Game Conventions: Go or no go?

Discussion in 'Commercial Games Discussion' started by watermark, Sep 23, 2019.

  1. watermark

    watermark Veteran Veteran

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    It's been mentioned by @Pots Talos on another thread that conventions are "where the money comes in". That peaked my interest. Having never been to one, I actually have no idea what happens at a game convention. I thought you just go to attend some seminars and look at demos by AAA studios. I didn't know you can make money there.

    1. If you've gone to one, what's it like?

    2. Advice for what small indie studios should do there?

    3. I am guessing to sell anything you need to setup a booth? This is on top of entrance and other fees I'm assuming. How much does it cost overall? Was it worth it?

    4. Lastly, any conventions you recommend for small time indie devs?
     
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  2. gstv87

    gstv87 Veteran Veteran

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    developers spend a lot of money trying to convince people to buy their games, gamers spend a lot of money buying things that help them make the most of their purchased games, and regular people go and watch it all unfold, and publish it online.

    that's what happens.
     
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  3. Andar

    Andar Veteran Veteran

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    if you go to a convention to sell something then yes, you'll need to pay fees for a booth, usually a sellers booth.

    Those fees depend on the size and type of convention as well as the size of the booth, and can go up to 100$ per meter of booth. Some conventions however do other cheaper package deals if you're willing to settle for a small, fixed size booth.
    Add to that your travel expenses and the cost of settng up your booth (you get an empty table, sometimes not even a table, and everything else from decoration to seats is up to you). And don't forget that you'll need at minimum a second attendant to watch over your things while you go eat or to the restroom - there WILL be people who steal from booths on most conventions.

    If you're small and new, your best bet is to find several other small indie and share a booth, watching for each other. Otherwise there is a high probability that your first convention will be a bad experience.

    If you're interested in more than just selling your game (which means you want to go over the con yourselve to see other offers), then you'll need at least three people, two to stay on the booth (so that one can go to the restroom), allowing one to wander around.

    I have been to several conventions (both to help others sell and to demo my PnP-RPG) and helped set them up sometimes - and a convention is NOT guaranteed to make you money.
    It is some form of advertisement as you can hand out flyers to get people interested to buy later, but especially if you have only one product it is extremely unlikely that you can get your expenses back. Because there is also too much competition on a convention.

    There is a lot more to deciding which conventions have a chance for you and which ones are a bust from get-go (too few customers for example).
    It can make you money, especially if you have a good game and good decorations to draw in customers, but without experience handling cons that is unlikely.
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2019
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  4. Indinera

    Indinera Indie Dev Veteran

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    Never been to one in my entire career, so the money came in another way.
    I don't think I've been missing out, the good conventions are always very far (from me) and just the entrance fees are ridiculously high. The only way I'd consider going is if I was invited, eg for a talk, like some devs sometimes are.
     
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  5. Shaz

    Shaz Veteran Veteran

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    Are you maybe taking that out of context? I just read the comment you referred to, and it was specifically in relation to a 100 hour long game that wasn't selling very well on Steam.

    It could be that the kind of people who go to game conventions dig really long games, and that might be part of why he gets those results.
     
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  6. Pots Talos

    Pots Talos Veteran Veteran

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    So I'm not going to agree or disagree with anyone here, I will just tell you my experience since I've shown off my game at various conventions.

    I live in New York so there are a lot of different conventions of all kinds within driving distance which right away is a big plus.
    The first convention we had a booth at was Toomanygames, it's a small convention that has been growing every year and we've been there the last three years. It's great and has a big retro crowd which works in our favor for our style game. Our first year there we had a bare bones booth with nothing, but a little sign and our laptops hooked up for play. We made no money, but we weren't going for money at the time, it was just for exposure and learning.

    After seeing what others did with their booths it gave us ideas on what we needed/wanted. Luckily one of our friends works at a place that makes all sorts of graphic backdrops and banners. So, we gave him some of our artwork and asked for a table skirt, banner for 10x10 booth and some posters. Because of him we were able to get these at cost which was a big help!

    6 months before release I was hunting for conventions to go to and sending out emails in hopes of an invite. PAX East got back to me, but they wanted $2,000 for a 10x10 booth. This is a lot of money for us and I didn't really gave it too much thought on going but after discussing it with my partner we decided that just being there would be worth the experience if we both chip in and give it a try. Now remember this is $2,000 for just the booth, we also had to rent a van, pay for hotel, and other expenses (gas, tolls, food, etc....). Not only that but we knew we couldn't just go there with our laptops, so we bought 3 big screen TVs and some TV stands so that we could make sure that people would be able to see the game trailer and gameplay as they walked by our booth. We returned the TVs after the convention which I know is shady but we did eventually buy 3 TVs from the same store just for conventions after we made enough money.

    Now obviously not everyone can or would do this but I have to say it was amazing! Setting up the booth around all these big-time developers and seeing all the behind the scenes stuff was just awesome. We had a little 10 x 10 booth off in a corner where we thought no one would ever come by but we were wrong, there are so many people that show up at this convention it's insane. Our booth was always packed with people and it was a blast talking to everyone about our game. Not only did we make our money back but we also made enough to put away so we could go to more conventions.

    After PAX East we went to a bunch of smaller conventions that ran us about $100-$200 for a 10 x 10 booth and since we already had all the supplies, we only ever had to worry about travel expenses. Then we had our banner guy make up some vinyl maps of our world and we would raffle them off at future conventions, anyone who bought a copy at the convention would get entered into the raffle. We also sold our game at a discount at all conventions for further motivation.

    Ever since PAX East we’ve always made back or more than the cost of going to conventions which is prefect for us. We only really care about breaking even because it’s the exposure we care about most at this point. But getting started and putting together all the needed assets to make a great booth is expensive and its something you have to decide for yourself if it is worth it. We dove in not expecting to make money but just to have the experience and we made out well. But it could have easily gone the other way and if it did sure we would have been disappointed, but I would always have the memory of showing off my game at PAX.
     
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  7. Indinera

    Indinera Indie Dev Veteran

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    "the good conventions are always very far (from me)"
    "I live in New York"

    Exactly. ;)

    Was it from sales made during the convention, and if so what kind of sales?
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2019
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  8. richter_h

    richter_h Eh? Sweetroll? Veteran

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    My first experience in game conventions was more or less due to a series of accidents which put me into a position that was quite crucial: being a spearhead and representative of a community. Long story short, it wasn't that bad, even I've got a recognition back then, particularly because of the game I exhibited there. And no, I didn't go there with a team; I went alone, with a set of stuffs required for showing off my game there. Also no, I didn't pay even a penny for a booth there, since the requirement to get there was mostly by qualifications rather than paying some fees.

    Then, I happened to get into several conventions, big and small alike, and despite the setbacks and oddities I've gotten so far, conventions are always a welcomed one especially for game developers for a good reason: to bring the game onto audiences' presence, let them get hands-on experience on the game, and receive feedbacks directly from them after they give the game a try.

    To put it simply: a mixed bag, but it's a good experience since I can see people playing my game live with my own eyes and get organic experience from those who were never played it before.

    Interact with your visitors a lot, and don't talk about your game too much. People don't like it when someone talks about their stuffs a lot to the extent that the discussion becomes more of preaching than interactions between the developer and the audience.
    "Read" their expressions when they play your game. Listen to their feedback and take note of important things they might say.
    Don't forget to say thanks to them, since they're willing to stop by, play your game and interact with you.

    If you meant "merchandising" your stuffs, I've seen some sold some stuffs in their booths while others give freebies to whoever visits their booths. And if I may be honest, based on my experience, it's usually not worth it.
    Also, I don't know much about this, but as Andar has explained above, there's another fee if you wanna sell your stuffs in your booth. Unless you've prepared your budget for that, it's gonna be something like unnecessary outcome from my perspective...

    Any conventions are good, but for indie devs, I'd rather recommend conventions that focus on indie dev communities. Big conventions like PAX or Casual Connect might won't worth your time and effort since it's always a sure chance that you'll be pitted along with "the big deals" like those AAA game studios and the likes.

    tl;dr if your goal is to make connections and promote your game to the unsuspecting public, then a convention is a must-go; if you wanna sell stuffs while promoting your game, sure thing, give it a try.
     
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  9. Pots Talos

    Pots Talos Veteran Veteran

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    Yes, this was strictly sales from our game.
    We made about 5,000 cards with the title scene graphic on front and on the back had a character biography with a steam key at the bottom. We sold the keys at a discount and at later conventions we started doing raffle rewards for anyone who made a game purchase.
     
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  10. Indinera

    Indinera Indie Dev Veteran

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    That's an interesting approach but definitely not available for people like me who'd have to buy a flight ticket and make an hotel reservation before even taking in consideration the entrance fees and cost of assets...
     
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  11. Rose Guardian

    Rose Guardian Veteran Veteran

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    I never been to a game convention myself so forgive me if I am wrong. I honestly don't think going to an convention if you're an indie developer is a good idea. Critics are harsh on indie games, and if they are people who only play AAA games they might not be willing to try or even buy your game.
     
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  12. FluffexStudios

    FluffexStudios Veteran Veteran

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    I went to indie prize USA (http://www.indieprize.org/usa2019/index.html) to promote my game Stitched as it was chosen as a game to be showcased. We got a free table for ourselves and it was a positive experience. The whole advertising didn't go too well in general for us as there are a lot of game developers seeking for audience or funding. However, it was a great learning experience on observing other games out there and what they do to promote themselves and networking. Also, free hotel at Disney Resort is a plus.
     
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  13. Engr. Adiktuzmiko

    Engr. Adiktuzmiko Chemical Engineer, Game Developer, Using BlinkBoy' Veteran

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    Based on my experience, it depends on the convention itself.. It helps a lot if the convention you're going into is for indies or has a specific area for indies. That way, people going into the area knows what to expect, else you might get a lot of people going into that expect a different kind of game than what you're offering.
     
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  14. JosephSeraph

    JosephSeraph White Mage Restaff

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    Even going in by yourself and just bringing a personal card for your game, and handling it to others sporadically, can yield positive results.
    Especially when it's about knowing other devs and giving mutual support. A community is great, conventions are amazing for that.
     
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  15. EthanFox

    EthanFox Veteran Veteran

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    Just to add, as someone who has attended many similar conventions as an indie author (mainly comic, anime and sci-fi cons), you'll get the best out of these events if you approach them with a genuine desire to meet people, hear about their work and and talk about your own work - rather than attending with the primary motive of making sales (though there's nothing wrong with having that too).

    I've attended plenty of events where there were author and crafter tables where people sold almost nothing, because when in front of their table there was a tension you felt you could practically cut with a knife. You have to approach it as something you want to do for fun, and sales will come from that, because people will pick up on your congeniality.

    In terms of books, I always found that I sold a lot more at these events. I've had days when I've sold 30-40 books; way more than I would ever sell in a day online (except perhaps launch day). I think it's because I pitch well in person (I do that as part of my day job), but also because I genuinely enjoy just being there. I've had days where I've sold maybe 2 books but still had an absolute blast.

    If you go in with the same mindset, you should get a lot out of it.
     
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  16. definite_lee

    definite_lee Veteran Veteran

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    I think @Lorenze should be here to add some comment. From what I've seen he has been to quite a few conventions with his game.
     
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  17. TheoAllen

    TheoAllen Self-proclaimed jack of all trades Veteran

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    As someone who had attended a game convention in my country, in my experience, it's the opposite. Common people who didn't know anything about game developing actually get impressed with RM games with RTP assets. Most of them were also a simple cheap game, even my first game that I thought had no place in such convention, actually, I thought my game was much better than them.

    But it's always good to attend one, you get to know a different perspective, surprised about something. Who knows if it actually boosts your motivation to get better at game development.

    I have no experience setting up the booth so idk.
     
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  18. Lorenze

    Lorenze Veteran Veteran

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    So I started showing off at conventions about a year ago and I'm only one guy, so everyone's gonna have their own perspectives on it. In my experiences, there are three different types of cons: developer-focused, press-focused, and gamer/fan-focused (also esports/tournaments, but for the sake of this thing I'll lump them into fan focused).

    Each type has their own vibe and priorities, so what you'll take away from them varies per event. Definitely have a set of goals in mind as you plan out each one. Are you trying to get a job in the industry, find a publisher/financing, and network with other developers? Then hit up GDC. Do you have a big announcement or are trying to connect with press? E3 is for you. Or are you close to release, building hype/connections, or looking for player feedback? PAX is right up your alley.

    I've been to all three types and have had an amazing experience out of all of them, with my game consistently getting a great response wherever; with that being said, they often come at an significant financial cost, and the bigger the show, the more it'll cost you - though, there are some events that will have free or discounted booth spaces, or will even cover part (or all!!) of your expenses if you're specifically invited to be there.

    Cost-wise, the cheapest I've spent attending a con (including travel, accommodations, food, etc.) was $350, with the highest being a little over a $1000 - which is still on the cheaper/indie end. (I may be attending PAX East in a few months, which is looking to cost well over $5000...) If your team is bigger or you have more things to transport, it could be even higher.

    For smaller events, it really depends on where you're located and what your goals are. Try to find out if there are any local ones in your area and use Twitter (plus this website!) to find out about upcoming events. Events also don't necessarily have to be all about gaming either; there's also anime cons, festivals, community events, tech shows, art galleries, etc... it all depends on what your target audience is and where you can find them. Also, some events will allow you to exhibit remotely, so it doesn't cost you anything... though in my experience this isn't the best option, as you can't directly connect with people, have to rely on volunteers to get across your message, and generally not get as much out of it versus if you were there in person.

    And I definitely second what @EthanFox has said; if you're there just to shill your work, you won't get nearly as much out of it. Some of the best connections and closest friends I've had in the industry came from moments when I wasn't actively showing/talking about my game, like while waiting in line or at parties. Hell, the guy who has the speedrunning world record for my game only found out about it because I complimented his hair as he was walking by and we started a genuine conversation about it. So make friends! Because not only are more friends dope, but it turns out friends like supporting their other friends. Whoda thunk.

    I could go on but this is already a long enough ramble. I've also published detailed blog posts about my experiences at GDEX (my first con), DreamHack, and GDC (with a new YouTube vid about PAX West coming soon hopefully maybe). There's also this great post about PAX that sums things up nicely, and this doc about what it's like to be an industry member at E3. Always happy to answer any questions too!
     
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