“Mind the Trap” Showcase at Casual Connect USA 2016
Winner of the Best Multiplayer Game Award and Nominee for Best Game Design
First off, being accepted as an Indie Prize finalist was such an honor. As our fellow Bay Area developer, Gary Chao of Formal Sheep, puts it:
“We’re no longer amateurs making games. We’re moving into the big leagues now — the current gen of burgeoning game developers.“
Our biggest drive is to live up to that image and continue to deliver the highest quality of work we can offer.
Overall, the exhibit was a lot of fun not only because we got to interact with developers from across the world, but also because Casual Connect provided a unique perspective on exhibiting in front of an audience different from the typical consumer crowd.
To be exact, Casual Connect is a trade fair. Most of you are probably familiar with PAX, a consumer fair, where the attendees are a good mix of gamers (casual and hardcore) and developers. Trade fairs, on the other hand, are attended by industry professionals who are looking for clients to do business with. At a ticket price ranging from $200 to over $1000 per ticket compared to the $40 at PAX, the event is clearly tailored to professionals who can be sponsored by their company.
Here’s a more detailed comparison between the two types of fairs so you can get a better idea on how to tailor your exhibition towards the right audience:
- Consumer fairs: The attendees are mostly gamers — your game’s potential buyers. They walk around the exhibits getting a feel for upcoming games that would be worth their time and money. These are the people you want to target your promotional campaigns at to gain more followers, newsletter sign-ups, and Kickstarter backers.
- Trade fairs: The attendees are industry professionals — your potential business partners, such as marketers, investors, and publishers. They walk around the exhibits getting a feel for games that would fit their portfolio and benefit from their products and services. These are the people you want to confidently recite your business and marketing plan to, get into the specifics of what you need and what they can offer, and possibly shake hands on a deal by the end of the day.
A key advice we learned from speaking with publishers was that they pay particular attention to the team behind the product. In a such a competitive industry, anybody can make a good game. But a game that excels is one backed by a determined team — a team that can be trusted to finish the game and take it beyond. The more prepared you are with speaking with a publisher, the higher the chances are that they will be interested in working with you. Check out my article “How to Engage Those Who Haven’t Played Yet” on Gamesauce.biz on how we locked in meetings with publishers.
What Exactly is Casual Connect?
Casual Connect is a trade fair focusing on the mobile segment of the gaming industry, primarily on app monetization via mobile ads. Exhibitors included Google, Yahoo!, MoPub and Appodeal.
Throughout the three-day event, these same companies hosted workshops, lectures, and panels discussing market trends, exploring opportunities, and sharing best practices. Example lectures included “eSports — Not New, But On Fire,” “Successful Mobile Advertising’s Secret Sauce,” and “What We Learned Moving from Mobile to VR.”
Although a lot of these didn’t apply at the moment, they were extremely insightful into what’s trending, a forecast into potential business ventures for us after Mind the Trap. A favorite of mine was a “Crowdfunding for Indies” panel featuring Rami Ismail and Aaron Isaksen, established game developers and investors of Indie Fund.
What is the Indie Prize Showcase?
The Indie Prize is a scholarship for selected game developers to attend Casual Connect for free, providing them the opportunity to visit all the workshops and to showcase their games to the industry professionals at Casual Connect. My team was one of 50 finalists from around the world.
Exhibit Set-up and Presentation
This was our first time demoing at a trade fair, and despite our unfamiliarity with the target audience, it was key for us to primp up our presentation as much as possible. We wanted to demonstrate a higher level of professionalism that reflected our game’s progress and our growth as game developers.
This was a mode we implemented in the demo in which a gameplay trailer would automatically be played on the screen if the computer was idle for more than 30 seconds. To accommodate the behavior of bystanders glazing by, the trailer was composed to swiftly showcase the main features that we felt our viewers would be most interested in, specifically the core gameplay mechanics, the multiplayer interactions, and the vibrant design of levels. No special effects, no special animations. Just a montage of gameplay footage.
The standby mode turned out to be a tremendous addition. The publishers, investors, and marketers walking around the booths, who had years to decades of experience in the gaming industry, had no interest in physically playing the game and just wanted to see if it had the appeal to fit in their portfolio. The standby trailer provided just that. Once the trailer caught their attention, discussions ensued, and for us not having to play the game meant we could focus more on talking about the finite details that they wanted to know about, such as launch date, production schedule, and promotional campaigns.
I really can’t emphasize how crucial the standby mode is for an exhibition. A still screen doesn’t do you any good, so I highly recommend implementing this for all your future exhibits. It’s also a good practice in streamlining your content into a compact, straight-to-the-point delivery.
Back-End Analytics to A/B Test Features and Monitor Player Performance
During our first exhibition at the Sacramento Indie Arcade, we observed from players that any session longer than 10 minutes was too time-consuming. You could also see very clearly the frustration that stemmed from certain sections of the level, whether it was because the platforming was too difficult, a puzzle required too much coordination to solve, or the gameplay was too one-sided between different types of players. However, trying to balance ourselves between watching the players and talking to bystanders was a struggle. Using empirical data was also not quantitative enough for us to decide exactly which areas of our game needed fixes and how much.
At Casual Connect, we wanted to take this opportunity to implement some back-end analytics into our demo that would track every quantitative variable available in the game so far. This included cheese distribution between players, time spent per section of the level, and number of times each player won a mini-game. Unfortunately, we were limited on time, but Michael, one of our developers and UE4 specialist, was able to crunch out something quickly.
When we weren’t talking with industry professionals, we were either attending the workshops or networking with our neighbors. Thus, the only playtesting we had was from other developers. Overall, the reception was quite positive, but we didn’t get enough sessions to build any valuable analytics.
We ordered 400 one-inch pins from Wacky Buttons as a promotional giveaway for Steam Greenlight. Attached to each pin was a small strip of paper with the “Vote for us!” message and the game’s website, which included a link to the Greenlight page. If you think about it, these strips of paper can be quite actionable — more likely than not the person taking home the pin would take a look at the paper before ripping it off. Given how cheap it is to print on paper nowadays, it’s a worthwhile investment that ensures you get something out of these promotional giveaways.
As for the pins themselves, they did not have the best quality. The color was dull, and our website’s URL wasn’t even visible through the crimpled plastic edges. They were also not a popular item for the older Casual Connect crowd.
We also ordered 500 business cards from Vistaprint. A good advice is to not have dark colors. Everybody was jotting down discussion notes directly onto the business cards, and the black background on ours made it extremely difficult to see the ink.
The amount of space each developer had to exhibit was also very limited, but we wanted to make our table as attractive as possible, so we hand-made some neat tabletop props. Check out our DIY post on how we made the treasure chest.
Indie Prize Awards Ceremony
In a room full of finalists from around the world, we were unsure how competitive our game was compared to everyone else’s. I sat outside near the bathroom looking nervously at my screen every minute, waiting for Chris and Conrad to update me on who won each award. When I got the message saying that we won the “Best Multiplayer Game” award and was nominated for “Best Game Design,” I jumped out of my seat from sheer excitement. After quitting my job a year ago and diving into a career path that had so many unknowns and so much risk, this was a motivational moment that I can’t express in words.
You can see how happy Chris was.
This event and its outcome was a validation for our team that we were moving in the right direction. It felt great and empowered us even more.