So, I’ve been to PGA – Poznań Game Arena, one of the biggest gaming expo/events in Poland. And OMG it was huuuge. 2015 edition had over 66 000 visitors, 130 exhibitors and 3 days full of games, fun, esports tournaments and cosplays! Not only it was my first PGA visit, but also it was my first time as an exhibitor. It was an amazing experience and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve made some minor mistakes but luckily no major ones… Anyway, as a form of a summary I’ve decided to put up a list of things that I’d advice to any first-time exhibitors.
Wait, what? Scriptwelder, you’re a newbie at this and already giving advice to others? Well, yeah – because I think veterans sometimes forget how it is to start and they take a lot of things for granted. I found myself really lost when preparing to the event and constantly had to spam PGA’s customer service with dumb and obvious questions. So, yeah… – I think this post could show quite nicely what my thoughts on the expo are and maybe I’ll help somebody in the process!
1. Even if you’re a solo developer, don’t go alone
This sounds like a no-brainer, but I’ve seen some lone devs on Digital Dragons back in May. To this day I have no idea how did they manage to attend their booths on their own for the whole duration of the event. I mean at some point you’ll have to get a snack or use a toilet at least. Sure, you CAN hire someone on the spot to guard the booth for you, but they will only make sure nobody takes or breaks anything. At all times there should be a person on duty that can talk about your project. I think this is a perfect moment to say thanks to my friends who went with me to PGA – I couldn’t do it without you!
2. Make sure you know your booth before you go…
Another no-brainer it would seem… But it’s a thing that is easy to miss in the fever of preparations. When you’re ordering a spot at any expo, double check if it’s a desk, an open space or a built-up space. In any case, check what kind of equipment is provided by default. At PGA for example it was a brand/game name signpost, two chairs, a very narrow table (which is to be honest a bare minimum and probably won’t be sufficient for you) and an optional computer screen. I have ordered some additional furniture but for example devs in a nearby booth had only 2 chairs and they had to take turns in using them. Imagine how would you like your booth to be arranged, what would you like to have there and ask for a list of furniture and services that can be provided by the expo holder. Also, remember about basics like electric outlets – yeah, bring an electric splitter. Again, seems obvious but such details are easy to miss.
3. …and make it stand out, at least a little bit
Another important thing is making your booth at least a little bit customized. Your booth is going to reflect you and your game(s) in the eyes of visitors, so make it stand out. You don’t have to be SOS level of standing out. Just have a roll-up or two, a couple of posters to put on the walls, maybe some unique feature of your game/studio that can be attached to the signpost? I had bought a welding mask and wore it for the half of the event. Guys from Robot Gentlemen had suits, top hats and goggles. There are many neat ways you can make your booth more noticeable. The less empty blank walls the better – and this is where I’ve made a mistake, the mask and roll-up were great ideas but in retrospect I should have made a couple of posters or at least one more roll-up to fill the place.
People love freebies, so win their hearts by giving away some goodies. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but you’ll look much more professional if you have at least some sort of leaflets. There are lots of good sites online where you can order almost anything with your logo on it – from calendars and pens to pendrives and can openers. Top-tier stuff is expensive but you can focus on cheaper things like badges, which in my opinion are the best choice for a freebie. When you’re done designing your goodies, you submit the result to the manufacturer. Then they ask you about the quantity and you gasp because you realize you have literally no idea how much is enough but not too much. I don’t know the definite answer for that, but maybe this will help: for my PGA booth I had 100 badges/pins and 250 leaflets/cards – and I had to ration them strictly through all 3 days of the event – I think I should have ordered at least twice as much of each, so there you have it.
5. …but don’t let people get your own stuff for free
Yeah, you don’t want people to take your own belongings aka steal. As sad as it sounds, it happens – I’ve been lucky/cautious enough to avoid that, but I’ve heard about one dev having his personal pendrive stolen. Always make sure you know where your stuff is, keep all the valuable items locked in the backroom of your booth, or some other place safe. And if you’re letting people play on your computers, get yourself some cheap keyboards, mouses and headphones – you won’t miss them much if they go missing or get broken.
6. Showcase your game(s) on a screen
No matter how popular your game is, you have to pretend nobody knows about it – like if you were showing your piece of work to the public for the first time. Have a designated computer screen that only plays trailers/gameplay loops or make a movie screensaver so the gameplay shows when nobody uses the screen for a minute or two. Remember, you want to get visitor’s attention. There can be no dull moment on your monitors, no Windows desktop or generic wallpapers. No point in displaying a static logo – make yourself a poster if you want to have one, it’s a waste of a computer screen. Show something animated there!
This is literally why you’re there. You want people to play your game/games. It’s the most obvious of all points in this post… So like I’ve said before, get yourself a spare keyboard/mouse/gamepad and headphones so you’re not worried that someone’s going to break your valuable equipment. If you have a spare monitor, you can literally put your laptop away and just let people play using only the peripherals. So, when everything is ready just step back and watch. Watch and learn – oh, you’re gonna learn A LOT. Watching a total stranger play your game is an extraordinary experience. This is the best feedback you can get, from a random guy that is not your friend or family, not a coworker or even a hired tester. This is a person that’s going to be really open-minded and unprejudiced with their opinion. Surely, face-to-face contact with game developer will make their judgement a bit softer than it would otherwise be. Nevertheless, grab this opportunity, if not for direct feedback, then just to observe how people play your game, what parts they seem like the most, what seems to be unclear or confusing for them.
8. If your game(s) isn’t/aren’t best fit to be experienced in expo booth, you probably should make some additional effort
I had this problem – most of my games are point and click adventures, that require lots of time and immersion to play. And while it’s not impossible to get involved in a game like this during an expo, not everyone will be able to do it. What can be done about that? You’ll have to do some extra work: trim your game to a demo, create a special expo-friendly stage, or – in rare cases – make a whole new game. I took that approach and for Poznań Game Arena I had a special mini-game played with a motion sensor (I’ll say more about that project some other time). The game was easy to play and eye-catching, mostly because people playing with the motion sensor were attracting others attention, resulting in a chain reaction. And after the game was beaten (it only took about a minute to finish) in most cases it was followed by “That was great, what else have you got?”
9. Don’t expect to see much of the actual expo while having your own booth
So you’re at the event. Really excited to check out the place? To attend some lectures or e-sports shows? Well, tough luck because the odds are you won’t be able to, especially if you are a solo developer or a head of your team. I tried to visit some places that interested me, but each time I disappeared from the booth for longer than 3 minutes I got a call from my friends saying there is an important X Y person that wanted to see me and learn more about the stuff I do. Sorry, for most of the time you’re chained to your own booth.
10. …but make some friendly visits to other devs
Nevertheless you can (and should) walk around and visit other indie devs in their booths. I know I’ve said you won’t be able to see much of the expo, but they are literally few meters away. Why visit others? Because they are awesome! You can get to know really great people that work and think just like you. Exchange business cards, talk about their projects, play their games and invite them to your booth so they can take a look at your stuff. It’s a really good way to appear in the indie scene if you want to be acknowledged or at least noticed by other devs. Even if you don’t stay in touch with them after the event they will most likely recognize you next time you meet at some expo or game jam.
11. Expect to be really tired after the event (and get some sore throat pills)
If you ever thought you were tired after visiting an expo, you have no idea how tired you’re going to be after being an exhibitor. I knew it wasn’t an easy job but I had no idea it was going to be SO EXHAUSTING. Three days of shouting through loud crowds of people at the expo will leave your throat sore, attending your booth 10 hours a day will make your head pounding and unhealthy fast-food mixed with energy drinks won’t do your stomach any good. Not that you can do anything about it… just be ready!
So, there you have it. A handful of advice for expo newbies – I hope you’ll find some of them useful. I know most of this article is pretty much useless for anyone that is a regular expo exhibitor. But if you’ve never been one and you’ve been wondering if you should.. hell yeah! Its a wonderful experience, something really amazing. You will meet a lot of new friends, fans and other developers. Reach out to your audience, build a relationship with them, show them your games and – really, after all – have fun. Because besides all the hard work, it is fun!