PAX South has just ended, and it was a great show for the indie gaming scene. Tens of thousands of fans come together every year in San Antonio, Texas to mingle and check out the latest games. For indie developers, this is a huge opportunity to get your game seen for the first time and build up your fan base. It doesn’t matter if you’re already launched, in pre-launch or even just starting out; if you have something for the fans to play PAX is the place to be.
It’s fair to call the process of showing your game for the first time (or even the tenth) a daunting one. It can feel like you’re competing for attention with the huge triple A titles who can spend thousands on displays, booths and staff. Nothing could be further from the truth. PAX is full of all kinds of gamers, and there’s a huge audience there who come specifically to see the new, unique games that the indie scene has to offer. If you make sure you’re prepared, showing your game at an event like PAX can be huge for your game.
Walk-through traffic is a great thing, but don’t rely on it entirely. Ensure that all of your existing marketing (newsletters, forum posts, social media campaigns) highlight your attendance so that people who are interested will remember to swing by. The opportunity to play the game for themselves and ask the creators about it is a big appeal for anyone who is already intrigued by your game. The key point is to build that intrigue and then let them know that you’ll be there.
There are a number of ways to build interest in a new game and innovation is one of the strengths of the indie same. A few ideas to get started are:
- Announcing a giveaway of merchandise or some game codes. Shirts are popular!
Competitions and fundraisers. PAX is associated with Child's Play, a popular children’s charity.
- Coming up with an event to run at PAX is a great way to contribute to a good cause while bringing attention to your booth.
- Contribute to panels if possible. If you’re a good public speaker, getting onto a panel about a hot industry topic can build interest in your game and gives you another appearance to promote.
Indie teams are often small, and running a booth can feel like a huge job. If you’re not able to send a big team yourself, consider recruiting community members to help out. If you already have some enthusiastic fans, you’ll undoubtedly have some who are excited to help you get the word out. Scope out your forum for enthusiastic and knowledgeable fans and approach to see if they’d like to help you out.
The tricky things are motivation and budget. You don’t want to take your ambassadors for granted, but when money is tight it can be tricky to find ways to show your appreciation. Ideally, fans who are local to the area make the best ambassadors due to savings on hotel and travel fees, but if that isn’t possible (and the funds are available) giving your best ambassadors a hotel/flights to the show is a great motivator in itself. Badges for PAX are like gold dust, so the fact that you can offer them attendance if they help you out with a shift on the booth is another great perk in itself.
The matter of what is cost-effective for your game is always going to vary, but the key part is to show your ambassadors that their contributions are meaningful and valuable to you. Companies who treat their biggest fans like slave labour aren’t going to keep those fans for long. You don’t need to spend a ton of money that you don’t have, that isn’t the point. Just show your gratitude in whatever way you’re able, and don’t take them for granted.
Convert Short Term Attention into Long-Term Fans
So you have a great game, a great booth and it’s seeing great traffic at PAX. What could go wrong from here? The depressing answer: they could forget about you after the show. Even if they love your game when they play it, there are a lot of different games to play and activities to take part in. It takes a special effort to get these fans to convert and keep their interest in your game high.
It’s key to find ways to get these new fans invested in your community. Some companies (often larger ones) will do things like gate merchandise giveaways behind a mandatory “Post On Twitter About Our Game” event. These tedious, exploitative tactics are more likely to engender resentment than engagement. Instead, give these new fans a reason to engage with you long term. Giving out freebies is obvious, but consider what you want that freebie to achieve. A simple postcard or business card with game’s branding isn’t quite enough. Con-goers will receive dozens of these. Put a strong call-to-action on your giveaways, driving them towards your community. Perhaps you have a contest or big release announcement coming out on your forum, or even a simple giveaway for fans who engage after PAX. Let them know! Long-term forum members are among the most engaged fans in any games community.
There’s no reason why you have to get lost in the noise after PAX, but you have to keep considering what will motivate gamers to take the action that you need them to take. A great game on its own should be enough, but unfortunately we’ve all seen killer games get lost in the mix. Providing high value to your prospective fans is key. Displaying that value is even more important.