Video games are a digital medium; it’s in the name. Your game may not survive without the internet, but Rome was not built with a keyboard and mouse, and neither should your audience! Though not as widespread as its digital counterparts, gaming festivals, and conventions offer unique opportunities for players and developers alike. While players use the chance to jump on the next best game, developers can earn valuable feedback from a live audience.
Preparing for a convention as an indie developer may seem intimidating, however, there are a few simple tasks to keep in mind that will guarantee a positive experience for you and your players.
Obvious enough, but having a demo or early access copy of your game for player engagement is crucial. Convention attendees anticipate playable releases with the cost of admission, and catering to this should be your top priority. If your game’s not ready, don’t worry. You’ll find conventions throughout the entire year.
Keeping track of convention information is important at every stage of preparation. For starters, identify conventions that you would like to present at, keeping in mind travel costs and attendance numbers. A handful of conventions offer discounted or free booths for indie developers which is a great place to start. Some events also have a designated section for indies that allow you to share space for a more cost-effective experience. If travel isn’t an option, there are several indie-exclusive online showcases throughout the year. Do your research before committing; a comprehensive list of conventions is available here.
Once your application is accepted and the date is set, anticipate how you’ll stage your booth. Large marketing graphics will draw attention to your table and free swag items will remind players of your game after the con. Ask your convention what they’ll provide–table, chairs, electrical, monitors, and wifi are essentials–and plan to bring the rest. If you’re traveling a long distance and cannot bring anything, find an electronics rental center near the convention and place your order in advance. Need assistance managing your convention calendar or staffing your booth? We’re happy to help!
Most of your time at the convention will be spent pitching your game to attendees. Preparing a short, 1-2 sentence summary of your game’s genre and mechanics is enough, however, keep in mind the other diversifying aspects of your game. A fan of first-person shooters might shrug at an MMORPG, but your game’s anime art style might entice them to play.
Create an experience for players akin to a private gaming session. Consider accessibility features, such as printable guides that demonstrate the controls, made visible on every monitor for a smooth tutorial. If your game has a landing page or is listed on Steam, a QR code makes it easy to wishlist the title and follow your socials for future announcements. Conventions are valuable for feedback, especially if you’re in demo or early access development, so a Google form is a seamless way to collect targeted critiques for consideration in future updates.
Beyond your game’s brand, anticipate questions about your studio or your development process. Among the attendees may be journalists and PR representatives, so presenting your brand as a business may lead to new connections and opportunities. Remember that your voice makes you unique, so don’t feel the need to change your brand to appeal to someone else’s.
Tons of developers–ranging from one person to a fully staffed office–use conventions as a marketing strategy. You’ll meet other indie developers and see games at every step of the development process–from demo to early access and in full release. Remember that your work deserves to be shown, and there is an audience for it. Comparing your progress to others, or the amount of foot traffic among booths, is easy when you’re in a large convention space, but remember that your fans will find you.
Conventions are a fun marketing strategy, however, they come with a fair share of work. Especially for a small developer, preparing for a large-scale event can be daunting. But, proper planning, preparedness, and a strong sense of your brand are the three requirements for any convention. So, get out there, and I’ll see you on the con floor!
If you’re looking for help with your marketing strategy, email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.