DEVBLOG 6, ARTDEVBLOG 7: After PAX

We’re home from PAX. Let’s talk about it! (This might be kind of long.)

In the past three days, we’ve launched on Greenlight, launched on Kickstarter, and watched about a thousand people play our game at PAX. It’s going pretty well, but we’re right in the middle of the dice roll.

It’s been three days since the start of our campaigns. We’re hoping for a post-PAX bump as people get home, decompress, and write about what they saw.

Our Greenlight ratio is 44:53, as compared to the “top 50” at 49:51. We’re at 1447 “yes” votes, 20% of the way to the top 100. This feels pretty good – we’re not going to skyrocket to the top, but we’ll get close enough before we’d want to hit Early Access.

Our Kickstarter is a little over 25% funded as of this writing, but not by a tremendous number of backers. We’ll make it if the press folks we met at PAX liked what they saw enough to help us out, and we’ll be in trouble if they don’t. Still a good start.

Some PAX lessons learned and other notes:

Preface: we were at booth 1038, behind the giant Twitch booth. We were in between two much larger companies, with tall enough signage that we were really only visible from people already in our aisle. (They were awesome neighbors, and put up with having to listen to our chiptune title theme for 8 hours a day. They’re Re-entry Games and Skunkwerks Kinetic, and they’re both worth checking out!)

This was our first trade show, and our first time ever showing off anything in public on this sort of scale. We’re a 3 man team that went up with two attendee friends that’d stop by and give us an hour or so to wander the floor. Said friends were total troopers and incredibly helpful.

Get your greeting & one-line pitch combo down. We engaged fans with a simple “Hey, are you guys into Megaman?” and they’d either reply positively, then love the idea of it being co-op and a roguelike, or they wouldn’t, and maybe the idea of the awesome couch co-op and replayability would suck them in anyway. “Co-op roguelike megaman” ended up being powerful, but sometimes a lot of words to take in at once. Maybe we could do better.

People will walk right by you. That’s fine! You’re tiny, and don’t really have time to talk to everyone anyway. Choose who to engage — cold calling at someone that hasn’t even stopped as they walk by or turned their head is usually unhelpful, unless you happen to notice something about them that you think they’ll like your game. For example, one guy walked past us wearing a Zero shirt — he was in a hurry as he was going by, clearly trying to find something else, but he ended up loving it and almost immediately pledging to our Kickstarter.

The “rejection” feeling fades fast. The people who walk by feel something like rejection for maybe ten minutes, or until the first guy who gets really into your game comes along. Our two demo stations were full about 75% of the time on Friday, 80-85% of the time on Saturday, and pretty much all day Sunday. It doesn’t matter too much that lots of people walk by when you already have a line to play the game. (Maybe that’s also a comment on our demo being a bit too long, which brings me to…)

Refine your demo build. Make sure it’s exactly what you want a first-timer to experience. In Echoes, you have a pregame loadout that adds unlocks as you play — we didn’t really modify this for PAX, so on Friday morning the first players had nothing unlocked (bad because they don’t get to see the choices) and by the end of Sunday everything was unlocked (bad because players spend a long time looking over their choices, which doesn’t add much to the demo beyond the first few and makes it take longer). We also had an accessory unlocked called License to Kill on Friday, which makes every hit lethal, both on players and enemies. Nothing says bad demo like being one shotted because you were messing the options the devs gave you and picked one that is super unfriendly on your first try. We did do one thing right here — we made players always spawn with one of two of the game’s secondary weapons, instead of the 10 or so that were unlocked in the demo. We chose the most fun/useful ones, and locked out the situational ones.

Accept your game’s flaws (if they become apparent on the floor). In particular, our level generator sometimes leaves ceiling holes where players can wall kick out and walk along the top of the level, NES Mario style — sometimes it’d let them back in, sometimes not. The fix I want to implement was too risky on our limited time schedule mid-PAX, so we made it into a joke. Most people found it funny, and moved on with the demo.

PAX is a long haul. We went from not showing our game to total strangers in person (we’d either mail people builds or show friends in person) to running demos for 300-350 people a day over 8 hours. Saturday was a slow start for us, but a few of the people that checked us out really, really loved it, brought friends back, etc, and the crazy satisfaction and energy from watching someone “get it” gets you through the day. (I still wouldn’t’ve made it without Red Bull and so much coffee.) Even your bathroom breaks will turn into sales pitches if your exhibitor badge is facing the right way.

Treat every person who stops to look at your game like they’re really important — one, because they are!, and two, because you never know what’s on the other side of that badge facing the wrong way. We got a few guys in that ended up loving the game that we didn’t realize were media at all until they gave us their card after the demo. Everyone counts.
Keep your energy up!

Reach out to press that you know will be at PAX, see which specific ones you think will like your game, and try to get them to come by. Most of the press contact we made at the show was from guys we’d arranged beforehand (probably due to our booth position — there just weren’t many press passersby).

No matter where you are, a few famous folks will walk by you that can make your game successful in a heartbeat if you can get them to play/like it. They probably won’t be able to, for what it’s worth — if they’re walking through your section, they’re probably headed somewhere else, and they’re just as busy at the con as you are. It feels a lot like playing the lottery — it’s still exciting even though you probably won’t win. Try, though! You’ll never know if you don’t try. (JonTron, if you read this, I still have some co-op
roguelike megaman action with your name on it.)

The enforcers are pretty amazing. Our guy, Alan, was really, really great to us, and made our first exhibiting experience much more fluid. I can’t thank them enough/speak highly
enough of our experiences with him and the other enforcers on the floor.

Get a better booth spot. Either a corner booth or the Megabooth would have been awesome for us, and gotten us more press attention just from passersby. The real “mistake” here was
not deciding to go to PAX earlier, but it didn’t look feasible before February. The Megabooth might not have let us in anyway, but at least we could have snagged a corner booth.

Study booth design. Ours had a lot of room for improvement. We could have iterated on it at the end of every day, and maybe should have — but by 6 everyone was beat and just
wanted to go have a beer.

Network more. We met a lot of other cool devs on the floor, but didn’t spend enough time away from our booth. (Each of us spent maybe 2 of the con’s 24 total expo floor hours away
from the booth.) Some of those are going to be great relationships for us, and some will be courtesies. They’re all time very well spent (plus, you get to play awesome games). The
only real fix here is to staff up so we can afford to spend more time wandering the floor. This’ll also probably improve with experience, since we’ll already know a bunch of folks
next time around.

Record feedback. You’ll see what parts of the game your players love, and which parts they either do not like or are unclear. You’ll never be able to watch such a wide range of people play your game like you can at a show like this, and it’s insanely useful to see how people play your game.  Make sure you get it all down!

That’s about all that’s in my foggy brain right now — I’m sure we’ll think of more/realize more lessons as the week goes by and we settle back in, but it’s a good start.

If you saw us at PAX, thanks for coming — we enjoyed every one of you exactly as much as you enjoyed seeing our game. (You made our weekend.)