[Gaming] Game Expos 101: A Guide for Indies
Let’s quickly identify the two basic principles to master before you make your expo debut:
- Deciding which expo is right for your game
- How to get the media engaged with your project
But first, for those of you still on the fence about gaming expos, let’s take a look at the undeniable benefits.
Why should I attend a gaming expo?
If you’ve ever tried your hand at a game public relations campaign, you know what it’s like to email tens or even hundreds of journalists, bloggers and YouTubers, but only end up interacting with a handful of them. That’s because the process of building a relationship with such an influencer takes a ton of time and effort, particularly if it’s happening through emails.
But expos eliminate all that process and paperwork. They help you connect on a personal level with the actual human being you’re talking to. There’s simply no better way to get them excited about your game than to show your passion when you meet them in person and present it to them. Expos are a great way to strengthen your relationship with media, and build relationships that will last not only for one game, but all of your future games as well.
Point blank, expos are the most important step you can take to create and publish a story about your game in media. You’re hurting yourself if you don’t take advantage of the opportunity. So now that you know the reasons why, let’s get into the answers for which and how.
Which Expo is right for your game?
Three facts you should consider when choosing the right expo for your game promotion are:
- The cost involved for attending the exhibition.
- Whether you are accepted at the show/expo.
- The development stage of your game.
It costs a significant amount of money to own a full-size booth in a major expo like PAX, RTX, IndieCade, GDC, etc. You could take one of the small booths that most expos offer for indie developers, but that can cost a lot as well.
One way to reduce costs is by participating with a pool of other indie developers to secure a joint space at the expo. Indie Megabooth has pioneered this concept, and they’ll help you find a few other newcomers to reduce the cost of being present at the expos.
If you develop exclusive games ahead of time for new and upcoming consoles or hardware, you can sometimes find complimentary spaces at such events. For example, HTC and Steam are now pushing developers to create compelling Virtual Reality (VR) content, so if you’re into this, chances are you can get space sponsored by them at the expos.
There is, of course, a selection procedure involved with each different sponsor, so be sure to research the details well in advance of the expo dates. Which brings us to our next topic…
Many indie-specific shows accept indie games for free. But to qualify for this as well, you must apply ahead of time and follow-up with the representatives in a prompt and efficient manner. In this case, you will only have to bear the traveling costs and nothing else.
3. Development Stage
Don’t take the plunge if you’re not ready. Make sure that at least one of your game levels is playable, so you can give a clear idea about how the game will look when it’s released. Polishing your game is preferable, unless you have never-seen-before game mechanics that will knock their socks off.
Invitation to Media
The three best practices for making the most of out of media face-time during your expo game debut are:
- Invite the media, and do it early.
- Give them a good reason to visit your booth.
- Don’t make them wait.
The Early Invite Catches the Worm
The best time to invite the media to your booth is at least one week before the event. This is when most other game publishers will start emailing their invites, and God forbid you’re left out in the cold with only handful of media visiting your booth, just because their calendars were already full.
Whatever you do, do NOT make the mistake of inviting media 2 to 3 days before the event. You’ll be sitting there alone.
Entice the Media to Visit Your Booth
If this is your first game, don’t think that once you’ve sent out your email invitation, you’re done. It’s not enough.
You need to create genuine interest within the media by sharing show-stoppers, like high-resolution graphics or gameplay video explaining what your game is all about. It’s not for naught; you can always share this additional content in other ways after the expo. But to grab the media’s attention, you must solidify the impression that you have a really high quality game that the media just can’t pass up the demo for at the expo.
Exclusive Demo Zone
Let’s say you’ve checked the first two boxes and done a good job at it. It could all be wasted if those media folk have to wait when they get to your booth to play the demo. So prepare for the best … I mean, the worst … if you’re expecting a long queue of players at your booth (or even if you aren’t), make sure the media doesn’t have to wait their turn. Have separate hardware setup exclusively for the media to use, possibly behind the curtains at your main booth.
These are some basic best practices for planning a game expo booth to make the most of it for your next game. If you have some unique experiences or tips to share about your first game expo booth, please tell us all about it in the following comments section.