We’re approaching a year into the development of Carried Away. It felt like a good time to attend a games event and take some lessons from experienced developers. We attended EGX Rezzed in London last weekend. We attended talks, visited booths and bombarded members of the public with our unpolished pitch. Some of the above have been really insightful, while other parts we’re probably more fun than useful.
Bombarding the public
We thought it’d be great to ask some of the 10,000 people that were at Rezzed for their opinions on our game. We were able to show people videos and gifs that we’re not quite ready to show on the internet. It was great to hear people speak positively about something that we’ve created, in fact nobody had anything bad to say! ….this started to make us wonder.
The vast majority of the friendly gamer community are going to be enthusiastic and positive, but most likely kind and reserved when face-to-face with some nervous game developer. We we’re looking for critique or suggestions, but mostly got observations and some friendly chats. We did get a couple of people interested in doing some pre-alpha testing along the way which was useful.
More useful - we lucked out half way through the event when we unknowingly bombarded a member of the press which he indicated to us by his black wristband. He was interested to know more and we exchanged business cards. Score! Pro tip: keep a keen eye out for people with black/press wristbands.
Checking in at booths and sucking up to fellow devs
Finally, the last piece of the jigsaw was to speak directly to other people that had been there and done that before. We grew our network way beyond what it was over the space of those 3 short days. While the advantages of this may not be immediate, who knows when we could reap the rewards of knowing the right people in the right places.
We researched as many of the showcased games as possible beforehand to understand which games are most similar to ours, both in terms of what we want to achieve in sales, and similarity to our game in scope and genre. We also checked out games which we knew to be struggling to see if we could learn anything that would help us avoid a similar fate.
We showed genuine enthusiasm for the games that were on show, we wanted to learn as much as we could about them and their teams and the development process. When it was appropriate we struck up technical conversation. This indicated that we too are developers, and often led to a brief conversation about our game.
By spending longer at the booths with the most similarities to our game, we hope that it has put us in a good position to contact these developers in future. Hopefully to exchange favours, contacts and knowledge.
Attending developer talks and Rezzed sessions
The talks we attended were ones that we thought would be most applicable to our situation which is building up to greenlight, alpha and early access/launch.
DISCLAIMER - no notes were taken at these presentations. My memory isn’t always 100% true to me. Pro tip #2: take a note pad.
Talk #1 - When to show and who to tell
This was a star studded talk which was hosted by Independent By Design. It included Dean Hall, creator of DayZ, Paul Kilduff-Taylor co-founder of Mode7Games and Lorenzo Conticelli lead artist on Town of Light. They all work in game design, but it was immediately clear that the genres in which they operate have shaped their thinking. Dean has primarily worked on first person, persistent survival games, Paul on simultaneous strategy games and Lorenzo on narrative driven psychological thriller - all vastly different. I think this is important to keep in mind when taking advice from anyone. There isn’t a one rule fits all approach for anything in game design, and most things should be taken with a good pinch of salt.
There was a couple of points that the whole panel agreed upon. This was that they would focus their communications efforts according to the stage of development they are at. For pre-alpha it is important to engage the core community of testers that are able to help shape the future of the game.
Another agreeable point was that it is important that you have worked out your angle to show your game when you decide to start showing people content. It can be easy for people to look at your game and say ‘it looks like minecraft/ NFL/a horror game’ when in reality you may be creating something entirely different. First impressions matter so make sure you focus on what you are to avoid people second guessing what your game’s about.
Here are the key, most memorable points that each developers were made during the talk:
Hot tap, cold tap analogy. Initial conversations should be around generating excitement and positivity. Hot tap. When things get too hot, turn on the cold tap of realism and critique in order to manage both excitement and expectations. There was a lot of joking and irony in what Dean said - in his own word, DayZ is the Nickelback of gaming. Most people think there was way too much hot tap.
Start telling the people you trust as soon as you can, but only when you are happy with the concept in your head. Talking about it will help you see if the concept really is a good idea.
If the game is narrative driven, it is best not to give away too much about the plot. It is better to use artwork to communicate your game. But be careful not to confuse the audience of what the game is.
Talk #2 - How good comms can save a bad launch
Josh Bishop from Bright Rock Games, developers of War For The Overworld talked about their rocky launch and the uphill battle since. We didn’t think that talk was entirely applicable to us, but thought it was a good idea to be well prepared if the worst happened around release. For those of you that do not know, War For The Overworld was very successful on Kickstarter.
Like a lot of campaigns, it was built around promises which inevitably leads to certain expectations from a heavily invested community. It is natural to be optimistic around the birth of a new project (see Dean Hall’s hot tap analogy above), but when dates are missed, features dropped and bugs present on release there will always be backlash which are reflected in the reviews. The advice on how to recover from this was simple, but should also just be viewed as general good practice for building a community;
Be nice. Resist responding to trolls
Be authentic and honest. Be open and share what you know. Be realistic about your promises.
Encourage a ‘super community’ that will help respond to queries. Give these people additional access to content before its release and
Admit mistakes early, and communicate what you have learned and how you will avoid similar errors in future.
Doing the above has allowed Bright Rock Games to eventually reinstate trust with their customers. It has lead to lots of positive comments around how they are not ‘a standard money grabbing studio’.
Talk #3 - Games industry PR
We have been contemplating using a PR firm around the early access release, but the first piece of advice is even more relevant if you want to go it alone. We attend a talk from award winning Stefano Petrullo, founder of Renaissance PR. PR is the process around getting your message to the media, so that they can write the stories about your game.
The first piece of advice he gave was to focus your PR efforts (whether you use a 3rd party or do it in house) around what makes you interesting and different. That could be that you’re making a chair lift & gondola construction game (cough cough) or a game that explores the issues surrounding mental health. Whatever it is, this is the angle that you should take. This is what will make interesting reading which is what media are aiming for. The fact that you are entering Early Access, or that you’re indie developers, or that you are based in a fancy location or that you’re on sale for the first month isn’t attention grabbing. It could apply to anyone.
For those that do choose to use a PR firm. First of all, consult at least 3 PR firms, each may have contacts that are more applicable to your title. Agree measurable targets with the firms to gauge success and whether the PR firm has fulfilled their contract (e.g 3 top tier news publications, 5 interviews with the media, etc.). Lastly, understand how those targets are going to be reached. What is the pipeline or process for achieving these targets. (an event? Mailing list? Megaphone in Piccadilly circus?)
While PR may seem like an unnecessary expense to small indies, the expertise of knowing and understanding the audiences of different publications may be the difference between snowballing success, and struggling to get in front of your target audience.
Talk #4 - Surviving early access
I’ll keep this one short and to the point. Thanks to Andrew Spearin from New World Interactive for the presentation. Early access isn’t dead. Just make sure you treat it like Early Access. Be engaging. Be honest about expectations and don’t over promise. Update frequently, even if it is just small. Listen to the community and show them that their suggestions are being implemented, but importantly, don’t let them dictate the design. Reward early adopters. Treat it like a real release, after all, if you’re asking for money, your customers are going to expect a certain amount of value from the game.
If you ignore these, you’ll end up feeling like early access is as broken as Walter’s moral compass. People will not want to engage, but most of all, you could damage your final release with bad reviews, reputation and broken trust.
Well done if you made it this far and thanks for reading our tips on how to get the most out of an expo. Our key takeaways were the contacts we made and the realisation that only certain advice is relevant to your game. Lastly, if you’re attending any expos, stay positive, brave and enthusiastic, check out lots of games for inspiration, and most of all, have fun! Speak to everyone you can (without being weird) because who know what they might reveal!
How have you benefited from expos in the past? Is our next logical step to take our current game to one? Am I talking a load of gibberish. Talk to me fellow devs :)