Dev Blog #17 – Twenty Hacks When Attending Any Game Conference

Hi guys n’ gals! We’re back again! Our trip to Game Developers Conference was great, and so was attending Game Connection, both located in San Francisco during the same week. We showcased the demo of Lake Ridden for selected friends, developers and companies.

Our goal with the trip was to meet with journalists and give them a chance to try the game hands-on, to get a product verification by showing the game to some super picky people and collect as much feedback as possible from people testing the game. We’re totally blown away with the reception! The positive reactions and people’s willingness to help us test the game exceeded all expectations we ever had! It feels amazing to know that so many super talented developers out there have offered their help if we need testing or feedback, and that so many of our old and new friends had the time to drop by and talk about the game! Big thanks to you all! In this post collected some general tips and hacks if you’re heading to a game conference. I hope you find them useful!

We showed the game to a lot of Johan’s former colleagues at Mojang. They had some really good feedback!

1. Have a super clear goal with the attendance. What is your purpose? The cost for us, sending two developers to USA, eight days in a hotel, food + attendance was around +55 000 SEK (5 500 USD). And we both suffered downtime lasting 8-10 days after the event due to the infamous conference flu and jet-lag (Californian time is 9 hours behind Swedish). That’s almost three weeks spent not developing the game. Define your purpose with the trip. Is it to generate sells, to showcase to journalists, to get feedback or to meet with publishers?

2. Book a nice place to stay. I know that you’re not exactly rolling around in cash if you’re an indie developer like us. But you need to remember that your sleep is tremendously important. If you don’t get enough sleep you’ll not last very long when you’r working 12-hour days, meeting 20-100 new people every day and need to impress and please important people in high pressure, noisy environments. We stayed in a very cheap place, close to the venue (so close we could walk, which saved us a lot of time). Unfortunately we had plenty of mentally ill and high people screaming outside our hotel each night, San Francisco is a city with many homeless people (bring ear plugs!). The window was broken and one guest found a rat in her room. It’s worth paying a few dollars extra if this means you’re able to wake up fully rested each morning and perform your best!

3. If possible, send more than one person. I know attending these kinds of conferences are expensive. But if it’s at all possible, try to send at least two from your company. This is a way of minimizing the risks. If you have paid 4 000 USD for this trip and your one and only representative gets sick during the event, this money is going down the drain. An extra flight ticket costing 400 USD could be a reasonable insurance to prevent this waste of precious money. Also, if there’s two of you it’s so much easier to help each other out with stuff like getting lunch, having bathroom breaks or covering two important meetings at the same time. Perhaps you can share the same room at the hotel or even book a hostel instead/crash on a couch, to be able to afford that additional flight ticket or conference pass?

Hanging out with friends in the park. Include a time buffert. We arrived to USA on Friday and the conferences kicked off on Monday. This game us some extra time to adjust to the new time zone (nine hours back) and find our way around San Francisco.

4. Include time bufferts! If you travel across the pond you’ll be jet lagged, there’s no way around it. Or your luggage takes a detour. Or you forget your computer on the plane. Do not arrive the very day before the conference starts. You’ll need a day or two to adjust and have time to test things out. And it’s a good idea to leave a day after the conference closes, since a lot of meetings and events take place on the last night. We arrived on Friday night and the event started on Monday.

5. Upload a well-tested build to Drive or Dropbox. Use the magic cloud to transport the build of your game. Don’t bring the game on one single USB or just in your computer/phone. You need to be absolutely sure you have access to the build even after the computer gets stolen and your phone gets lost. We used Google Drive.

6. Test, test, TEST your build before you go. It’s super painful if your game is crashing repeatably or people are obviously confused when trying your game. Make sure you bring the best possible version of your game. It’s better to cut things out that are not ready. Only show your best! We spent two weeks before going just testing the build to make sure everything worked.

7. Nail down your schedule before going. Really do your best to nail down time and place for all your important meetings before you step on the flight. We had some meetings that were still not nailed down when we left for San Francisco, and that caused a lot of stress. There will be so much on people’s minds you don’t want to spend time chasing available meeting rooms (there are non btw, everything is usually booked weeks in advance) the day before an important journalist tries your game. In the end we booked a super cozy meeting room in a fancy co-working space just around the corner of the conference, but try to nail your schedule BEFORE going. If you’re in a tight spot look for apps that let you rent meeting rooms in cities, maybe have the meeting in a hotel lobby or at a cafe. Just know your when, who and where before going, OK?

8. When you book your meetings always exchange phone numbers. When people have 10-16 meetings a day stuff tends to happen. Make sure they can get hold of you if they are running late or they need to call for directions. I’m still amazed by how many people that doesn’t do this.

9. Bring super comfortable shoes. Chances are you’ll be standing for 8-10 hours and the walking from clubs to hotels.

10. General Travel Hacks: share your hotel’s name and your contact info with the team staying at home so they know how to get in touch with you while you’re away, make a backup of your phone in case it gets stolen, unload your wallet of all cards and coins you don’t need while traveling. Pack in outfits rather than random clothes so you don’t have to worry what to wear each morning, know your “uniform”. Take a photo of your passport and upload it to Drive/Dropbox in case it gets stolen.

11. Find out everything about your booth in advance. Find out everything you can about the place where you’ll be showing your game. This will help you designing eye-catching banners, tell you how many adapters you should bring, help you describe the exact location for all people emailing you and asking where they can meet you. And make sure to set up everything the night before (if you’re allowed), or super early the same day. We arrived just before the area opened with made it really stressful, both setting things up and having our first important meeting.

If possible book a no-stop flight, it reduces stress and things that can mess up. We went from Sweden to Denmark, to Germany and then to California, dodging a storm.

12. Get a no-stop flight. And bring your computer as carry on. This makes it easier to endure flights lasting 10-12 hours, escecially if you’re scared of flying. It’s always a hassle to change planes, and in case your first flight gets delayed you risk messing up the rest of your flights. Just knowing that can cause a lot of unnecessary stress. In our case we had a transfer in Germany, and a big, nasty storm was approaching which later delayed a lot of flights heading the seam way as us. And avoid checking in your most important equipment at all cost. Flight companies sometimes misplace luggage, and if you have paid 5 000 USD to show your game you don’t want to risk showing up to a meeting with a publisher without the single most important item.

13. Consider cutting down on alcohol and caffeine. This will help you adjust to the new time zone so much faster. And avoiding the open bar on the mandatory parties and mingle events will really improve your sleep quality so you can bring your A game the whole event.

14. Develop a check-list. Have a handy checklist of all equipment you need to pack or take with you when you leave the room each morning. Chances are you’re nervous when packing or have used the adapter to charge your phone during the night. You don’t want to forget anything important like the computer’s charger at the hotel and having to run back, leaving your booth unattended…Checklists are boring but used for a reason.

15. Bring merch! You’ll need a lot business cards, bring at least 200 to be sure. Shirts with your company’s name or your game’s logo on it. We had tons of people come up to us because they had seen the shirt and were looking for people connected to Lake Ridden! We left copies of our business cards on our table when we left each night, which helped people get hold of us.

Don’t bring your game build on a single USB or just in your phone. Make sure you’re able to access the game even if your computer gets stolen. We used Google Drive.

16. Have a plan for the Internet. The Wi-Fi is usually really bad at big conferences. Make sure your phone is cleared for a SIM-card change before you leave, and buy a prepaid SIM-card with surf on it. You need to be able to email people all the time, to reschedule meetings, to use maps to find your hotel or to get hold of your partners really fast. A prepaid card loaded with 2 GB costs around 30 USD.

17. Do not plan any important happenings or deadlines the week after you get back home. What do you get when you have hundred or thousands of people crowded into small areas, constantly shaking hands, getting too little sleep, partying and breathing each others air during a flight lasting 10 hours? You get a lot of flu going around. We both got really, really ill when we came back, and on top of that you’re fighting jet lag. Don’t have any strict deadlines up to two weeks after you get back home. And for goodness sake, stay home and rest the first couple of days (don’t bring any incubating colds to your team members who stayed at the office…).

18. Follow up when you get back! Don’t do what I did after visiting my first game conferences back in the days; put away the stack of business cards in some drawer. Instead, follow up when you get back home. It could be as little as emailing people thanking them for playing your game. And of course, make sure you deliver everything you promise to publishers or journalists during your meetings.

19. Remember to have fun! Don’t be shy to try other people’s games! Talk to other developers at the parties! Everybody there have something in common: they love games! Usually people get super happy if you come talk to them at these sorts of events. People love telling you about the game they’re working on, so ask them!

Bonus Tip! 20. Save your receipts. Keep a small zip bag or similar with you. Empty your wallet each night and keep all the receipts in the same place. This will help tremendously when you get back home and have to sort out everything for your bookkeeping.

This week we got interviewed by Swedish Radion. We’ll let you know if the clip gets posted anywhere!

I hope you find these hacks and tips useful. How to actually pitch your game or contact journalists deserves a series of their own on this blog. Right now we’re still very excited about the overwhelming positive reception our demo got. In fact we got so many new, interesting leads we need to take some time to evaluate and decide what will be best for the game. Until then: sign up for the Midnight Hub Newsletter or follow Facebook for more news and screenshots. Or you can always find us on Twitter where we post new screenshots and behind the scenes stuff.

Cheers,
Sara & The Team

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