Exciting Times at PAX South
Two weeks ago I was able to attend my first ever PAX, which is a massive and beloved consumer gaming show. The kind that attracts real gaming fans who will happily give up their weekend, pay for tickets, and queue in their thousands to be the first ones into the show. The kind that sells out of tickets on a regular basis. Just attending would have been extremely interesting to me but I had the opportunity to do something even more incredible: I was able to showcase the game I'm working on to thousands of potential fans. WOW. Read on for my full postmortem.
How did we get to exhibit at PAX anyway?
As we recently announced we have now signed with Versus Evil to publish our first game Guild of Dungeoneering. One of the main reasons I partnered with a publisher was to be able to bring the game to big consumer shows like PAX. And VS Evil certainly delivered on that promise. Within days of signing I was flying to Texas to help showcase Guild of Dungeoneering in their booth. It was also a great opportunity to meet the VS Evil team in person at last – the entire deal had been done over Skype and email!
I flew in on Thursday evening with the show floor opening to the public on Friday morning. This is not something you can normally do if you are exhibiting at a big show like PAX. Setting up your own booth usually means weeks of organising and days of work before the show starts. So it was wonderful to be able to simply turn up in person and have the entire thing already set up for me! Score one for going with a publisher!
The Versus Evil booth
I was really impressed by the booth Versus Evil had set up for the event. It was very professional looking with large amounts of branding dedicated to the games (rather than themselves). It was set up to allow folks to wander right into it with PCs at standing height with various VS-published games available to play. Guild of Dungeoneering had four PCs taking up one entire side of their booth. As a bonus this was the side that faced towards the show entrance, and the VS Evil booth itself was in a great spot: right in the main corridor from the entrance just after the really massive booths (like Twitch). This meant a huge amount of people saw the game as they wandered into the show.
Their setup & location meant that for basically all three days there were four people playing the game at once, with a few people watching (and sometimes a big crowd of people watching). We actually have a special ATTRACT MODE built into our build of the game for shows like this where if you idle on the title screen for two minutes the game starts playing itself (like an arcade game). For three eight-hour days I barely saw it happen at all – there was basically someone playing at all four machines at all times.
I would generally hang out nearby and watch people play. Occasionally we had a crash bug in the demo we had people playing so I'd have to restart the game if that happened. When folks were waiting I'd chat to them about the game. If I saw people play for a long time (like a half hour+) I'd approach them when they finished to ask them for feedback. Feedback itself was incredibly positive. People loved the aesthetic, really liked the concept, and generally really enjoyed playing the demo we had brought. That last bit surprised me as I guess I see all the negatives of it (it's not deeply fun yet!). I guess since it was people's first exposure to the game everything was new and interesting and they didn't quite get stuck in enough to see the problematic parts. Also it's a bit awkward giving negative feedback to one of the makers of a game in person! No need to be so polite when your feedback is real, folks!
Now in totally sweet HD
We were showcasing the game in 1920×1080 resolution for the first time and it looks totally hot. A lot of passersby were drawn to folks playing just because it looks so wonderful. This was something we had always intended for the game but had only put together for the first time the week before PAX.
We were also showcasing our battle mode for the first time. No more autofighting; now you choose an attack move each turn. This first attempt was ready just in time for PAX, but it needs a lot of work. We've now reworked it to be MUCH more interesting (less like a paper/rock/scissors guessathon) while still retaining the essential idea: you gain attack moves from your equipment, thus building your character depending on what loot you place for them.
Overall I was very happy with the build we were showing, even though we were already working on improving the game for our next event.
Press & Influencers
Now there were lots of potential fans at the show and it was really great to meet them and hopefully they will see the game when it comes out on Steam and be that little more likely to try it out. But the real win for us at a show like this was reaching some press and other influencers. For example check out this tweet:
We also had Dodger and Jesse Cox drop by the booth and play the game. They both seem to really like it: see this video. That's two youtubers with really big followings. Hopefully when we finish the game they'll be streaming it.
Finally all this attention got us some great new press articles. Firstly from TouchArcade (we plan on going to tablets after the PC launch), with whom I got to have a little chat while the writer was playing the game. Secondly from Rock Paper Shotgun, who I don't think were even at PAX but must have been reminded of us because of it.
Is PAX worth it?
So what did we really get out of being at a big game show like PAX? Was it worth it? One of the problems with this kind of game marketing is you really cannot quantify exactly what it does for your game. I will say it was incredibly interesting to see what spending the big bucks on promoting your game can get you: immediate attention from gamers and influencers that I had serious trouble reaching on my lonesome. I still think every lone-wolf indie dev should spend around half their time on marketing and outreach without spending anything, but you should also seriously consider what partnering with a publisher could do for your game.
Also it's really nice to bask in the positive potential of your game in the hearts and minds of your fans for once, rather than being mired in the day-to-day problems of making your special snowflake of a game happen. And for that, I thank you, PAX South.