Preparing for PAX or any convention for that matter, is not a task for the fainthearted. Our marketing team absolutely pulled it out of the bag, especially with such a short time frame to work with. When you do an event like this, you’ve got to think about absolutely everything; matching up product delivery times, finding the most cost effective ways of shipping, flights and accommodation, buying the right merchandise, organising a full scheduled list of press, YouTubers and Twitch players invited to see you, send out the word to the community that we’ll be there; the list goes on. Thankfully we found a lot of incredible people to work with who were happy to help us out (shout outs and links below).
After a long day of travelling the previous day, the dreaded jet lag had set in, waking me up a good three hours before our set up time. So after letting it sink in that I was in a new city, about to show off the game I’d been working on for the past year, I got myself sorted and went down to see our currently lifeless booth.
At first glance, the room was uninspired, we’re basically looking at a bog standard conference room here; plain walls, a couple of brown computer chairs around a little table. My first thought:
“Well this sucks. How are we ever going to turn this into an exciting looking booth?”
It seemed an impossible task, but we had the tools, technology and people to make it happen. We had boxes upon boxes being delivered to us, filled with PCs, monitors, peripherals, and even ten black and red racing style chairs; suddenly you start seeing how it’s going to work.
We hired Seattle Event Lighting; a top notch lighting company, to come down to set up black drapes around the entire room, along with a couple of mini lighting rigs to help set the mood. While they were setting up, we had to build the ten chairs; a task I hope to never repeat, especially after you’ve built a few of them and are finding less and less space in the room, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I got hit by a ladder, tripped up on an empty box or misplaced my screwdriver.
While building the chairs, the others were trying to figure out the best setup for the tables; this is much more important than it may seem – we had to find a way of giving players enough space, while taking into consideration the spectator area, and allowing ourselves easy access to power points. Of course, the guys figured it out and it was starting to look like we were getting somewhere. After we’d built the chairs we moved on to create our seating area with little tables and stools from IKEA; cheap, cheerful, and much easier to build than the chairs.
With the drapes and lighting done, tables and chairs in place, our next mission was to put the banners up. We’d commissioned three different banners showing various sectors from the game with the plan being to put one on each side of the room. These things are massive; probably over three times the size of me, so getting one into the room was an interesting experience – lots of twisting and turning, angling and pivoting. This thing took four people to carry, I’d be surprised if we didn’t scratch a little paint off the walls (obviously we didn’t, just in case the Seattle Sheraton people are reading this).
We got the first banner in position, and stepped back to marvel at our work… Only, we needed more height; time for a little Edge Case improvisation. The boxes our PCs came in were huge, so we stood the banner stand on top of them to gain the extra height we needed. Feeling rather chuffed with ourselves, we let go and went to get the other banners. Of course, as soon as we left the room, the banner tipped over; a nightmare scenario. Luckily we were well equipped for this situation, with a Stanley Knife and cable ties, we tied it to the scaffolding holding the drapes up.
By this time, we started to think we’re pros at the art of putting banners up, so we got the second one in quickly and began setting it up. The problem with large banners, is just that – they’re huge, so we hadn’t taken into account the fact that the scaffolding holding the drapes wouldn’t be right up against the wall, as such the second banner made the room look way too small. We took a step back once it was up, and made the difficult decision to take it back down. Time wasted? Maybe, but you’ve got to be prepared to do whatever you have to, in order to get the best out of your booth. The fact is, the drapes set the mood really well on their own; there was no need for the extra banners. Believe it or not, this wasn’t the end of the banner saga. We couldn’t shake the feeling that we wanted to have another banner somewhere, so we decided to do a little DIY textiles project on one of them, and ripped two thirds of it off. I present you with our makeshift lobby banner.
So the chairs are built, tables in place, banner, drapes and lighting all set up. Next job was to set up the PCs. The folks over at Alienware loaned us 10 PCs and Monitors, Roccat supplied us with the keyboards, mice and headsets we needed. Setting up the PCs was surprisingly easy, the hardest part was unpacking everything we’d been given with minimal damage to the boxes, since everything had to be returned; an infuriating undertaking, never before have I yelled at inanimate objects so often. Most of us are used to opening something and throwing the box away, so packing the boxes away again was a rather peculiar feeling.
At this point, we didn’t have any power supplies yet, so while we waited for the PAX networking guys to come down with those, we cleaned up the horrific mess we’d left, and started to make the playing area look pro. We’d prepared ship instruction cards with information about each of the five ships the players had to choose from, and Blott (ECG marketing supremo) had smuggled these into the country. Once these were in place the room was gone and a Fractured Space booth started to emerge.
The tech guys spent some time running cables along the floor and taping them up, making sure there were no health and safety issues to contend with. When they finished, we were able to start the PCs and download the game. This of course took quite a while with 10 machines, not to mention the technical issues we ran into along the way. The first PC we tried to run the game on had the dreaded vcredist issue, the second PC told us Steam wasn’t logged in and several of the others followed suit.
After several calls to our team back in the UK we figured out the problems and got the PCs up and running. It was only at this time the sudden realisation hit me, “I’m going to have to play the Proving Grounds ten times…”, while this seems like a mind-numbing task, we managed to make it a bit more entertaining by having a speed run competition; pretty sure I won, but it was getting late, so I’m not sure anyone really cared now I look back on it. With the Proving Grounds complete, all we had to do was get our trusty QA Lead, Volks, in the UK to put our accounts to level 5, and we were there… almost. Unfortunately, the time difference meant no one back home was awake, so we made the executive decision to get some food (I was getting pretty hungry), and come back at midnight to finish the set up.
Midnight arrives, KillerPidgeon and I are back at the booth as we volunteered to stay up to get the game working. It took a bit of time, but by around 1am we’d got all of the PCs set up and ready for the next day, and our booth looked like a mini space battle arena.
Day one was here. Shattered and feeling a little worse for wear from the day before, we set off for our journey to the booth. Luckily our Office Manager is a genius and managed to book us into the hotel we were exhibiting at, so by “travel” I mean a short walk to the elevators, and a few floors down. We get to the booth, sit down to have a coffee and discuss how we’re going to run the day, we all knew pretty much what we had to do; and sure enough people started trickling in.
The biggest problem with exhibiting a 5vs5 multiplayer game, is you need 10 players to play. So we had Protagonist running around the lobby, near the swag bags, pulling people in for us; turns out it’s quite easy to get people in when you ask if they want to blow up spaceships. When the games were running myself and KP took a side each and tried to coach our teams to victory, this actually became a little competition between the two of us, and because we were so into it, it became infectious to our players; all of a sudden we had brand new players shot calling, shouting their targets and giving instructions to their team, it was an incredible thing to see. As a Community Manager, you hang out on forums a lot and deal with expert posts that are regularly critical of the game, so to see new players pick it up and have such a fun time was a great reminder of why people become fans in the first place.
By the third day we’d started to make a little bit of a name for ourselves out there. We heard people talking about our game while we were on break, we were even tagged as a hidden Gem in a post on the PAX Reddit page. It got to the point where we needed to make a queue out of coloured sticky tape on the floor outside, because we were running out of space in the booth! There were even people coming back every day to get a few games in before they went to see everything else there; to me, that’s crazy, these guys have a whole convention to go look around and they’re coming back every day to hang out with us and play more.
We were regularly asked during the show whether it was going well for us, to which we always responded in the affirmative, but not for the reason most people expect. Putting on a booth of this kind is not purely about getting gamers in front of your game; our main objective was to showcase Fractured Space for press and big gaming communities who hadn’t come across it before. As much as we had an amazing response from people who hadn’t played the game before, we ended up giving a hands-on experience to around 800 people. If that had been our sole objective we’d have been better off finding 800 random gamers online and paying them $25 each to try the game out!
This is one of the big hurdles to overcome as a small, independent developer – how do you make a splash so that influential press pay attention? Taking the game to a show is one approach but it comes with risk: what if the game doesn’t work in the hotel? What if we can’t get enough players? What if the press don’t show up? There are no guarantees at all, and you can end up spending a large amount of money on something that fails to make any difference.
Effectively, we won’t know whether the result of our booth at PAX has accomplished its goals until we find out what the press has to say and whether any new YouTube and Twitch folk decide to give the game a deeper look, however initial feedback suggests that we’ve done quite well.
The entire experience was incredible for us, we met so many great people while we were out there, both at our booth and while we were out socialising in the evenings. Everyone’s there for one main reason – we love games. You get to see a huge community come together and share their favourite gaming passions; a truly amazing thing to witness.
We’d like to thank everyone who came to check us out, Alienware (PCs and monitors), Roccat (peripherals), Event Step and Repeat (banners), Seattle Event Lighting (lighting and drapes), Allied Shirts (T-shirts), Pure Buttons (pins), The Seattle Sheraton (hotel!) and PSAV (power, internet and tables). Without the support of these guys, we wouldn’t have been able to do this.
I can’t wait for the next one.