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14 Feb 2014

Showcasing Your Game at a Video Game Conference

The conference/trade show season is upon us. As a result, tons of companies from all over the world are gearing up to showcase their game to the world – indie developers included. If you have never shown your indie game at a video game conference/trade show, you need to seriously consider doing it as you will definitely get a lot of eyeballs looking at your game in addition to possibly a bit of hype surrounding your indie darling.

And the best part? Journalists are always in attendance at these things to see what is worth reporting on. You’re definitely going to be glad that you chose to show off your game to the public, yet there is a right and wrong way to do this. To ensure you get as many views as possible to your booth, you need to know which practices are vital to getting more people to look at your game. The following practices should be used at all times in order to ensure you get the most people talking about your game.

Setting up the booth

If at all possible, choose a proper position for your booth. Consider how much foot traffic is going to be going through the area, and do your part to attempt to secure a location that faces a lane of heavy traffic. This is why so many developers seek out corner booths, as it is simple for your game to be seen to those passing by.

Bring surge protectors, pencils, tape, scissors – little things you would never think to bring with you to the conference. Chances are you are going to need one of these before the conference is over. In addition, practice demoing your game with your friends/ family. Tell them to ask you questions about the game – and the more obscure the better! There are going to be attendees and journalists alike that will ask some seriously odd questions about your game while they are playing it – so be prepared! While you will not be able to prepare for every question that comes your way, by practicing the act of actually answering questions, you will be able to answer questions on a whim much more easily than if you went into the conference cold turkey.

And that brings up best practice #2:

Don’t wing anything

You can’t wing a booth. Don’t wait until the night before to put together a booth that you think looks presentable. People can tell when you do, and believe me, it doesn’t matter how awesome your game may be: if your booth sucks, nobody is going to go to it. Your booth is a reflection of your game and your overall brand, and as unfair as that may be, it’s the truth. It’s the concept behind why book covers have to look so good: if a cover doesn’t capture your attention, nobody is going to buy it. A more modern reference would be the app icon of your mobile game. If the icon doesn’t look attractive, nobody is going to click on the game’s page to learn more about it.

Think of your booth as the ‘hook’ that will lure the public into your game (and that’s exactly what it is).

Here are a few ideas for making your booth stand out from the rest:

  • Colorful banner pictures decorating your booth.
    • Include relevant information on these banners too, such as the link to your Facebook page, Twitter account, email address, and website.
    • Probably shouldn’t put your phone number, mailing address, and name of your firstborn though.
  • Set up a bowl of candy on one end of the booth, free swag on the other end.
    • Get good candy too, like Jolly Ranchers.
    • Your swag should be able to fit in a large bowl, such as lapel pins, lanyards, and so on.
    • Larger swag such as artbooks and t-shirts should be positioned away from the foot traffic. Give this swag to people that actually spend some time discussing the game with you to reward their time with you.
  • Set up a sheet where people can write their email address to be signed up on your mailing list.
    • Ask those that visit you about the game if they want to be on your mailing list as well.
    • This will provide you a chance to reach out to those interested in your game, thus building up your audience even further.
  • Display that you are selling Steam keys for your game, and give away a free Steam key now and again. 

During the actual event

Bring a notebook with you. Jot down advice and feedback from those that play your game, as this will help you to improve your game. Also, ensure that you play your game whenever no one is playing your game so people can see it in action. When you get a few people watching your game, turn around and ask them if anybody wants to give the game a try. Remember: keeping your game at the main menu does not tell anybody anything about your game. Ensure it’s always in action as much as possible.

Don’t be a backseat gamer either. Allow the player to play the game for themselves and figure it out as they play. If you’re demo is good enough, the player should be able to figure out how to play the game with minimal effort. Alternatively, if the game is complicated, you should be able to tell them how to play the game in under a minute, and from there they should be able to figure it out from there.

Stay out of their personal space, too. One time when I was playing a demo at a conference, the developer was so close to me I swear I could feel the stubble on his face. As a result, I couldn’t enjoy the game and was ready to get out of there the moment I started playing. The game was fun too but I can’t remember the game, and you know why? Because I was too preoccupied being creeped out. Stand back, watch them play the game, and only interject if you notice they are stuck.

Have fun

Conferences and trade shows are exhausting, but they’re a blast. There’s nothing like getting up at 6am, getting some coffee, and getting prepared for the next day of interacting with awesome people. Be professional, be cool, and be prepared. You’re not the first indie developer to be nervous and unsure about how to approach their booth. Follow these tips above, and you will do great.

Do you have any tips to add to this list? Let us know in the comments below!

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