Conventions … Indie stylee

So, you’ve got a demo of your game and you’re ready to show it off to the world.  Whether it’s to industry folks or the public, you’ve decided to have some presence on the wider stage and attend conventions.  Congratulations!

This blog is a short collection of tips/advice I’ve gathered over the years from doing demos from having the backing of large publishers to the “do it yourself” nature of indie development.

First of all, the assumption with the following golden rule is that you’re generally heeding the advice within the rest of this blog.  If your game is on the show floor and is broken in some way or not quite working as expected then people either cannot play or are getting a negative experience, therefore:

The GOLDEN RULE is, “If in doubt, tear down and start it back up”.  Know the quickest route to restarting and getting your game back up and running as quickly as possible.  Make sure that other members of the team are aware of how to do this.  A quick restart is always preferable to having your game broken.  People on the show floor will not care if you have to restart things; they will stick around for a quick restart and you won’t be seen in a negative light for it – it’s just one of those things.

Telemetry

Before you go, make sure you develop some kind of telemetry system that can collate as much data as possible about all games played – this feature will help guide development and give you invaluable insight into how your game plays.

Build that community

Have a method to collect people’s email addresses from the show floor and start building a community around your game.  Web sites such as signupanywhere are useful, can be used on mobile devices and don’t require an internet connection.

Prime your kick ass team

Make sure everyone knows the details of the demo/convention.  Have one point of contact back at HQ that can be in charge of organising the rest of the team when that phone call comes in to help address any issues.  Timezones can be a blessing and a curse – if you’re on opposite sides of the world, then real-time communication can be a problem, however, it does allow for problems to be addressed whilst you sleep on it.

Test, test and test some more

(the entire Third Kind team in our meeting room testing)

Pretty obvious.  You’re not thinking about rocking up without running the build at least once, right?  As much as possible, test on the target hardware that you will be running on the show floor – this is especially important in PC development.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Field equipment

Don’t go out to the convention empty-handed.  The minimum pieces of equipment you should attend a convention with is a laptop (with dev software) and a USB stick.

Expect the unexpected

You’ve spent hours testing your game, it all looks good.  You’re ready to rock up and smash it at the convention.  Well done!  Unfortunately, something else will go wrong that you didn’t anticipate/find.  It’s the way of life and you’ll have to learn to deal with it.  There are some things you can do or have in place to mitigate and/or minimise the unexpected problems, read on 🙂

Is this the second or third convention running the same tried, tested, and fixed build?  Massive congrats.  Something will still go wrong that didn’t happen in the previous two.  Expect the unexpected.

The early bird catches the worm

(EGX Rezzed setup begins)

Get into that convention hall as early as possible.  As a rule of thumb – You should try and get in there at least 1 day in advance (I’d say this is the absolute minimum).  This allows you to get a feel for your new home, get your build setup and allows for play-testing in the environment.  It is also where the unexpected will happen.  Getting in early has now given you time to address anything that has now cropped up – get on the phone to the team back at HQ and get some plans together for how to address the unexpected.

Make friends

Other than expanding your network – having friends on the show floor could save you.  It is especially important to become best friends with the IT guys; get on a first name basis.  They’ll be your first point of contact for any hardware/networking issues you might have and can help you out in a multitude of ways that you haven’t anticipated.

Don’t accept new builds unless absolutely required

If something unexpected has happened and it requires a new build – it’s unlikely that the new build will have received the same level of QA that the current build was blessed with.  It’ll be case-by-case.  Think about the risk/reward of the changes – how often is the breakage happening, are the changes “nice to have” or critical?

Don’t fiddle on the floor

Similar to the previous bit of advice, you should try not to make changes to the build whilst you’re on the show floor.  I say, “try” – if you know what you’re doing and the change is small enough, then, by all means, do what you have to – I’d still cross-reference with the team back home before doing anything.  If you’re happy with the build and the feedback is positive, don’t fiddle.

Air-flow

Stands at conventions are pretty tight.  Equipment is encased within chipboard housing, PCs are stacked one on top of the other.  Overheating is a problem that will likely occur and no amount of water cooled CPUs can help you.  If you’re getting hard-locks that can only be addressed by pulling the plug, then things are probably too hot.  Get those cabinets open and some air flow going.  Whatever you need to do, get your build up, running and people playing.  If that means you need to have open cabinets, so be it.

Enjoy!

(Steins….)

Lastly, have fun!

Clearly, you’ve got a passion and belief in what you are doing; don’t be afraid to enjoy yourself.  Present that to the masses and they will be infected with the same enthusiasm for your project and before you know it you will have a small army gagging to get their hands on your game.

If you book them, they will come!

Good luck!

Leave a Reply