Over this weekend (Nov 13-14) I took Unmatch to a local gaming convention called GamersRhapsody. I’d like to recap that experience, and share with you what I learned.
Before the show
Leading up to the con, I was a little nervous and had lots to prepare. I started by making a list of what I needed and scraping everything I couldn’t afford. I decided I wanted my table to be very minimalist, to mirror the feeling of the game. The list was actually fairly short: Business cards, signage, playable devices, and power solutions. To start I had my business cards printed, but was not impressed with the results so opted instead to do them myself. While these home-printed cards were not extremely professional, I didn’t hear anything terrible about them and saved alot of money. I opted to print a single sign to hang behind my table at the con. I whipped up a nice poster design and shipped it off to Walgreens for printing. My local shop got it done for me in an hour and it turned out great with nice bright colors. With signage and propaganda out of the way I needed devices for my fans to play on. I already owned one iPad for testing, and opted to purchase another. This was the single most expensive part of the entire process. For power solutions I simply took an extension cord and power strip from my house.
At the show
I got to the show at 8:30AM (Doors opened to the public at 10AM). I quickly found my place and began setting up my area. I was setup by the door to the games room, which I thought would be a great high traffic area. All of my cards, poster and devices were ready to go by 8:45AM. Arriving early gave me a chance to see some of the other areas of the convention, and a great chance to meet my booth neighbors. The show started off pretty slow with people trickling in before noon. Then my convention issues began. Having the devices constantly on and brightly displaying my title screen for hours was beginning to wear down the iPad batteries. I could tell that they would not make it all the way through the show without a chance to charge. I was not concerned as I had brought charging cables, but while the cables were connected the iPads would not rest on the stands I brought. Then I realized that having them connected to power would prevent them from dying,but they were not charging. My app was drawing too much power being constantly on, and plugging them in was only delaying the inevitable crash. While dealing with this problem, my bladder came to call. It struck me that in all my wanderings I had never located the nearest restroom. Luckily one of my booth neighbors was willing to watch my equipment while I tended to my humanly needs. After returning I decided to simply remove the stands for the iPads and let them rest on the table. While not as eye catching, at least my devices wouldn’t die. In hindsight I should have tucked one away to charge, and then swapped them later.
As the patrons went to lunch I took the chance to do the same. Again, a booth neighbor watched over my stuff, and I went and grabbed a sandwich. So my iPads were still working, I had eaten and taken care of my natural needs. The early afternoon was going fine, but I noticed that my table wasn’t generating as much traffic as some of the other developers. I mentioned it to them and they gave me the best advice of the show. While the door area was a high traffic area, it was dimly lit, and people had already committed to exiting / entering. They recommended that I talk to the convention people and move my table to a better lit area. They also pointed out that several of the other games were making use of larger screens, and grabbing a lot of attention. If I wanted to boost traffic, I needed to try and place myself within that line of sight, or as close as possible. I moved my table to a better lit location, and the results were almost instant. I had seen a few patrons of the show pass by my table two or three times in the past, and now they were at my table and loving the game. By 4 o’clock in the afternoon I had doubled my traffic, and visitors. As time wound down the show floor emptied and I sighed a great relief. I had made it (semi-successfully) through my first convention. It was a great experience.
What I learned
Location, Location, Location. While you may not always have a choice in the matter of where your display is, you should try your best to identify the actual high traffic locations of the show. While some of this choice depends on the space itself, it is also affected by the other games and booths around you.
Be prepared as possible to adapt. While I had charged my devices ahead of time, I did not bother to check how long the charge would last. Make sure your devices and hardware are up to the challenge of an all-day play session before you get to the show.
Solo is hard. If you can, bring someone with. While I had family and friends in town, I was very lucky to have understanding and helpful booth neighbors to help me out. If you have to solo it, make some friends and hope for the best.
Be attractive. I think it goes without saying that you should take some personal hygiene time before the show, but I mean this in regards to your booth. People are attracted to larger screens, and brighter displays. Try and maximize your physically visibility.
Be grateful. Thank your patrons for their time, and playing the game. Several times, I would say thanks to otherwise mute players, and it would strike up a dialog with them about the game. It’s humble, polite, and opens some people up for feedback.
In the interest of being open to fledging developers I’m going to share some of the financial stuff. All of these prices should be taken with a grain of salt (YMMV), and are in USD. If you have someones couch to crash or can room share the prices will adjust. I also bought an iPad so my numbers are quite high.
Gamers Rhapsody Booth Cost -$75 (2 badges/table/and power cost included)
Poster Print (Walgreens) -$31
Business Cards (Home printed) -$13 and some ink
iPad Air 2 -$450
Hotel stay -$89
Total without iPad: $208
Gamers Rhapsody was a great opportunity, and I will be repeating my attendance in the future. While it is not on the scale of GDC or PAX, it was a great convention. I learned tons, and got some great opportunities to network with other nearby developers, fans, press, musicians, and organizers.
If you did attend, thanks for coming. If you couldn’t make it this year, please keep it in mind and I hope to see you there next year!