This week’s blog concludes my three-part series on tips for first-time convention exhibitors. Have any advice of your own that you’d like to share with others? Let me know! I’ll be back to normal development updates next week, but I hope this series has been useful for y’all!
What I’ve Learned in Two Years of Exhibiting at Events
Part 3 of 3: People
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.
Rehearse and improvise
It’s a good idea to practice the elevator pitch for your game, but if you find yourself doggedly reciting a monologue to someone who’s politely waiting for you to stop talking so they can actually play the game you’re pitching, maybe reel that back in. Try different things. See which phrases stick and which don’t. Which ideas provoke a reaction or raise talking points? You’ll be interacting with a large and diverse array of gamers; this is a terrific opportunity to test the waters and home in on the parts of your pitch that click.
Keep it simple
Remember that conventions tend to be loud and crowded, and attendees are going to be experiencing information overload. Keep your booth simple to navigate. I’ve been at fault here before, covering my table in buttons and flyers and lanyards and slap bracelets and oh yeah actually a game too, and I’ve seen a fair number of people walk up, stare blankly at the table, maybe grab a flyer, glance at it for a second, then put it back and walk away. Too much information. Keep it simple. The game is the centerpiece. Everything else is supplementary.
You don’t have to engage everyone
Some may disagree with this, but one of my biggest pet peeves when I’m attending events is when developers are too eager to push a controller into my hands and oblige me to play their games. Sometimes — most of the time, even — I just want to sit back and watch others play. So I try not to be that dev.
My metric tends to be, if someone makes eye contact, I’ll engage them. (And by “engage,” I mean verbally greeting, pitching the game, offering freebie swag and a live controller, and so on.) This filters out everyone who just want to window shop and keep on moving.
You’re gonna get the same questions over and over
And that’s fine! That’s totally normal. Just be ready to answer these and probably more like them:
“Are these free?”
“What was this made in?”
“Have you thought about consoles?”
“Did you have to go through Greenlight?”
Elaborate on your answers. Maybe console development isn’t in the cards right now, but maybe Mac or Linux releases are just around the corner. Every interaction can be an opportunity to upsell some aspect of your game. It’s easy to miss these, and you shouldn’t beat yourself up when you do, but with practice, you can begin to anticipate them.
I haven’t actually noticed any trends here. In the absence of any data, I would have expected that my brand of retro pixel art games would mostly appeal to gamers from my own generation, but I’ve seen everyone from younger kids to older adults react positively to Super Win. (And to be fair, I’ve had a number of cynical reactions from players of all ages as well.) But across any metric, whether it’s age, race, gender, or whatever, some players like the game and some don’t. So I don’t worry too much about it. The one effort I’ve made is to target conventions aimed at a retro gaming crowd because that’s the sort of game I’m selling. Obviously, these opportunities will vary greatly by location and the nature of your product, but keep your eyes open for any potential matches.
This is a weird one. By the last day of an event, after you’ve greeted and demoed the game for dozens if not hundreds of people, faces all start looking the same. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve begun pitching Super Win to someone only to find myself wondering, “Were they just here a few hours ago?” I’m not really sure what you can do about this if you’re affected by it, but if nothing else, be aware that this phenomenon exists.
If you’re showing a game at an event, you’ll probably get some requests for interviews. Interviews can be fun. I like doing them. Not everyone does. You don’t have to do them if you don’t want to. The important thing is to balance your bandwidth. If you’re exhibiting alone, as I frequently do, you may have to step away from your booth for a short time to record an interview. If you don’t have time during the event, you can always offer to follow up with a Skype interview sometime in the future.
Interviews can be another good opportunity to test your elevator pitch. Make sure you exchange information so you can follow up whenever the interview goes live. Watch your own interviews. Be critical of yourself. Practice!
This is worth mentioning since many of my experience running a booth have been by myself. I don’t really recommend it. Loading in and out is strenuous work, and running a booth is physically and mentally taxing. If you have a team, cool. If not, see if you can get some help from friends and family (or event enforcers, or exhibitors from adjacent tables, or whoever is available). It’s nice to be able to take a breather and wander the floor for a bit. Not so much fun when you have to rush to the restroom and back as few times as possible throughout the day to avoid leaving the booth unattended.
Bring business cards. You’ll want plenty of these on hand in case you meet press, YouTubers, or other developers, and I usually keep a stack next to my flyers in case any players want to grab one as well. Make sure your business cards contain whatever form of contact you prefer. I’m all about Twitter, so I put my Twitter handle on my cards. In hindsight, I don’t really think there’s any good reason for me to have put my phone number on my cards, since I generally ignore calls from numbers I don’t know.
Some events will have built-in networking opportunities in the form of afterparties. I’m usually too exhausted from being on my feet all day to attend, so just be aware you may need to conserve your energy if you want to make it to these.
I’m bad about this one. I collect cards and then forget to email anyone I met until weeks after the fact. Don’t be like me. Reserve a day on your schedule if you have to, but make sure you have a chance to go over everything once the event has wrapped up.
Lost and found
I don’t think I’ve ever worked a convention where someone didn’t leave something at my booth. Usually it’ll be something innocuous like a flyer or a bottle of water. Sometimes it’ll be a rare game or a wallet. Keep an eye on your table at all times, and be proactive in finding out where and whether the convention has a lost and found to deliver any stray items.
This can be tough if you’re exhibiting alone, but I’ve found it’s important to take breaks not only to stretch my legs but also to go check my appearance in the mirror. I want to look presentable, of course, but this also helps me reassure myself that the smile I’ve been holding all afternoon can still look genuine.
Anxiety and criticism
This one isn’t going to apply to everyone, but in the space of game developers, there’s probably a higher incidence of social anxiety than many other professions. I can only speak to my own experiences here, but as someone who has suffered from social anxiety all his life, I feel like this is worth addressing.
I’ve never really gotten that sort of doomy dread panicked looking-for-any-possible-means-of-escape sensation from doing shows that I would when I had to, say, recite a paper I’d written for the class. I tend to think this is because the scope of exhibitions is entirely within my wheelhouse. It’s my game. I know everything there is to know about it. I’m completely in my element. But if you do have that feeling, be aware it’ll probably fade in favor of a sort of restless impatience once the doors open and you have to be switched on and ready for anything.
It’s easy to feel put on the spot or attacked when players ask even the most barely critical questions. The natural reaction is to want to get defensive. Don’t do that. Try thinking about your role at events not as a developer demoing their own game, but as someone promoting an anonymous third party’s product. Pretend you don’t know anything about the underlying implementation. All you’re seeing is what the player’s seeing. So when a player asks, “Why can’t I kill enemies by jumping on them?” you could either get defensive and explain all the reasons you choose to make a non-violent exploration platformer, or you could instead deflect and spin your answer to promote the features of the game that do exist. “Well, there’s no combat in this game, but you can find power-ups that will give you new abilities like double-jumping or wall-jumping.”
Conventions are weird and hectic and draining and all inexplicably piled up right in the middle of the hottest weeks of the year, but you know what? Every time I finish one, I find myself looking forward to the next one. It’s a total shift from the sort of day-to-day game development routine that I’m most familiar and comfortable with, but it can be a lot of fun, too. Don’t get burned out and don’t stress over mistakes. Be flexible and look for ways to improve. Most importantly, have fun.