Bits And Pieces From PAX East

Volatar on the forums reminded me that I needed to do a post about how PAX went — so here I am!  It’s been a whirlwind since getting back from PAX, and I still have an enormous backlog of emails that I’ve not yet had a chance to respond to.  I’m getting to them — if you’ve sent me an email and I’ve not yet responded, it’s nothing personal and I will get to it soon!  Just trying not to drown here.

I’m going to do a bigger writeup about lessons learned from PAX sometime in the next month, probably after the 1.0 because ohmygod-there’s-no-time at the moment. ;)  But some highlights for now:

Coverage is already coming in, as Erik posted earlier today.  That’s only a small slice of what we actually did, though, so every day there’s more that seems to crop up.  Which is great!

– People seemed to really love the game; we had almost universally people walking away happy, and an enormous percentage of them saying they wanted to get the game.  Caveat: people self-select, obviously, so the people who came into the booth or stopped were the ones with the most interest in the first place; not sure how much that means in terms of wider acceptance yet.

– We had numerous people bringing back their friends, though, so that was cool.

– It quickly became clear how much of an unknown Arcen is with the US press.  The UK press and other European press knows us really well because of AI War, but in the US strategy games just aren’t news unless they are Starcraft.  Out of some 30-40 interviews (not sure how many exactly), there were only 3 who had ever heard of me.  One of them was a certain major gaming TV channel, so that was wicked awesome actually. :)

– Given that basically nobody knew anything about us or our game there, that gave us a really good opportunity to figure out how best to explain the game to people who are coming to it cold.  We got really, really good at it.  I definitely plan to make a video with a short version of my explanation of the game with voiceover and video clips prior to 1.0.  Also we have some marketing copy adjustments to make based on what we learned.

– I felt like all but maybe two of the press that I interviewed with seemed really impressed with the game and excited about it.  The other two were hard to read, and so I just don’t know what they felt like.  With some other members of the press they were clearly telling other press about it because by the third day we were getting press stopping by and saying things like “I hear this is one to watch.”  And at least one guy who I had a really great session with sent his senior editor back later in the day, which was quite cool.

– Four or five people said, literally verbatim, “so this is like Terraria but better?”  That’s certainly positive, and I’ll take it, despite the fact that I don’t know that I agree with the sentiment — Terraria and AVWW focus on really different things and each fills a different niche.  I took those comments to mean that those people had wanted more on the adventuring side rather than the construction side, in which case AVWW is going to be the one that’s potentially more tailored for what they were looking for.

– We quickly learned that the first half an hour of the expo hall is just a waste for indies.  You can pass out some little things to folks as they pass, but nobody is going to stop.  At ANY of the smaller booths.  Everyone is running to the largest AAA games on the floor to try to avoid the super long lines that otherwise form there.  Then as soon as those lines fill up, the rest of the expo hall floods and it’s time to get down to business.  Even places like the Wizards of the Coast booths were pretty dead for that first half an hour simply because they were more open and not prone to lines — players were able to get at them all day, anytime they wanted, and knew it.  Kind of an interesting effect.

– We did indeed learn that dry air (compared to North Carolina) and talking for 8+ hours a day straight is a bad combination for the throat.  Erik and Pablo and I kept getting into a pretty bad way and really didn’t sound like ourselves a lot of the time.  Monday morning Pablo apparently couldn’t speak at all.  My voice still isn’t fully back to normal yet, but it was totally worth it.

– Personally I thought I would have been more nervous, especially with the video interviews.  Over the last three years I’ve gotten really used to audio interviews and podcasts, and I’m always super pumped up to meet and talk to people (introvert? me? well, yes, but in a somewhat nontraditional way).  But normally being on video would have been butterflies-city, and I had to do that maybe five or six times.  I’m not sure exactly.  Thing is, once that first half hour of dead time is past and players are in your booth and press is coming by at a good clip, it’s all one big thing.  You don’t have time to get nervous about anything, and there’s never the sense that all eyes are on you — to the contrary, even if you’re working the largest booth there, I think the scale of the expo hall still must drive home your own relative insignificance.  I mean, that place was absolutely enormous in all the best ways.

– Pro tip for anyone who plans to expo at PAX or similar: bring granola bars, power bars, or similar with you.  Friday we did not do this, and we wound up eating nasty pizza for $60 way late in the afternoon.  It was welcome, because there had been no break until then (and I had to eat during interviews anyhow, because they were so nonstop).  Saturday was even more busy, and I was constantly behind.  Thankfully the others started out the press sessions with the press getting some hands on experience with the game before I wrapped up my prior press session.

– There were at least two press sessions on Saturday that I just missed entirely because I was somehow double-booked (I think someone just showed up unscheduled, actually), but Erik took those and handled them really well.  Anyway, on that day there was literally no time for food at all, so it was just powerbars while still trying to talk and not be rude about eating.  People could see we were slammed and were understanding, though.

– Sunday was surprisingly more quiet, by comparison.  The last hour or so of the convention in particular, the expo hall was noticeably emptier.  A few companies were actually tearing down their booths early in violation of their contracts.  And by “noticeably emptier” I mean probably “only 3,000-5,000 people in the hall.”  So we still had people swinging by, but we were actually having terminals open more.

– Oh yes, the terminals!  We had four computer stations that people could play on for 15 minutes.  In all, we estimate about 300ish players were able to partake of this over the three day span, and there were another 300 that stood very close and watched intensely — friends or family, or just people who wanted to watch rather than play (some people get embarrassed they will do badly on their first try with a game and don’t want to check it out in an expo hall, even if they do want to watch, which I can understand).  Anyway, the terminals were a really big success.

– For that matter, so were the banners, the 32″ TV screen, the flyers, the AVWW cards, and the buttons.  The banners really grabbed people’s eye it seemed, and the TV in particular was something that people could see from the MTG booth and the Sega Aliens line.  Lots of heads looking our way, and several people mentioned stopping because they saw the video, even though they had no idea what the game was.  With the flyers, cards, and buttons, those were things people seemed genuinely interested in, and hopefully those are now things that people are finding in their swag bags and reminding them about our game.  We’ll see.

– I ran into perhaps a dozen or two players who were fans of AI War, which was super cool.  Never have met any AI War fans in real life before (this was my first gaming convention).  Actually, never had met anyone who had even heard of AI War before, so you can perhaps appreciate the scale of how cool that was.

– Also cool?  On the unpacking day (Thursday), I saw Jerry and Mike walk by, not 40 feet from me in the expo hall.  They were just walking along talking about something, and didn’t notice myself or anyone else right around there.  Probably for the best, as I would likely have gone all fanboy on them.  Seriously, I’ve been reading their strip since something like 4-5 months after they started.  I was in high school, and tried getting one of my best friends into the strip.  I made the mistake of showing him the current day’s strip, which involved a lobster, a handgun, and a wristwatch.  I believe his words were “it seems kind of low-brow.”  Gah!  Thirteen years later, I still hold that against him, a little. ;)

– If you are going to the expo hall to exhibit your game, don’t expect to see much other than the expo hall.  We had offers to go out with other indies, and we chatted with them some during the exhibitor meet and greet on Friday in particular.  But at the end of each day we were just beat, and we also had a lot of shop we still needed to talk on our own team; each person was learning different things about how best to handle the booth and how best to explain the game, and we needed those nights in order to collate all that data and make sure we were all on the same page.  We did manage to stop by the retro arcade, which was pretty awesome, though.  And we did catch a little bit of one concert, but it wasn’t one of the better ones; I would have loved to have seen the Minibosses in particular.  And why weren’t The Protomen there?  Seriously, they should have been there.

– Lastly, we really learned a ton from watching the attendees play our game.  It’s not a substitute for the forums and mantis and our whole beta process that we go through, but neither is our normal beta process a substitute for this, I’m learning.  They’re just two completely different bands of data, both valuable.  At this point I think that the cost of the trip (about $10k) was worth it even just solely in terms of what we learned and are thus able to improve about the game.  All the rest of the stuff makes it even more of a win on top of that, so that’s good.

And with that… I’d better get back to work!

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