On showcasing your demo at events

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(Warning: rather lengthy post ahead)

Finally! We are back from Barcelona Games World, where we assisted as one of the 20 studios that are trying to get their way to Sony Spain’s Playstation Awards final (we will know soon, on October 19th), with so much feedback -bugs, metrics, features, etc.- and thoughts about the event while showing Trespassers once more. Let me be clear beforehand: this is not as much a critic to the event itself, but a reflection about how those events could be improved -for organizers- or what to consider if you are assisting -devs.

Do not go alone, if you can

“Thank you, Captain Obvious”. Well, it wasn’t the case at this event, and 4 days, 10:00-20:00 almost non stop is really tiring for just one person. Even if you go with someone, it is tiring anyway so, in case you are travelling to another city, try to find a place to stay that is close to the event, as you need to rest. Yes, developers rest, too. Plan a schedule for team member assisting, so you all can have lunch at lunch time, and have tasks assigned: attracting players, explaining things, building relationships with publishers/devs around…

Sound, audio, music … forget if you have no headphones

Years ago I was in a band with some friends. When we were balancing the sound while practicing, everyone ended up rising his own so he could hear himself, instead of lowering so everyone could hear himself and others. The one that suffered most was the “singer” and his vocal chords. This seems to be what happens in those events, but everyone is the singer here.

This was, probably, the most critical point of the whole event. Seriously, you will end up half deaf and hoarse after hours trying to communicate with people standing even right side by side with you. I still don’t get how this mistake keeps happening at every big event we go (our fault, then!), so here is my “little complaint”. We were located right behind a big panel of TVs showing different events from Sony. The volume was SO loud that sometimes you just couldn’t hear people near you. Trying wasn’t even worth. They were showing not only demos of new games, but also competitions with commentators that were yelling at times, which was amplified beyond acceptable. I think this just shows no concern for developers and other professionals that were working on the event. No twinkie this time, Sony! (and you are not alone, unfortunately)

Also, think about other developers near you. You don’t need your game to stand above everyone else’s by putting the volume in the speakers/TV as high as possible. And it may ruin your experience too.

Chairs are for players

Trivial topic there! Chairs are for your players. The organizers may not have enough of them for you and you will have to bear with it, but NOT your players. If they have to stand up because there are no chairs for them, you cannot sit. Period. They go first. But luckily, you can bring one of those inexpensive folding chairs and make use of it in case you need it. It saved our backs at some points.

Note for organizers: if you, as this was the case in that event, are offering developers room to come because of a competition, you can check/ask how many players do their games support, so you can prepare that in advance.

Stuff in the stand

Take power strips, additional cables for the controllers if you can, batteries, chargers, HDMI, maybe VGA (just in case), speakers, even a screwdriver, in case things get screwed up (ha-ha) and you need to open your computer to fix something. If it is a game released for consoles maybe you should not need to be there, but bringing the console itself is a great plus.

Take business cards (we missed them!). Take promotional material if you are planning to make a contest with your game. There are developers that customize the TV sets they bring to make it akin to the atmosphere of their game. Try to be creative within your budget restrictions.

If you are in a competition, keep some ballots in your table, so it is easier to explain how it works and even get some votes.

And don’t forget the notebook! Take! A! Notebook! You need to write up as much feedback as you can. Notebooks are inexpensive, take so little room, and are really useful for keeping feedback recorded as soon as you get it.

Prepare your demo, if you are in a competition

We are not really fond of making players vote their “only favorite” game at an event where there are so many games to try. In this case, there were 20 games, but only ONE option for players to select their preferred game. It would be fair if all games were similar (all were beat-em-ups, for example), but there were VR simulation games, action games, narrative-heavy games, even one that was played with the phone and computer at the same time. It doesn’t harm to let the players choose 3 options, for example, and that encourages trying more games before deciding. It was so common that players voted the first game they tried, that it just didn’t make sense. With 3 options and, literally, thousands of votes, the most beloved ones would shine anyway. Again, no twinkie!

Plan the duration of an average game, and what you want to show in it. You can bring all the content, but they won’t see it, so focus the experience as much as you can. Maybe the mark for Trespassers is around 10 minutes, so you can keep that as reference for other action games (although you should know your game -more on that later).

Games as Trespassers have a great response in this kind of situations because it asks for so little from the players before they can be engaged in the game. But there were great games that need calm and time to be enjoyed, and they have less chances in a “popularity” contests as this was. Think “Metal Slug VS Monkey Island” in a mayhem like this full of people: despite both being such timeless master pieces, one will easily drag more people in just because of the nature of the event. That’s what we find unfair of just selecting one option.

Know your game

“Thank you twice, Captain Obvious”. No, really, know everything about your game. Know how to pitch it, how to play it, how you have developed it, everything, beacuse you will be asked/required to do so. The pitch is crucial in case you are heading for business, but a good tagline is a must to attract players too. You need to have one.

You will get to know:

Players. You need to know how to play it, for example in cases were you would like to guide players to places/situations/encounters that may suit better their expectations. In our case, Trespassers may be played cooperating with other player, so we had to play a lot with people that was coming alone. And you should know how to be a good mate, adapting to your companion’s skill level so he can enjoy the experience. If you want to attract players, keep playing the game when no one is; the main menu is usually not as compelling as the game itself.

Publishers. You need to bear in mind your production plan, schedules, how can a publisher help you, what do you need/expect from them. Even if you are not interested, their opinion may be valuable, so try to speak with them, to share thoughts on the game -you will never know.

Press/youtubers. Elevator pitch again. Release date, players targeted, platform, highlights, references/inspiration sources, price, duration… think as a player about your game. Press and youtubers are not the same, but will ask for some things in common.

Developers. They will ask about the engine, technologies, the team, how long have you been developing it, contact for further reference. Every insight you can share is usually welcomed. Sometimes you will meet people that has some thoughts about the design of you game. Those thoughts should be dealt with care, and only after playing the game and getting the gist of it you can tell what things would you test to improve the experience. And don’t be in a defensive position with feedback from fellow developers. Be constructive with your opinions or stay quiet: developers have been working on their game for longer that you may expect, and may have had tested many mechanics before getting to the point that you are playing. Nobody knows their game better than them.

People not in any other group. Parents with their children, which may be concerned about how bloody/gore your game is, is one of the best examples. Many of them usually welcome you telling them that your game may not be suitable for their kids, and in fact doing so is your responsibility.

Location in the area

It will be hard to select where will you be showcasing the game, as stands usually depend on cost and the organizer preferences, but try to get a glimpse about how it may look like before going. In this case, one of the teams had VR with special controllers for their game, so they needed room for players that they didn’t have. We ended up switching places with them, as we just need place for players to sit if they wanted to, no big requirements there. If you know that in advance, you can tell the organizer about your special needs, and it will be easier for everyone.

For organizers: If you have the chance and want to help developers geting noticed, do not put them in the last hidden corner. Put them in the way to something big, as assistants will see them much better. Of course, you are trying to sell your best bets, but they will end up reaching the audience anyway, wherever you put them.

In the image below you can see where developers were turned into “Walking Devs” (super pun!). The final layout was a bit different, with VR sets at the entrance (top left), and the way to the area where we were was not as clear as it seems here. Close to the Playstation signature buttons, there was the big screen with the speakers so loud that I was describing earlier, placed in front of those white benches, really close to us.

Sony's room at Barcelona Games World 2016

Be nice

“You again, Captain Obvious?”. At events as long as this, you will get to meet new people, which holds specially true for other developers, mostly your “neighbours”. The good vibes are built around everyone’s intention to make it happen. In my experience, it is common to spend at least one afternoon/night drinking something with other developers after the work day just talking, getting to meet each other, sharing experiences, etc. You will meet great people this way, so be nice and keep building the community as it should be.

Also, some players are more than willing to meet the creators and share some time with them. They can make you really proud of your game just by showing their enthusiasm, and some share great ideas too. We got a new anecdote: two players were losing because they were caught by an enemy that is a bit hard, and they kept calling him “el bocas” (hard to translate, the closer being “bigmouth” in other contexts, but they were referring to a big mouth -“boca”- in the belly). It was just a matter of minutes to get the name changed. We got inspiration from real players, and they contributed to the game and witnessed it.

Trespassers - Stringer attacking
Stringer (now “el bocas”, in spanish) in action

Here ends the lengthy post with some insights/opinions. I would like to thank every developer for their support and feedback during those 4 days together -check them here (spanish)-, although specially our closer neighbours (Virtual BanditsFAS3Crystalizer GamesVyretruxTessera StudiosSeamantis GamesDNA Softworks). We couldn’t meet all the developers at the venue, but the experience was great anyway. And special greetings to my ex-students from 3 Bones. So proud of you! 😉

See ya!

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