Unite, GCAP and PAX Aus!

 

MELBOURNE

Melbourne is beautiful. Nice architecture, people, street art. The developer community is really good. It seems well supported, big and well organized.

We were crazy busy. We were up around 7am each day (unheard of) and back at 11pm to 1am. Five full days of conferences in total across six days, going out to bars with devs / organizers / press afterwards each night, and one day of frantic organizing in between. Very little sleep.

UNITE AUS 2014

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Above – Seon Razenblum and Jarryd Campi from 3 Sprockets talk about console development experience with their game Fight the Dragon in a talk “Preparing your Desktop/Mobile game to run on console”.

Unite was good – mostly for meeting other developers. The majority of the Unity specific talks are already available online.

We set up Swordy on a laptop during the breaks for people to play, but it’s much better on a larger screen with max quality.

We got a free Intel x86 tablet just by speaking to Trapper Mcferron from Intel and letting him port Swordy to Android for us! It was a smooth process to get running on the device, but it wasn’t in any playable state at all.

This is where we met some of the awesome Blue Team Go crew and played their game Wholey Moley on a sneaky Surface Pro. It was tricky to get your head around at first – controlling two characters at once but awesome competitive soccer-like fun. It feels like there is a really good amount of interesting actions and emergent reactions, skills to learn and ways to counter them.

 GCAP

GCAP was really good. Some awesome art, design and inspiration talks like Ken Wong‘s awesome “Monument Valley (or How to Make People Fall In Love With Geometry)” talk. It was extremely motivational and awesome to hear the story behind the game. Monument Valley was a side project for the studio and the small team was given “room to fail”. The priority wasn’t to make as much money as possible but just to craft the best experience for the player. Its a beautiful little game and I do highly recommend it.

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One thing I started to feel like is that no-one really “knows what they are doing” as such… Or perhaps a better way to say it is that everyone is basically saying everything. It just depends on what you want to hear and who you talk to. People are speaking from experience (good or bad), or saying what they could do – often saying so very confidently.

For us being interested in “games as an artform” we got a lot out of GCAP! At the same time there were hard core freemium people getting a lot out of it with monetization/F2P talks as well.

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Keeping the “everyone saying everything” thing in mind Barry Meade‘s talk “Keynote: Making ‘The Room’: How No Business Is Good Business” was awesome where he talked about how they spent near to zero effort or money on marketing of “the room” iOS game. They just focused on making an awesome game and things ‘just worked out’. Cool to hear their backstory too – how they started out at AAA companies, then started their own little outsources group and saved up enough cash for two of them to work on their own thing for a while, budgeting to make 3 prototypes for a potential game with the 2nd one ending up being The Room.

Alexey and Danny went to a good talk about balancing games (with experience from working on Assault Android Cactus). The Witchbeam guys actually ended up giving us a Steam key to try it out after PAX Aus. We played and its crazy hectic non-stop juicy action to the point of our eyes hurting. It has a good sense of flow but hard to read visually at times and I don’t think I’m in the target audience for the Chibi-ish kids art style. Its really fun with friends though!

We met Matt Trobbani who was the first person ever to ask “are you the Swordy guys?”. He turned out to be awesome – has his own game Hacknet which ended up winning the 2014 AGDA award for innovation. He sent us a build, it has a really nice atmosphere – really feels like you’re a hacker! Its actually awesome how it lightly teaches you about various aspects of sysadmin and network infrastructure – a potentially boring subject to many, but Hacknet makes it interesting.

Alexey and Danny talked to Rami (from Vlambeer) there. He is a really nice guy. Easy to approach, friendly, down to earth and helpful. He was just uploading an update for Nuclear Throne and talked to them about his latest side project Distribute() the Presskit() integrated platform for distributing builds of games to verified press members and more. Its really nice (and free).

He closed GCAP with an awesome speech. Most of the content of it is kind of in his other talks like “17 Lessons learned” (which is really good, watch if you haven’t) but it was still really good to be there in person to see/hear.

Also see: http://vlambeer.com/toolkit/

I got to speak… or rather listen to him at the GCAP after party. I was pretty nervous for some reason – like meeting a hero or something and didn’t… actually say anything!

In the day of “rest” we rushed around trying to find screens. We decided to buy them as hiring was nearly as expensive anyway. We ended up buying two cheap 40″ TVs, which was a good move. They were big, attracted attention and allowed all four players on each screen a good size view and it allowed for Swordy’s intended “lounge setting”. We donated the screens to “The Arcade” in Melbourne afterwards – which is like a business incubator or office space but for game developers/creatives only (awesome space, awesome people). Hopefully we can use those screens again at the next PAX Aus.

The Arcade had an open day which we managed to squeeze in time for. It is an awesome office space with a number of studios, the IGDA Melbourne and Surprise Attack.

We played Goati Entertainment’s 22 Series – a Wipeout feeling racing game but futuristic cars and a heavy focus on physics. Looks like they are running a crowd funding campaign at the moment.

Armello by League of Geeks is a beautiful digital board game, I didn’t get a chance to play it but it looks like fun!

PAX SETUP

We arrived on Thursday with our two TV’s and setup our booth. As Chris Johnson mentioned in his PAX Australia – Exhibiting Postmortem there were a few surprise costs – $5 required safety vests, and a $9 charge per electronic device to test and “tag” it. Nothing overly expensive, but it was another $100 we hadn’t expected to have to pay.

Once we had completed our booth, tested everything and played a few rounds of Swordy with other exhibitors we sneakily checked out the MASSIVE convention center and the other un-manned booths (except for a security guard protecting Oculus’s booth).

PAX AUS 2014

PAX Aus was awesome. So so so busy. I appreciate what New Zealand is doing with Digital NatioNZ and Armageddon but this just blows them out of the water (and I am sure it will probably feel the same going from here to GDC or something). So many people, so many developers, such a big amazing venue.

Our booth had the two 40″ TVs. We had built two smaller “Steam machine” style PCs especially for the event – they offered a small form factor and more value for money than laptops. One side had four Xbox wireless controllers, the other four PS4 bluetooth controllers. We learnt from Digital NatioNZ that wired controllers end up a giant tangled mess and decided to purchase the extra gamepads.

The demo build was a round of four players – all vs all Deathmatch!

We have used Deathmatch as a “vertical slice” to really focus on nailing and polishing the core gameplay mechanic. The build allowed you to pick up and play with drop in local multiplayer. The controls can technically be played with just two joysticks, but more abilities (jump, drop, stab/punch) are available to make things more interesting.

We have big plans, but we are taking things one step at a time. Currently we are working on monster AI to fight against in either single player or co-operatively with your friends!

The Swordy booth was basically packed from opening to closing, eight players constantly going at it. We got around 400 sign ups to the newsletter (aka “we finished the game, please buy it now! email list”). Spoke to a bunch or press, got a lot of good feedback, awesome to see so many people enjoying the work we have done etc. The wooden badges were a big success, lots of people saying they loved them!

We were given a list of all press who would be attending. We some how missed this and only realized when Joe Chang (THANK YOU) was talking to us about it two weeks before PAX! We did send out a big press release, but we should have done it a lot sooner, personalized some of the emails for particually relevant sources, sent a follow up email, and perhaps thought about trying to book in interview timing with some of the bigger channels.

Press email stats (similar to Expand game’s Reddit post)

Emails sent: 273
Successful deliveries: 269
Recipient opened: 157 (58.7%)
Total opens: 283
Recipient with most opens: 9
Recipient replies: 17

We used Mail Chimp to send out the press email. Its an awesome tool with a lot of features and statistics to manage mail lists and email campaigns. It is free up until 2000 subscribers… which we are getting close to now. Mail Chimp also has an iOS app which we used on an iPad for Newsletter sign up at the booth. Its minimal, allows you to have your own branding, and stores data on the device until it can upload. Its perfect, saved us writing out own little app that does the same thing.

There were some awesome games there like Expand – a Mandala style minimal abstract exploration game. The game looks simple, but it felt really good to experience. The double Chris team have built a really nice dynamic music system that really adds to the mood and feel. I can’t wait to play it!

Boy goes to space by New Zealand devs One Legged Crab. Its an awesome little abstract experience. Funny to end up meeting New Zealanders over there. PLAY IT HERE.

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Hyperlight drifter was there!

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Got to play and speak to the developer of “Never Alone” which was pretty awesome. It had slight “Journey” (thatgamecompany) feels in the way that while there I was paired to play with a random stranger. Although we had never spoken (other than her asking to swap controllers so she could be the fox) we worked together and reached the end of the demonstration experience.

It has since released and Danny and I have played it. Its a beautiful story, visually impressive but awkward to control at times – mostly in the areas it tries to be difficult which often end up feeling like its the controls fault as much as your own. A bit frustrating at times but still a nice little experience. It also has a series of really inspiration “cultural insight” videos that you unlock by playing the game.

Didn’t actually get a lot of time to walk around and play games / meet people at the actual show. Catching up with people afterwards at dinner, bars and free drinks was almost the best part though. Just being at complete contrast from the hectic convention setting, being able to relax and talk game development with some massively talented people was so good.

More games in IGN’s 10 Awesome Indie Games of PAX Australia 2014

We all have a stack of business cards to go through. We have installed SugarCRM for managing contacts and interactions, we have started entering all the details but really need to get onto finishing that up!

Got to speak to a content manager from Microsoft, talked about him giving help with getting into ID@Xbox and possible funding. Keegan from Digital Confectioners (from New Zealand) brought over the Sony representative for us (THANK YOU!). It was funny that he didn’t explain who he was until after asking a bunch of questions about us and Swordy.

POST PAX

After that Danny flew back to NZ for work. Alexey and I went to Brisbane to visit my family (conveniently timed cousin’s wedding). Went camping with cousin, biked into Brisbane city to meet with Defiant (who are really awesome! They also won GCAP’s “best studio 2013”). They were really open and gave us lots of advice and comments. They had a Steam controller too! Got to hold it, but not try it out…

They gave us a key for Hand of Fate. I’ve played it for seven hours so far and am enjoying it. It feels very D&D inspired with a GM or card dealer talking to you throughout the game, sitting opposite you. Its a card based rouge-like (or PDL) with real-time battles for encounters.

All our PAX Aus Photos are here.

Here is the Frogscast #01: PAX AUS Post Mortem where we talk with Joe from Eyemobi (Phantasmal) about NZGDA, Kiwi Game Starter, Digital Nationz, Armageddon, Unite, GCAP and PAX Aus.

Here is a PRESS ROUND UP of the articles, interviews, videos and mentioned we received about Swordy from PAX Aus.

So in light of “everyone saying everything” here is us speaking from some experience:

  • Ultimately: Make a good game and tell people about it!
  • Go to these events and meet people! It’s important.
  • Have a clear goal. Sales? Demo downloads? Newsletter sign ups? Twitter followers? Publisher contact? Platform holder introduction?
  • If no-one is playing it, no-one will. Make the game play itself, or play it yourself so people want to join in.
  • Be nice. Engage people.
  • Big screens are good.
  • Multiple systems are important.
  • Three people or more for booth management is ideal.
  • Use the press list wisely. Send out an email a month before. Send out a follow up. Tailor emails to particularly relevant sources.
  • Borrow, transport or buy your equipment, renting is expensive!
  • Get somewhere to sleep close to the venue. Wasting time traveling and having to move gear is a massive hassle (book early).
  • Go to the after parties!

Other PAX Aus 2014 post-mortems:

If you have any questions about PAX Aus, exhibiting in general or our game Swordy don’t hesitate to contact us!

Update: For openness here are our rough expenses for the trip

Hardware (Two “Steam machine” PC’s and two TVs): $4500
Accommodation (Airbnb): $500
Transport (Hire car – recommend against this): $700
Booth:  $1300
Flights:  $1000
Merch (Badges, shirts, business cards): $1000
Tickets (GCAP, Unite, Parties): $1000
Food: $500
TOTAL: $10,500