W e chose to exhibit our game at PAX South this year and learned a lot in the process. It was an absolute blast and overall a great success, but things did not go as smoothly as it could have, so I am here to give other developers who aspire to go to PAX some tips that I learned along the way. Most of these will apply to any other convention, tradeshow, or showcase.
These are the 10 things that we wish we had known before exhibiting at a major trade show.TL;DR:
First off, we had a small 10x10 booth that was not on a corner, so space was tight from the beginning. We brought two tables to accompany the one provided to us, and one computer with a TV. Even though we built a mock booth at home, we did not anticipate was just how cramped we would be in that space, as there were four of us working the booth.
After the first day, we scrapped an entire table that had a piece of vinyl for people to write on with sharpie on it. This seemed like a cool idea for people to leave their mark but honestly no one seemed too interested in writing anything on it and ended up wasting space. Scrapping it was the best idea we had all weekend.
On our other table we had a tournament sign up form, a feedback station, a place to sign up their email, and some buttons. This left the relatively small table pretty crowded but it worked very well, spreading all of that stuff over two tables would have taken up so much space and left anyone in our booth feel uncomfortable with their personal space. So if there is anything you take from this, if you have a lot of stuff to put on tables, find a way to make it fit on as few tables as possible.
Our system had three roles: a greeter, a teacher, and a closer. The greeter often stood at the edge of the booth and started a conversation with interested observers. The greeter then introduced the attendee to the teacher who would give a hands on lesson to inform them of the fundamental game mechanics. After playing a round or two the teacher would pass them onto the closer who would collect emails and answer any questions they might have. This worked very well for us, even if we had to improvise at times, and having one extra person who would take pictures and sub in for a tired worker helped a lot too.
With a smooth rotation of where each individual person was, we managed to get people in, play the game, and leave, with time to spare. One thing that we did not anticipate is just how quickly people moved through these booths. There is a lot to see for an attendee at PAX, so people wanted to come in, see what we had to offer, and get onto the next booth quickly. This led to a lot less discussions with attendees than we anticipated, and people more reluctant to fill out forms for feedback.
We were slammed in the weeks before PAX and ended up getting to emailing press a lot later than we had hoped, and we were forced to send out a mass email letting them know we would be there. This resulted in only one scheduled interview and we think that it was a big missed opportunity that we would definitely not miss again. We saw other booths around us with a multitude of press come and visit for organised interviews, that would simply walk past us on their way in and out of the interview.
So, what did we learn? Contact the press at least a month in advance, and send out personalized emails. Research them a little and know what they are up to and be able to drop some lines about what you thought of their review of some other games and specifically why you think they might like to play your game. This will take a long time, as the press list provided by PAX was over 200 names and emails long, but it is a crucial step that we missed and regretted heavily. Do not make the same mistake.
Standing and walking around all day on hard concrete hurts your legs. By day three we could barely stand up let alone move nimbly throughout the event. We got some tips from more seasoned veterans that buying a gel pad to stand on works wonders. We found out too late.
Luckily, after rearranging our booth we managed to find some space for chairs that really came in handy for us on the last couple of days.
We had a plan to buy deli meat cheap and make sandwiches and drink water bottles and spend very little on food. Unfortunately we did not follow through with our promise to ourselves. The truth is, the hours in your days all weekend will be packed to the brim. We woke up at 6 every morning, stood around and talked to people for maybe 10 hours straight, then rushed home to crash as early as possible to wake up for the next day.
Hamburgers at PAX were 8 dollars each, and hot dogs 4 dollars. So to make up for all the energy expended during the day those prices could really get high quick, especially for four people. There was essentially no time to go and buy fresh deli meat so food costs for us skyrocketed.
I suppose if you are extremely diligent you could eat cheap, but with how much effort we were expending selling our game, it was just too much of a tall order for us. We wanted to focus on one thing and one thing only, our game. There was no time for anything else.
We were given 500 watts to work with, it is possible to get more but it is very expensive. My computer pulls 330 watts. We could only set up one computer and even that, with lights and a TV, took us dangerously close to going over.
On the first day setting up, there was a smell that something was burning in the convention hall and that was pretty scary. Luckily it was not us and the place did not burn down, but pay close attention to how much electricity you are going to need to use and buy more if necessary, the results if you do not could be calamitous.
We arrived the day before the event to set up our booth, and the place was almost ready to go when we arrived.
We had enough time, but if you think you can set up your booth in the hour allotted before the gates open on the day of the event, you will likely be rushed and under-prepared. We managed to make it there early every day but noticed that other people were late, rushed and stressed.
Buying access to wifi is horrendously expensive, so you might understand why we did not. Unfortunately and understandably, everyone who did put a password on it. Also, we did have pretty good service, but since the expo hall was so crowded, it did not work. Even in the hotels we hard an extremely hard time getting any kind of connection due to the surplus of people in the area. This all means that you must have your process streamlined to work with no internet.
All of the correct files must be on the computer you are using, there is no making patches to the game if those files are on another computer. Also, we had to find a way to collect emails from people with no internet access. This was actually hard to do as most places require you to just put a form on your website or something of the like.
We ended up using Campaign Monitor for our emails, as they had an offline app for an iPad that would sync once it got a connection. I am sure that there are many other places that offer this feature, just be sure to check if they do offer it before buying any kind of email service.
Souvenirs, wearables, accessories, gear. People want to remember their experience at PAX, so be as helpful as possible. Anything you can think of will likely fly from your booth but the most popular thing that we found was pins. Pins at any convention are highly sought after so bring them if you can.
We ended up handing out many more than expected, and some people even stopped by our booth only to grab a pin and then get on to the next booth. Other than pins, we brought a bigger trophy and some signed concept art, but we could have gone much bigger, and regret not getting hats or shirts because they were hot items at other booths and they acted as walking billboards for other attendees.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, talk to people, and exchange information as much as possible. Having a business card on hand is invaluable at an event like this. How many very important connections we made at PAX was incredible. Having a business card available to hand out is extremely important, and having a place to store the ones you receive is equally important.
On top of this, make sure to keep in contact with the great resources you meet, be prepared for when you might need to be in serious talks with them and make sure they know who you are. We each had our own personal business cards to give out, as well as a generic one for the game.
We gave our personal business cards to other professionals to establish a direct line of communication, and our generic business cards to attendees who liked our game.