I had the opportunity to showcase TAWBS at a local convention last week, on the 21st and 22nd of September, at TGS Lyon Anime Game Show. The convention wasn’t necessarily focused on gaming, it was rather a “pop culture” event involving games but also anime, comics, french youtubers, american actors, and more.
I honestly never thought going to a con would be very useful – I couldn’t see what I could tangibly gain from it, really. But with the extremely low price of 20€ for a table at the Indie Corner Booth (managed by the Lyon Game Dev association with whom I had some contacts), I decided to give it a try just to get some extra experience on how these sort of events went.
– BEFORE THE CON –
Prepping up for the con was the first major step. It started with the making of a demo.
I decided not to restrict the demo to a certain amount of levels, in case some really good player managed to get rather far in the game – I thought it would be interesting to get feedback on the late-game levels, and most players would stop at the beginning either way. I have to thank the playtesters from my discord for playing through the game so quickly and filing bugs and suggestions before the event. Things like ammo indicators or dialogue indicators were added last minute.
I also needed to think about how to attract the visitors, have them be able to just plop in and play the game, while also giving them a reason to stay engaged.
For the eye-catching, I mostly relied on a looping gameplay video displayed on a secondary monitor, which showed all the madness and excitement of the later levels of the game. Indeed, having only one screen with the game being played in the tutorial stages by someone who didn’t know what they were doing would be too boring. This turned out to be, I think, the strongest asset my booth had.
Alternatively, I also made some kind of small A4 poster that pitched the game in a couple sentences with some key visuals. Printing it out on a big format would have been too costly for what was essentially an experiment to me – again, I didn’t have any strong objectives going to the con.
The game demo was going to be run on a laptop, since it would’ve been too much of a hassle to carry a big PC myself – I was planning on using public transport to go from my college dorm to the event (though my father did end up helping me out with his car). However, the fact that the game would be played aggressively by all sorts of people and children was mildly concerning, so I decided I would bring an external keyboard to plug in on my laptop to avoid getting too much grease and damage on my fragile laptop keyboard. Probably an over-concern.
I had a lot of trouble trying to figure out how to display the game on a second monitor. The screen I planned on using simply didn’t work – it was detected by my computer but displayed a black screen. It did work fine with my roommate’s laptop, and while I spent many hours beforehand trying to figure out the issue on my end, I ultimately had to drop that plan. The only other screen I had was one that only took VGA inputs, but my computer only outputted HDMI. I eventually borrowed an old laptop from my mother that could connect to it. I could’ve simply used that laptop’s built-in screen to display the looping trailer, but I wanted something bigger and less amateurish-looking (at least I tried). Besides, I could use the frame of the old laptop as a way of holding my mini posters, since I only had a table and no other equipment to display them vertically. That’s a (cough cough) brilliant idea I came up with 6 hours before the con.
Of course, the technical problems related to the screen didn’t end there. The old laptop I took happened to have lost its original power adapter, so I had to use another one that outputted less power – and as a consequence, the laptop would turn off by itself, even plugged in, every hour or so. Thankfully I could turn it immediately back on. The screen also had some slight white line flashing issues, but you couldn’t notice them well from far away.
With all that in consideration, here’s how my table / booth looked like.
You can notice a second mini poster which shows the controls of the game. Indeed, I wanted to have a cheat sheet that I could redirect players to in case they forgot the controls from the tutorial or my explanations.
This contributed to making the game slightly more accessible, besides the fact that I set things up so that players could just plop in, sit down, and start playing right away.
Finally, I also made my own business cards to keep in touch with people, or to help them remember the game more easily even after the con. The blue design won over the red one in a twitter poll.
Those cards were printed rather late, since I got carried away with my classes having just started the week before the event. I had to look for a cheap and quick local printer in Lyon, and the best prices I could get was 30€ for 100 cards, printed on both sides under 24h. Had a weird feeling when I finally got them in my hands.
I also originally wanted to print stickers with the logo of the game. Those would’ve been used as a reward for a competition of some sort, in which players would try to get as far as possible in the game with the least amount of deaths in a limited amount of time. Alas, I didn’t have enough money nor time to print them out, especially if I wanted them to have a decent quality and robustness. I figured I could distribute bits of the OST as an alternative reward.
There were too many bugs with the audio of the game because of my old broken audio engine which I hadn’t touched for 2 years. Because I didn’t have enough time to patch all of them, I decided to mute the game and have an optional set of headphones for those who wanted to listen to exclusive bits of the soundtrack playing on repeat throughout the day. There was too much ambient noise and music anyway.
– DURING THE CON –
Many players stopped by the booth, more so on Saturday than Sunday. The con was open from 9am to 6 or 7pm.
What’s interesting is that they really were people from all ages and gaming backgrounds – which lead to a wide variety of different feedback, unlike when I organised a big playtesting session 2 years ago when I specifically actively tried to get the niche that corresponded to my target audience.
Noting and organising feedback was a fundamental step and was probably the biggest thing I could gain from the con, rather than followers and potential buyers.
I didn’t necessarily have elaborate means of gathering and organising feedback – in retrospect, it would’ve been smart to make a quick google survey to be completed at the end of each play – something I did 2 years ago out of necessity (online testing), but not here. Given I also wanted to deeply observe the behaviour of the players, their movements, facial expressions, and play performance, I just used pen and paper to jot down anything that came to mind, with the intention of going through the notes again at a later time. This process of observing the players was quite exhausting, so I ended up not doing it for half of the people who came by the booth. Still, I ended up with 7 pages of written comments and reports.
This form of live feedback was all the more valuable since it had extra depth. I usually avoided to give players hints when they got stuck because I wanted to see how they approached the situation and how they tried to get out of it, which would give me both clues on why they were stuck and on how I could solve the misunderstandings. Obviously, the time I left them hanging depended on each player and their profile – sometimes they would figure the mechanic out after 10 seconds or so. That was still enough for me to consider improving it somehow. But when they seemed to keep repeating the same faulty strategy over and over, I would usually intervene and explain.
I mentioned how I roughly built a pseudo-profile for each player. It mostly consisted of a description of their initial play strategy. Some people tested the waters a lot and kept shooting their ammo during the tutorial even in the phase when there was nothing to shoot. Others obediently read the tutorial text without trying to apply what they had just learned. Some people kept shooting a lot just to make sure the enemy was dead, even if it only needed a hit. Some people did it out of confidence, others out of panic. Some people kept shooting the enemies from far away, others dared to get closer to the enemy. Some people read the text, most didn’t.
This allowed me to have an idea of what kind of gamer they were and therefore categorise and maybe try to understand their play behaviour and feedback better. I could also value and sort their feedback based on how close they were to being part of my target audience. Some suggestions were less relevant than others, but I had to be careful not to discard them simply because they came from people that weren’t good at the game. These people were an opportunity for me to make my game slightly more accessible, and everyone can benefit from that.
I also noticed how some people knew how to put words on their struggles with the game more than others. It’s interesting to link the given feedback with observations I make on the players who don’t know why they’re struggling or who just blame it on them instead of the game. It allows me to explain their in-game behaviour with a fresh new light, instead of trying to find an explanation myself which often ends up being less accurate since I’m very used to the game and don’t have that newcomer’s perspective. For example, one guy told me the visuals for the ammo refill item didn’t stand out enough and blended in with the rest. As someone who is used to the game, I could easily instantly spot where the ammo refills were in a level, but many times I noticed people were staring at the screen for about 1 or 2 seconds, sometimes even more, before realising where the ammo was – and that’s in the beginning levels where the superfluous decorations are mild. Most people brushed it off by saying “oh I must be tired today”.
But it was important to also take into account the fact that games are played differently at cons and at home – the level of focus and dedication obviously isn’t the same.
Finally, I dropped the idea of enticing the players to stay engaged with the game by organising a mini-competition simply because most people either seemed to not care and just wanted a quick play before moving on, or were invested in learning more about the project either way.
I made some other mistakes / oversights regarding the organisation of the booth, but I couldn’t do any changes until Sunday given I was constantly busy pitching the game and writing notes during the event. I obviously also fixed some basic bugs between Saturday and Sunday.
The external keyboard was ultimately a bad idea, because it added extra distance between the player and the screen – this lead to complaints about the small size of the game and my wireless mouse being slightly slower than usual due to the distance.
I was worried about not having many business cards so I started out giving them out manually to the more interested testers, but after realising how much I had left at the end of the day I decided to just leave them on the table free to be taken by anyone who just saw the trailer and thought it looked cool.
I also tried different positions and angles with the monitor in order to try to attract the most people based on the location of my table and the way people moved around the con.
This didn’t really change anything as Sunday seemed to be much less empty than Saturday, as the main point of attraction was the National Cosplay Competition. Most of the people who stopped by were children who weren’t even comfortable keyboard controls.
Overall, I had a great time discussing and seeing the other developer’s projects in the Indie Corner, and I feel like I learned a lot from them and their more elaborate experiences as developers.
– AFTER THE CON –
The reality of full time studying hit me back right after the con, especially with all the homework I had skipped. I did take the time to go through my notes, eventually, and compiled a concise todo list of things to add to the game, bugs to solve and features to improve.
There wasn’t a lot of networking going on (it wasn’t the point of this con) so there wasn’t much followup on that regard, besides checking out the websites and twitter profiles of the other developers from the booth.
I did check out the analytics of my own website and twitter profile out of curiosity, but noticed only a tiny spike in views / interactions. This was something I expected, but I was glad I could confirm this. After all, there was no real reason to check the game out online if there was nothing to be offered except for gifs and technical-ish devlogs.
In conclusion, this con was obviously a good experience for me, I talked to many great people, and got a ton of extremely valuable feedback and ideas that helped me realise I absolutely needed to make the game more accessible (the fact that people already had a good amount of trouble on easy mode says a lot). I admit there were many, many things wrong with my booth, which was understandable given the investment I put in it. With smarter planning, I suppose I could’ve benefited from the convention more. Well, that leaves room for improvement for the next one!
Here’s a video compiling the footage I had of the con, along with a sick music track from the OST made by Predator.