Never exhibited before? Unsure of how to start?
Never fear, the indie developer community is here with tips from past experiences that will guide you to successfully showing your game at any festival.
Written by Joel Couture of Indie Games Plus
Game conventions, with their thousands of attendees all hungry for new games, can be a great place to show off the title you’re working on. It’s hard to deny the appeal of reaching out to so many different players all at once, but what goes into planning and preparing for a convention? How do you get eyes on your work with so many other games around? How do you simply survive talking and standing for three or four days straight?
Indie Games Plus reached out to a handful of developers to talk about their first convention experiences: what surprised them about showing their games at various shows; how they planned and set up their booth; and how they made the most of a stressful, but exciting experience. This is a quick list of the five most important takeaways:
Your fellow developers have a lot of advice to offer you from their own experiences. Whether it be through talks, postmortems, or helping you directly, they have the best knowledge about how to create a booth.
Many developers expressed that their first show was a positive experience. In some ways, the experiences went far beyond simply getting more eyes on their projects. Playtesting, tweaking your pitch messaging, and hearing strangers tell you your game is great are the best takeaways from a festival experience.
While a great deal of good can come from showing at cons with so many people playing your game, the nature of showing for days on end can make for some challenging situations. Loud, busy, and exhausting, conventions aren’t a walk in the park, their a marathon.
Sticking to the checklists and keeping an eye on the budget you will go a long way. And, while the physical elements of the booth are an important concern, planning to get the most value of out of your booth is something you absolutely cannot forgo.
Pad your schedule with extra time for the unexpected delays. Stay positive even when the going gets tough. Ask for help when you need it (from friends, fellow devs, or the event organizers). Plan for meetings and don’t underestimate how much talking you’ll have to do.
We asked the developers about the time they spent at DreamHack Atlanta in 2018—a festival that offers a free booth to those who are chosen for the Indie Playground in their Expo—to hear about their experiences in a relatively new convention to North America.
For Edwin Jack, it was a big boost to have players coming back to their game over and over again. “DreamHack was pretty cool. New faces coming up to play our game Cede. Some people came back for seconds and thirds which really made us glow inside!”
“DreamHack was fast and loose, but a lot of fun,” says Derek Johnson, Founder and Engineer on mining roguelike Undermine. “The group running the convention was super professional and saw to our needs right away. It was less crowded than other conventions, but that let us spend extra time with our fans.”
Not that less-crowded meant Johnson would receive less attention for their game. “We went to DreamHack with a specific goal of signing up 100 people for our alpha test and we blew right past that goal in the first day, so it was a big success in that regard!”
Davionne Gooden (developer of She Dreams Elsewhere, a surreal narrative game on dreams and their connections with reality) also saw some great benefits from showing, even with pre-show concerns that their game might not be a great fit for a loud show floor. “It was an amazing experience that was definitely worth it, but it was also a mismatch for the game itself (A small, intimate narrative pixel art RPG smack dab in the middle of a huge, e-sports focused event? Oof.). If I wasn’t able to attend for such a low price, I probably would’ve reconsidered it. I still had a great time and I’m still feeling the benefits of it to this day, though!”
Lina Skandalakis of Zer0 Inbox, a board game of competitive email clearing, was also pleasantly surprised despite some trepidation. DreamHack’s expansion from shows in Europe to shows in North America came with an expansion from centering on esports to a festival encompassing the gaming lifestyle. A new twist on a 25-year-old event, it’s been a learning curve well worth the trust from developers eager to hop on the wagon.
“We didn’t know what to expect from DreamHack since it had an audience that was quite different from other conferences that we had been to, primarily focused on esports. For a corporate parody party board game, we weren’t sure what to expect, but it was local for us, so we took a leap! There was a great group of people there and we made some amazing connections. We continued to grow our community and are so glad that we went.”
The developer also mentioned a feeling of safety at the convention. “One thing about DreamHack that was different than other cons is that security was very tight—likely due to the recent tragedy in Florida. It was a comfort to see the increased presence of patrols around the conference and know we were safe.”
Though many of these developers weren’t quite sure if the show was right for them at first, taking a bet and making the trip out to the show gave them a better feel for what audience to expect from the festival. Offering a great time with players and some valuable views for their titles, the show turned out to be an excellent experience for those involved.
While showing at conventions may be daunting and extremely taxing, it also offers some great chances for feedback and for players to see your game for the first time. It’s a chance to grow your audience, finding the players who didn’t know they were looking for you.
Read the unabridged article as it’s released in a four-part series this week on Indie Games Plus.
Indie Games Plus is a Patreon-funded look into the world of indie games and their development, continuing to provide coverage of unique games, interviews with the artists who created them, and reviews and editorials that delve into the nuances of many titles. Their goal is to find the games few are talking about and give them the spotlight they deserve, promoting the variety, inclusivity, and heart that is poured into these works.