WHY SHOULD I STILL BOTHER WITH GAMES CONFERENCES?
You might rightfully ask yourself: Why would I go to an in person convention nowadays? I can get most of my marketing done online and in-person events are EXPENSIVE. And you would be right. Going to a convention as big as gamescom is expensive even if you are not spending the big bucks on your own stand. It is stressful, hard to coordinate and can be confusing at first.
But above all, it offers a few unique benefits, that online events just can’t replace (yet).
As a visitor:
- Organic Networking opportunities: This one sounds cliche, but in-person events can lead to much more organic interactions with people, that will be beneficial for you down the line. There’s no cold-emailing or sliding into people’s DMs, or hoping that someone sees your post on twitter. Just by going to the different booths or the networking parties and events, you will automatically run into a lot of people you would have otherwise had a hard time reaching. You might run into a rep or even the CEO of a publisher, or your next client – all just because you stood next to them at the bar.
- Asking questions. If you’re going to devcom AND gamescom, you will have the additional benefit of meeting a lot of great devs and learning from them. Plenty of them will hold talks about their subject of expertise or their latest title, their company or their personal journey. Unlike with online lectures, you can actually ask them about the details, for clarification or even have the chance to hang out and have a stimulating conversation after their talk, if they are up to it. You might even want to hold a talk yourself, which will give you additional exposure and the chance to share the cool new thing you made with other devs. Presenting at events like devcom also yields additional benefits, like access to the VIP lounges, where you have a much greater chance of meeting someone “high profile” and actually have a calm conversation.
- Inspiration. This one is a bit more abstract, but at conventions you will make a lot of new experience and meet new people. You will see other dev’s projects and experience them for yourself, if you sit down and play them. This wealth of new things will be just the right thing to send you home with a ton of fresh ideas for your own projects.
As an exhibitor:
- Direct feedback from a varied audience. You might have internal or external playtesting services, or abuse your friends an family to do your user testing on an ongoing basis, but what conventions offer you is the option to have a wide range of people play your games blind and give an honest opinion about it – but even better – you get to watch them play your game. Getting the most out of that requires you to hold back until they are actually stuck to help out and not give them tips, as tempting as that might be. But this way you will get a much more comprehensive idea of how the general reception of your game might be (just keep in mind, that most people will be very nice despite not liking the game when asked for their opinion, so base your analysis on what you see and what your systems measure, should you capture any player behaviour).
- Guaranteed visibility. Getting lost on Steam is easy. Even if your game is in a showcase or sale, there are usually quite a lot of other titles featured on the same page. How visible you are at a convention? That is much easier to control. Even if your stand is small, you can design your print and your decorations yourself. You can pre-draft social media content or bond together with other exhibitors to do some cross-promotional stunts. The Indie Arena Booth for example has been doing this thing for years, where you get a stamp card and have to go play a certain amount of participating games to get a free drink. Basically this means as long as you are creative, you should get a decent amount of people at least coming over to see, what the fuss is about.
- Communal experience. This one probably goes without saying, but you won’t be the only group of people exhibiting at the convention. You will meet plenty of people in the same situation, like minded spirits and people that are much earlier or later in their journey. You will get to have fun, be tired, frustrated and happy alongside those people – which can lead to friendships that you can renew every year.
HOW TO PREPARE AND WHY IT’S A BIT DIFFERENT FOR MATURE GAMES
If you are exhibiting at gamescom or devcom and you are showcasing a mature game, you will soon encounter your greatest adversary: Your USK rating. Germany is a lot of things, but lax on youth protection is not one of them. If you are showcasing a game rated 16 or 18 (or unrated but mature), you will have to follow specific guidelines, that are put in place by the gamescom organisers to keep kids passing by your stand from seeing others play your game or playing it themselves.
This can be difficult depending on how your applications for different indie groups (Indie Arena Booth/Home of Indies) go, as not all of them can accommodate these needs without incurring any additional cost. So a good thing to do early on is to look into partnering up with other devs to get a bigger both together. That will help all of you avoid the hassle and aid with visibility.
Be prepared, that when you exhibit a mature game you will have to check peoples wristbands (gamescom staff verifies ID and hand out wristbands. A lot of other conventions implement similar systems), to see if they are old enough to play your game. Be prepared that you might need more people to man your booth because of this. The ideal set up usually involves someone at the front of the booth to check wristbands and talk people into actually checking out your game despite not being able to see any gameplay while passing by and someone on the inside/next to your rigs, to be there for the people queueing, watching or playing the game.
For general preparation, there are several indie gamescom survival guides out there, but below you will find a short list of items I personally think are important to be able to enjoy a week of gamescom without being uncomfortable.
WHAT TO BRING FOR YOUR STAND AND FOR YOURSELF
- Your most comfortable shoes
- Band-aids for blisters
- Hand sanitiser
- If you are prone to dry skin, bring moisturiser an/or nose spray because the recycled AC air will do you in fast when you can’t take frequent breaks outside
- Power bank – because your phone/iPad etc. will always run out of battery at the most inopportune time
- Business cards (old fashioned I know, but if you put a QR code on them, you can kill two birds with one stone and appease both the digital and the analogue crowd)
- Branded clothing (shirts, hoodies, jackets, etc.) You will fit in much better than if you were to wear a dress shirt and people will immediately recognise you within the crowd. Bonus points if it says „team“ or „developer“ on it, to differentiate it from people wearing your merch.
- A name tag: It used to be the case, that everyone got a lanyard with the job title and company on it, but nowadays a lot of people opt for the digital ticket (which helps save paper and is great), so you might want to invest in a reusable name tag to wear to achieve the same effect.
- Gelorevoice – because I have not found anything better to keep your voice going through a week of strenuous activity.
- Your own water or even better hot tea. Fair prices are insane and you will often be very busy and pressed for time. Having your beverage of choice already on you will help avoid you being dehydrated.
- An extra bag (because you will always be taking something home, that you didn‘t bring with you).
- Noise cancelling earbuds or earplugs: The halls are very loud, especially on the days where they are open to the public. Protecting yourself from that constant noise will help stave off the headache, especially if you have sensitive ears or are prone to migraines.
FOR YOUR STAND
- Tape and scissors – everything always breaks.
So yes. It is still worth going. Yes. It is a lot more complicated than online. Yes, it leaves you exhausted for a week. And yes, it will be a great experience if you prepare accordingly.