We were very lucky to get a government grant ($30,000) aimed to help us with development and promotion. It’s surely not a big sum based on your standards but when you consider the base monthly salary (the minimum salary you have to pay, according to the law) is roughly $200 (yes, that’s only two zeroes), things change a little.
Anyway, the entire thing must be executed within a fixed period of time (8 months at the most), and long story short, I decided to take Enola (the psychological horror game we’re making) to Rezzed and PAX (wait for the PAX postmortem in one week). Rezzed was an amazing event and I met a lot of very nice people. Also, people were mostly surprised we had gone from the other side of the world just to present the game at the event, all the way from El Salvador.
On a side note, I’d dare say we were the first team from El Salvador, traveling from El Salvador to England, to exhibit at Rezzed.
What went right:
Asking, asking, asking: While I was in contact with one of the organizers (Matt), I asked a bunch of questions (maybe way too many), so when we were finally there I knew pretty much everything that had to be done.
Renting is the way to go: I decided to rent half a stand, with two computers. All we had to do when we got to the NEC was to install the software and test it. Around 1 hour later, we could freely leave the place. The guys next to us (One Spear Arena) and the ones on the other side (Kenshi) brought their own stuff. Doing that would have been cheaper, but that’s a luxury you don’t have when you have to travel around the world (shipping computers and monitors from ES to the UK would have been expensive and time consuming).
Many female players: We only got a few hundred visitors, and I’m happy that around 40% of those players we got were women. Enola is not your ordinary horror game (or your ordinary game, for that matter). It’s an adventure-ish horror game with a female protagonist that girls consider interesting. It’s also very exploration-oriented and slow-paced (so it’s not an action stravaganza AT ALL). I have to mention we have not done any sort of “Hey, look, it’s a strong, non-sexualized, realistic, believable female character!” marketing campaign.
Getting contacts: More than 1 dude attending the event means one can stay at the stand talking to people and explaining what the game is about, while the other one roams around the event talking to people and getting contacts. It was expensive for us, but definitely worth it.
What went wrong:
Computer problems: When we were testing the game, one of the computers was having graphical glitches and sound problems. Luckily, organizers were extremely helpful so they replaced the computer in no time.
Sometimes 2 guys are not enough: Sometimes we would get so many visitors we would need to split between talking to those waiting to play and those playing (sometimes they would get stuck), so it was weird to go back and forth between two different people, or not being able to pay attention to a third guy at all. Sometimes having an overcrowded stand was not good, specially when your game needs explanation.
Not enough testing: It wasn’t until the event I noticed some of the hints that would let you know where to go, had gone. That made the game extra-difficult because players didn’t know where to go, and we had to spend some time guiding them instead of just letting them figure things out by themselves. For example, you get the “doll face key” at some point, but the “doll face lock” had disappeared so we had to tell them which one it was.
Not using a tutorial: Let me say this straight. I hate in-game tutorials (you know, the ones that appear on the screen and tell you “ok, walk to that switch and press E to interact… now press SHIFT to run…. SPACE to jump…”). In Enola, I added a “controls help” option in the pause menu, but people never checked it so they didn’t know some live-saving commands like the “get the hell off me” button-mashing that helps you escape when bad dudes grab you. I then added a tutorial later, even if I don’t like it.
What we could have done differently:
Difficulties of a story-driven game: Presenting Enola in an event like this is is really hard because people have limited time so they can’t spend too much time on your game. The problem is the demo can run for 20 or even 40 minutes depending on how fast you play, but it’s not a game that you can pick up and “get” in 5 or 10 minutes. We could have used a more efficient way to demo the game, or maybe make the demo a little shorter. Roughly 50% of the players took the time to finish the demo (meaning they would play for at least half an hour), and around 60 – 70% of those were girls.
Promo material was not good enough: We had a big banner above the stand, but then I realized we could have used a little more promo material (for example a couple of roll-up banners on one side, to gain more visibility). Also, the banner above the stand was based on the poster so all it showed was Angelica lying on Enola’s lap, the logo and the tag line (“there was a sweet young girl… one day she met three monsters”). Adding more information about the game, like a brief description and a few screenshots, would have been better.
MOAR time for planning: When we got the money, Rezzed was already very close. I registered on the LAST DAY and we didn’t have enough time to plan many things. For example, it would have been cheaper to find a hostel in Birmingham and then take the train than staying at one of the NEC-connected hotels at Solihull. More time to plan also means more time for testing and more time to design a better and more efficient banner for the stand (as well as more promo material).
And that’s it. EGX Rezzed was cool because I got the chance to talk to players, get their input and impressions. I never made Enola a game with a female protagonist in order to appeal the female audience (I did it because I find female characters more interesting), but it was good to see a lot of interest from women. Also, all the things that went wrong or terribly wrong help me prepare better for future events. Lastly, I learned asking way too many questions is the way to go, because it’s better to be safe than sorry and it’s better to sound inexperienced than to pretend to be the know-it-all and then end up ruining the entire event (specially when attending is not cheap).
EGX London takes place in September and I’d love to take Enola there. I’m not sure if that will happen because I don’t know if we will have enough money. I certainly hope we can go.
Next week I will post the PAX East postmortem, and let me tell you the experience was very different…