Conventions are huge opportunities for indie developers to make valuable connections with industry insiders. One important fact we’ve learned over the years from attending video game conferences: You get out what you put in. If you and your team lack the right strategy at the event, you miss out on forging relationships that could help your company thrive. Before attending your next industry convention, review the strategy we used for the recent PAX East event in Boston.

Start Planning Early

Conventions like PAX East require more planning than you may expect. After booking your travel accommodations and reserving a hotel room, you still have all of the details to cover at the event itself. To ensure we had everything ready ahead of time, we started planning back in September to come up with answers for the following questions:

  • How big should our booth be?
  • How should we design the booth layout? (Where will we have access to outlets? Where will we place monitors? Where will people stand?)
  • What do we need to purchase beforehand?
  • Should we hire people to help inside the booth so we can spend more time talking to publishers, developers, and media?
  • Which games will we bring?
  • What gear and electronics (TVs, monitors, HDMI cables, controllers, consoles, etc.) should we bring?

When you consider the gear you want to take along, make a note to test everything before packing for the event. At PAX East this year, we were surprised when one of our TVs refused to loop a video on repeat for us. If we had tested the TV back in our office, we could have troubleshot and made the necessary accommodations.

Graffiti Games PAX East Booth

At the Event: Booth Considerations

In our last few years of attending conventions, we’ve seen the best and the worst in booth design. Some of the strategies we used this year to give visitors a positive experience:

  1. Post a printout of the controls for each game and keep it next to each monitor. If you forget to print the controls beforehand, a handwritten note is helpful for first-time players who have trouble remembering controls even after playing a tutorial.
  2. Pay for extra space if you can afford it. The extra space allows you to put more on display while accommodating larger crowds. At PAX East, our booth was busy without ever feeling crowded.
  3. Pay for extra help if you can. With more people working your booth, the rest of your team has more flexibility for meetings with publishers, developers, media, influencers, potential partners and fans.
  4. Make branding prominent. We place a branded foam board behind each monitor for each video game so that passersby became familiar with each game’s logo.
  5. Keep each demo engaging. In watching people play our games, we quickly realized which ones they enjoyed and which ones they skipped. We noticed early on that players didn’t enjoy working through the opening level and story portion of the tutorial for REZ PLZ, and many visitors would leave the booth before reaching the later levels with more action. We modified the experience to let them jump right into the faster levels instead of having to sit through the exposition.

People Playing in the Graffit Games PAX East Booth

Work the Media

Convention coordinators release a press list a few weeks before the doors open. Contact pertinent editors on the press list as quickly as possible. Invite the press to visit your booth, try your games, and talk to the team. If you wait too long to send your emails, your message will become lost in the sea of email the media receives right before an event.

If you have a list from the previous year’s event, try using that before the new list comes out. Many members of the media attend the same events every year, and getting ahead of the big influx of emails could help you stand out.

A few days before the event, send a reminder to any media members you’ve been in touch with. Tell them you look forward to meeting at your scheduled time, include contact numbers they can use to reach you at the event, then include their press kit.

After the event’s over, follow up one more time. Tell them that you had a great time meeting them and let them know that you’re available if they have any questions about your game.

Meetings at the Convention

Conventions like PAX East and PAX West are excellent opportunities to meet other industry members. Use these as chances to make as many connections as possible.

At PAX East, for example, we attended the Games Industry Summit to meet developers. At the Summit, each meeting is 15 minutes, so you can forge multiple relationships in a few hours. This Summit has proved valuable in the past because it helped us connect with Driven Arts (the developers behind Days of War) and Mega Cat Studios (the developers behind Bite the Bullet).

With the right strategy for industry conventions, indie developers can make a positive impression on press, publishers, other developers, and gamers. These relationships can lead to bigger, better projects down the road that can create new opportunities for their team.