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Attending Reboot Develop: a post-mortem

We recently got back from the Reboot Develop conference in Dubrovnik, where we showcased our first public demo for Yaga. There was quite a bit of anxiety about the whole thing in our team but it turned out pretty well. We’ve had our share of hiccups and “a-ha” moments, so we thought of sharing our experience with the world. You know what they say, it’s better to learn from history than from experience.

booth
Source https://twitter.com/GamesCoLondon/status/856876216342773760

First, a few words about Reboot: it’s an annually-held event where people in the industry meet and share knowledge. During its three days, people have the chance to attend and/or hold talks, showcase their game or their business, look for talent or just find some like-minded people. There are both indies and triple-A developers, publishers, artists, musicians, basically anyone who has an interest in the field.

When we decided to go, we set out two main objectives: gather feedback and show our game to a few potential publishers. We also wanted to gain knowledge, meet fellow game developers, experiment with some basic marketing strategies and play some freshly-baked games, but these were mostly secondary. Overall I’d say we were reasonably successful but we could have done a few things better.

What went right

  • People were pretty excited about our game. There were many who wanted to try the game and give us their impressions. We also noticed that approaching people who were just watching tended to get them involved. Even the ones who didn’t end up playing the game had questions or feedback. A simple “Wanna play?” usually gets the conversation started.
  • Our booth looked pretty sweet for the small amount of resources involved and caught the attention of people.

    booth_photo
    The mask seemed to attract quite a bit of attention
  • Our community manager suggested that people tend to ignore or throw away flyers, unless they has some value in themselves. You also have to give people an incentive to visit your site so they don’t immediately forget about you. That’s why we decided to make an origin-story comic and split it in two:
    • The first three pages (+ a cover) which were printed and which we would hand out to people. The third page ended in a cliffhanger and had a link to the continuation.
    • The last three pages are available online, on our landing page for the game, hoping that people reading the comic will want to learn more (or at least see how the comic ends) by visiting our site. (If you’re curious, you can check the whole comic here).
  • The demo build was surprisingly stable, yay! We had it running for about ten hours a day for three days and there wasn’t a single crash.
  • We made a lot of contacts – not just publishers but also sound designers, localization experts, media representatives and so on. What proved useful was writing down some info about those contacts right after meeting them, otherwise you just end up with a bag of business cards and no clear memory of who they are and what they do.
  • Our booth configuration was flexible, and we managed to fit all our stuff on the assigned table, even if the space was smaller than we were informed beforehand. Always make sure you know the size of the allocated space, and try to keep in mind that this might change at the venue.
  • Going to talks. Reboot had an awesome set of speakers and dev-oriented talks, and it’s a great learning opportunity. Based on talks that sounded interesting, we took turns at the booth from time to time, so while one of us managed the booth, the others could go and learn new things.

What could have gone better

  • We started working on our marketing strategy and materials a bit late. It was better than our usual “wait, that’s three days from now?”, but we still had to do some crunch-time (I’m sure our artist who had less than two weeks to make a fully-polished six-page comic can attest).  Unfortunately this also meant we had to give up on some ideas we wanted to try. I guess there’s always a next time.
  • Our SquareEnix Collective campaign happened to start very close to Reboot. As with any other campaign, the first few days are crucial in gathering attention and engaging the community. We had to juggle between constantly replying to feedback and comments online and showcasing our game at the conference.
  • Research your trip options beforehand:
    • We took the plane instead of driving. Traveling by car would have meant 14 hours of driving while the plane-ride ended up being about 11. The time improvement was small and we also had to carry a lot of marketing stuff in our luggage, send a few things by car and walk a lot. We also had a hard time finding a monitor to rent at the conference – grabbing one from home would have made more sense and would have allowed us to decorate it a bit.
    • Make sure you have the whole trip planned. We had no idea how to get from the airport to the hotel and wasted two hours and some money going the wrong way while dragging our luggage around.
  • Networking is still not our best skill. Trying to approach people at the after-parties proved more challenging than we thought. We’ve had more success by talking to speakers right after their talks. This also gives you a starting point if you meet them later on.

What went wrong

  • There were some elements in our game that were confusing to the players.
    • Some of the first things you got to interact with were just placeholders that were supposed to hint at additional content. These should have been removed. On the second day we created a new build to fix this but we ended up causing more problems so we reverted to our safe build.
    • People just missed out on many of the features. We had no tutorial, as people usually don’t spend that much time at a single booth, so there were many cases where we had to explain “you can heal if you press Y”, “there are more hammers you can try”. I’ve seen one team had a printed page explaining the controls but it doesn’t feel like  a great solution
    • Some things were hard to understand without proper context. For example, we have a crossroads system in place but the choices seemed meaningless if you only got to play for ten minutes.
  • A fail-safe for when people get stuck would have been nice. Not necessarily cheats, but at least a way to revert the game back to the latest checkpoint. Replaying the whole game from the start because of a bug can be a turn-off.
  • We lacked proper branding.
    • We made t-shirts but somewhere in the process we forgot to add the Yaga logo.
    • We had a small banner on our booth with the logo but it was barely visible.
    • Our twitter account or devblog address were not shown anywhere and people kept asking for them. We ended up placing a hand-written stick-it note on the monitor with the twitter account, which was definitely not a proper replacement.

What we might try at the next events

  • Some of the other teams were constantly playing the game themselves. This works best if you have local co-op and people can instantly join the game.
  • One of the teams had a bowl where you could leave your business card, and there was a lottery at the end to win some jewel thingie. Obviously the first part only works at events that are closed to the large public, but the lottery could work in all cases.
  • People had free candy at their booths. Provides that extra 2% of niceness.
  • There was one team who was cosplaying the whole time (nothing complex, just a hat and some glasses and so on). They were a lot more noticeable this way, and you knew they were part of the same team. I’m assuming at an event with public access this might work less, as cosplay is more of a thing there.
  • We might want to bring a second monitor that would constantly run a gameplay trailer, or have a sort of in-game demo mode that starts after a minute of inactivity.ivan_dullwitted

What’s next

Overall attending Reboot turned out to be a positive experience. We’ve learned a ton, started some conversations with some publishers and made a few friends (Doublequote Studio and Exordium come to mind). All that remains now is to use the feedback and our observations of people’s reactions, tweak the game accordingly and start thinking about the next event we want to attend. Also going to an event that’s open to the public might be a logical next step, and we’re probably gonna give that a try, too.

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