As I travel from industry conference to conference, I have noticed healthy growth of the presence of small, Indie games. As the Indie sections of conferences grow and share their innovative energy with us they will experience the growing pains of any company, as they learn to not only craft good games but sell them as well. This guide will help small developers effectively present and sell their game while avoiding some of the usual pitfalls that can plague Indies.
Preparation is the key to success in pretty much every expedition, and there are several different aspects of preparing for a conference that should be addressed by Indies before heading to the airport.
It is much easier to plan your presence at a conference if you have a thorough understanding of your budget and expenses. Start with the minimum expenses you can count on such as:
- Conference Badges for staff (Check with the con organizer and see if Indies get a discount)
- Travel (Don’t forget getting to and from the airport)
- Hotel Reservations
- Booth services (Electricity, drayage etc.)
- Estimates on food and beverage
Now that you have an idea of your expenses, you can compare it to your budget and start strategizing around promotion and message.
One of the most important parts of a conference is a clear, consistent message from every member of the team. Messaging begins with the goal for the conference, which needs to be clearly defined. For example: Are we looking for feedback on gameplay? Are we trying to find a publisher? Are we looking for an ad network? Having a clear goal at the con will help you define your message, and from that point it’s just a matter of preparing the message in the formats that make sense for conference presentation. I suggest every member of the team know that message in the following formats:
Elevator Pitch – 30 second summation of the game’s high points and what the company is looking for at the conference.
Follow Up Pitch – Another 1 – 2 minute pitch that follows the elevator pitch if the person at the booth seems interested after the elevator pitch that adds additional details.
Presentation Pitch (for higher ranking representatives only) – The presentation pitch is a 5+ Minute pitch that is meeting-ready. If a publisher wants to meet to discuss the game further, have a slightly longer talk at the ready. The presentation pitch could have supporting documentation such as a PowerPoint presentation to further illustrate the game in addition to a more extensive demo pitch.
Takeaway materials can be pretty important for keeping your company and game in the attendee’s hearts and minds after the show is over. Most Indies don’t have the budget to burn on the often hefty cost of show bag placement so I suggest keeping materials at the booth and to a minimum.
Printed Messaging – There are several sites that can help you with competitively priced items such as business cards, postcards and other printed materials.
Object Messaging – An expansive budget allows you to make more creative choices in promotional materials; especially if you can tie the items in thematically. If you’re going to invest in more expensive branded items I suggest having a minimum commitment from the user to receive one, such as completing a demo.
Messaging on a Budget
Budgets are like snowflakes, all are unique and some are smaller than others. If the price of a takeaway brochure or fruit-shaped stress ball is out of your scope, have no fear – there are options.
QR Codes and You – One of the cheapest items to have printed up is a business card, but merely using it as receptacle for a name and email address is a mistake. You can easily place a QR code on that business card that could link to a website containing more information or even a playable demo of the game.
Winning Offline – Another effective strategy is to let users request the information relevant to them at the booth and then have it sent digitally. Instead of printing up a ton of materials, you can ask users to leave their contact info and let you know what they’re most interested in. You can use a free service like Survey Monkey to let users input their contact info at the booth and request only specific information.
Image, Image, Image
Now that you have a message, materials and the booth staff has been trained, it’s showtime! Exhibiting at a show is a tremendous networking opportunity and has the potential to make or break a game. Let’s go over a few points that will improve your booth image at the show and set you apart from your peers in the Indie Showcase. The Indie area often consists of several tables rather than proper booth space. The smaller space can be a blessing in disguise, as fielding a full booth at a conference can be an expensive endeavor. Here are a few tips for maximizing the potential of your space.
Unified Look – Matching shirts or at the very least neutral clothing will go a long way to looking professional. Even if it’s a simple shirt from CafePress with your game and company logo, it can go a long way towards presenting a positive image.
Unified Message – I know I covered messaging already but it is critical that every member of the team presents a unified message and knows what the goals of the conference are.
Clear Chain of Command – Every major aspect of your goal at the convention must be covered. If there isn’t enough budget to send a representative from each department, then everyone must have access to the contact information of the relevant party. If the artist is staffing the booth alone they must know the name and email address of the company’s Biz-Dev person in case an investor comes by and is interested in the product.
Pay Attention! – I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve hovered around a table trying to get someone’s attention and having no luck because the team member is engrossed in their phone, lunch, or even coding the game right there when they should be presenting it! The minimum number of people that should be at the table or booth is two, just for the sake of bathroom and lunch breaks, to say nothing of ensuring interested parties get their information.
Conference Post Mortem
One of the most important steps in having an effective conference presence is the post mortem. A conference is the same as every other project; if you don’t have measurable goals and evaluate them, you won’t know if you’re successful or where you need to improve. After the conference is over the team should meet and discuss points such as:
Expenses – Was there something unnecessary or was there something missing from the conference experience?
Competitive Analysis – Was there anything that other teams did that looked effective or we should be wary of reproducing?
Staffing -Did we have enough staff? Too much? Just right?
Results – Did we make the contacts necessary to fulfill the goals of the conference?
The conference post mortem is a good barometer of success and a vital component to growing your team’s experience in a positive direction. I hope these tips will help you make the most of your next conference experience. I’ll see you there!