I set up and ran my first booth showing a few days ago at PAX 2012.
First, some history. I wasn’t expecting to have a booth. About a month before PAX, a booth spot unexpectedly opened up. My friends at Pocketwatch Games (Monaco!) informed me of this and helped me nab it.
I’ve demoed on a show floor a few times before, but at those times, the show provided me with a free station, table, computer, signage, the works. This PAX was my first time planning, buying/creating the materials, and setting up my own booth area. I’m fortunate to have been supported by the soft cushiony hands of the Indie Megabooth – they made the experience very streamlined and clear.
Great, I now had a 10’x10′ booth spot, ready to show my new game Quadrilateral Cowboy. Now I needed to figure out what I just signed myself up for. In a few weeks.
A few weeks later, I found myself in Seattle setting up my booth. Tying up banners and wrangling computers very much had a Little Rascals “c’mon guys, let’s put on a show!” vibe. The always-amazing Ben Esposito and Marc Nguyen helped me set up, and the likewise-amazing Caleb Bladh helped me demo the game during the show.
Here’s how the Blendo booth ended up looking:
- The television displayed a gameplay video loop.
- The projector played the same video file, but started at a different point. The projector is a BenQ Joybee GP2.
- I had two stations to play the game on.
- I printed 500 Quadrilateral Cowboy cards, displaying the game URL.
- I had some leftover Atom Zombie Smasher buttons + cards from a previous show.
- Hanging from the television I had fictional “big box” packaging for my previous Blendo games. They were made with Photoshop + Kinko’s + hobby knife + glue.
It was a basic setup, and it worked well. People were able to enjoy the game, I met great folks, and I witnessed what playtesting-on-steroids looks like. Quadrilateral Cowboy had a good showing, and I’m looking forward to doing more shows.
With the niceties out of the way, let’s get into the nitty gritty.
The Nitty Gritty
At the close of each day, I wrote in my notebook on how things went. This resulted in my list of “things I need to do differently next time”, mixed with idle observations:
- Have cards at the television. It’s called an attract video for a reason, and it was silly to force people to then walk to the table in order to grab an info card.
- Have game website address at the television. If they’re not interested in grabbing a card, at least give them an address to file away in their brains.
- Get more chairs. Two stations and two chairs is not enough. I had to either crouch or lean down while the player played, and now my legs will never forgive me. Tiny stools would’ve been perfect. Or alternatively, go with standing-height stations and have zero chairs. (Standing stations also make it easier for people wearing backpacks)
- Bigger big boxes. It would’ve been more readable (and funny) to have jumbo big boxes.
- Spinning big boxes. I hung the boxes with string so people could pick them up and read the back. However, apparently people are averse to touching stuff, so they’d instead walk around behind the television in order to read the backs. If there was some way to have the boxes rotate around, that’d be great.
- Tiny big boxes. Have tiny versions of the big boxes at the stations, to get coverage for the entire booth area.
- Boxes worked well. The boxes worked well as shorthand for clearly communicating what the previous Blendo games were.
- More stations. Two stations was not enough.
- Lighting. I remember the lighting at the previous PAX being quite dark, so I brought a desk lamp and flashlight. It ended up not being dark at all, so this was completely unnecessary.
- Audio for attract video. I didn’t have audio for the attract video. It would’ve made the video more understandable if I did.
- Speakers vs. headphones. More than half of the people didn’t want to wear headphones. I think speakers would’ve served better, and also would have the benefit of serving not just the player, but all the observers near the station.
- Water. I drank water after basically every sentence I spoke. I still ended up sounding like a goose after three days, but nowhere near as bad as previous shows. My pee has never been more clear.
- Buttons. I had some leftover Atom Zombie Smasher buttons from a previous show. Buttons are apparently like valuable treasure; they disappeared in record time.
- Have buttons at the television. Same as having cards at the television.
- Cards. I printed 500 Quadrilateral Cowboy cards. I ran out sometime during the middle of the third and final day. Although there was a constant stream of people at the booth, you can extrapolate out from the card consumption and say that the numbers weren’t that large. Though, considering the niche appeal of the game, I’m quite happy with how it did.
- Papercraft. The folks at Vlambeer and Zachtronic Industries had cool papercraft stuff going on, and I loved it. I was planning to make some Midnight Hobo paper bottles, but ran out of time – next time I’m going to give that a go.
- Youngsters. It was so encouraging to see younger people with no technical background play the game, pick up its light programming fundamentals, and get excited about it. I remember a couple of young kids played all the way to the last demo mission, which was a fairly tricky one – they meticulously debugged their command calls until it worked perfectly, and it was so wonderful to witness that.
- Attract video importance. The attract video is what grabs people. I had some “fat” in there that I should’ve excised to make the video more snappy.
- Company shirts. This is my first time wearing a Blendo Games t-shirt, and thank goodness I did that. At previous shows, it was so awkward to have to assure people I worked at Blendo Games. I got my shirts made at spreadshirt.com
- Selling stuff. I’d love to try selling stuff next time, such as T-shirts. The Retro Affect folks were selling Steam keys for Snapshot, which I thought was brilliant idea. Now go play Snapshot.
- Cards at each station. The cards were only available at the end of the table. Next time they should be available/reachable from every station.
- Company signage. I had a fair amount of “what company is this?” questions, so the t-shirt and banner wasn’t enough.
- Mousepads. For some reason I only got myself one mousepad, which doesn’t make sense considering I have two stations.
- Smooshed tablecloth. The tablecloth was fresh out of the box, resulting in giant creases running down the entire length.
- Closed laptop. I later learned there is a laptop power option to keep the machine running even when the laptop is closed.
- Safescreen. There’s a good chance your monitor may in fact be a television. In this case, safescreen is a possible issue and should be tested as soon as possible. Some TVs make it incredibly difficult to find the safescreen settings hidden in its menus.
- Common questions. It may be good idea to set up an information sign somewhere with common questions (release date, platforms, etc) to cut down on repeating yourself (and saving your voice).
- Steam is a platform. One of the most common questions I received: will it be on Steam? When listing platforms, just include Steam. Yup, Steam is a platform.
- Sponsors. The Indie Megabooth set up a sponsorship with the fine folks at Intel and Mad Catz. The TV, TV stand, desktop computer, and peripherals were provided for us – big thanks to everyone involved in that.
In closing, one last thing: it’s been so great to be part of this group of independent developers. Everyone was so supportive, and my booth neighbors Gaslamp Games, Vlambeer, DrinkBox Studios, and Fire Hose Games couldn’t have been more gracious.
Long live the Indie Megabooth.