, I would approach and ask if they would like to know more. 90% of the time, they will say yes. If they hesitate, just say “No problem! Enjoy your convention” and leave them alone.

  2. Give them the pitch: After they said yes, I would quickly and excitedly (as much as I could) give them the elevator pitch and the story. My elevator pitch and story was 3 sentences.

  3. Give them the artbook: I would quickly hand them the artbook, and ask them to just flip around while I give them 2 more sentences explaining the art direction and the platform the game will be available on. I would make a comment about a couple of my favorite piece of art in the artbook.

  4. Most of the guests will want to end the encounter after your pitch: After this point, most of the guest will want to just take a business card and leave, a few of them will ask a couple simple questions, and a few will want to play the demo.

  5. Draw a Rabbit: If they want to just take a card and leave, I would tell them that we have a “Draw A rabbit” event. It’s free to enter, they don’t have to draw well, and we will give 30 free copies of the game to 30 random drawings by the end of the convention. Majority of the time, the guest will say yes. View the winners of that Rabbit Contest here.

  1. If the guest wants to draw, I would give them paper pad and pencil, have them sit on the chair and ask them to draw and write down their emails. I also ask if they would like to be updated when the game come out. Everyone says yes.

  2. Collect Email: I would ask if it is okay to send them email update about the game and for their email. 90% of them would say yes.

  3. Finally, I would hand them a business card for the game before they leave the booth.

I improvised here and there but stuck with most of this script in every encounter. Even if you are a natural at talking to people and really good at improvising during conversations, you should still have an outline of steps that you want the guests to take.

This is even more important if you have other people helping run the booth. I found that by just telling my wife and sister to copy what I was doing, they were able to run the booth effectively without any additional directions at all. This is especially impressive since my wife is not a gamer and really doesn’t know anything about video games.

Things that went well

  • The script. See above.

  • My wife and my sister come to help and that made everything so much easier. I will never consider running a booth alone again.

  • The art in Rabbit Hole is pretty unique and caught a lot of attention.

  • I learned so many useful noggins, and it is super motivating to see that people are really responding well to the game.

  • Draw A rabbit is a huge success. I got about  300 drawing! That is like a rabbit every 4 minute! It also kept guests at the booth longer, and crowds attract more crowds.

  • Soylent: they are meal replacement drinks. I wasted no time for lunch, these are awesome as fuel for running the booths.

  • This was on Easter Weekend, so my Rabbit Booth got extra attention!

  • Location was good. It is not a crazy prime location or anything, but we were not tucked in a back. One of the entrance was right in front of our booth, so we got decent traffic.

  • I also watch some anime and read manga, so I got stuff to talk to our guests who are mostly anime fan

  • The neighbor booths are pretty great. They drew a good amount of traffic, and some spill over to us.

Things that did not go well

  • I underestimated how physically draining it was. My legs were dead after the first day. After the 3rd day, my throat also hurt.

  • Mentally, I was also drained. Talking to hundreds and hundreds of people for 3 days straight is not my idea of a good time. If you are an introvert, get prepared, and plan some alone time during the event. Get someone to run the booth for you so you can take breaks.

  • We ran out of papers for “Draw A Rabbit” and had to have people draw on the other side of the page. Not good.

  • I was planning to use the TV again, but the power cord got damaged during transportation. I only spent $90 on it. Still, that sucked.

Things you need to know

  • Lighting: depending on the location, your booth may not be well lit. Make sure to get lights. It’s also great to attract people. We got a lantern and table lights.

  • Power outlet: bring at least 2. I only bought 1, and the power supply was not long enough to reach some sections of my booth. I had to borrow one from the organizer.

  • Bring extra chairs: I didn’t think of this but my wife suggested that we bring extra chairs. It turned out to be a great idea because sometimes you just get people to sit and relax on one of the chairs. That makes the booth seem busier. More attention!

  • I didn’t think of this, but most people have terrible handwriting and it is hard to read their email. Make sure if you have people writing down your email, double check if you can read it. In retrospect, I should have spent more time in a better system of gathering email and have a dedicated station for people to type in emails.

  • Bring clamps and clip ties. They are so useful in so many little things. I even use a clamp to balance my falling vertical banner.

  • You definitely need a dolly or a wagon of some sort. I can’t imagine carrying everything from the parking spot to the booth without a wagon.

  • Most people don’t care about the details of your game. They just need to know: genres, platforms, when it come out. They can get the rest from seeing the gameplay or playing the demo. I spent a bit more time in the art direction, but I think it didn’t matter much in the end.

  • If music is important to your game, bring a headset. It is always so loud.

  • Also, bring tissue and hand sanitizer to clean the controller and the headset. Some people wouldn’t touch the controller if they didn’t put sanitizer on it.

  • Don’t run a booth alone. Get help, use the script, and take breaks. Walk around the convention and talk to other vendor/exhibitors. I ran into some really cool people that I plan to keep in my network of contacts.

Other random stuff

  • A fan of my older flash games (Ge.Ne.Sis) sent someone over to say hi. It was super cool. I also met someone who recognized the main character in Rabbit Hole and asked if I made Ge.Ne.Sis 7 years ago. Crazy stuff.

  • I met these guys who came all the way from Tokyo for the expo. Their comic book app is actually very nice, and the owner of the booth is super nice. You should definitely check them out and give them some supports: link here.

  • I found these Turtle Tee people and they were collecting emails by just handing out these business cards and have people writing down emails for random prizes. It is a good ideal, maybe I will steal this idea for the next expo.

So, was it worth it?

There were ups and downs, but it is totally worth it. The experience of running the actual booth is indispensable, and our email list grew by a whopping 350. I suspect some of the guests will unsubscribe later because people are just terrible at saying “No” face to face. However, we found some true fans and most of the list should remain intact. More importantly, I have a new story to tell, an experience to share, and a renewed motivation to complete the project.

Thank you for reading. If you are a creative individual who wants to show off your work to the world one day, I hope this blog was somewhat useful. Got any questions or comments, I can be reached at pretty much all these social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Discord!

Follow our progress with Rabbit Hole on my studio website:

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