I'm sure that one day I'll stop being disappointed
A little over a month ago, Jade, my partner and one of my social media managers, sent me a link to apply to exhibit at PAX Australia. I filled out the form without really thinking about it, then the next day, got a call to confirm some details and that I was happy to be a part of PAX. After some initial hesitation and worry I decided to go ahead with it, at which point my hesitation and worry evolved into full-blown anxiety and regret - always a fun time.
Ultimately, it worked out - PAX weekend was absolutely fantastic and very fulfilling, and I don’t regret doing it one iota. That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t stressed throughout most of the lead-up and some of the event, however. For any future exhibitors at future PAX events, or anyone curious about what sort of set-up and preparation was needed, here’s a big list of what helped me get through the weekend.
Thanks to an excellent blog by the MMORPG Tycoon 2 devs on attending PAX 2019, I had a pretty good idea of what equipment to bring. After a few days of running around and getting equipment, my final item list consisted of:
Given that I was going to be showing people my game and hearing all of their feedback in person, to say that I was nervous about the whole thing was an understatement. What if they said that it sucked? What if they didn’t want to play the entire thing? Complicating matters was the fact that I was trying to pitch a visual novel - a bit of a niche genre, and one that required a bit of a time investment by players to get a decent payoff.
The first time someone walked away from the demo mid-gameplay, sometime within the first hour of the con, I felt gutted. If they didn’t like it, that meant that it sucked, which meant that I’d failed. (Yeah, I know - my counsellor tells me that I tend to accentuate the negative in my own life a lot. I’m trying to work on it). I kept a smile on my face, reset the game to the main menu, and acted as though nothing bad had happened.
Over the course of the weekend, this happened multiple times, but as it went on, I started to realise that it didn’t matter. If someone didn’t want to play the entire game, then odds were that they weren’t a fan of visual novels - in other words, they weren’t my target audience. And that was fine. If I started playing a demo for something that looked cool, only to discover that it’s a genre I’m not big on - say, an RTS - then I’d also probably make my excuses and leave. It’s nothing personal - it’s just not for them, and it doesn’t mean that my game sucked (at least, hopefully not objectively).
By around the morning of the Saturday, I’d also learned something else important about talking to players: they have to know what they’re getting into. I’d gotten into the habit of emphasising that the game was a visual novel when talking to passerbys who were interested in the booth (and explained that it involved a lot of reading when people didn’t know what that was), but some people still ended up leaving even though they’d seemed interested in the game.
I soon realised that the posters and my talk about the game emphasised that it was a horror game, but that wasn’t entirely accurate - the majority of the game is a slice-of-life/comedy story, which gradually builds up to a horror atmosphere over its course. Anyone in the mood for horror would have to sit through a fair bit of dialogue to get there, and not everybody has the time or patience to do so. Once I started emphasising that the horror was more of a slow boil, people were more accurately able to gauge whether or not the game was for them, which helped greatly.
Of course, that did also mean that from then on I had a lot of players asking, “So, it’s like Doki Doki Literature Club?”, which isn’t the best comparison, but hey, you can’t win them all.
When I arrived at the Exhibition Centre on Thursday to set up with Jade, we found out that some of the other booths in our area only planned on having two exhibitors there - in other words, just the default number assigned to a booth by PAX. I briefly considered doing the same, but went with my gut and bought two more exhibitor passes, as had previously been discussed with some friends, before leaving the building for the day.
Thank god I did. PAX is fun and rewarding, but it’s also both physically and mentally exhausting. You’re on your feet the entire day (unless you want to use one of the seats provided for your booth, which means that your players can’t sit down), and you’re constantly answering questions about your game. Even when you know the answers and have answered those same questions that day, it still wears you down.
With that in mind, having friends to help take the load off really makes a big difference - it meant that I could go to the bathroom or eat when I needed to, and that when I needed a break to recharge my social batteries, I could take it. Without those little snippets, my mental energy would have no doubt gotten a lot more drained, and it would have been much harder for me to keep approaching strangers and talking to them about my game. My friends were invaluable to me during the PAX weekend, and I couldn’t have made it through it without them.
You know who else is great who was at PAX? Other devs! It was great to be able to talk to other people there who know what the indie developer experience is like, to swap stories and information, and to hear about how they’re approaching different problems. I didn’t get to talk to as many of my fellow devs as I would have liked, but all of the ones I did talk to (the creators of The Amazing Chicken Adventures, Dead Pets Unleashed, Every Hue of You, and The Godfeather) were friendly and accommodating, in addition to being creative and talented. The indie community really is warm and welcoming, and it helped make me feel like I had more support throughout the weekend.
Here's a hot tip for attending PAX: plan it well in advance. I had about a month of preparation time, during which I had to write up a demo, test it, and update it based on feedback from friends. It took up the majority of the time, but there was more to do than just that - I also had to fill out forms, create artwork, buy some equipment, test everything across multiple computers...all of the little things really add up. I think that things ultimately did work out pretty well, but more preparation time - even just a single week - would have made a world of difference. For any future conventions I exhibit at, I'll definitely be trying to be aware of them with more notice so that I've got significantly more time to prepare.
Something else, thankfully much more minor, that I would have done differently involved some of the equipment. As mentioned above, I brought a monitor and ran the game’s trailer on a continuous loop throughout the three-day convention. This worked fairly well, and while it wasn’t that large a monitor (it’s only got a resolution of 1440x900) and was a bit fiddly to take to the con, it was definitely preferable to using a laptop for the trailer.
What I hadn’t considered, that some of our neighbours had, was the placement of the monitor. The table on the other side of ours (Dead Pets Unleashed) looked to be doing something similar, only their monitor was on one or two stacked boxes, giving it a bit of a height advantage. It was a simple solution and made it easier to see from afar, not to mention making it stand out more amongst the other screens at the table.
Another thing that could have gone a bit smoother was our QR codes. Our business cards had a QR code to our website on them, but we discovered on the Saturday that they were no longer working - the place that they’d been created at only gave a fourteen-day free trial, and it expired right in the middle of the convention. Everything got sorted out quickly enough, but it definitely caused a bit of panic for me. Thankfully it was just the QR codes - when we first realised something was happening, my first thought was that the website was crashing due to traffic (ha ha, very funny, me), and that I couldn’t get home to increase the server size.
The only other thing I’d maybe do a bit differently involves our volunteers and other people working the booth. While all of them did a fantastic job and really helped out, there were a few periods where only one person was at the booth, or where someone had to wait a bit longer before getting lunch or having a break so that we’d have enough people working. In future I’d probably try and organise this a bit better so that everyone has some more opportunities to look around the convention and that ideally, nobody’s left on their own at the booth.
PAX Australia 2022 was initially intimidating. As the convention grew closer, it became more exciting, then on the first day it went back to being scary. From there though, it swiftly became rewarding - interacting with players was amazing, and it was exciting to talk to people from all sorts of walks of life about what the game involved and the directions that it was heading in. PAX Australia 2022 gave me a unique opportunity to put my game in front of people and see what they thought of it, and I’m so glad that I did so.
If anyone from the future is reading this and debating exhibiting at a PAX of your own, my advice is to go for it. It’s exhausting and stressful and maddening and requires a fair bit of work, but it’s also rewarding and encouraging and exciting and well worth the effort. I’m incredibly glad to have gotten the opportunity to exhibit at PAX, and had a fantastic time there.
Plus you get to keep the artwork they print for your stand afterwards, which is pretty neat.Back to news