Attending conventions is a fun and rewarding affair, but can also be immensely stressful and time consuming. With so many small elements to remember, planning ahead is not always possible and it's easy to let a few elements slide which can lead to many headaches down the road. Following multiple convention showings for Arelite Core and Tech Support, I decided that establishing a handy checklist would be very useful for my process.
The purpose of this list is twofold. First, it can help you properly plan your convention and ensure that you get the most out of it. Second, using this checklist can help you avoid forgetting anything as you travel, first from your studio to the convention, then on your way back. It casts a wide net, so it can be equally used for a large convention like PAX or Gamescon, down to your local convention. Simply check off elements as they're complete and accounted for, and again when departing the convention to return home.
The essential convention checklist
These are the essentials of your trip and will answer all of those "Where" questions.
- Convention space
The first step to attending any convention is securing your place in the convention itself. These events will always have limited space and the more high profile the convention, the faster these spaces will go. It's important to keep on top of when you can apply and never delay.
Conventions can also be very expensive. If you can't afford booth fees, consider some alternatives. The Indie Megabooth offers space at a discount, while other conventions may have contests which can yield discounted space and other benefits. Keep an eye out, you never know.
Hotels can rapidly run out of vacancy during large events, regardless of if they're officially sanctioned or not, so be sure to book your reservations as soon as you can. Alternatively, you can find other accommodations such as AirBNB or even friends who are local to the event.
Lodging will also impact how you travel to and from the convention, which may incur additional costs. Some conventions will provide buses which tour certain hotels to pick up and drop off attendees, which can save you extra fees and hassle. Be sure to keep informed of all the conveniences the convention offers.
Will you be driving to the event? Taking the bus, the plane? Your method of traveling will likely impact what you bring along. Although there's always a bare minimum you need to carry, more bulky items like screens and computers may not be as easy to manage, may influence your means of traveling and what you actually choose to carry along, as opposed to acquiring on location. Likewise, if you're driving across a long distance, you may need to make additional stops for food and sleep, which will influence your budget.
Further tips are provided in the electronics and furniture sections of this event.
- Side events
Many non-sponsored events are often planned in addition to the main convention, such as meet and greets, game launches and other parties. These are a great opportunity to meet people but can also have limited availability. Be sure to find them ahead of time and RSVP accordingly. The convention's official forums will often provide you with an initial starting point, but the bigger, more prestigious events may require knowing someone on the inside. As you network within the industry and engage with different circles, you'll likely have access to these opportunities more frequently.
Among the most important aspects of your convention experience, your ability to brand your game, put the message out there and ensure that convention attendees have a memorable time. The devil is in the details here and a bit of creativity can go a long way.
Your booth will be your home base for the duration of the con and can be an extension of your game. You can choose to customize it extensively to give it flavor beyond the expected banners, such as custom plush toys or items which are reminiscent of your game. I saw a game about moving boxes which had a bunch of boxes spread about. Having an distinctive booth can bring in a greater audience as well.
Because you'll be doing a lot of standing, consider having a cushioned carpet as well. This can help make your con more comfortable, as well as add that extra touch for the attendee who's been walking all over the place for several hours.
These include self standing banners, hanging banners and any signage towards your game. Be mindful of your booth space when getting these produced, as sometimes you'll be limited and will not be able to display as intended. Also, try to frame your game logo high on the banner, which will help attendees see it when crowds are forming.
- Promo cards
These are printed cards for distribution, which will provide all the relevant information about your game. At the least, it should include the name of the game and a link where people can find it. You can also include social media links and company logos, along with any promotional elements you deem necessary like screenshots and text.
I recommend less text and more punchy blurbs. Give people a message which will be easy to remember and will stick with them in the sea of other games they'll see that day.
Any gear that you'll be giving away to promote your game. This includes T-Shirts, pins, or anything else you may conceive of. Keep in mind that SWAG can get very expensive, and that it's ok to limit how many buttons you put out so that you have some for the entire event. Also make sure that you always have articles ready for the influencers who may later come back and review your game.
- Branded clothes
The clothes you'll be wearing over the course of the convention, often t-shirts with your game's or company's logo, but you can also get creative like having some cosplay representing one of your characters, or anything else which will stand out in a crowd and draw people to your booth. Anything distinctive will give attendees a reason to give your game a second glance.
- Business cards
These won't be distributed as openly, but always keep a good amount on yourself as you travel to different events and during the convention. This gives influencers and media a direct way of getting back to you, but can also help with your networking and preparing future business plans. Also, be sure to get other people's business cards in general, which will enable you to do direct follow-ups if needed.
- Mailing List
Mailing lists allow you to keep in touch directly with your audience. Although social media like Facebook and Twitter can be powerful tools, you can never be assured that your message will reach them since not every message gets properly delivered. Because mailing lists belong to you, you have a higher degree of control and will have an easier time getting your fans onboard.
- Game copies
If your game is out, you should be selling copies of your game on location. Simply print a series of codes and try to get those sales in. Because attendees will go home with plenty of different trinkets and promo cards, it's easy for your game to be lost in the fray, but a sale on location is an assured thing.
This section is more focused towards the traveling portion of the convention and ensuring that all of your required electronics are brought along. Remember that although sometimes you can rent some equipment at the convention itself, it can be very expensive to do so. Buying electronics can sometimes be a less expensive alternative, and you can even return it at the end of the convention.
This includes laptops or desktop computers. You may be bringing several setups, including one to do some on the fly development should the necessity arise. I've been known to update demos between convention days to account for bugs attendees have found, or even to implement a quick feature which I've realized was necessary.
- Game console
If your game is console bound, you'll want to bring that along as well.
- Monitors / Televisions
Other than allowing attendees to play the game, you can also set a second display to always showcase the game trailer, or even set it in a different vantage point to show the current player and draw a crowd.
- VR Headset and other displays
Other displays which may be necessary for your game. I once saw a display which used a painting as their base with a projection overlay which was the actual game.
- Exhibitor Tablet / Mobile phone
These are for showcase purposes if you're presenting a mobile game, or if you have an app to take down player emails for a mailing list or other promotional purposes.
- Power bars / Extension cords
There never seems to be enough power bars for everyone, often making it difficult to plug-in all of your devices. Be sure to bring enough for your needs.
Great for drawing attention, but remember to heed the rules of your convention concerning noise, you might not be able to blast your game at full volume.
An easy way to get people immersed into your game, and making them noise canceling is always a plus. Ideally provide audio controls for the player, as many will want to talk with the dev while playing.
- Laptop charger
I once lost the charger to my computer, which left me in a frenzy to purchase another one. Unfortunately, my laptop requires 180W which isn't sold in most stores, leading to a 3h chase just before the con was set to open on the same day. I make sure not to forget it anymore.
- Game Controller
XBox Controller, PS4, flight stick, whatever your game requires to be played.
- Mouse / Keyboard
Likewise very useful to play the game
Power cables, HDMI, but also those pesky USB cables we always seem to forget.
Sometimes the convention themselves will be providing tables and chairs, other time you'll need to bring them yourself. Like electronics, though you can rent some of it from the convention, it can be more advantageous to buy them externally and bring it back afterwards, or sometimes even throw it away.
It's likely you'll need a table to set up your game, but you also will need to consider your presentation. Will you need a table cloth? How much space will you need for your set up, including computers and play space, promotional items and others? Also, don't forget to account for the space you have been allocated for the convention. You may need to move behind the table, or allow attendees to move around it.
Almost just as important as tables, be sure to have chairs for the attendees playing your game (if your set up allows for it), but also for yourself over the course of the event. This can be as simple as a foldable chair, but you can also bring bean bags or even a couch. It all depends on the experience you want to provide your players.
- Game demo
This may be obvious, but a lot of developers seem to wait until the last moment to prepare their demo, which can create more stress than needed. I try to prepare game demos a month or two in advance, knowing that even if it isn't the most updated build, my perspective as the developer will be entirely different from the attendee.
Make sure that your demo is as impactful as possible, but don't get bogged down in the small details which will be ignored by most. I only keep one code base and add tags in my code which allows me to switch between demo and full game mode, so every update is always applied to the demo if needed, and if I can also include any an improvements to the demo directly to the full title as well.
Ideally, make the gameplay at most 10 minutes to ensure a good rotation of players, and end on a high note. Be prepared for periods of down time where no one is playing, which you can fill with an automatically playing and looping trailer of the game. You can have it cut immediately upon a player input, leading into the demo.
I always remove a lot of options from the demo, such as the ability to go back to the desktop through a menu for a PC game. I also always have a way to immediately reset the game, like a button combination which leads me back to the demo's main attract menu. Because these are operations being performed several times during the showcase, having the right tools is well worth it.
- Game trailer
Already touched upon, but have the best version of your trailer available to show. I use it as an attract mode, and it also plays automatically once the player reaches the end of the demo. You can also have it running on a tv in the background.
- Source code
Making sure you have access to the demo's source code can help you resolve unforeseen issues. I once solved a crash that was happening in the demo about 10 minutes before the convention doors opened to the public.
- Development tools
Visual Studio, Unity, Unreal, Game Maker, even Photoshop, whatever tools you might need to do those quick fixes. Don't rely on the Internet if you don't have to, you never know what issue you'll encounter.
Conventions are a great opportunity to meet with media and influencers, and you never know when that may happen. Some bigger conventions open the show floor to the press before the public can attend, and I've even met people before the convention even began.
Same with post con events, the more time you spend meeting and greeting, the more networking you're doing and the higher probabilities of meeting the right people.
- A smile
Conventions provide the audience with a chance to see the faces behind the games, which in turn will make them connect with them a lot stronger. Your presence, not just physically but also the energy you bring to every interaction will have an impact on the people you meet. Be sure to remain at the top of your game
Should go without saying, but be sure to take a shower every day and having some deodorant. You want to present yourself at your best, and body odors are high on the list of cardinal sins at conventions.
- Food / Drinks
Conventions are long and although there will usually be food on location for purchase, you can also save money by bringing lunches, snacks and beverages to keep you going through the event.
- Hand sanitizer
The convention flu is real! I once lost my hand sanitizer for a single day out of a 4 day convention, barely made my way through the following days and then was sick for the next two months (with varying degrees of intensity). Bring some hand sanitizer, use it often, it not only keeps you clean but also prevents you from spreading germs to attendees.
- Cough drops
Conventions are loud and you will be doing a lot of talking. Keeping cough drops handy and help preserve your voice all throughout the event and beyond.
I once forgot my passport in a rental car during a trip, which certainly led to endless retellings of my distractions, but also a lot of stress which could have been avoided. Don't be me, keep your passport handy at all times. It can also be necessary as a means of identity in some areas, like hotels and bars.
Of course conventions are stressful affairs, we invest a lot of resources in them and want to bring out the best for our games. But it's important to not forget that it's ok to have fun and enjoy the moment. Making the most out of these events is good for us which will then reflect on your game.
While certainly not exhaustive, this list should serve as a strong starting point. Feel free to print and reproduce it as needed (though please consider providing credit if you can). And let me know if you have more suggestions of points to add to the list and I'll try to keep it updated as possible.
Dragon Slumber: https://dragonslumber.com
Tech Support: https://techsupportgame.com
Arelite Core: https://arelitecore.com/