Toeing the Line: Getting the most out of events
(All speech is paraphrased from memory and not directly quoted).
It’s June and I’m in an ice cream restaurant in London with Rami Ismail and Mike Bithell. Rami’s just bought an overwhelming amount of fondue.
The waiter claims that he’ll pay for half of it if Rami actually finishes. It’s a bit of a bizarre experience; I’m used to living on super noodles and Tesco snack food, but it’s quite a novelty. We’ve been exhibiting all day at Radius Festival and now we’re killing time before the live stream.
The conversation stays firmly on indie games for the most part, and I’m keen to absorb whatever pearls of wisdom the pair have to offer. We discuss the indie megabooth among other things, but soon the topic turns to etiquette at shows. Or rather, what you can get away with.
A common theme I note is that Rami and Mike tend to agree with each other on the vast majority of topics, but end up thoroughly debating the fine details – they’ve recently wrapped up a twitter debate while they chatted amiably in person. Rami offers his advice on exhibiting.
“If you ever see an empty booth at a show, take it. Nothing looks worse for an exhibition than an empty booth”.
Another person at our table inquisitively asks, “Can’t you just ask for permission?”
Everyone at the table now simultaneously offer the same sentiment, “No”.
Mike adds, “If you ask for permission, they’ll say no”.
Rami goes on to explain how he’s taken empty booths, plugged in and started exhibiting on the spot.
Mike disagrees at this point – Rami can get away with these things but he advises it’s potentially a great way to burn bridges with shows.
Rami retorts, “Okay, but say you have a big line of people queuing up, you’d take your laptop out to play with them, right?”. He recants a specific instance of sitting with some people in a Diablo 3 line and playing Super Crate Box with them.
Mike nods, “Yeah, I’d do that”.
“Well then we agree – you just draw the line at a different point”.
Mike concedes, and offers us some advice, “You’ve got to do what you’re comfortable with. Not everyone’s comfortable doing what Rami does.”
Finding my line
It’s July and I’m at my housemate’s hometown in Surrey – we’ve come down south to see a gig. I suddenly hear that there’s an event on tomorrow called Feral Vector. I’m not very clued in to the southern indie scene so things like this go over my head, but I figure it’s worth going to and I buy a ticket and turn up the next day. I immediately spot some friends in the form of Michael and James Brown from Gang Beasts and sit down next to them on the wall, immediately whipping out my laptop and launching my game. A few people gather round and play my game.
“Are these tables reserved or can I just set up?” I ponder aloud. Michael shrugs. I ask the same question to one of the staff, and she’s not aware but she gives me the wifi password anyway (which I require for my game on this build). I eventually find David Hayward, who’s running things. This is the second time we’ve met but I wouldn’t expect him to remember the first. I reintroduce myself and ask if the table’s free. They’re booked. Alas. I walk into the lecture hall and talk to Simon Roth, who I’ve met before, and he points out a few people I haven’t met before, including Terry Cavanagh, who is a personal hero and got me into indie gaming.
I move over to Terry and introduce myself. He knows who I am, which is a little exciting. David comes back over to me, “Alex, we have tables free – you can set up”. Joy.
It’s a meagre setup, and I feel a bit like I missed out on the talks, but I get to meet a lot of interesting people and get some feedback on the first level of my game, which I’ve never shown at exhibition before. I leave a single business card on a piece of paper, “This is the game but please don’t take the card”.
At the end of the day we go to the pub. I see Terry again, and I go and get a drink. I’m lugging a large bag around and there’s a lot of bags around the sofas around him, so I move over and politely ask, “Hey, can I put my bag here?”
“Actually, my mac’s in here so I’ll watch it too”, I say as I sit down beside him. I’m not normally this intrusive but he’s alone and I’m in awe, I don’t want to miss this opportunity to talk to him. He mentions that he really enjoyed my last Ludum Dare game. I smile broadly – this is my current big project; I’m making it into a full game.
I offer him a play, and observe. “I think this bit’s harder than you think it is”, he comments. I make a mental note to completely nuke that area. They say don’t meet your heroes, but he’s a lovely person and I’m extremely glad I spoke to him – he gave some great feedback too.
I now have a good feel for what I can get away with at indie events. These are events specifically supporting indies, and the people running them are enthusiasts. These aren’t the places to get cocky and steal stands, these are places that will happily give you an opportunity if you be nice about it. Mike had mentioned this is his approach – he’s just nice to everyone and then people are nice to him. I feel this is the correct way to go to indie events.
It’s September and I’m about to go to the Tokyo Game Show to exhibit. My plane is tomorrow, in fact, and I’m getting business cards and a poster printed. My exhibitor manual tells me I can bring an A1 poster.
I glance at it for a moment. The poster my artist has made for me is portrait. Theirs is landscape. Uhh.. I can just.. print it in A0 and if there’s any extra cut it off, right?
So I get the giant poster. It fits. Luckily it can go behind the banner a bit.
I notice though, the people on the stand next to me are absent. I happen to have a spare laptop, so I decide to go for the double build setup.
So I’ve got rid of their empty space, and literally no one notices or cares. No staff ever come to the indie area. At the end of the day the person in the stand next to me asks about my game and I talk about how it won Ludum Dare 28’s innovation category. I point to it on my poster, but it’s obscured by the screen. He tells me, “You should be showing that to everyone!” Before I go to bed that night I realise what I can do with the extra space. One desk will become my poster and business cards desk. The other will be my monitor.
My game looks important now. Shuhei Yoshida comes down and plays it and tweets about it.
So, I haven’t gone full Rami yet, but I’ve definitely not reached my line, and I’ve only benefitted.
Ice Cream and Press
Mike’s eating his ice cream pretty quickly because he’s on the Radius stream first, and he sponsored the event so he should really be there. He has time to chime in on the next discussion though: Press rooms.
I’ve experienced press rooms before at EGX Rezzed in March. I’d been inside briefly while getting my pass, and I later asked if I could go back in. Nope. I asked if there were any people from Eurogamer in there, and Martin Robinson came out. He was extremely nice to me, despite me essentially just showing a jam game to him. But in hindsight I wasted a tonne of time at that event.
Rami and Mike are in unison here. You enter every press room – it’s just what you do. Rami’s method was to just walk in uninvited and stay there. Mike’s method was to do interviews with people and stick around.
Rami noted that he becomes known through his method too, but it’s basically about image which path you take here. Rami’s way is probably easier but Mike’s is less likely to annoy people.
Mike has to shoot off now to do the show, and the rest of us wrap up ice cream shortly afterwards.
The Press Room
It’s September. I’ve just got back from Tokyo Game Show, and it’s EGX. I found out yesterday that my game is actually being exhibited here. I had no idea – I find out from a Facebook message – but it is. Awesome.
I walk down to my stall and it’s being manned by several people. They ask for some business cards and I (foolishly) give them a stack. I won’t need more than 30 anyway right? This was before I realised how good the press room is.
I go upstairs and speak to my friends from Tinykeep who are running a stall for their game launch. I don’t actually have an exhibitor pass, but another exhibitor I know pulls his wristband over his hand and gives it to me. I walk into the press area and sit down. It’s a bit empty. I make some small talk with the person next to me. He’s from IGN. I whip out my laptop. I don’t think he’s massively interested, he seems to cover AAA, but heck – I just met my first IGN reporter.
I soon become acutely aware you don’t actually need an exhibitor pass when you have wrists like mine.
So I return the one I was given. But someone else gives me a spare one that evening to keep for the entire show anyway, and I end up getting a press pass from somebody else. I waste a bit of the first day looking for someone in the Playstation booth to no avail.
The next two days I basically live in the press booth. I see Mike and Rami there too, Mike has booked interviews practically back-to-back for the entire weekend, and Rami just mingles there every now and then.
I quip to Mike that he should mention in his interviews that Super Rude Bear Resurrection is the best game ever. He notes that he keeps being asked “What other games here do you like?” and he keeps replying that he hasn’t had time to play them. He says he’ll mention my game instead. I chuckle. I don’t think he got asked that question again unfortunately, but if you don’t ask cheekily, you don’t get. He recommends my game to the Nerd3 community manager though, who ends up coming round and playing my game the next day.
Over the next few days I speak to people from IGN, Kotaku, Wired, The Irish Times, TheSixthAxis, OXM, do a few interviews, agree to a few previews, show my game to a few youtubers etc.
I ask Phi how EGX has been for him. He’s paid a few grand for a stand for Tinykeep. He didn’t really get to speak to press. Some people might have strolled round and played, but he didn’t see too much on the interview front. This was crazy to me. I’d just strolled in with a laptop and been swamped with people.
I’m with Rami in the press room. He’s a real altruist. He keeps bigging me up to people who come along, offering great insights or even just stalling people nearby me so I can chat to them. At a party the previous night he told me, “That guy sitting next to you was the president of Yogscast”, and I felt dumb – I didn’t get the hint at all. I don’t miss these hints in future, introducing myself to everyone he stalls.
He even randomly takes this photo. I noticed this and emailed asking for it. He sent it instantly. It’s like he knew I would need it. I forgot to take photos, but this pretty much summarises the 3 days at EGX. I sit at a table just bringing people to my laptop and watch them enjoy my game.
So, on the final day there’s not many people left and I’m just sitting there, pretty content with what I’ve done this weekend.
My elbow rests on the armrest. I raise my index finger into the air and twirl my wrist pondering aloud to Rami, “Is this what separates successful indies from the rest?”
“No. The difference is that successful indies do things. You give advice to some people and they’ll say ‘I might try that’, and 6 months later they’ve done nothing. Successful indies try every dumb thing they get told to do”.
I can’t help but smile. In the back of my head I’ve catalogued every small piece of discourse between Rami and Mike from the events I’ve met them at, and I’ve tried everything they’ve suggested since the last time we met. I couldn’t tell specifically if he was suggesting that things are going to work out for me or he was just giving a general case, but it felt good that his definition applied.
I bring up a rumour, “So, I hear there’s a secret Eurogamer floor between the ground floor and the first floor, I might go and find that”.
“Oh you’ll never get in there”.
“I can say I was invited”.
Mike and Rami agree on this one, “No, never lie about something like that”.
I paused for a moment to think about how to phrase my pseudo-invitation, “Well.. I was speaking to Martin yesterday and he told me about the floor and said he’d be there”.
Mike responds, “.. Yeah that sounds like an invite, do it.” Rami adds, “Tell them we’re here too”.