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  • Writer's pictureBart Padjasek

An indie developers guide to trade shows and exhibitions

When looking at your marketing plan as an indie developer, events and conferences are a must-have in your arsenal. They can be a great way to raise awareness of your game as well as the profile of your studio through meetings with potential publishers or first-party partners.

Though at the same time, with so many things to plan and think about it can be daunting to even figure out where to start. That’s where this week’s blog comes in.

We’re going to go over an indie developers guide to shows and exhibitions, what you need to keep in mind and how you can make the best out of your time at the event.

Choose the right convention for you

Not every convention and show is built the same. Audiences are going to greatly differ depending on what event you attend, and as an indie developer, you need to think about that when planning your events calendar.

Probably more important than where you’re going is the question, why are you going? Not every development team can afford to send an army of staff to represent their game at every show. So if you’re an indie developer, there’s a good chance that it might be down to just you. That’s why it’s important to figure out your main goals early.

Are you there to build an audience and wishlists among fans? Are you mainly concerned with media attention? Or is it publishers you want to impress and connect with? Each one of these goals will require a lot of time and effort on your part, so plan accordingly.

If you’re looking to connect with publishers or first-party partners, book a spot at B2B events such as GDC or D.I.C.E. Summit. If you want to really connect with fans first, then B2C events like PAX East, Gamescom or TwitchCon might be better suited for you and your team. Keep in mind that a few shows might feature elements of both B2B and B2C, so it’s up to you to do your research beforehand.

Major shows aren’t your only options either. Look to smaller regional events like London Games Festival, European Games Showcase or Pocket Gamer Connects to engage local or more niche markets.

Want to stay digital? There are still a lot of options out there for you. We recommend taking a look at platform-integrated events such as Steam’s Next Fest and GamesRadar’s Future Games Show that give fans direct CTAs to your storefront.

Partner up

So you’ve chosen the event that best fits your needs and goals. Now what?

It’s not a secret that it can be quite costly to get yourself a presence at these shows, with booths ranging anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars. It might just not be in your budget as an indie studio.

Hope is not lost though! Consider partnering up with others for a booth space. Sharing a trade show is a great way to save money, grow both your audiences and establish a stronger partnership for the future. But like any partnership, it’s best to always vet who you’re partnering with and ask yourself if it makes sense to present side-by-side with them. Do they share a similar audience? Are they a direct competitor or not? Are they someone you can see yourself working with in the future?

These partners can be anything from major first-party partners and platforms to local indie collectives. We recommend checking to see if there are any organizations or accelerators that are willing to sponsor local developers to represent your local region. If that’s not an option, reach out to other indie developers in your network that you already know. They might have the same idea in mind as well.

If you need extra help getting a show presence, you can also work with marketing firms like Cold Pixel to join an already established network of developers and partners.

Dress the part

Whether you have a dedicated booth or not, when you're attending events, always remember that you are representing your game and development team. That means you have to look and play the part.

Wear shirts and/or hoodies with the name of your game or studio, always have professional business cards on hand with the right information and be ready to be engaging with everyone who approaches you.

On a more practical note, we recommend bringing comfortable shoes. Between the exhibition floor, panels and outside events, you could reasonably be standing or walking around for 8+ hours a day.

Have your game ready in a (somewhat) playable form

It may sound like the most simple and straightforward advice on this entire list, but it’s also the most important. If you want to really sell your game, you need to have a build that your audience can get their hands on.

By no means does it have to be a full experience, but anything from an extended demo to a small vertical slice will be enough to entice the crowd as well as give them an idea of what the final product will look like.

We recommend bringing two gaming laptops capable of playing your build (One being a spare as a backup) and a set of controllers that can easily be wiped down after each use and plugged in. The last thing you need is forcing a fan or journalist to wait as you struggle to set up.

Plan for journalists like a pro

No matter what kind of show you attend, always prepare yourself for media requests. Ideally, most of the work on this side of things starts weeks, if not months, before the show.

To start with, we recommend having a media kit on-hand that includes:

  • A press release

  • An asset kit (with high-res trailers, logos and images)

  • An email where journalists can request game keys

The next thing you need to consider is where would you potentially take interviews? Noisy show floors are usually not ideal, especially for digital journalists that may want to do video interviews. We recommend making sure you have a private space ready (whether at the show or in a private hotel suite close to the site) where you can give more one-on-one time to the media outlet, host a private play session and build a relationship with the journalist in question.

This can be hectic to plan, especially if you’re a smaller indie studio without a booth space. That’s why we recommend looking into a PR agency to help work with you to decide on your key messages, work on press kits and book media interviews before you even arrive at the show.

Nail your elevator pitch

Gaming conventions are a great place to meet potential building partners and publishers as you never know who you might get the attention of. That’s why before you meet any of them, you need to have your elevator pitch ready.

Ranging anywhere from 30 seconds to one minute, unlike your larger game design decks, elevator pitches are short, simple and get to the point of what your game is. Therefore, before you come to the show, we recommend you prepare your pitch with your team, iterate it with people who know your project well and make sure to end it in a way that really entices your audience to ask follow-up questions.

Make your swag memorable

A common element to every conference, no matter the industry, great swag can put you on the map on the show floor and get people talking. While there is no one right way when it comes to creating swag, we have a few recommendations on what to consider before you approach vendors.

First, is it something that people will want to hold on to? Attendees may not necessarily volunteer to be a walking billboard with your logo on them unless they actually like the design or find it useful. If you’re going with t-shirts, make sure the design looks good enough to wear on its own. If you’re looking at more physical items like keychains or water bottles, make sure that the quality is there that will stand the test of time. The last thing you want is your products ending up in the bin at the end of the day.

Secondly, space is a premium at every expo for you and the attendees. The smaller the swag is, the more likely that people will not have a problem keeping it and the fewer problems you will have when it comes to lugging it around at the show.

And finally, think about sustainability. We all want to do our part for a better planet and plastic heavy items may not be the best option. Instead, look for vendors specializing in creating recycled or renewable products merchandise.

If you really want to be memorable at the end of the show, try to think outside the box. Great examples come from Raw Fury’s spatulas and Fat Shark’s socks.

Prepare to go off-site

A secret to trade shows and expos is that a majority of business deals and networking are not necessarily done at the shows themselves. Instead, it’s the off-site dinners, parties and mixers that really allow you to get to know potential investors and partners.

Before you check-in, look at the event's website and note every off-site event you want to attend. They will usually have specific bars and restaurants set aside with special privileges for those that have event passes. Better yet, meet a business partner that you would like to work with at the show? Exchange information and find out where they are going that night. These types of meetings can be invaluable when building relationships for the future.

Pace yourself

Even with all those tips above, events are frankly a lot of work, and it can be easy to overwork yourself over a few days if you’re not careful.

We recommend that you pace yourself, focus on what goals you want to accomplish at the show, and set mini-milestones along the way to celebrate what you’ve been able to achieve. Don’t forget to get plenty of sleep and water, and you’ll be well on your way to having a successful show.

Leave it in the hands of professionals

Want to have a presence at events but less of the stress? Consider teaming up with a marketing agency like Cold Pixel.

With our Public Relations and Events Management team, we can make sure you and your game are ready for any expo or conference and represent you along the way.

Sign up for a free marketing session to learn more about what we can do for you.

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