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Why I love exhibiting at PAX and consumer shows in general

Recovering from PAX East, I realized that I feel most fulfilled and energized after consumer events, and it's actually very beneficial for tinyBuild. Here's a deep dive as to why.

Most of my career has been all about business conferences. Suits. Business. Meetings. Agendas. Follow-ups. *Shrugs*.

As we started morphing into this publisher/developer thing with tinyBuild, I noticed that we were getting less and less business from actual conferences (outside of smaller developer focused ones). It's great if you're trying to sell someone something. "Please work with us, look how great we are" -- were the tone of presentations I gave while working at other companies. 
More over, the amount of spam we get from service providers is getting infuriatingly large. Don't need your god damn traffic!

Recovering from PAX East, I realized something. The game is changing once again - and we get insane amounts of productivity (and sore feet) from consumer-facing conventions. Last year we did GDC, PAX East, DevGAMM, Casual Connect, GamesCom, GDC Europe, EGX, PAX Prime, and a few smaller shows. 
Most of our games got signed after DevGAMM.
Most of our press came from GDC and EGX.
Most of our value though came from PAX and GamesCom - the pure consumer shows. I think we should keep on doing all the above for different reasons, but in this post I want to share the value of showcasing at a large consumer convention and why I enjoy it most. 
Twitch streamers
Twitch streaming is a new thing. I believe the company itself is doing a fantastic job at working with their streamers. They get the audience and the content providers. People that drastically impact our sales just come to our booth to hang out and play the latest games, and we casually chat around. In the "normal" business world there'd be loads of pandering to get people to write about you. Press days with loads of cookies and things like that. Here the streamers are genuinely interested in the games. 

SpeedRunners now has a character of PewDiePie in it
Same as with streamers - they will just come out to the booth and hang out. Although I can't imagine what it's like to be one of the bigger stars. At the recent PAX East 2015, I helped Jesse Cox get into the hall, and during a 100 ft walk someone tried to tackle him, screaming "JESSEEEEE!!!!!!"
It does feel great to have Youtubers come up and just play the games with us. Most of these guys we met early on, during PAX Prime 2012, and kept those relationships going. 
Sometimes you won't even know it's a famous streamer/youtuber playing your game, since they casually come by and then play your games. It's important to give everyone the same kind of respect. Everyone is there to play your games, and I love how several times we were just chatting with a player that turned out to be a famous streamer. 
The players and their feedback

It was impossible to squeeze through the crowds at our booth
When we're able to fly our developers to consumer shows, it's the best thing ever in terms of feedback. Let's do some basic math.
Our stations were full most of the time. We had 32 of them at our booth.
  • 12x SpeedRunners (seating spots)
  • 4x Check In Knock Out (seating spots)
  • 4x No Time To Explain (seating spots)
  • 6x BOID
  • 2x Party Hard
  • 3x Lovely Planet
  • 5x Fearless Fantasy
  • 2x Divide By Sheep
  • 2x Spoiler Alert
  • 2x Snail Bob 2
Let's do some math!
  • That's 42 stations total.
  • Let's assume an average session is 5 minutes. 
  • There are 8 hours in the show day. 
  • 8 hours = 480 minutes
  • 480 minutes / 5 minutes = 96 sessions per station per day. Let's average that down to 80 due to some downtime and longer sessions. 
  • 80 sessions per station * 42 stations = 3,360 sessions per day
Over three days that is 10,080 sessions total. Ten thousands play sessions. Ten thousand playtests. 
If the developer is there, we urge him to take notes on usability which improves the games enormously. 
If not, we have booth staff constantly take quick voice memos on issues users are having. 
This feedback is what truly makes a difference in games. It's just one enormous playtest that also gives us insane amount of fans, and exposure. 
The after-hours networking
Unic & Salem cosplayers during the Indies Need Booze Party
I found that the after hours networking is the most useful time to get valuable business contacts. Since everyone at a consumer show is there for the same reason - nobody is trying to sell you anything, everyone is trying to find ways to work with each other that'd be mutually beneficial. 
For example, because of our PAX South success, so many people came up wanting to partner up - be it do a party together, give us some branded equipment, or help out in general. It's nothing short of amazing. (thanks Skullcandy for those awesome orange controllers!)
The team bonding

The team during teardown time, special thanks to our fans (right side) who helped us build up the booth, and tear it down. They also made that super cool timelapse video of the whole thing!
A great way to see if your team is compatible is by putting on a large consumer show together. Relationships get tested, boundaries get pushed. I'm always the guy that freaks out when someone is running late, pushing everyone out the door. Luke is the guy that always keeps calm. Mike calms everyone down with his soothing accent. Yulia is my best drinking buddy. Lerika is excellent in paying attention to details. A certain vibe in the team gets established, and everyone bonds. The games industry is all about the people, and it's important to know - and be friends with - your coworkers. 
It also makes people resistant to stress (especially with my freak outs about being late). We all know how dynamic and at times hectic the industry is. Being resistant to stress is an advange - because during shifts of tides you will be able to adapter faster, instead of stressing out about your job changing. 
Decision training
One of the main things I never ever want to do is stall decisions. Read the excellent book "Hatching Twitter" about how that company came together, and pay close attention to lack in decision making on some of the CEOs parts. This is where I'd never want to be.

The way we do conventions is very iterative, with quick decisions being made on the spot. This is key to what we do at tinyBuild - we iterate, we don't overplan. And having the skill to make quick, intuitive decisions is a really good one to have. The way the team works is that whenever you need to make a decision - use your best judgement, you don't create a dependency on someone else to consult with, assuming the decision is time-sensitive. 
"Say yes to a great opportunity, and then figure out how to do it" -- Richard Branson 
This usually comes off as a shocker to people with proper business education, i.e. "stakeholder management", but I truly believe that if you surround yourself by great people, you need to empower them to make those decisions. Conventions are a great "accelerator" for that. 
The results
We've had over a thousand people sign up for our newsletter (every 10th person who played?) as part of the tinyQuest we designed. It's a card collection game within the booths, a scavenger hunt of sorts. 
Countless fans came up just to say hi and find out more about the games. 
And we created a small private meeting area where we could show off the games to media, specifically our unannounced titles. Amongst which is Party Hard, which got loads of traction - in part because everyone could see the large crowd at the two preview stations. 
Some of the press it got (OK, it also helped that Mike worked his face off by doing both GDC and PAX East in the same week)

I'm not going to do a full coverage roundup because that'd eat up most of the article. Point is - if you focus on your fans, your products will become better, and you'll get more fans. This goes in a spiral effect that ends up getting you more of everything, provided you're willing to push your boundaries and get way the hell out of your comfort zone. 
Try it, it's great! 

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