BlockShot Champion Development Blog #3: The PAX South Experience

PAX South: Things I wish I had known before exhibiting at a major trade show
February 17, 2017
BlockShot Champion Development Blog #4: A New Look
March 18, 2017
 


On January 27, 2017 BlockShot Champion premiered to the public at PAX South in San Antonio Texas. This is our journey.

A fter several months of research we settled on a list of conventions that we wanted to attend, and the first major one that fit our criteria was PAX South in San Antonio. For those who are unfamiliar, PAX South is a branch of the Penny Arcade Expo series of gaming festivals and is one of the biggest in the world. Attending this conference was a big gamble for us because of the costs involved and the fact that BlockShot Champion was still at such an early stage of development. After much deliberation, we decided to take the plunge.

We had a little over two months to get our booth prepared, and bring our game up to the standard we wanted to show to the public. During our booth preparations we had to overcome a few obstacles so I am glad that we gave ourselves enough time to find alternative solutions. We were building the customer experience from scratch which made it all the more difficult. Should we buy? Should we rent? What is essential? What can we do without? This stage of the process included a lot of debate and discussion. I’m glad we took the time to do this because I firmly believe that we ended up with the best booth set up that our budget could afford.

"As the big day slowly approached everything was falling into place and we felt ready”

 

To give ourselves a true visual of what we were making, we did test builds of the booth a couple of times at home to make sure everything could actually fit. The first time we built it, we were all shocked at how small the space actually was and we realized that our initial plans would need to be changed in order to free up more floor space. As the big day slowly approached everything was falling into place and we felt ready, as far as the booth was concerned.

The game was making solid progress but still felt like it was a rough draft. The final week before leaving saw about 80 hours of work put into the game from our lone developer. It was a stressful, exhausting and painful week but it was worth the effort. We finally felt like we had something ready for the public, and it was a great feeling.

"We were preparing for the long drive from Sarasota, Florida to San Antonio, Texas to show off our newly created video game at one of the largest expos in the country."

 

We awoke bright and early at 5 o’clock in the morning eager to get on the road as soon as we could.

Tired from the lack of sleep due to us staying up and packing the car until the clock struck 1, but we had a mission and nothing was going to get in our way. What was that mission? We were preparing for the long drive from Sarasota, Florida to San Antonio, Texas to show off our newly created video game at one of the largest expos in the country: PAX South. We all clambered into the prepacked car and set off on our journey.

Our team consists of myself, Josh, my older brother, Zach, and our two childhood friends, Zach Larus (yes, a second Zach!) and Jacob Byers. Unfortunately for us, Zach Larus wasn’t able to make the trip. We were lucky, and grateful, to have another friend, Chris, be able to make the trip with us.

So with the four of us tightly squeezed into the car we drove. And drove. Then drove some more, until we finally reached our destination of Beaumont Texas at about 10 that evening. Exhausted from driving, but happy from the progress as well as getting some really good footage of the car ride, we crashed in a hotel and awoke way too early the next day for the final leg of our trip. We went to breakfast then started the five hour drive to San Antonio where the event was taking place.

"Seeing months of effort finally coming to fruition was unbelievable.”

 

Walking into that convention center the first time was truly breathtaking. Seeing months of effort finally coming to fruition was unbelievable. Huge signs hanging from the ceiling, unbelievable structures having been built. We knew we were just a small fish in this very big pond. Setting up the booth actually went pretty smoothly, we were prepared and it payed off big time.

A lesson that we all learned was that calculating electricity usage was very important as at one point during the setup everyone in our area was hit by the smell of burning plastic. Panic spread quickly. Is this us? Is there a fire? What do we do? Some PAX officials came and checked us out and thankfully we were not to blame and our calculations had been correct. Luckily, the source of the problem was found quickly and the convention center was safe. We never did find out who it was and none of us cared. We had a task to do. We were focused.

We ate dinner and headed to another hotel to prepare for the next coming days. The next day was a huge day for us, the opening of the first day of PAX South, our very first major convention, so we tried to get as much sleep as we could.


"We were nervous. Very nervous."



 

Incredibly, we all slept well. We ate breakfast together, discussed the plan for the day and tried our best to shake off the nerves that were coursing through us all. Doors to the public opened at 10am but we needed to prepare for the press hour which began at 9am. This hour was a big missed opportunity for us. We hadn’t organized for any press to come to our booth and it was disheartening to see other booths packed with people, while ours stood empty. This was a learning experience for us, and we will be a lot more proactive about communicating with the press at future events.

10am came and the announcer could be heard over the big speakers “PAX is now open”. We were nervous. Very nervous. We had only ever shown our game to family members and close friends, barring one small convention that had less than 50 people at it. We wanted to see how the general public reacted to our game, and had no real idea how they would. We hoped, of course, that they would like it, but nothing was for certain. The first 30 minutes was slow as people were checking out the big names, but people slowly trickled through our booth. Finally we had people playing our game, and it really could not have gone much better. People really enjoyed it! We had people signing up for our tournament, adding themselves to our newsletter and the word was getting around that there was a new indie game to check out.

"As the day went on, we started to see familiar faces as people were returning with friends to show them the game. It was incredible!"

 

We were a little worried about people learning the controls but they got the hang of it really fast and quickly managed to start competing with us! As the day went on, we started to see familiar faces as people were returning with friends to show them the game. It was incredible!

By the end of the day we were exhausted, but we had one final thing we had to complete: the tournament. People had been honing their skills all day to try to win our coveted trophy and be named the BlockShot Champion. We were nervous to see if people would show up and but the turnout ended up being better than expected and the tournament we on without a hitch. People were really competitive and it reinforced that this was the kind of community that we want to support around the game. If people were this into it already, how much better would they be after being able to practice at home? It is an exciting prospect to think about. After a tense final, a champion was crowned and good times were had by all.

Saturday was significantly more busy than Friday, but we kept up good rotations and had a nice flow of people coming to check out our game. Our only interview of the weekend was that day and we were pleased to spend time chatting with an industry vet. The interview was with a writer for Gamer Dad, and he ended up writing some kind words about our project! Thanks a lot to him for taking the time out of his day to come check us out, talk to us, and then write about us. The day continued as smooth as the day before and many of the same faces who competed in Friday’s tournament showed up to compete again. This was a truly defining day for us. We had weathered the fiercest storm that PAX could offer and came out better than when we entered. At the end of the day we all agreed that this is where we belong, and that we will do anything it takes to stay within this industry.

" I had just gone to get some food and as I arrive back at the booth, I notice that something is wrong."

 

Before we could process it all, it was already the final day. We needed a strong third to finish out the weekend. Everything, again, was going smoothly, and we found some time to check out what the other booths had to offer.

I had just gone to get some food and as I arrive back at the booth, I notice that something is wrong. Zach is there all by himself, panicking without the help of Chris and Jacob. Chris had a severe allergic reaction to something in the chili and had been rushed to the care center by Jacob. My presence managed to ease some of the pressure at the booth, but we still don’t have word from Jacob about Chris’ well being. The mood is tense as we wait and wait. Finally, we get the good news that Chris is doing better. It took some time but a well trained professional arrived and managed to get him the help he needed. Relief. Despite what had just happened, Chris was eager to get back and help at the booth. We had to force him to sit down for a little while and fully recover!

Just as quickly as it had started, the end of PAX was upon us. We said our sad goodbyes to the convention center and packed up our booth. Overall I would say that this was one of the most fun, enlightening, and tiresome events of my life. The game got great responses, some good exposure, and we managed to meet so many great people along the way. We hope that any further conventions can go as smoothly as this one! Thanks to PAX for hosting the great event and thanks to everyone who came and played our game and laughed with us, we hope to see more smiling faces in the future!

- Josh Stapleton-Jones

"Overall I would say that this was one of the most fun, enlightening, and tiresome events of my life."

 

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