EGX Post-mortem (a.k.a How to Save Money as an Indie Exhibitor)

EGX, the UK’s biggest games event, was Outsider Games first game convention as a paying exhibitor, with Stephen Downey (that’s me!) and Kevin Beimers in attendance. After digesting the event, I’ve broken down our costs, weighed against considerations, and noted a few savings measures.

 

Goal – Promote Wailing Heights

Our main goal was to drum up gamer interest in our body-hopping, musical, adventure game; Wailing Heights. We’re due to launch early 2016, so with production well underway, demo in-hand, and trailer just launched in time for EGX, it was time to ramp up the promotion.

 

Costs

Cost to benefit ratio is always a consideration as an Northern Irish indie dev, and we had to weigh up the costs of travelling from Northern Ireland to display at the NEC, Birmingham. I’ve attended UK comic conventions before as a humble, solo artist, and accustomed to paying less than £150 to rent a weekend table, often making a profit with art sales. A very different experience to hosting at a game convention, which is significantly more expensive, with less direct measures to recoup costs. The cost of the trip had to be covered from our modest marketing budget.

EGX offer the convenient option of supplying space, hardware and branding, and in theory, you can walk up to the convention with only your clothes and code. I’m not sure how much of the exhibiting price list for EGX is public, but I’ll talk about the attempts we made at to save some costs by supplying our own branding and hardware, and an estimated savings value.

 


 

 

Branding

We ordered a large 1m x 1.6m boarded posted from printed.com. We uploaded the art; it printed, packaged and delivered for a total of £65.

Our initial plan was to ship the poster to Scott Grandison, Outsider Games co-owner, based in Norwich, who would drive up to and set up the branding. Unfortunately Scott ended up in A&E that week, rather than the NEC. He’s made a full recovery, but unfortunately couldn’t make the show.

Luckily, I have a friend in Birmingham, who was able to accept direct delivery of the package to his house. We had a slight hiccup in that public transport across Birmingham would have taken 2 hours one-way, and the board wouldn’t allow the poster to be folded to fit Tom’s car. Thankfully Tom’s mum did us a huge favour and drove the poster up to NEC for us. Thanks Ms. Huxley!

We missed having the branding for a few hours on Thursday morning, and the space looked very bare, not to mention impossible to find for the few people who were seeking us out. Thankfully it looked pretty great once we had it set up.

Silver lining – The poster wouldn’t have fit in Scott’s smartcar anyway!

 

Positive: Significant saving.

Negative: Hassle to transport massive package.

Repeat?: Yes, if we can deliver straight to the convention.

Considerations: Other exhibitors used rolled-out posters which looked just as good.

Total cost: £85 (£65 print & delivery + £20 donation towards petrol and hassle)

 


 

 

Hardware

Again, we’d planned to have Scott drive up with hardware, and the alternative was to add a large suitcase to the flight. It was a bit of a worry packaging a 22inch monitor, peripherals, and marketing material all in a suitcase that would inevitably be thrown about the haul of a plane, but a cardboard box, several large towels and a fair amount of tape kept everything safe on the return flights. I ran Wailing Heights on my Cintiq Companion drawing tablet, which also acted as a second monitor on the table, to run our trailer through while players worked their way through the demo on the larger screen.

Along with an Xbox One controller, a set of Bose noise reduction (to allow players to hear the songs in the game in an otherwise noisy environment) and an iPad for players to add email addresses that we could send the demo to, the set up worked quite well.

Positive: Significant saving, two monitors.

Negative: Out main screen was slightly smaller than the EGX-supplied monitors

Repeat?: Yes.

Considerations: Bring spare AAA batteries for earphones

 

Total cost: £30. We already owned the hardware, so only return journey checked baggage to pay.

 


 

Marketing

We have some really awesome comic creators like Glenn Fabry (Preacher), PJ Holden (Judge Dredd) and John McCrea (Spider-Man) helping us out on comicbook backstories. Hoping for some cross-pollination of comic and games fans, and act as a take-home reminder of the game, we decided to print up some comics-sketchbooks for players to take home.

We printed 250 copies of the 12 page comic, which worked out perfectly as we only had a handful to bring home as souvenirs of our own.

We saved £40 by choosing digital, rather than liitho, printing. The choice was mainly down to time restraints, but we’re really happy with how the comics printed, and would be more than happy with digital printing for a future print run.

 

Set cost: £140 print + £35 delivery

 


 

Hotel

The NEC is very conveniently located in the adjoining multiple that is Birmingham airport, Train Station and NEC (separated only by a dart train and long corridors). The venue is equidistant to both Birmingham and Coventry, and Scott found a bargain in the IBIS Coventry which totaled £245 for a 5-night stay. Considering the hotels around the NEC were looking for over £120 per night (and often considerably more), even when you took into account the £10 daily train cost, and one post-last train £30 taxi, this was a decent savings.

It did take us around an hour to get in in the morning, but a 30 minute stroll to the Coventry station, followed by 30 minutes of train and corridors, did give me and kevin a chance to chat of game mechanics and looming deadlines.

 

Positive: Significant saving

Negative: 1 hour journey each way, no train after midnight.

Repeat?: Possibly. Weigh up distance versus price.

Considerations: Not for the developer accustomed to luxury

Total cost: £325 (£245 hotel cost + £50 on daily trains + £30 taxi)

 


 

Flights

We’re at the mercy of low-cost airlines for this, but did manage to make a small saving, while travelling at reasonable hours of the day, by booking separate one-way journeys from Flybe and Easyjet.

 

Total cost: £255 for 2 people.

 


 

 

Evaluation

Account for the costs, savings and list price of exhibiting, our total budget (excluding food and drink) tallied as:

 

Total cost: £1465

Savings: £800

 

Taking everything into consideration, I think that while our cost-saving measures added a bit of inconvenience to the trip, it was worth the extra effort to save the fairly significant portion of our budget.

 


 

If you haven’t already, please check out Wailing Height Announcement Trailer and subscribe to our YouTube channel for video updates

 

 

Q-con!

With slightly twitchy fingers we showcased the Wailing Heights Demo at its first convention this past weekend.

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Stephen Downey, our co-director and lead artist had attended Q-con before, though from a comic artist and guest POV. The comic audience at Q-con is a small but growing section of the crowd, which focuses heavily on gaming and anime, so attending as indie developers, we weren’t sure what reaction to expect for a indie, comic-inspired, 2D adventure game.

And it was brilliant!

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The body-hopping, musical, adventure game seemed to pique the interest of gamers at the con, with even a couple of players dancing along to the tracks!

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We had steady stream of players, and at one point even had a queue forming. The indie dev indoor marques, set up in the gaming console room, had a nice open feel to them, and the perfect audience to pitch a game demo.

Over the weekend Stephen had the Belfast-based Wailing Heights team of John Mcfarlane and Rodney McConnell man the table, with lots of support from New Jersey artist Tara O’Connor, who graciously spent her first weekend in Belfast helping us out. It’s a long weekend, so support and shifts from the team was absolutely essential.

Thankfully Q-con also supply snacks and drinks for anyone showcasing at a table, and Friday’s #IndieDevsGetFreePizza is one of the best indie-encouraging schemes I’ve heard of!

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We had bit of a technical nightmare setting up. Regretfully not testing a single-monitor setup in the studio, AND packing the wrong wireless mouse, we were unable to access the game on setup. We borrowed an 2nd monitor and mouse from one of the con organisers, and were able to quickly reconfigure the set-up, but it made for a nervous first half hour. Next time, we’ll be taking all our packed gear and setting it up in a different room within our studio, to make certain we’ve packed everything we need to run the demo smoothly.

Showcasing the demo was a great opportunity to test the control mechanics, which we’d had a lot of discussion and experimenting with in-house. We expected to have to talk players thought each button, but for the most part, they worked the controller effortlessly. One change we will be making immediately to the game, is a control mechanism that prevents players accidentally skipped over dialogue choices by continually hitting ‘A’ in an effort to fast-forward the dialogue, but inadvertently auto-selecting the first dialogue choice. Rodney also had his notepad on hand to note any other bugs that popped up, and has a small list of collider gaps and camera twitches to fix.

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The demo seem to to take players between 5-10 minutes to complete depending on which characters they chose to talk to first, and of course, initial dialogue choices. This seemed to be the perfect amount of time to hold players attention at the con, and we only had a few people who didn’t finish the demo. We had the odd ‘I’m more of a Fallout kind of guy’, and while obviously not our target audience, we’re grateful for those con-goers trying new genres and giving our demo a play!

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Having a physical sketchbook (and promise of an early-access demo) to give away in exchange for an email sign-up sheet was a great idea in retrospect, as we ended up with about 70 new email addresses to add to our newsletter, with a lot of players anticipating a more polished version of the demo later in the year.

There were also a few YouTube content creators browsing the show floor, and we took part in a few interviews, so hopefully the PR aspect of the show will continue over the next few weeks, and we’ll post them here as they pop up.

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Q-con is local to our studio, so it’s pretty easily to recommend the short trip, but as a gamer-centric convention, the feedback from player-testing alone was invaluable. With an expanded email list, and postitive feedback over the weekend, I think we’ve also picked up a couple of fans along the way.

Big thanks to everyone who played the demo over the weekend. If you didn’t get a chance to play, or pick up one of the sketchbooks, you can still sign up for the email list and we’ll send them digitally later in the year.