First, a PAX Poem
‘Twas the night before PAX East and somewhere on a plane
Some germs were a-spreading, and no one could name
The one who would kickstart this year’s conference plague
Something something, not much rhymes with plague.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we wanted to share some super-simple, mostly-obvious, but Not Entirely Worthless Tips for Indie Devs attending PAX East. If you’ve been to a bunch of trade shows before, this might not be very useful. But like I said, not entirely worthless tips. There’s a reason I didn’t call this “Totally Useful Tips for Everyone.” If you’re a little inexperienced with presenting your game to the public and the media, then by all means, read on.
I will say that I’m not the fear-mongering type. I think that our society will some day be crippled by some sort of super-disease that breaks through our protective barrier and our weakened immune systems… but for now, I advise you to bring some hand sanitizer.
2. Have Schedules Handy
Unless you’ve been chained to your desk and working on your game for the last few months and subsequently also forgot to hire some PR help NUDGE NUDGE WINK WINK, you should probably have some sort of media schedule for the show. Make sure you print off enough copies of the schedule so that everyone working your booth has one and can reliably realize that yes, that guy from Big Game Site X will be at the booth in three minutes.
3. Wear Comfortable Footwear
No, don’t show up in your fuzzy bear slippers… as cool as they are and as comfortable as they may seem at home, they will offer you no respite from the grueling activity that is standing on concrete all day long. Bring good shoes. If you forgot them at home, go get good shoes.
4. Don’t Forget Your Business Cards
You need some way for media or fans to keep in touch with you. Business cards are a good way to do that. Bring enough. Or don’t. Just be prepared to scribble emails and phone numbers on your hands like an 8th-grader.
5. Get Assets Ready
You should probably get screenshots, videos, logos, fact sheets and any other info and assets that may be valuable to media up on an FTP or press website. If you have a chance to print off cards with the FTP info on them or otherwise have some way to convey the info to media and fans at the show, great. Edit thanks to feedback from Arthur Gies at Polygon: Also, because internet tends to suck at most trade shows (because everyone’s tapping the same bandwidth), USB keys are great to have. As Arthur points out, even CD-Rs (or DVDs) can do the trick if you’re looking for a last-minute solution.
At the Show
1. Be There and Be Aware
Make sure there’s always at least one person at the booth at all times, available to talk to anyone who stops by — whether media or fan. Personal interaction is so important for helping you build a community of devoted fans, but for the media it could make or break a coverage opportunity. If you’re not around to explain your game, you might lose out. That said, if you’re busy showing the game to someone and you notice another interested party standing by, a quick “Hey, I’ll be with you in a second” can make a big difference in making that person feel better.
Similar to a game of whack-a-mole, Snag-A-Journalist basically means that if you see a media badge, ask them if they’d like to check out your game. Of course, you might feel a little weird about it, but… you want them to see your game, right? Should your shyness preclude you from media coverage? Never! I mean it: the more willing you are to put yourself out there, the better your chances of getting media to stop by. If your game is actually awesome, they’ll be happy they took the time. If your game sucks… well, you have bigger problems.
3. Give Stuff Away
People love some free shit. I’ve seen hordes of rabid gamers swarm booths to get free stuff when they didn’t even what the game was or what sort of free stuff was being given away. T-shirts are a big hit, but you can give away anything and attract people to your booth. Run scheduled giveaways every hour or two — with a schedule posted — and get your loudest, least shy booth staffer to attract the attention of passersby.
4. Be Ready to Answer Questions
You need to know at least a handful of key facts about your game. You don’t need to rehearse a 30-minute presentation — after all, your game should speak for itself — but take a little bit of time to rehearse your elevator pitch. That is, answer the simple question, “What is this game?” in one or two sentences. Additionally, try to envision a few questions media might ask and make sure you have answers: What platform is this for? What’s the release date? What makes your game special? The more you know, the better educated your audience will be.
5. Ask for Business Cards
Particularly with the media, make sure you ask for contact info for a follow-up. Business cards are easiest here, and most media who take their jobs seriously should have them. Make sure they know who to follow up with if they have questions — it’ll either be you or your PR rep. But if you don’t tell them who it is, they won’t know.
6. Watch Them Play, Don’t Maul
Be helpful when someone is playing, but don’t be overbearing. People hate it when someone tells them every little bit of what they’re seeing or what they should do. Let people (media and fans) play your game, and only offer feedback/commentary when you feel it’s really necessary or if they’re getting stuck.
I hope that helps! If you have some more tips that I’ve forgotten in my insomnia-induced haze, share them in the comments below. And by all means, do pass this on… we only have a day to help every indie dev at PAX.