Lead Narrative Designer and all-round business person at Lo-Fi Games, with a speciality in writing for non-linear and open-world games.
They’re exhausting and they’re stressful, but I bloody love a good game show.
Of course there’s a lot to consider when you’re organising your own booth; it can be overwhelming. So here’s what I’ve learned so far from various expo experiences to help smoothly prepare and get the most benefit from expoing your game…
First off, what is it that you want to achieve from showing your indie game at a video game expo? Player feedback? Press coverage? Brand awareness? Sales?
I strongly believe that for an indie game developer, short term sales from individual visitors should not be the primary goal of displaying your game at a show. Just before exhibiting at Tokyo Game Show last year, I took part in a very useful Trade Show Initiative workshop with the DIT. The two lecturers looked at me like an idiot when I told them that I wasn’t tracking sales. I learned something pretty useful that day – how to track conversion rates and activity during an expo, but I still stand by my original opinion despite that.
To me, there’s a lot more potential in longer term, indirect sales achieved through good press coverage, and this deeper brand awareness should be what we’re gunning for. But, I did take the advice I learned and I pushed individual sales, and tracked them too. I was on Tokyo Game Show with my leaflets like a NINJA. Apparently people are pretty hot on QR codes in Japan, so I made sure to use lots of QR codes linking to our store page on all our marketing literature.
How many scans did I track? 9… Nine scans from the two thousand leaflets we handed out. On top of this, our sales really did not change considerably during our time at the show, and definitely not enough to cover our exhibition costs. However… A few days after the show, Famitsu and 4Gamer published interviews with us and our sales increased 430%. It was a huge sales spike that paid for the show and left plenty of profit to spare. But more important than that, we made an impression in Japan.
So with that in mind, don’t think of the little sales – think big!
On average, 75% of visitors at an exhibition will come with a short list of specific booths in mind to see. The most important part of exhibition marketing starts long before the show in order to entice these visitors. So, we need to reach out to new potential players, established fans, plus YouTubers and journalists (and maybe distributors or publishers). Here’s a few ideas how:
This is especially important if you’re hiring interpreters, temporary booth staff or recruiting volunteers. Prepare yourself and your staff before the show, particularly the last two points for everyone:
90% of business secured from a show results from follow-up work in the immediate days after. Hopefully you’re keeping records of your leads, right? Make sure to divide them into A (hot), B (warm) and C (cold). Contact all A’s within 48 hours – the best results come from follow-ups made within 5 days. Personalise your email to them and jog their memory of who you are by reminding them of your conversation and offering them a code or something nice and special.
The best graphics attract attention and convey your message, instantly. A visitor should be able to understand what you’re offering in three seconds, the time it takes them to walk by your booth. Keep this rule in mind when you’re designing your banner as this could be your one chance to grab your audience.
Keep your branding consistent and make your graphics bold and eye-catching with simple messaging. Don’t overuse text on your banner, the less you can use the better: just your title and maybe a sub-heading. Some might add a call to action, but at this stage we’re just trying to attract initial interest; we can use flyers for the details.
I highly recommend getting some leaflets printed for your stand because: 1) You’re going to get bored pitching to every single passer by real quick (queue no voice left on the second day of the expo); 2) Not everybody wants to hear your pitch. Casual punters can be put off and feel pressured to play your game (queue playing a game you don’t like for 10 minutes just so you don’t offend the overly keen developer lurking behind you); 3) Business cards are great and all for making an impression, but they can only hold so much info. Ever been to a networking event, only to get home and flip through the hundred cards in your backpack, scratching your head at who the hell some of them belong to? Or what their actual game was? Don’t be one of those forgotten business cards.
Leaflets allow people to see what a game is for themselves, without committing to play it while the developer heavy breathes over their shoulders. Here are the key points to include on your leaflet designs:
And then of course there’s your business cards. How many is always a tough question, but better to get too many than not enough. You can always use them again next time after all. I usually take about 200 cards and have plenty to spare, but the suave socialites might need more.
As for freebies, I’m not a huge believer in freebies being of much benefit. They’re great for drawing attention to your stand, but no more than that if you’re already on a tight budget. If your banner looks interesting enough and people want to play your game, they’ll come to you, freebies or not.
I bloody love a good checklist! Seriously, this is just as much for my own benefit as it is for yours.