I’ve attended a lot of conventions, not just as a consumer but also to demo AAA games I’d worked on. I went to PAX and Tokyo Game Show, and while those were incredible experiences, I admit that I always felt a bit disconnected - attendees were there for content I had limited influence over.
PlayExpo was the first event I have attended to show off a game that we’re making ourselves, which dramatically altered the experience.
Earlier in the year, I also attended EGX Rezzed to help a friend with their booth, which was a great deal of fun and a valuable experience in guerrilla marketing an indie game. It is dramatically harder to get attention for a small game on its first show appearance with no publisher, and I’m glad I was exposed to just how difficult it can be before attempting it on our own. It tempered our expectations.
That said, I was blown away by how well PlayExpo went. The booth was full, with 2 PCs running, nearly the entire time. We handed out nearly 600 stickers - which people put on stuff (they are pretty slick). Almost everyone who played it not only liked it, but had insightful feedback about why they liked it and what they thought would make it better. Several players came back for multiple games in an attempt to defeat our oops-made-it-too-hard AI or to show their friends the game over online multiplayer.
Of course, there were players for whom it didn’t click, but that’s to be expected - City of the Shroud was always going to be a bit of a niche title, and we seem to be appealing to exactly the audience we’re targeting - those of us who like tactics games, action games, RPGs, JPRG-inspired music, and stylish graphics. It’s a great feeling to see something you’ve created resonate with so many people.
The highlight of the show, on a personal level, was seeing so many young players pick up the game and really get into it. While we figured that the graphics would appeal to younger players (I’m old now, sigh), I never considered what it would mean to have younger players trying out City of the Shroud, but pretty much anyone ~12 and up who tried it not only figured out how to play (yay!), but got way into it.
Our first player ever, of course, happened to be a 4 year old girl who came over with her dad before the show started. We sat down to an online match, where she proceeded to not only figure out our still-imperfect UI, but to intelligently lay down Magnetic Mines because she thought they were hilarious. There was a lot of running going on in that battle - and she obviously won. It was also the cutest thing I’ve ever experienced, and she came back to play more at the end of the day. I still have a hard time processing how awesome that feeling is.
When it came to older kids, watching kids trash talk each other (in a nice way), play multiple games against the AI, and bring their friends over to play multiplayer was just awesome. One younger player said, “This game is better than League of Legends.” I think my heart burst in my chest a little. (Because you can control the entire team!)
We’re still a small company with a game that's just starting out, so the reaction from players was extremely heartening - there are people who like what we’ve made, what could be better than that?
We did learn some valuable lessons while we were showing the game, too. On Saturday, the venue’s Internet connection went down for several hours. City of the Shroud relies on an Internet connection for multiplayer and to start the game. We had assumed that the connection would be stable, but we were wrong - we also foolishly left the “Exit Game” button enabled.
This meant that as soon as players clicked that button, which inevitably happens, we can’t get back into the game because it checks for a connection at boot-up. In a fit of desperation/ingenuity (you know the quote), we rigged up a temporary solution using my laptop, an iPhone, and some emergency software downloads to enable the game to log in before disconnecting it. Then we just made sure to beg players not to exit the game, and we were (mostly) back in business.
So next time: no exit button, a complete offline version of the game, and all potentially necessary drives ready to go on a USB stick. Always be prepared. Now we know.
I also had the opportunity to sit on a panel put on by Aardvark Swift with some of the other awesome indie folks at the show. Our audience, it turned out, was comprised mostly of middle school aged students, and to our astonishment, everyone seemed to be paying close attention. We had really good questions from the students (one was about dealing with harsh criticism for a personal work!), and their parents/teachers had a hard time getting them to leave the panel as we ran a bit over their schedule. Worth it!
Making games can sometimes be a bit of a lonely process, especially when working remotely. Anyone playing your game is probably far away, off in the wilds of the Internet, and it’s hard to know if they’re even out there to begin with. To get such a positive response from so many people is a precious gift, and is a huge morale boost.
To me, that is worth the struggle for attention and the incredibly high stakes of developing our own title. It’s harder to get attention, but any you do get is genuine - the value of which I’ve touched on before. Having to many players play our game and like it is an awesome feeling, and I can happily call our time at PlayExpo a resounding success.
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