It’s been about a month since our fateful trek to Boston for PAX East, and we’re finally ready to tell you all about it! Our journey was months in the making, and we learned a lot in the process about our game and our team. For this blog post, we wanted to recap our preparations for the booth and the event, as well as our experiences during the show and what we’d recommend for indie studios interested in going next year!
(For reference, PAX East is an annual festival for gaming held in Boston, MA. Studios – big or small – from around the world set up booths to showcase their latest games, while vendors selling merchandise related to gaming offer a huge selection to visitors.)
We started planning our booth as soon as we knew what our size would be: 10×20. Because Tribes of Midgard is a multiplayer game, the plan was to have four connected stations that would allow players to be in the same village and play together. Internet was a concern, as we had issues at prior events connecting to the server and being able to show the true multiplayer experience, but managed to figure out a way to run the game offline in time for PAX.
As a way for our booth to stand out among the crowd, we decided to make Viking-inspired capes for us to wear during the event. The fake fur was an absolute mess to work with, but they turned out to be a great decision; not many other developers at booths were dressing up in more than a branded t-shirt, and it was a great conversation starter with visitors in costume too! Another idea was to build a real-life version of the Seed of Yggdrasil, a sacred glowing tree and a major feature of our game. It turned out to be far smaller than we originally planned, but it provided nice ambiance to our booth and was fun to hear players comment on it.
We knew that we wanted something to give out to players, and pretty early on decided on enamel pins. There were a couple designs to pick between, but ultimately chose the face of an enemy that players can find in Tribes of Midgard; the Unsunken Vikings. A bulk order from a manufacturer can take some time to produce, so we made sure to place it far in advance so that our pins would arrive to our studio in time. When the package came in, we were thrilled with how they turned out!
Other studios from Montreal who had been to PAX East before advised us to look into border crossing regulations, specifically, obtaining a carnet. This document allows individuals and companies to temporarily import commercial equipment into the United States, for the purpose of events and trade shows. (The idea is that we’re proving that we aren’t entering the country just to sell a bunch of computers for profit and then go home.) You’ll need to file a list of all the technical and booth-related merchandise with descriptions, serial numbers, approximate costs and weights to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. This part can be tedious, but the turnaround time can be quick if you have all the details ready. We ended up needing to claim a lot of equipment – because of our four playable stations, plus backup devices – which meant we spent a lot of time organizing and making an inventory of our items weeks in advance of the event itself.
Before you go to an event of this scale, building buzz and letting the world know about your attendance is pretty important. One of our marketing strategies was to spend time on social media searching for people who were also going to PAX East for their first time, and reaching out to them! Using the hashtag, #PAXEast or #PAXEast2019, we found lots of future visitors on Twitter and Instagram who were asking the internet for recommendations on what to see while there… and why not be one of them? People were pretty receptive to hearing about our game during this time, and we ended up having lots of visitors come to our booth who mentioned talking with us on social media! It was a surprisingly good strategy, and we didn’t see many other studios doing the same.
Time flies when you’re packing up a booth, and before we knew it, we were on the way to Boston. Because of the proximity between Montreal and Boston, (not to mention all the stuff we were bringing with us) we decided to rent a car and drive there, as opposed to flying and shipping our materials to the convention centre. Luckily for us, arrival and set-up at the convention centre went by quickly, and we were able to spend some time walking around Boston and enjoying the city before a busy few days!
Our booth was located close to the front entrance of the conference centre and right by the Square-Enix booth. We had applied for the Indie MEGABOOTH a few months prior and were not accepted, but this turned out to be just fine in the end. There was a ton of traffic in our area, and we always had players asking us questions and waiting to play the game!
One of the best parts of our time at PAX East was hearing feedback from the players. At the time, Tribes of Midgard was in Alpha, and it ended up being the right choice to show our game at an early stage. Players were excited to hear about where the game was going, and could easily imagine sharing the game with their friends or streaming it for viewers. It was interesting to watch people playing the game and see what they wanted to do first and where they chose to explore, and how that matched up with our expectations. Many of the suggestions that players made happened to be things that we were already planned to add in future versions, which reaffirmed to us that we were on the right track toward making a game players will love.
A great perk to attending an event like PAX East is getting to meet other awesome developers and hear about some great games being made. We got to know our neighbours quite well (hey there Eleventh Hour Games and Champlain College!) and enjoyed the mixer night that the organizers put together for all the devs at the end of the first day. We tried our best to visit other booths when we could and particularly loved the set-ups of Church in the Darkness, Afterparty and Hello Neighbour.
Yet all good things must come to an end, and the weekend went by in a flash. We packed up our booth, got a good night’s sleep, and hit the road back to Montreal. Our carnet allowed us to travel swiftly through the border, and we were back to the studio before we knew it. The week was long and tiring, but incredibly successful; we met so many people who were excited for our game and eagerly waiting to hear more about it.
If you’re thinking about showing your game at PAX East, or any kind of large trade show or festival, we definitely have a few things we’d recommend considering beforehand:
- Bring a trolley to carry your items to and from the convention centre, or at least, keep your things in bins with wheels.
- The minimum number of people for your booth should be: number of stations + 1. Four of us went to manage four stations and it worked out okay, but it made it hard to talk to press and visitors for very long, as well as take breaks and enjoy the show floor.
- If you are driving to Boston, take some time to look up driving laws in the US that might be different from your country. Best to avoid some surprises on the road.
- Bring your own food to be able to eat while at your booth. Sometimes you can’t slip away for a snack, and it helps to have small things on hand you can eat while supervising a station (granola bars, apples, clementines, cookies, licorice, etc).
- A tablet to sign up for a newsletter and a TV screen to show gameplay footage are essential. You can’t talk to everyone who walks by, but many will be happy to sign up to learn more about something that looks awesome at a later time.
- Rent what you can from Boston companies instead of buying and transporting items yourself. This is ideal for bigger, heavier or more expensive things, such as a television stand.
- Take time to go to restaurants to enjoy food and ambiance. Some buffer time between the show floor and going back to your hotel or AirBnb can be extremely restorative.
- Be sure to make a plan in advance with your team about breaks, based around when your booth will be the busiest.
- Have different cards for players, press and business contacts. Not all of them are interested in the same information!
- If you have something portable with you, such as a laptop or tablet, lock it up at your booth or take it home with you at the end of the day.
PAX East is a fun way to meet players and learn more about your own game. It was hard work, but we had a great time taking Tribes of Midgard out of the studio and into the world, getting to talk to players directly and hearing what they had to say about the plans for our game. If you’re looking to build your community and get early feedback on your project, we’d definitely recommend going to PAX East and start connecting with other developers who have done so to hear what they have to say. Remember: being organized and having a plan helps to get you there, and then you can have fun! That’s what a festival for games is all about, right?
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