Booth Hacks 2

I was down in Austin for Classic Game Fest 2015 this weekend. I sold a few more copies of Super Win, saw some awesome cosplay, and checked out a bunch of amazing retro games. This week, I’m continuing my series on lessons learned in manning a booth.

What I’ve Learned in Two Years of Exhibiting at Events
Part 2 of 3: Presentation

Every event is going to be a little different. This three-part series of blogs is based on my experiences showing Super Win the Game at a number of conventions and expos this year and last. Some of this may be useful to other developers, some is just my own observations. I recommend researching any event you plan to attend to avoid any unexpected surprises.

Identify the goals of your booth presence

Are you promoting your game to increase awareness? Are you selling it? Meeting fans? Making connections with press and internet folks? More than likely, your goals will be a combination of all of these, but identifying this can help you tailor your booth and your game demo to suit your needs. You’ll want to make sure that the elements that are most critical to your goals are highly visible and immediately apparent.

Highlight critical information

If you have fancy-schmancy TV stands, use those! If you’re winging it with a TV on a table as I always have, remember that players will be standing when they approach your booth, so you’ll want to get your screen closer to eye level. I have some IKEA risers that were part of a standing desk solution I once put together; these worked perfectly for getting my TV a good distance off the table. Another option is to put a chair out in front of your table, but be aware you may need to back up your table to make room and not disrupt the flow of traffic in this case.

Your screen or screens will be the first thing people see, so make sure they communicate their purpose effectively. If you’re showing a playable demo, make sure the title screen (or whatever screen your game idles on) is clearly labeled as ready for play. The Super Win title screen reads “Press Start to Begin,” and I keep the controller as close as possible so the intent is clear.

Plastic sign holders that fit 8.5″x11″ sheets are super useful for whatever other information you might want to provide up front that doesn’t belong in the game itself. In my case, I use these for displaying the prices of items I’m selling and a “buttons and flyers are free, please take one!” message.

Pack extra everything

Extra cables, extra power strips, extra pens and markers, extra notebook paper, extra phone chargers, extra everything. You don’t want to have to run to the store at the last minute because you forgot an HDMI cable, and it’s always nice to have spares on hand in case another exhibitor needs to borrow something. I’ll also note that having a super long power strip has come in handy many times, as you never know where power drops will be located.

Keep a notebook

Don’t count on wi-fi or cellular service. Some venues do provide wi-fi, but in my experience, it’s a rarity, and the volume of devices often degrades cellular reception. Keep a notebook on hand instead to jot down any bugs you observe or improvements you could make. I filled many, many pages with Super Win bugs and polish items last year, and the game is immeasurably better for it.

Lock down your builds in advance

Yes, you could work on the game right up until the last minute just to make sure you get each and every new feature in there, but it’s not worth the risk if you destabilize the build. By and large, no one’s going to miss absent features, but they will notice broken ones.

Use discretion with regard to bugs

Bugs are embarrassing, and your first instinct may be to try to fix them on the fly, or to go back home and prepare a new build before the next day. And sometimes this might be the right choice. But keep in mind that any change may affect stability. If you don’t have time to thoroughly test your changes, it may be preferable to continue demoing with known bugs.

Audio considerations

Events are loud, and there’s little to be gained by making them louder. I’ve found myself having to shout to be heard over my games before, and that’s not really an ideal situation for either party. So here’s my take: unless audio is 100% critical to your game (e.g., it’s a music or rhythm game), keep the volume low. Headphones are an increasingly popular option as well, although this necessarily precludes speaking to your players, so you’d better make sure your game is foolproof if you’re gonna go that route.

Tutorial or not tutorial

All right, here’s an interesting one. Last year, the “demo” build of Super Win the Game that I brought to events was essentially the whole game as it existed at the time. The game started with a tutorial, so the demo started with a tutorial. It covered movement, jumping, the works. It was optional, but most players chose to play through it, and some got bored and quit and walked away before finishing it.

This year, I brought a build with no tutorial. It drops players right into the action with a few abilities that would normally be acquired an hour or two into the game. Most players picked it up right away. Some didn’t. So it seems that both options have their drawbacks.

I think in future games, I’ll try to find a nice middle ground by introducing mechanics naturally and teachably in a setting that doesn’t feel like an outright tutorial.

Attract mode

Hey, you know how arcade games always had attract modes where they’d play a short demo after sitting idle for a little while? Turns out that’s a really smart idea! I’ve observed time and time again that Super Win attracts a crowd while someone’s actively playing it. When it’s sitting idle on the title screen, most folks just pass it by. This was one of my primary motivations for implementation input recording, an optional fixed timestep path, and determinate randomization in Gunmetal Arcadia, as these will allow me to record and play back game events for an attract mode.

Demo-specific features

You don’t want to have to manually reset your demo each time someone finishes playing. I’ve automated this process for Super Win by adding a demo mode setting that will automatically reset the game after it’s been idle for a specified length of time (45 seconds during normal gameplay or 15 seconds if the game has been left on the pause menu).

Demo builds should also disallow exiting the game, and I’ve even gone a step further and disallowed saving and loading, access to the options menu, and anything else that would alter the play experience from the sort of default, prescribed vanilla one that I want to show.

Super Win demo builds also force all control bindings to be displayed using the Xbox 360 glyphs, as that’s typically the controller that I demo with. This is sort of specific to my needs in that it prevents the game from showing mouse or keyboard bindings if I accidentally bump my laptop’s touchpad or whatever. Your needs may vary, but in general, your goal should be to minimize anything that could possibly change based on player input.

A final thought on demo scope: the build that I took to events in 2014 was the entire game as it existed at the time. This was honestly just too much content. Unless your goal is to encourage players to camp out at your booth, potentially for hours on end, your demo should have a finite length and a clear ending. If you’re worried that a truncated, stripped-down demo might do your game a disservice, you can look for opportunities to showcase additional features in passing, but remember the adage about leaving audiences wanting more. In my 2015 demo of Super Win, the overworld map is only seen briefly and cannot be explored beyond a small walled-off region, but it’s enough to imply a larger scope than what’s available in the demo.

Put your best foot forward

Some might disagree with this, but I say if something will make your game look better for the demo alone, do it! It doesn’t have to be 100% representative of the shipping game. This is especially true if you’re demoing an unreleased game. As an example, I always demo Super Win with an unsupported, undocumented anti-aliasing mode enabled. Is your game especially difficult? Tune it a little bit easier for the demo so your players feel good about their skills. (I wish I’d done that sooner for Super Win. Or at all.) Treat the demo as a separate thing from the full game, and give it the attention it needs to be the best possible demo it can be. Just make sure you give yourself enough time to lock it down.

Part 1: Planning
Part 3: People

Booth Hacks 1

SGC 2015 wrapped up yesterday, and it was a lot of fun! I was going to write a recap of the event, but I think I’m going to save that for Wednesday’s video. Instead, I’m doing this:

What I’ve Learned in Two Years of Exhibiting at Events
Part 1 of 3: Planning

Every event is going to be a little different. This three-part series of blogs is based on my experiences showing Super Win the Game at a number of conventions and expos this year and last. Some of this may be useful to other developers, some is just my own observations. I recommend researching any event you plan to attend to avoid any unexpected surprises.


Costs are going to vary greatly depending on the event. Some are free. Some are multiple thousands of dollars. This usually correlates to the number of expected attendees and the demand for booth space, but there are no guarantees. I would generally expect to pay about $100-$300 for a 10’x10′ booth at a moderately sized event. I’m not talking PAX or GDC here, but mid-size local and regional events. In my experience, for the sorts of games I’m making, anything above that just isn’t worth the cost. The one caveat might be that the very large events like PAX and GDC offer a higher chance of visibility and coverage. My goals are usually to meet players and promote the game to potential customers. Press coverage is nice if it happens, but I don’t count on it.


Booth size and provided equipment will vary as well, but a 10’x10′ booth with a 6-foot draped table and two chairs is common. Sometimes you’ll get a pipe and drape backdrop, sometimes you won’t. Electricity is occasionally included for gaming-specific events, but most of the time you’ll have to pay for your own, and sometimes you’ll have to order it yourself from the venue rather than the event host. Again, do your research.

Load in as early as possible

Many events allow vendors and exhibitors to load in the day before the doors open to the public. I recommend taking advantage of this opportunity whenever possible. You’ll have more time to react to any unexpected circumstances, and you can arrive rested and ready to promote your game the next day.

Wear comfortable shoes

You’re going to be on your feet all day, every day. Make sure your shoes are up to the task!

Stay hydrated

I usually estimate one bottle of water per hour. (I drink a lot of water, so that might be on the high side.) Since you’ll probably be speaking at an increased volume throughout much of the day, you may find it helpful to bring some throat drops as well.

Bring your own food

A lot of convention centers have concession stands, but I’m usually not that brave. Pack something quick and easy that won’t make a mess or keep you away from your booth for too long. I usually go for a chicken salad sandwich. Kind of boring, kind of bland, but whatever, it’s safe. Probably a good idea to keep some chewing gum on hand for after meals as well.

Swag, merch, and freebies

Flyers are awesome. They’re cheap and compact. They’re cheap enough that you can buy way more of them than you’ll ever need. They’re also heavy. Don’t bring more than you need unless you just really like lugging leaden boxes to and from your booth when loading in and out. I recommend ordering as far in advance as you reasonably can to save on shipping costs.

Buttons are also awesome. They’re fairly cheap and everyone loves them. I’d estimate I’ve given away about 200-250 per day on average, but this will really depend on traffic and visibility. Bright, colorful designs tend to be popular, as do those with characters on them. Less popular: game or company title and logos, anything with a lot of text, etc. Think iconic and eye-catching.

I can’t really speak to t-shirts. I have yet to do a large enough order of t-shirts to warrant giving them away or selling them. (And other than as prizes, I can’t imagine a scenario in which I’d give these away, as much as they cost.) I’ve done a small number for ourselves and our family. They’re awesome, and I’d love to be able to sell them someday, but there’s a pretty significant upfront cost there.

More on swag

Last year, I had slap bracelets and lanyards printed up for events. I wouldn’t do this again, for a few reasons. For one, they were a little more expensive then flyers and buttons, although still cheaper than shirts. (The difference being I was giving these away, not selling them.) But more importantly, they are a hassle to get made because I couldn’t find any online services with automated ordering that could print a design from a PNG file. Instead, I had to convert my designs to vector art and go through a whole back-and-forth exchange with an actual human (the horror) to get the design reviewed and set up for manufacturing, get proofs ordered and approved, and finally get the entire run manufactured.


Banners go a long way toward improving the visibility of your booth and your Brandâ„¢ or whatever. Also they’re just cool?

Horizontal signs are great for events that provide a draped backdrop or for hanging off the front of a table. (I’ve used a 8′ sign for backdrops and a 6′ sign for tables in the past.) I’ve seen a lot of booths using vertical signs recently, and I’ll definitely be going that route in the future; the portability and reduced footprint are too good to pass up.

Be smart about security

Most events have security during off hours, but there’s no harm in being extra safe. I usually leave my screens and boxes of random equipment. Laptops and cash stay with me. I’ve yet to have any problems leaving anything overnight, but why take the risk?

Use what you have

This is only my second year doing these events. There’s still a lot of room to grow. My booth looks pretty makeshift compared to some of the big ones with lots of signs and TV stands and booming sound systems. And that’s fine. Use what you have and don’t worry about what you don’t. Just keep it clean, professional, and presentable.

Part 2: Presentation
Part 3: People



It’s that time again. I’m prepping for SGC this weekend and Classic Game Fest next weekend and trying to get builds and trailers and whatever else into shape without breaking anything. (Too late for that, the last in-dev build went out with a near-immediate crash bug, and that was after overlooking that I’d forgotten to upload the file for an entire day.) I’ve been ignoring emails and forum posts and most other responsibilities in the interest of meeting deadlines. Yep, it’s crunch time.

In the interest of complete transparency, here’s what my schedule looks like right now. I’m doing contract work three days a week. It usually takes me a full day to record and edit “Let’s Make Gunmetal Arcadia” episodes and produce the weekend’s in-dev builds, so that’s a fourth day gone. Ignoring the handful of hours it takes to write these devlogs, that only leaves one work day for actual development. Of course, there are evenings and weekends, and I make up the difference working more of those than is probably healthy. It feels like I’m spending literally nearly every waking hour working on this game. So why is progress so slow?

Well, there’s a couple reasons. For one, new Super Win bugs keep popping up, and I’ve had to spend more time than I anticipated fixing those and publishing new builds. For another, most of my recent work has been focused on features that don’t directly impact gameplay — palettized fades, an intro cutscene, and of course the endless audio refactoring. And finally, I’ve had to spend some time preparing materials for events, including the flyers that I showed last week and this teaser trailer that I just finished rendering half an hour ago. Oh wait what trailer huh?

Now, this is intended to be looped silently throughout the day at events, and I don’t necessarily know that it’ll play well for the internet, so I’m releasing it without a lot of hoopla, but there it is: the first Gunmetal Arcadia teaser trailer.

It’s unlikely I’ll have any time at all to work on Gunmetal Arcadia over the next two weeks, since I’ll be primarily focused on manning the booths at SGC and Classic Game Fest, but there will be a new “Let’s Make” episode this Wednesday and new builds on Saturday. My hope is to record some footage from SGC and CGF and do recap devlogs and video logs for the following weeks, but we’ll see.

With any luck, things should be back to normal-ish by the start of August, and maybe I’ll ever move on to fun, exciting gameplay tasks.