I promised to tell you about our PAX East experience. This is sort of difficult for me because I have trouble admitting my own failures in such a public way. But, ultimately you are the one’s supporting our team and you deserve to know when we screw-up as much as when we succeed. Luckily it’s not all bad news, and I’m very good at learning from my mistakes. So with that in mind, let’s begin.
Most of the time during the convention I was ecstatic - almost euphoric. I got a lot of really good feedback. People who played TAW seemed to enjoy their time with it. And occasionally I’d get to see someone laugh and their eyes light up when they “got it”. Seeing that was amazing and I try to keep it in mind whenever I’m having a tough day.
Another great takeway was the constructive feedback I received. Some of it was verbalised to me while some I took note of myself while watching people play. I came away with a list of changes I could make to improve the experience for players. I also came to a realisation that I definitely need to focus on our potential female fans as it seemed like a good portion of the people who really got into TAW were women.
One of my favourite things about conventions like this is to meet fans, other developers and re-kindle friendships with people I’ve met at previous events.
Here’s a few teams/people I was happy to meet/see again:
- Sauropod Studios (Castle Story)
- Discord Games (Chasm)
- Team Krinoid (Run With Bunnies)
- Kyle Hanson (Front Towards Gamers)
- Tony Avolio (Fan and beta-tester)
- Stephen & Kelly (Engaged Family Gaming)
To put it bluntly, it was a short-term financial mistake. I was aware of the upfront costs of reserving a booth, boarding, and food, but I assumed that we could recoup some of those costs through pre-orders. We offered a show-only special – a pre-order and poster combo, and we sold some during the show, but not as much as we’d hoped. In addition, we saw almost no significant improvement in pre-orders through the website. We interacted with hundreds of people throughout the weekend, handed out even more flyers but it doesn’t seem like anyone went home and pre-ordered after the show. I realise that doing events like PAX have more long-term benefits, but I was disappointed none-the-less.
The other major disappointment was the lack of press coverage. I attempted to contact all the press I could before the show but that ultimately led nowhere. We had a few nice write-ups in some smaller blogs/websites but we were unable to attract any major media. Right away it was apparent to me that we were a small fish in a big sea. We were competing for attention with major AAA games as well as the best and most popular Indie games from around the world. This was actually the most disappointing aspect to me. It very much felt like we were invisible and powerless to do anything about it.
What We Did Wrong.
When things seem bad there is always a silver-lining if you look for it. In order to understand how I can improve for future events I first had to consider what we did wrong:
Booth Location – It’s hard to say if our choice of booth location had a negative or positive impact. We applied to the event late and after the dead-line for the Indie-Mega Booth. I decided to pick a booth right next to Adult Swim/Cartoon Network games. I assumed that since their games are also playful and colorful that their crowds would gravitate towards us. We were also near an esclator that led to the food vendors so there was always a steady stream of people flowing though. However, being near or in the Indie-Mega Booth could have been beneficial for getting press-coverage. It’s really hard to say.
Too Costly – The allure of attending PAX as a developer is something I only dreamed of of doing a couple years ago. The hype of being a part of one of the biggest gaming conventions blinded me to the financial realities.
Missed Opportunities – My fiancée and I were the only two people manning the booth for the entire weekend. We are both introverted and being “on” and social all day wears us out. By 4PMish each day we were exhausted and by closing time we just wanted food, drinks, and sleep. Unfortunately this means we missed out on attending after-parties and networking opportunities. Although I got to say “Hey” to the great teams we met at Minecon and IndieCade, it was a shame we didn’t get a chance to hang out with them more.
What We Did Right.
Booth Setup – My original plan for our booth was to simply bring two laptops and the banners I already had printed for previous events. The table that was provided was low and it occurred to me that people walking by would have to peer over someone else’s shoulders to see the game in action. I looked into renting a tall TV/Monitor stand but after comparing prices I ultimately decided to buy a portable stand and use my personal 40″ TV. This looked great at the booth and definitely helped attract people to us. Plus, I now have that stand for all future events, which is great. It was a worthwhile investment.
No Major Technical Issues – I tested the latest build on both laptops prior to PAX. I also installed Construct Classic (the software I’m developing on) on the machine so I could make any needed changes at the show. I did have to update the build one time to fix a bug with the health-pickup items. We only had one other minor issue with getting the sound the play on the laptop that was also connected to the 40″ TV. But that was easily resolved with a Google search. The other nice thing about bringing the latest build was that I was able to show off some unfinished areas to people who have already played the demo before.
Upon reflecting on the event I’ve come up with a few ideas for future conventions:
Smaller Events – I’m going to focus on smaller conventions and events until we are closer to release. A week after PAX we exhibited at a small event in NYC (NYC Games Forum Playtest). It didn’t cost us a thing, it only lasted a couple of hours, and had an attendance of a few hundred people and a dozens devs. But we received a lot of attention, including a video interview and some writeups. We also noticed a small jump in pre-orders and our social media. It was actually about the same as what we got out of PAX only it was local and didn’t cost me few grand.
Free Booth Space – I’m also submitted TAW to any festivals that offer free booth space for finalists. IndieCade, Fantastic Arcade and the Boston Festival of Indie Games are a few that I’ve recently applied for. If you know of any other good festivals I should look into, please let me know.
Collaboration – When we do get closer to release and we decide to do bigger conventions again I’ll look at getting involved with collaborative efforts like the Indie Mega Booth or other small developers that could share costs and work together to attract attention for attendees and media alike.
Fan Out-Reach – Another important thing I learned at PAX was that a lot of people were vaguely familiar with TAW since they had played Treasure Adventure Game, but were unaware that we were remaking it. That was a bit of a wake up call for me. I realised I hadn’t done a very good job at reaching the many fans of TAG. I’ve been taking some steps to remedy that, though. First I scoured my gmail account for anyone who had emailed me about TAG in the past. This includes people who had donated money to me before we began the pre-order campaign and anyone who has purchased the TAG OST. It was just over 600 people total. I put together a campaign through Mail-Chimp and sent out a very basic “Here’s what we’re doing now” type email. It was actually very successful. 57% of the emails were opened and 17% clinked the link to the pre-order page. It resulted in a significant jump in pre-orders for us. I also have some other efforts underway to reach an even larger number of people who played TAG.
Another unfortunately side-effect of all this PR/convention stuff is that it gets in the way of the actual development. And unless we have a major improvement in pre-orders the team is going to have to continue working other jobs while we continue developing TAW. However, when I’m not bogged down with PR, I can happily report that development has been going very well. It’s been slow but steady and I feel like I’ve worked out any potential major issues with the game. It’s really now just a matter of finishing art assets, creating sound effects, level building and scripting bosses/story events. And every day that I do get work done it feels like a major win. I know I speak for the whole team when I say we look forward to releasing a successful title that will support us enough to continue making games for the rest of our careers.