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Punching above your weight at PAX Australia!

Deciding which industry shows to attend can be a tricky, stressful task for developers. We’ve been there - literally and figuratively - and want to help others from our experience.

Deciding which industry shows to attend can be a tricky, stressful task for developers. We’ve been there - literally and figuratively - and want to help others from our experience.

We are Considerable Content, the Melbourne-based developers behind Rogue Singularity. We have attended many regional events, including PAX Australia, The Arcade Open Day, and GX Australia. Today we’re running through how we chose to attend PAX Australia 2016, and how we make the most of showing our games at consumer shows like PAX Australia. Buckle up!


Image: Our stand at PAX Australia 2016 - Photo Credit PCWorld

What is PAX Australia?

PAX Australia is a three-day extravaganza to celebrate gaming and pop culture, held annually at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. Now in its fourth year, PAX Australia is still the only Penny Arcade Expo event outside of the United States – which is a testament to Australia's growing reputation among game developers and consumers.

Debuting in 2013, PAX Australia started in little more than a cattle shed at the Melbourne showgrounds. It was in the middle of winter, miserably cold, and rained so hard people wondered if they would take the show away. Despite the challenges of the venue and season, there was still an amazing turnout in 2013, and the event continued on. It is now a great event for consumers, and offers a lot of opportunity for the right game developers as well. 

For Australian game developers, PAX Aus coming to our shores offered the largest new opportunity to demo games to general consumers. Our regular IGDA Melbourne meetups are amazing, but we all needed more opportunities to get feedback that wasn’t from other game devs. Voila, PAX Australia!

We (the Considerable Content team) have previously shown at PAX Australia in 2013, 2014 and 2015, and recently had our most successful showing at PAX Australia 2016.

How do you evaluate the worth of going to industry shows?

First things first - Australia is far away from many of the largest game development hubs in the world. 

We don’t have a lot of domestic shows to choose from, making it tougher to fairly evaluate the benefits of PAX Australia for a domestic dev vs. international dev. But let’s break it down.

When you’re looking at showing at a game event, you must know what your goals are. Without goals, you don’t have the data you need to reflect on what went well, and what could go better next time. 

Your goals for showing at an event like PAX Aus may include:

  • Get more confident and natural at pitching your game to consumers, media and colleagues
  • Get more qualitative and quantitative feedback from consumers (beyond your friends and/or other game devs!)
  • Gain media coverage
  • Drive support for a new Kickstarter or crowdfunding campaign
  • Trying to find a suitable publisher for your title
  • Sell copies of your released game(s) and/or merchandise
  • Celebrate your progress, release, or just share your game baby with the public!

In our opinion, PAX Aus is a great show for some, but not all of these goals.

All shows that our team has attended have been valuable. But all have been helpful for different reasons, and we want to stress that we don’t recommend developers see one single public event to be ‘make or break’ for their title. Your mileage may vary with our pros and cons lists, but this is how we evaluate making the choice to show at PAX Australia.


Image: Our demo space at the stand of our console publisher, Nnooo at GX Australia 2016

Why we love PAX Australia as developers:

  • Newbie-friendly! PAX Aus an amazing show to get used to talking about (and demoing) your game with the public. The attendee numbers, the noise, and the intensity are easier for newcomers than the American PAX events. While it’s a huge consumer show by Australian standards, PAX East or similar shows are much larger and overwhelming.
     
  • Hometown advantage. As Aussie developers, we love having a big show local to us. It helps savings on renting equipment, transport fees, accommodation and more. You also start with your community already around you, so there are friends and colleagues to help support you (and go on coffee runs!).
     
  • Super indie-friendly show. Every year, PAX Aus seems to expand the area they put aside for their indie showcase and smaller developers. The general public are also really interested and positive about indie games. Australia has a reputation for quirky, colourful indie games - and it shows in the calibre of talent on display every year at PAX Aus.
     
  • Access to the public. PAX Aus and similar shows are all about connecting with the public for us. Being on a show floor like at PAX Aus constantly brings you into contact with new people who don’t know you, and don’t know your game. It’s daunting, but an amazing opportunity to see what clicks and what doesn’t. Take careful note of what the public are remembering or taking away from the experience of trying your game.

Limitations at PAX Aus:

  • Not a huge opportunity for media coverage. Australia only has a small content creator community (thanks, terrible internet speeds!) and a small domestic media presence. PAX Aus also doesn’t attract a huge collection of international media, but that is slowly improving.
     
  • Australian consumers may only represent 5% of any internationally released game player population. Aussie consumers spend a lot and love games, but we’re still a small national population. We don’t recommend making huge design or content choices based only on Australian playtesters!
     
  • Pretty costly. The cost of living in Melbourne is high, the AUD is a robust currency, and booths at PAX Australia are quite expensive. Some local developers choose to fly their game and team to PAX East or a similar U.S. event as they see it as a better ROI in terms of financial cost and media presence.

What went well and what went badly in our previous showings at PAX Aus?

Unfortunately putting an unfinished product in front of strangers can bring out bugs and other irregularities you never noticed. Sometimes they can be totally obvious and you will wonder how you missed them. It can be hard to see a player fail multiple times on a bug that shouldn’t be in the game. Most recently we had a menu with a broken exit bug. Although we thought players would never look at that menu, one afternoon every player who came past the booth would accidentally get stuck. More than anything else, it can be embarrassing. 

PAX Australia is a good opportunity to build up contacts with people in the larger gaming community. Through shows like PAX Australia and Games Connect Asia Pacific we were introduced to our publishers Nnooo, and it was through showing our game that we were able to forge relationships. You will also find that operatives from many different outlets including Steam or Sony may be on the show floor in plain clothes. If you are friendly and have something interesting to show, in our experience they will always be interested in keeping in touch.

Bad: Bugs. Sometimes you will discover a bug you didn’t know existed and it can affect every play session. It can be hard to see a player fail because of a bug you left in the game. 

Good: It’s very satisfying to see someone (a stranger!) enjoy and really understand your product.


Image: Our Rogue Singularity Pinny Arcade design for PAX Australia 2016!

How do you prepare in advance of PAX Australia or any tradeshow?

  • Don't develop up to the last second
    Its unlikely that any feature you put in the day before a show will substantially change the experience. Try and keep the most stable build ready for people to play and observe. If you break your build trying to add something at the last minute, you will be extreeeemely stressed.
     
  • Make a good tutorial/demo experience
    Try and start the player somewhere that is not too bewildering. Or choose some area of the game that is simple and fun. Remember, mechanics and control schemes that are second nature to you may be very alien to some players. Playing on a show floor is also a bit different to sitting down for a 5 hour play session at home. Take careful note of your difficulty curve, and give players a real taste of how the overall game will feel to play.
     
  • Release something significant about your game before the show
    We like to be celebrating a milestone on the show floor, not trying to get eyeballs before releasing something, or in the week following a show. There is no strong reason to release a trailer, demo or even an early access campaign right when PAX Australia starts - we always release before. This gives some people a chance to look at your game before they arrive, or even make the purchase or taking an action as soon as they have played the demo. Try to bring out important elements before PAX begins. You won’t have time to fix anything or deal with a crisis during a show like PAX Australia, so we don’t recommend trying anything too challenging while you’re also on a show floor.
     
  • Sleep and general wellbeing
    Showing a title is stressful, exhilarating, and very deeply tiring. Try to make sure your team has been sleeping well, taking breaks from demo preparation, and taking time away from games altogether before you jump into the chaos of demoing at a show like PAX Australia. Make sure for at least a week before showing, you are looking after yourselves and eating a decent diet - and take a quiet, non-games-related day off after the show to try and recuperate.

What is the biggest misconception devs have about PAX Australia?

The biggest misconception we see from developers is that a single show will be a huge boost to their popularity, or their bottom line. Ultimately, shows present an opportunity to interface with the community - consumers and fellow developers alike. These new relationships can be an awesome boost and give you great feedback and leads, but you need to nurture your consumer and colleague relationships over time after the event. Your booth visitors at a single consumer show can’t single handedly deliver you huge overnight success. Marketing and audience building is more than a single show - don’t expect one show at PAX Aus (or any other event!) to pay for itself with endless sales, or expect thousands of people to come running to your booth. 

“Build it and they will come” is a phrase that doesn’t apply to video games, and it doesn’t apply to consumer game shows either. You want to be approachable, engaged and work with people (and the show itself) to try and improve your game and your player experience, and provide a good experience for everyone that comes in contact with you.

How do you staff a booth?

Bring Help!
In our first year at a consumer show, the two of us at Considerable Content tried to run a booth alone. It was so exhausting that we felt like collapsing. My recommendation is to bring helpers. Please bring (and train) people familiar with your work, so they can be there to let you take the weight off your feet. This is a big advantage to showing at local events like PAX Aus, where we have friends, family and colleagues who can assist us with this.

We staff our booths by purchasing extra exhibitor passes for all our helpers. At PAX Aus, these are three day passes - so after our booth staff have finished a shift on the booth they are free to go to the show. This is a nice thank-you if you know the volunteer helping you, and they will be very worth the small investment. Just make sure they genuinely enjoy chatting with strangers about games they care about, and know how to describe the title and run someone through the demo if required.

How do you try and make impact on a show floor like PAX Australia?

  • Gameplay video
    In our first year showing at PAX Aus, we had no pre-recorded video of people playing the game. As a consequence players would find the worst-looking, most unfinished, glitchy areas in the game and run at them continuously for hours. We were able to significantly improve this issue by putting up some footage up for people to watch. It helped some who were stuck if we weren’t able to speak with them, but it also educated members of the public who only wanted to watch, and didn’t want to physically play.
     
  • Make it easy to stay in touch!
    Its cheap to make a business card with your information on it (Check out Moo cards!). Exhibitors and consumers see a huge number of games while they’re at a show, and many want a reminder to take away. Large fliers may seem great, but are often thrown out and become unwieldy and crumpled. But at the end of a convention, a small card is something to remind players of the game and hopefully direct them to a website, sign up to a mailing list or get more information. Offer them a small physical reminder to check out your game once they’re back home.
     
  • Be approachable
    Don’t sit down. This is probably the hardest one (because shows are very tiring) but you want to look as approachable and friendly as possible. If in doubt, smile and tidy any sprawled cards or crooked devices on your show table to keep it looking inviting. Someone slouched over in a chair looking tired and grumpy (which, let’s be honest is perfectly fair for how you'll feel) doesn’t make us developers look inviting to approach. Some consumers are very confident and comfortable coming up to check out your demo, others will be shy and we want to make them feel as welcome as possible without being overbearing. Avoid checking your phone too much, as it can make us look bored or inattentive. Try to save phone checks for bathroom breaks, meal breaks etc, and if you are 100% in struggle town, ask a friend or colleague to cover you so you can get some fresh air and come back in a better mood.

 

What should be in a ‘PAX Australia survival pack’?

  • HAND SANITIZER - Just trust me
    Also, gentle cleaning wipes. While most people are lovely and clean, we have had trouble with people touching our equipment with gross hands. Including one controller we wanted to kill with fire. Such is the danger of letting the public touch your stuff.
     
  • Pack water
    Pack more water than you think you’ll need. Convention halls are quite dry places, and you’ll be on your feet talking a lot. If you bring way too many bottles of water, you can show kindness to your booth neighbours by offering spare bottles if they run low.
     
  • Healthy snacks
    You won’t always be able to take normal food breaks on a show floor, and it can be hard to get suitable healthy food on short notice. We recommend packing nuts, granola bars, and hardy fruit like apples, as well as mints, throat lozenges, and other small snacks and useful consumables. While some coffee can help perk you up, too much coffee will feel even worse in a hectic place like a PAX Australia show floor. Prioritise water drinking over coffee, with an occasional Berocca if you’re showing in Australia (legendary local hangover cure and elixir of life.)

Would you go to PAX Australia again?

We have been to PAX Australia for the last 4 years. If we continue to have products we want to show and bring to the public, the Considerable Content team will definitely continue to go to PAX Australia. We’ve found that every year our experience has been better and stronger, and want to thank all the PAX Australia staff and volunteers for supporting us!

We used PAX Australia 2016 to celebrate our beta community launch of Rogue Singularity on Steam, and we would love any questions or thoughts here, or you can find the Considerable Content team on Twitter at @cc_content.


Image: The showfloor at PAX Australia 2015

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