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!
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 Brand™ 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.