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Kelsey – What I Learned from Working My First Con
I recently took a game I’ve been working on to a local con outside my city, Philadelphia. The convention is called Too Many Games, and it’s pretty small when compared to things like NYC Comicon, but with an estimated 18-20k guests over three days, it’s nothing to sneeze at either. Not every game convention is on par with PAX or Gamescom, but for an indie developer, attending comparatively smaller conferences like TMG can still be a really beneficial experience. Here, I’ll outline some of the things I have learned to help any indie devs thinking of taking that leap and going to their first con.
Get all the details
- Some smaller cons might not have exhaustive vendor information packets, so dig deep to make sure you have all the information you need before the big day(s). TMG didn’t have a ton of information available online, but it did have an extremely helpful Discord server we used to make sure we knew all the variables we were interested in beforehand.
Test your setup
- If possible, get together and test your setup beforehand. Though we coordinated ahead of time, checked and double checked our equipment lists, and thought we had everything we needed, we still encountered some setup snafus we could have easily avoided if we had just had all the equipment in the same room one time before the con. If this isn’t possible, then plan to get to the con as early as possible and check where nearby electronics stores are beforehand in case someone needs to run out for something. Don’t rely on this, however, because if you need an HDMI cable, for instance, it’s not crazy to think a ton of other people at the con have maybe had this same issue, and the nearby stores might be low on stock.
Consider a con-specific event for your game
- This one is optional but can really ramp up activity at your booth. Most of our games are meant to be played solo in front of a console or computer, but that’s not the same atmosphere as a con by any stretch. What works well at home may completely miss the mark in the fast-paced (and noisy) environment of a con. Players probably won’t hear your game’s lovely music or any important voiceovers. Most of them probably won’t settle in for an hour to get a good taste for your rich storytelling. Consider this and, if possible, gives players an option to engage with your work that fits the con atmosphere better. We came to TMG with a puzzle game, so we implemented a special time trial mode for visitors to our booth to engage with, and it ended up being a big hit. We had a white board with top times and small medals to give away, and speedrunners kept returning to beat the current record, and their enthusiasm brough the casual players over to watch and play (usually the non-speed run version, which we also had available) themselves. Some other folks were letting people who played sign a poster for them to display. Others had competitions set up against the devs or other players. Giveaways and merch are always a nice draw as well. Things like this might not be possible for your game, but it’s worth considering the things that might make your game shine in a convention setting.
Wear comfortable shoes
- It probably goes without saying, but comfortable shoes are a must. Seats may be provided, but for us at least, it was hard to interact with visitors to our booth from behind everything, so we generally ended up standing out front, talking about the game, watching gameplay, and answering questions. A couple of folks on the dev team wore some fun outfits during the con and even then, our shoes remained practical, and for good reason!
- It was really hot outside during our con. Then was cold inside during setup until everything got rolling, until the guests filed in and things became more or less comfortable. In the evenings when it was time to pack up for the night after the guests left, the temperature would drop sharply again without all those bodies filling the aisles and we’d be freezing. Because of this hot-cold-comfortable-cold cycle, we were often choosing to put on the warmest parts of our outfits after we had trekked across the sweltering parking lot several times with gear and added layers on in the mornings and evenings while we were organizing in the cold. Plan to bring some simple layers for yourself to avoid being sweaty or shivering if you can.
Consider food options
- Every con is going to be different, so how much storage space you have and what you’re allowed to bring in will depend on the con itself, but food courts aren’t known for their variety or healthy options. If you’re going to be spending 8-12 hours somewhere three or four days in a row, it can be worth it to consider having some food choices that help you feel full an energized at least some of that time. We were definitely snacking on fruits and nuts at the very least in between indulging in cheesy food court hot dogs and hamburgers.
Work in shifts
- Depending on the size of your team, it might be worthwhile to consider having an early shift and a late shift or whatever breakdown makes sense for you. Even if you team is small or everyone wants to be there the entire time, giving each other the freedom to wander and enjoy the con a bit while one or two people agree to watch the table is a real life saver. If you’re a solo dev, don’t hesitate to bring a “be back soon!” sign and allow yourself a little time to stretch your legs, use the bathroom, grab a bite, and meander through booths for a while. You’ll be more engaged and fun to talk to if you’re not completely wiped out from having no breaks, I promise!
Get ready to be exhausted
- Especially since most of us have been to fewer social events and crowded gatherings the last few years, it can be easy to forget just how exhausting being engaged and social for hours on end can be. My throat hurt at the end of the day from talking more than I was used to (not helped by the fact that I had to speak up over the din of the con and to be heard through my mask). Even if there’s nothing you can do about these things, being prepared mentally for the work-that-you-might-not-think-of-as-work that goes into constantly answering questions, engaging in small talk, and being “on” all day for several days in a row might help to avoid a feeling of burnout before the con is over.
Take care of yourself
- Adding all the above together, it might not be surprising to hear that it can be easy to neglect your personal needs during a con. Add steps to take care of yourself into your other convention planning. If you are at a local event, maybe meal prep beforehand so you can come home to an easy dinner that won’t take much effort or time on your feet. If you’re away from home, perhaps take some time before the con to decide what you’ll get for dinner from where (noting how late places are open too) so you don’t have to spend time thinking about it with a tired brain at the end of a long day. You could also consider picking out and organizing your clothes/costumes beforehand so on your groggy mornings you can just throw everything on without much thought and avoiding the need to wake up earlier to make sure you have everything. Small preparations can help you avoid adding to your many to-dos during the times when you’re exhausted, so don’t only think of what you need while you’re inside the convention center and neglect your needs for the other hours of the day. Your con time will be made all the better when your other preparations help you get through your nights and mornings more comfortably and efficiently.
- Yes, cons are work if you’re there to promote your game, but they can still be a lot of fun! The more prepared you are the easier it is to relax and enjoy seeing all the enthusiasm guests will have for your hard work. Remember that not every game is for every person, so don’t feel disheartened if it’s not a hit with every visitor. Instead, be glad for every pair of eyes that lands on your creation and be proud you’re here, able to show it off, and that you’re making connections and getting your work out there. That you’ve made it to this point is a big deal! Enjoy yourself and celebrate it! You deserve it.
I hope this list was helpful. If you have any tips of your own, please comment them down below! We’ll be covering need-to-knows about bigger cons soon as well, so keep an eye on the blog and the Digest. If you like what you’re reading, feel free to subscribe to one or both!