How to get the most out of a games convention
Road to Rezzed: PR execs share their tips on dealing with press, consumers and making your booth sing
Last month, we looked at the real cost of exhibiting at a game convention, which can be radically different depending on what you're willing to pay for.
Yet no matter what your budget, there are certain things you can do to get the most out of these shows.
Our parent company, Gamer Network, is running its next convention next week in the form of EGX Rezzed. Hundreds of indie studios are expected to attend to showcase their wares, and we felt what better way to prepare than getting some advice from the world's leading games PR experts.
Conventions can be exhausting and tough going, but potentially extremely rewarding, with a constant flow of consumers, media, potential publishing partners and more wanting to sample your upcoming product. To ensure you're getting your money's worth, it's vital you stay alert to opportunity and work hard to engage the various audiences. But how, and what should you consider?
When it comes to getting attention, Gareth Williams - the games boss at Premier PR - says don't be afraid to make some noise.
"Depending on your budget, you could have a stellar pod setup or a console and a screen, but whatever you have, as the saying goes: 'it's not what you've got, but what you do with it that counts.'
"You want the attention of everyone, not just the person that stands in front of your screen and watches"Gareth Williams, Premier PR
"Firstly, be loud - regardless of the type of game you're showing. You want the attention of everyone, not just the person that stands in front of your screen and watches. Getting them to play is the easy part - it's getting the attention of those nearby that matters. The more people that stand and watch, the more people will think: 'That must be cool, I need to look at this.' Secondly, consider what you're showing - is it the best single part of your game? Don't show off your favourite bit, but everyone's favourite bit - and get as big a television as you can.
"Consider running a live Twitch broadcast, taking the show out to those who can't attend, and consider working with partners such as engines or the likes of Nvidia - their logos can be the difference between someone taking notice, and walking by.
"Finally, have swag. T-shirts are fine, but they're unlikely to be worn around the show, so consider the obvious - lanyards, bags and anything that's weird and wonderful. Sunglasses, caps, branded water bottles. They all make sense, because they all bring consumers to your stand, and closer to your screen."
Caroline Miller, head of top games industry PR agency Indigo Pearl, adds: "Keep an eye on social media at the show - if you see someone is tweeting about being there then @ them and invite them to have a look at what you've got. Invite punters to use your hashtag to talk about your game so you can collate all this afterwards from Twitter and Instagram.
"Make nice with the PR at the show. Sometimes a big broadcaster will turn up and start asking for suggestions, and you want them to think of you and know what your games is about.
"People like tat - pin badges, stickers, anything. It will get picked up and used. Wear comfortable shoes. Don't get horrendously drunk on the first night. And take some mints."
"Take some mints"Caroline Miller, Indigo Pearl
Alex Verrey, head of Big Boy PR, says you can't beat a good TV and make sure to be 'fun'.
"It doesn't take money to be creative," he explains. "Make the best of the small space you have. Make sure the audience can see your game in the best possible light. Use a decent TV. Think wisely about the content you show. No one wants to spend an hour on tutorials and grappling with controls. Keep it simple. Dress your area properly, make sure your branding is on point, think out the box in terms of ways you can make your area stand out. Fun is infectious: Go spread a good time and folks will stop and play."
Williams adds that it is important to treat consumers that come through the door seriously, and take on-board the feedback they offer - it's not just about the media.
"Consumers are your future customers. Treat them better than you would your mother. If you're not open, engaging and welcoming, you'll find it hard to attract and retain the interest of anyone - but for consumers, this is paramount. Ask them to give you feedback on the game, and tell them if it's good enough, it can be implemented. Don't make promises, but show them that this is their chance to interact directly with the developer. Show them that games are about having fun. It's a difficult job, but you need to play the part of salesman, customer service, customer support, executive, and many more. If you can't do each of these, make sure you have staff to help you that can. Don't be afraid to say, 'I can't answer that, but this person can,' and take them straight to them. Be the example of what you think a developer should be to and for your community. Do that, and you're making sales nine months before your product ships."
Of course, the media will be at these events, too. And that can require a slightly different approach.
"Get organised before the show," Miller says.
"Make sure you have a link to a good press pack with all your assets ready to ping to anyone who requests it. And press packs should include a high res logo, several screenshots, a short video - YouTube link is preferable - and game description, including formats release dates, pricing and so on.
"Try to talk to as many press before the show to let them know you'll be there and organise some interviews and lock people down so it's not just a casual 'see you at the show'. Press lists for shows are not 100% reliable, so if someone that you need isn't on there then invite them along."
"Try to talk to as many press before the show to let them know you'll be there and organise some interviews and lock people down"Caroline Miller, Indigo Pearl
Williams agrees: "As an exhibitor, you should have access to the press list prior to the show. It's there to be utilised, so arrange some appointments first of all. Remember that press' time is always tight, and although Rezzed is a more relaxed show, you're always competing with others. Be courteous and really think about your pitch. 'Hey, come and play our game. It's the best game ever,' only works when you've got the best game ever. Tell them about your studio and what you're developing in one line - an elevator pitch you may have used when looking for a publisher or investor. And then go into detail. What are the cool things? what are the best features? Do you have a distinct style or gameplay mechanic? Make sure you include images and send your pitch to as many press as possible - because you're aiming to build some solid awareness throughout the show and afterward. How you perform here with coverage might help you if you're looking for a publisher, because they're more likely to be interested if the press and consumers are."
Former Ubisoft PR exec and founder of Renaissance PR Stefano Petrullo also stresses the importance of getting the pitch right and knowing the product.
"In a show you probably have around 2 to 3 minutes to quickly describe your game to a journalist who is running around to find the next Minecraft," he says.
"Once you've made your pitch, do not ask: 'Would you like to try', just politely hand the pad to the media. Now it's the game that needs to talk.
"Offer to answer questions if they have any, but do not talk constantly. Journalists want to experience the game - giving them a lecture in a chaotic environment will distract them from the experience.
"If you are demoing/presenting have one person demoing, the other to do the talk. It is very difficult to do both."
"Don't forget to socialise. It seems obvious, but do not limit yourself to just showcasing the game at the stand, try to meet up with other developers after the doors have closed. You never know, you might find yourself sitting next and talking to the editor of Eurogamer."
Professionalism is also key. Journalists are put off by bored, disinterested-looking developers.
"All too often at shows you can pass an indie table and find the guys running the show looking bored and fucking around with their phones. It's awfulAlex Verrey, Big Boy PR
"It's imperative to engage and to hustle," Verrey says. "It sounds so obvious, but all too often at shows you can pass an indie table and find the guys running the show looking bored and fucking around with their phones. It's awful. Nothing makes me not want to try a game than seeing those running the stand looking bored. Switch off your damn phones, put them away in fact and engage with real people. Smile, have fun, ask people passing if they'd like to come play. Make sure at least one person running your stand is friendly, personable and confident. Dress suitably and look the part. If you don't have such a person available, spend a little cash and hire someone for the day, it will be well worth it."
And the job isn't done once the show is over.
"Get business cards and follow up ASAP - with that press pack you've done before the show," Miller says.
Williams concludes: "Did you take note of feedback from both press and consumers? Are you cultivating relationships with press that show up? Are you following up with press that don't show up? There's so much to consider, so plan this before the show. Who is going to be the relationship manager with press and influencers? When are you going to talk to them again, and for what reason? Who is going to manage your community as it grows? There's a lot of questions you need to answer, but with planning, these questions become easier, and there's a lot less of them."