In preparation for a release in September 2015 we have opened up a Steam Greenlight page for Expand. If you’d love for the game to be available on Steam then please vote for it. We are really humbled by all the support everyone has shown.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been learning how to use the Unity game engine. I decided that I’d be good practise to make a new game with it. Recently I read the Quarterly Essay called Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott by good old leftie commentator David Marr. It was published back in 2012 before Abbott’s first election against Kevin Rudd. One of the recurring ideas in the book was how the electorate had forgotten many of the awful statements that Abbott had made publicly. I thought I’d make this small game to highlight some of those statements.
Good news. We’re doing another playtesting event AIE Adelaide. This event will be on July 3rd from 6:30pm – 8:30pm. If you’re working on a game, a prototype, art, your pitch or anything else related to games then you should come along and get feedback. We’re also after players who can help test games. All the details you need to know are on the Facebook event page.
Image from Video Game Pattern by Gilbert Ford.
Next Monday, that’s the 13th of April, I’ll be on a panel as part of the Online Festival for Freeplay 2015. The panel is called The Interview Game: Chris Johnson and I’ll be interviewed by journalist Katie Williams while I play through several of the games I’ve created. The panel starts at 12pm(Melbourne time) and will be streamed online for anyone to watch. Try and tune in if you can.
Update: I’ve embedded the recording below.
Update: Due to personal reasons this project won’t be going forward. Thanks to those that showed interest.
For the Fete at the Freeplay Festival next month I have a stall that I’m calling the Australian Games Mix Tape. The basic idea is that there will be a pirate kart like games launcher with just Australian games. The intention is to show the diversity of games being made in Australia.
I’m glad to say that the next Adelaide Games Playtesting event will be held from 6:30pm to 8:30pm on Wednesday March 18th at the new AIE Adelaide Campus. If you’re working on a game or are interested in providing feedback then I encourage you to come along. Power, basic internet and pens/paper are provided.
You can find out all the details about the event over on the Facebook event page.
Screenshot from GlitchHiker by Vlambeer.
With 2014 over I thought I’d put together a blog post talking about several games I worked on over the year. In 2014 I started working on games in a full time capacity while I lived off my limited savings. It’s quite a privilege to have the economic freedom to be able to do this. It’s been an amazing year with travelling over to Japan for the Tokyo Game Show and to Melbourne for PAX Australia being the highlights. I worked on several games and small prototypes throughout the year. Below are the more notable games I worked on.
I should start by talking about Expand which is the game I spent most of my time working on. Our intention was to finish the game in 2014 but it’s looking like it’ll need much more time. Currently we are about 50% content complete with the game and level editor programs being mostly feature complete. We were really fortunate in having our game part of Sense of Wonder Night at the Tokyo Game Show, the Indie Showcase at PAX Australia, Ludicious, Out of Index and the Indie Games Room at AVCon. These events took quite a bit of out of development scheduled but also really motivated us to improve the standard of the game. The second half of the year was really amazing, we travelled to Japan and were totally blown away by the reception of Expand at PAX Australia. If you told me at the start of the year that the game would be considered the best game at PAX Aus by both Kotaku and IGN Australia I would have thought you were crazy.
One for the Donkey
One for the Donkeys is currently not finished. It’s a simple platformer game with a twist, a neat kind of twist that I’m not going to spoil here. Unfortunately I’ve run into some technical problems that aren’t easy to resolve so for the moment this project is on the backburner.
Replay Racer is a game I made at the start of last year with John Oestmann for the Global Game Jam. It’s a racing game in which every time you complete a lap your last replay is added as an obstacle to the race. I did the programming and graphics in this game. I’m particularly proud of the graphics which came out well considering my background. After the jam I added more courses, leaderboards and achievements. It’s a neat little game that I’m quite happy with.
Cave of Atman
The Cave of Atman is a game I made with my twin brother Daniel. The idea was inspired by his experience playing Jeanne d’Arc on the PSP. I was mostly involved in programming and helping him see out his vision for the game. He did a fantastic job on the puzzles and graphics. We also received some really nice comments on Twitter from different designers that we both have a lot of respect for. I’d be nice to take the game further but only if we can continue to build up the mechanics in a natural way.
Hectic Hippo’s was made for the Adelaide Game Jam held in August. I worked on the game with Anton Axisa who I made friends with at the jam. Turned out that he was a pretty awesome pixel artist. He churned out a lot of art during the jam that was never used. I still feel guilty about that. In the game you are racing against four other players to push your orb into the hole. Other players can fire over projectiles onto your side of the map and end your plans.
Earlier in the year we submitted Expand to the PAX Australia ANZ Indie Showcase. We were extremely fortunate in that our game was selected and we were provided with booth space at the event. In this post I want to reflect on the experience of exhibiting at PAX Australia and hopefully provide some useful information to people who are considering exhibiting in future years.
To give some background, PAX is a large scale festival/convention for game enthusiasts in which players can try out some of the latest video games, attend panels on a wide variety of topics, play table top board games, dress up as their favourite pop culture characters and so much more. PAX is shorthand for Penny Arcade Expo which is run by the popular web comic called Penny Arcade. PAX Australia is the first PAX to be held outside of the US and this year was the second year running in Australia. This year the convention moved to the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre to accommodate the sheer size and demand for the event.
Expand, is a single player video game in which you explore a circular labyrinth that constantly twists, stretches and expands underneath you. The game is being created by myself, Chris Johnson and composer Chris Larkin. My partner Cat helps out with a bit of the writing.
PAX Aus, similar to the US events, runs a competition called the Indie Showcase where six games are selected and provided with large booth space at the event. Developers interested in showcasing their games had to submit builds and pay a registration fee of $50AUD. Apparently nearly 100 games were submitted and we were extremely fortunate to be one of the six games selected as part of the showcase. You can view the six selected games here.
Submissions closed on the 6th of July, we were notified about our selection on the 29th of July and it was made public on the 15th of August. Within a few days of confirming that we could attend we were able to start planning out and preparing for the event. We left a lot of that planning until we got back from the Tokyo Game Show and only filled out the required information that PAX needed before we left. This was probably a mistake as we bought plane tickets when we should have actually considered driving over from Adelaide to Melbourne. I’ll come back to that later.
I think it’s important to be very clear about what exactly was provided to those who were selected for the Indie Showcase. Firstly we were prominently promoted on the PAX Australia website, within the convention booklet and on the guidebook application. This also followed through to prominent feature coverage in Grab It Magazine which PAX promoted and a panel on the Saturday night dedicated to the showcase games. The booths for the showcase were lined up in a row at the edge of the Indie Pavilion. Each booth which was apparently valued at roughly $3600AUD was 3x3m in size. We were provided with one cocktail table, two cocktail chairs, one trestle table(no chairs, we pinched them) and a large 40″ screen that was held on a tall standing frame.
Before continuing I should give some background about how PAX operates. Firstly PAX is actually run by an event management company called ReedPop, Penny Arcade is just the front face of the event. ReedPop then deal with different companies that handle shipping, furniture, electronic tag/testing, etc. So as an exhibitor you mostly deal with ReedPop but may have to talk with these other companies. When it came to furniture for the event ReedPop initially told us that we’d only be provided with a cocktail table and two chairs. They also said that we should let them know what other equipment we needed and they could possibly provide that to us at no cost. My impression here is that ReedPop are ordering equipment in bulk from the supply company and hence there was the possibility of having excess equipment which could be passed onto us. Before PAX we were notified that they could provide us with the large TV and at PAX we were provided with just the trestle table that we didn’t have the pay for. The only problem is that we weren’t provide with chairs for the trestle table and since we didn’t pay for them we couldn’t show an invoice to the furniture company to claim them. In the end we just pinched two chairs that weren’t needed from the sit down spots within the pavilion.
We did incur several costs that are important to identify. When setting up for PAX we had to wear high visibility vests which were conveniently sold to us for $5 each. Arriving at our booth we were provided with a ‘Check the Classification’ sign that was used to guide parents on the fact that the game wasn’t classified by the OFLC. This sign actually costs $10 and had to be bought. Luckily ReedPop waved the cost for the Indie Showcase games but I believe everyone else in the Indie Pavilion had to pay for this. Lastly we were slogged $100 for electronic testing and tagging which was discounted from $150. This charge came from another company and not ReedPop itself. This caught us off guard. We didn’t expect such an exorbitant cost for something that takes 10 minutes to do. You definitely want to tag your equipment before heading over to PAX in order to save money. For context here, we had 15 items that were tested, with less items this clearly becomes less of an issue.
Expand Build for PAX
Developers often suggest that you should create a shorter demo version of your game for events. It’s always worth questioning advice like this because it comes from a perspective based on very specific goals and reasons. I think the idea behind this is that there are lots of people at a convention, way more people than could ever play your game and so if you want to expose as many people to your game as possible then you should limit the play time to let more people play. It also might mean that having a shorter play time will leave people hungry for more. That is of course only possible if your game can actually stir that hunger. There are many more reasons behind this approach. The important question is whether those underlying goals actually work for or against the game and the type of impression you want people to have about it.
With Expand we always exhibit the latest build of the game, levels that aren’t finished aren’t linked into the build and people can(and did) play through the entire thing which currently lasts for at least an hour. One of the reasons for doing is that we want to gage how people will respond to the game and not a demo which is different from the game. It also helps us gage how engrossed people are with the game. If people are playing for over an hour, at a busy convention, surrounded by onlookers then it’s a sign that we’re doing something right. This also means that we can get player feedback on later levels. An added bonus is that we save time in production as we’re not using energy to spin off another build. That’s pretty important for small teams.
From the business/marketing side of things you also have to consider the impression people will have of the game. Expand won’t be released until 2015 so at this stage we’re wanting to create buzz around the game. As a small team with limited resources our reach is constrained. One way to resolve this is to have people who’ll champion your game for you. 9 out 10 marketing people agree that this is the most effective way to spread the word about your game. By letting people play for an hour and properly engage with the game we are setting up an environment where people are more likely to champion it. By playing longer, you are more interested, more invested and more likely to tell other people about the game.
Anyway more about the build. For PAX Aus we completely reworked the hub area of the game that links the different worlds. Previously this was a large space that consisted of many rooms with many connections between them. We found that people were getting lost in this space, firstly because it was big and secondly because the rooms didn’t contain distinct identifiers for players to remember where they had been. For PAX we created smaller clusters of rooms in which each cluster was separated by a distinct ‘joining’ room. These new rooms were also more animated and purposeful with little micro ideas behind them. We also used switches in a way that gated progress and encouraged players to explore the branching paths in the world.
Through observing and talking to players we found that they weren’t getting lost and were actually enjoying the space much more. By solving one design issue we introduced another, smaller one. Players took a while to realise that this space wasn’t linear and could be explored. Up to that point in the game players were just moving through the world in a linear fashion. We’ve now created a new landing area that should hopefully better convey that this space branches out and isn’t linear.
For PAX we also tweaked levels in the second world and added a new music for that section. The music there really represents how dynamic we want the music for the game to be moving forward.
Since Expand is a single player game and players are spending long stretches playing it, we wanted to make sure that we had as many machines as we could comfortably fit within the booth. However since we had bought plane tickets it meant that we were physically limited in how much technology we could bring over.
Our final technical equipment list looked something like this:
- 4 x Laptops(1 borrowed)
- 4 x Xbox 360 Controllers for PC(1 wired, 3 wireless)
- 3 x Wireless dongles for Xbox 360 Controllers
- 1 x 24″ Monitor
- 1 x Battery Charger
- 4 x Closed, Noise cancelling headphones
- 1 x Netbook
- 1 x Web Camera
- 2 x USB extension cables
- 2 x Power boards
- 1 x Camera with stand
- 2 x HDMI cables
Since we were limited with our luggage when flying over, we used four laptops one of which was borrowed from a friend. Ideally we would have the laptops tucked away with monitors sitting in their place. It just looks tidier and keeps the keyboard out of reach. We could have shipped over monitors or hired the equipment through PAX. Both of which are extremely expensive and in some cases it is would be more cost effective to just buy the equipment out right.
The picture below, while not the best gives you an idea of our booth layout. We used the cocktail table on left hand side of the booth. On it sat a monitor and a laptop behind it. On the trestle table in the middle we had two laptops setup. On the far right we had the large display setup with the controller/headphones sitting on the right hand side of the trestle table for people to collect when ready to play. If we had the additional monitors they would be situated on trestle table in the middle.
We also had four pink containers with badges in them spread across the tables. The PAX crowd loves button badges and I’d highly recommend purchasing a bunch if you’re intending on exhibiting a game. We started with about 70 badges left over from TGS and bought another 800 for PAX. By the end of PAX we only had about 120 left meaning we’d given away roughly 750 badges over the three days. At certain points we actually handed out badges while chatting to people as they waited to play. We also had several stacks of business cards that were placed by the button containers. I think we had roughly 400 cards and by 11am on Sunday they were all gone.
Before PAX Chris was encouraging us to consider buying several sets of high quality headphones. As a composer and audiophile Chris’s taste in headphones is not exactly cheap and so I decided to reach out to Audiotechnica to see if they could lend us several pairs for the event. Audiotechnica was one of several headphone companies that had bought a booth for PAX. I reached out to them on a Sunday night and received confirmation that we could borrow four sets of headphones by 9:15am on the Monday morning. We picked them up during setup and dropped them back before closing time on Sunday. In our initial conversation with them they didn’t ask for anything in return but on the Friday morning of PAX the PR manager asked if we wouldn’t mind if he left a small pile of brochures for the headphones at our booth. For us that was fine, especially considering that they leant us about a $1000 worth of headphones. It’s surprisingly easy to reach out to these companies and from our point of view we’re not selling out or loosing any creative of over our game by doing so.
In terms of other supplies we also brought the following to assist in the booth layout.
- Fishing Line
- Blue Tack
- Sticky Tape
- Fabric Scissors
- Fabric for Table Cloth
- 4 x button baskets
- 800 x button badges
- 400 x business cards
We also brought together a survival kit that contained:
- Hand Sanitiser
- Cleaning Wipes
- Vitamin C
- Multivitamin Tablets
- Throat Lozenges
- Pain Killers
- 2 x Large Bottles of Water
- 3 x Smaller Water Bottles
- Band aids
We kept hand sanitiser, food and water on the right hand side of the booth, near the TV so that it was in reach if needed. We kept coffee intake down as we didn’t want to be trapped at the booth while busting for the toilet. We made sure that we had a decent breakfast, lunch and dinner. Coming out of PAX none of us were sick, we only suffered exhaustion which for me took over a week to fully get over.
At the back of the booth we mounted a web camera and took a running timelapse over the PAX weekend. Unfortunately we had a minor technical problem in which the web camera didn’t capture photos at the resolution it promised. We also did a short timelapse on the Sunday morning of PAX and during packup on Sunday evening.
PAX Aus was the first event that we have exhibited at where we were provided with press list before the show. The press list contained contact details for roughly 350 journalists all of which had applied for media passes. We filtered that list down to 140 journalists who worked for outlets that had covered either indie games or PAX Australia in the past or looked like they would cover either of the previous two. Then when sending emails we would send one email to the most relevant journalist(s) at each outlet. Our plan was to send one email a month before PAX and then a general follow up email the week before PAX that contained a new trailer for the game. I prepared two general emails that left room for personalisation based on the outlet/journalist. About 60% of the journalist that were contacted received an email with at least a sentence or two personalised based on their outlet. The remaining emails were only personalised through mentioning the journalists name. The follow up email didn’t really happen as the trailer only ended up being finished the Friday morning of PAX. We sent out about 10 general follow up emails and that’s all we had time for. We then repurposed that email and sent it through to some journalists after PAX.
In the emails we had a strong introduction that stated what the game is and why the journalist should care about it. We included three animated gifs that quickly conveyed interesting aspects about the game. We included general details about the game, links to a press kit and details on how to download the most recent build. We also invited journalist to reserve a time to meet with us at our booth and talk about the game. We created a spreadsheet that listed our availability during PAX and would reserve times for journalist that requested it. At these times we made sure that the booth was well manned and that we were on the lookout for journalists. You can view the spreadsheet we used here. In preparing for the press I found this collection of articles from Indie Hangover and this talk at Full Indie Summit by John Polson to very helpful.
Here are some stats that people may find useful.
First Pass Emails Sent: 66
First Pass Responses: 25
Press Meetings Scheduled: 16
Meeting Attendance: 12
Press that mentioned they’d visit(all visited): 4
It’s worth pointing out that the reason we schedule these meetings was to give the press a reason to swing by the booth. One of the tricky things about an event like PAX is just getting press over to your booth. Journalists are tight on time and outlets don’t have the resources to play every game at PAX. The meeting gives them a reminder to visit the booth. We noticed that most scheduled meetings were with the smaller outlets. Many of the larger outlets don’t schedule meetings as they know they’ll be too busy to keep them.
We also did a bit of research about the larger outlets, what the journalist are interested in so that when they did visit the booth we could have several talking points prepared. Journalists are looking for an interesting story and so you should think of something to feed them with.
Here is a list of the different articles written about Expand after PAX.
- Expanding Gaming’s Horizons – Grab it Magazine
- My Favourite Game At PAX Australia Was Covered In Post-It Notes | Follow up – Kotaku Australia
- 10 Awesome Indie Games of PAX Australia 2014 – IGN Australia
- Local developers show off their ingenuity at PAX Australia – The Age
- PAX to the max as Melbourne gamers gather for epic convention – The Herald Sun
- PAX Aus indie showcase: Smokin’ hot titles from down under – CNet Australia
- Shoot Dinosaurs! & More… Indie Games quick-look PaxAus 2014 – Blunty
- PAX AUS Interview – Chris Johnson on Expand – The Black Panel
- PAX Aus Highlights: The Great, The Gorgeous, and The Groovy (Part 2) – Indie Game Magazine
- Expand Preview – Analog Addiction
- PAXAus 2014: Expand – Developer Interview with Chris Johnson – Game Cloud
- BetaCast : Ep 19 – PAX Aus day one – BetaCast
- Expand PAX Preview – Aussie Game Geek
- PAX Aus 2014: Indies to Watch Part 1 – Hittin’ Crits
- PAX AUS 2014 – Expand Interview – Leviathyn
- 2014 PAX AUS INDIE SPECIAL – Hooked Gamers
- PICKS OF PAX – Indie Edition – OXCGN
- PAX Aus 2014: Indie Games – Round 1 – ComicsOnline
- PAX 2014 – Expand – TechGeek
- PAX Australia 2014: It’s A Wrap! – Meld Magazine
- PAXAus 2014: GameCloud’s Favourite Picks! Day 2 – Game Cloud
- AGG does PAX Australia Podcast – Aussie Game Geek
- The Action Points Podcast! Episode 63C: PAX AUS 2014 Part 3 – Action Points Podcast
Here are some quotes pulled out of the various articles. Sorry to gloat.
Expand is a wonderfully original experience that defies easy definition, but when you play it, you will know. You will know you’ve played something special.
Expand was my favourite game of PAX 2014
In the past when we have exhibited Expand we have an iPad on hand that we use to take down email addresses for people interested in the game. In preparing for PAX we actually forgot to bring the iPad with us. On the Friday morning we were talking about creating a large scale post-it note picture on back wall of our booth. Chris actually suggested that we could ask everyone who played the game to write down a few words on the post-it note to describe their experience playing the game. Later we decided to also ask people to scribble down their email address on the back if they wanted to be subscribe to our mailing list.
We created a short video and a website where you can view all post-it notes.
Here are some stats based on the post-it notes.
Other bits and pieces
The intention with this piece was to have something to point to when people asked me about how PAX went. I think I’ve covered most of what I was intending on saying. Here is a list of smaller points/advice that I left out.
- GCAP is a few days before PAX. You should consider heading down early to attend. Many of the people we met at GCAP we ran into again at PAX.
- The parties held after PAX are great for winding down and meeting with other developers. You at least want to go to MegaDev if that’s held again next year.
- PAX doesn’t actually end after exhibition hall closes. It runs till about 10pm, so you do have the chance to be involved in the other fesitivites.
- If you’re travelling from overseas or interstate then make sure you spend some time and enjoy Melbourne, especially the food. It’s a great, modern city.
That’s everything I wanted to say. If you have any questions then feel free to post a comment, email me or contact me on Twitter and I’ll happily answer them for you. Hopefully someone has found this useful. It’s been great for me as way to reflect on amazing time that we had at PAX.
In this post I want to talk about our experience in exhibiting Expand at the Tokyo Game Show 2014 and presenting at Sense of Wonder Night. Hopefully this post will give some insight to those who are thinking about exhibiting at TGS in future years.
If you’re just interested in viewing our SOWN presentation then you can view that here. The presentations starts at 4:02 and our presentation is towards the end at 5:57.
Image from Peter Traylor – Twitter
Before diving too much into things it’s important to provide some context about our game and this year’s TGS. Firstly our game Expand is about 6 – 8 months away from release. It will be available on Windows, Mac and Linux. The game itself is a minimalist adventure game that uses circular space. It looks quite different and so is able to stand out a bit more in a crowd of games. You can find more information about the game on the Expand website.
Tokyo Game Show itself is an annual games convention that is held a bit out of Tokyo at Makuhari Messe in Chiba. TGS mostly focuses on Japanese games with a presence from companies such as Sony, Capcom, Konami and Microsoft. The big exception is Nintendo, they rarely if it all come to TGS. The event runs over four days with the first two days being reserved for business representatives and press with the last two days being open for the public. The business days attract over 20,000 people per day and public days attract around 100,000 people per day. Overall this year there were 251,832 people in attendance across all four days.
Sense of Wonder Night is an event that is held at TGS where developers of an experimental game are selected to present to an audience for 10 minutes. Everyone in the audience is equipped with a shaker that is used when they feel a sense of wonder. There are several awards handed out based on the judges feedback and the noise generated by the audience.
This year at TGS Sony decided to sponsor the Indie Games Area. All the exhibitors in this space didn’t have to pay for their booths. According to several websites the expected cost for a booth was $980 US for all four days and $318 US for just the public days. Every game selected for SOWN was offered a booth within the indie games area and all the other games went through a different selection process. Overall there were about 50 games selected. You can view a full list of exhibitors here.
Image from Ayako – Twitter
Firstly, the Indie Games Area was in a fantastic position at the show. The exhibition space at TGS extended over 8 large halls. We were located in the centre of Hall 3 which was also shared by Sony, Konami, Square Enix, Electronic Arts and Sega. We were spaced far enough away from those booths that they didn’t overshadow us. It was a bit of a statement to place us within such a prime position, especially considering that last year the indie games were located in a separate building away from the main exhibition halls.
It was impressive to see that Sony didn’t exploit or capitialise on their sponsorship involvement as you would expect most corporate giants to. They only displayed signs saying ‘Sony <3 Indies' above each of the booth clusters and handed out a free Sony branded t-shirt and water to the exhibitors. They didn't even show any form of favouritism to those indies that were already on PlayStation. Across from us was a well placed lounge area with bean bags and seats. It would have been so easy for Sony to erect TV's in the middle of this space promoting their own products but they didn't. Overall it felt like a genuine display of support to the indie community. It's worth mentioning that it was still possible to buy booth space outside of the Indie Games Area. There may be an appeal for those that want to stand apart or create a more sophisticated booth. I spoke to someone who wasn't selected for the Indie Games Area but chose to buy booth space anyway. They felt that they were being overshadowed by the larger booths around them. My impression is that most peopled assumed that all the indie games were inside of the Indie Games Area and that was it. So I find it hard to recommend getting a booth outside that space.
Image from Android Assault Cactus – Twitter
Secondly, we quickly realised that trying to quantify the benefit of going to an event such as TGS is really hard. This is something that a lot of developers struggle with especially when resources are tight. What exactly do you get for the investment? And is it worth it? To put this into context, the money we spent on TGS could have been used to fund another two months of development. When you’re running out of money that’s kind of a big deal.
For us, I think the investment was worth it for lots of different reasons. I’ll try to cover some of them here. My general feeling is that if you’re going to an event for just one of these reasons then you’ll probably come away being disappointed.
To start with showing your game and meeting lot’s of wonderful people is extremely motivating and is great for putting your head back into a healthy mental state. It can remind you that you’re doing great work and that some people out there do care about it. This is something that’s hard to get, especially if you’re working by yourself or in a small team. I lost count of the number of fantastic conversations I had with various people, some of which were responsible for introducing me to the first wave of ‘popular’ indie game developers. It’s amazing when someone you greatly respects tells you that your game was one of their favourites at the show. This feedback also helps you refine and improve your work as well.
Building networks and contacts is definitely beneficial as well. If I were to broadly define the types of contacts you make I’d probably list them as other developers, business contacts and press. If you’re going to an event like TGS then you definitely want to meet and chat with the other developers around you. Chances are you’ll learn something important from them that you hadn’t considered. The business days are the quieter periods of TGS and so this is the best time to meet other developers, especially if someone else is around to look around your booth. In terms of business contacts we met a lot of people who handle translation services and could assist us in bringing the game to Japan. In fact about 80% of the business people we met did just that. There were representatives from Sony and MS who seemed to be interested in getting a feel for the games being shown and what was standing out. Press were also present at the event and we were fortunate enough to do several interviews over the four days. Our impression is that a lot of the press swing by after they’ve covered the news from the bigger companies. On the first business day for example we had very few people come past from the press. However more came past on the following days. Unfortunately we weren’t at our booth for most of the second business day as we had to setup and present at SOWN. We suspect that we may have missed several press opportunities because of this. Generally speaking if you’re going to an event like TGS it is probably a good idea to familiarize yourself with the faces of journalists that are likely to be at the event. More than once I saw a journalists from the popular games press(Gamespot, Polygon, etc.) walk through the Indie Games Area and not be approached by any developers. You also want to do the marketing basics such as getting you pitch down and having a press kit pre-assembled.
There were several parties that were held after hours at TGS. We ended up going to the International/Indie/Business/Everything party and the Indie Stream Fest party. It’s definitely worth heading out to these despite being exhausted from showing your game all day. These events allow you to wind down and find out how the day has been for other people. I’d definitely recommend going to the Indie Stream Fest one. It was about 4000 yen to enter but it was a great environment, had plenty of food/booze and was well attended.
Image from Get News Feed – Twitter
We were provided with a basic shell for our booth, there was plenty of space to store our belongings underneath and room behind it to pin up an A1 sized poster. The diagrams we were provided suggested that the booths were made for only displaying one machine but we could comfortably fit two laptops on our table.
We decided to vary our booth on the business and public days. On the first business day only one of us with one machine had arrived in Japan, on the second business day we had to prepare for SOWN and for most of the day we could only have one person or nobody at the booth. We weren’t entirely comfortable leaving two laptop’s without security locks unattended at the event. We also needed the second laptop for our SOWN presentation. So we went for a simpler setup(pictured below on the left). Nothing was stolen from the booth, in fact I feel pretty confident that we could have left all of gear there without locks and nothing would be taken.
On the public days we setup two laptops(pictured below on the right). The crowds were five times larger on the public days and so we wanted to maximise our exposure and setup two machines.
One thing that we did with our poster was to display several of the awards that Expand was nominated for. We did this because we wanted to provide a way for people to filter their selection of what to play such that it would portray the game favourably. There are 50+ games in the Indie Games Area, people are naturally going to filter the games based on some criteria so you need to stand out. Listing the awards also allows us to combat this idea that because the game looks ‘simple’ that it’s not worth people’s time.
On the first public day we were surprised to find two nominee awards from Famitsu Weekly and 4Gamer.net stuck onto our booths. It was a lovely surprise.
For TGS we didn’t create a custom build of Expand. We just had the entire work in progress game on display. It’s very time consuming to split off a separate build for an event. It also means that any impressions or feedback we get isn’t actually geared towards the final product but the demo. The game will be quite short when finished clocking in at around 2 hours and we have about 1 hour worth of content already complete. We let people play the game for as long as they liked and never kicked anyone off.
Here is a rough breakdown of how long people played the game. We aren’t using any metrics here, this is just from our observations.
- About 15% of people played the game for less than five minutes. They didn’t finish the introduction area.
- About 30% of people played the game for 5 – 10 minutes and finished the introduction area.
- About 45% of people played the game for 10 – 25 minutes and finished the first world.
- About 10% of people played the game for 25 minutes – 60 minutes and finished/attempted the second world
The build of the game is now pretty solid. I think we only ran into one game crashing bug and a few instances of smaller bugs than need be ironed out. We also had a chance to play test the newer levels in world two and the open world. Coming away from the show we definitely have a few changes we’d like to make. Namely they are:
- Reorder some of the areas in World 2 so that there is a more nature increase in difficulty.
- Improve the signalling used in World 2 and provide players with a longer window of opportunity to understand what the ‘puzzle’ element is to every level before being challenged.
- Restructure the open world so that it contains fewer branching paths as players would often get lost. Instead replace them with several interconnected hub areas. In short, more nodes and less arcs.
Sense of Wonder Night Presentation
I think our SOWN presentation went really well. It’s online for people to watch so you can be the judge of that. The setup and preparation for it was quite straightforward. We arrived earlier in the day and tested our equipment to make sure that it would work. We also met with a translator to check for any issues with the script that we had submitted a few days earlier.
In the end we decided to use a video for our presentation however I think doing a live demo would have been better. At some points in the presentation the video jumped too far ahead and had to be paused to keep in sync. This broke the flow and would have felt a bit jarring to the audience. It was just one of those unavoidable things that happened as a consequence of using video. With that said I think everything turned out reasonably well. The organisers were amazingly supportive and the event was just so much fun. My mouth become sore from smiling so hard.
Image from Tabata Hideki- Twitter
Thoughts for TGS 2015 Exhibitors
I think I’m nearing the end of everything I’m wanting to say. I thought I’d finish off with some advice/thoughts for those who are considering exhibiting at Tokyo Game Show next year.
If your game needs an explanation in order to play then you will most definitely want to translate at the least the instructions in your game. Expand is quite simple to get started with and so we didn’t perform any translation, other teams did.
There are volunteer translators around during the event but they’re not going to be able to explain your game to everyone. They are there more for general assistance and may not available when you need them.
If you have promotional material with a lot of text then you should also consider getting that translated as well.
Arrive Early just to be safe
Especially on the public days you want to arrive a bit earlier than expected for setup. Several developers were arriving after the venue opened because they didn’t expect the number of people on public transport. On the first business day it took me over half an hour to find out where the entrance was for exhibitors and where I could get the exhibitor passes. If you don’t know the Japanese language then you should be giving yourself extra time.
Learn a bit of Japanese
You don’t need to know much. Simple phrases will do. I wish I picked up some more.
If you get the chance travel
Japan is an amazing place. If you can set aside a few days or even a few weeks to travel before or afterwards then that’s a good idea. We set aside about 5 days afterwards and it definitely didn’t feel like enough.
Attend the Tokyo/Kyoto Indie Events if they are on
We were lucky to find out that a casual indie meetup event called Tokyo Indies was being held at the Monday after TGS. There is another gathering held in Kyoto as well. Both of these are monthly and worth going to if you’re still in Japan.
Get yourself a pocket wifi internet device
These things are fantastic and really useful. It was handy to just check Twitter in between manning the booth. They’re also pretty well priced. I picked mine up at the airport at the post office and then dropped it back into the post(with the provided envelope) when returning to the airport. For reference this is the company that I ordered mine through.
That’s pretty much all that I have to say. Hopefully someone finds what I’ve said useful. If you have any questions feel free to get in touch.
The presenters for Sense of Wonder Night(SOWN) have been announced and Expand was selected to be shown. SOWN is an event at the Tokyo Game Show where roughly ten games that delight, amaze and give people a sense of wonder are presented to an audience of around three hundred people. Everyone in the audience has a shaker that they use when feeling a sense of wonder and at the end of all the presenters several awards are given out. You can see the full line up of games here.
In addition to presenting at Sense of Wonder we’ll also be exhibiting the game for both the business and public days of the Tokyo Game Show. We’ll be in the indie games area across from the lounge.
The trip to Japan is mostly for oriented around the game but we’ve also set aside some time for sight seeing and travel. Personally I’m keen to eat as much of the amazing Japanese food as possible. It should be a great trip. I’ll do a post about it once we’ve returned to Australia.