Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Flock of Dogs at PAX East 2018

Ok, so the trick to blogging, for me, is to never talk to friends. Because now I feel like I'm repeating myself to my readership of approximately 4.5 people.

The night before PAX, Playcrafting held a free event called Pax Pre-Gamer.  I did this last year and it was well attended and a good time. It was a good event this year too. I was situated next to the games that would be sharing the Playcrafting booth with me at PAX and, based off the response to my game, I had never felt so good about my game. I met a few genuine fans who told me they had been following the development of my game. A guy with a steam library of 2000+ games liked my game and talked to me about it for several minutes and even messaged me on Twitter later. Another guy whispered to me that my game was the most interesting game at the event. I had a friend come by and say hello and then peace out because I was too busy to hang out with her. I felt like my game was one of the most popular games there (always tough to judge your relative performance). Near the end of the night, a woman pointed at my game and the flying whale from like 20 feet away and cried out, "What is that? I want to play that." And she and her friend played it until the lights at the venue came on and then asked if I'd be showing at PAX and said she'd come by. Am I just reciting all this anecdotal evidence to convince myself that my game is cool? I don't know. But I felt great that night and believed in the success of my game more than I ever had.

Ok. So cool. Even a cat peeing on my jacket in the middle of the night dampened only my jacket and not my spirits!

I arrived at PAX (prior to its opening to the public):

Then I made my way to our booth. I say "our booth", because I was part of the Playcrafting booth along with:

Feeble Force
Bunny Blocker
Just One Boss and Juggle Panic
Return to the Stars
The Ultimate Clapback

And before I go further, I should also explain our booth layout. I was to share a 10x20 booth with 5 other games each day. Costing $500/day. Before I committed to paying for this partial booth space, I had expressed my concerns to Playcrafting that Flock of Dogs really only works if you can get 3+ people playing. He showed me this diagram of the PAX show floor and the Playcrafting booth setup:

Our booth was this:

The black bar is a curtain at the top. It's open on the left, right, and bottom. The pink lines are the monitors. The black rectangle would be Playcrafting's table to hand out their goods. We were at the end of an aisle, with the bottom some facing outward to one of the two main walkways of PAX. Then both aisles down the side should have fairly heavy traffic. Players can spill into the walkways as they gather around each game. Should be good? Alas, the booth was closed on 2 sides and this was our layout:

I was the top left table (I MARKE DIT WITH A RED X SO U COULD SEE MY TABLE), because I was the 5th of the 7 devs to show up. So...this was terrible for Flock of Dogs.

Booth photo:

Do you see my TV back there? Next to my banner? All lonely. There's also a table with a game directly in front of it, where the plaid red table cloth is hanging.

When I brought up to Playcrafting that they said it'd be open on three sides, Playcrafting told me that PAX had told them it was to be open on three sides. And that "griping goes up."
I said, "This is me 'griping up'."
He said, "If PAX gives us any money back back, I'll be sure to distribute among the devs fairly."


I complained, but really, as I told myself, I wasn't there for the gaming peasanty!
Mua Hahaha!
I was there for the capital P Press!
I had chosen Thurs-Sat, because Thursday should be ideal for press!
In fact, Thurs had PRESS-ONLY from 9 am - 10 am!

But 0 press came to the Playcrafting booth in the PRESS-ONLY hour.

At 10 am, PAX did open up the grubby public. Here's a series of texts I sent my buddy, Dave, that morning.

(10:42 am) Max: 1 person has played flock of dogs. Other than yours truly.
(10:42 am) Max: So 24 hrs of booth time. for 1500
(10:43 am) Max: Means....I'm paying $62.50 an hour.
(10:43 am) Max: Been here 1.75 hours
(10:43 am) Max: $109.37
(10:44 am) Max: For that player
(11:03 am) Max: 2.5 people have played fod
(11:44 am) Max: 4.5
(11:45 am) Max: Plus two devs sharing playcraftings booth
(11:57 am) Max: Humble bundle game scout game by. Took some notes on my game. Gave me a card said feel free to reach out close to launch.
(11:57 am) Max: He wasn't a very enthusiastic fellow tho.

So the Humble Bundle thing was somwhat exciting. However, isn't that for after you've released your game and it's been out for a year and then to generate some buzz you give it away for free and hope people donate to you? I did notice he only briefly played one other game at our booth and then left. Which, is weird to feel good about, because I became friends with my  boothmates, but there was unspoken competition.

I had had some foreboding that press was going to ignore me. After committing to paying for a spot at the Playcrafting booth, I'd received a copy of the PAX press list. I was nervous and excited. I emailed like 80-100 slightly customized emails to the press. I only heard back from a few. This was when I began to think I'd made a mistake paying for PAX. However, I held onto to hope that my other boothmates would bring press by, that some press would naturally just make their rounds to random booths, and that the Playcrafting organization would have some real pull. But nope.

Aside from that Humble Bundle rep, one other press person came by on Thursday. A sophomore from BU that had responded to my emails. She works for BU's radio station. She took photos of me and interviewed me for a paper in her class. Maybe to mention me on the radio show, which is not a gaming show or anything, just a college radio station. As soon as she left the booth, my boothmates inquired about her status. I said she was with IGN. 


Maybe Friday would be better? I showed up early. The Playcrafting rep and one other dev and I discussed the booth layout. There was no rectangle table this day, because the card game was showing at another booth. I proposed we line up our tables and game along the edge, all facing outward. I wanted to be on the bottom, facing out (down). Like so:

They thought this looked unprofessional. The Playcrafting rep thought his boss would not be pleased. The Playcrafting rep said he felt like we were sacrificing looking professional for the sake of one, 8-player game. The other dev and the Playcrafting rep voted me down. I made a small protest, but didn't really say everything I was thinking which was that (a) we're indies...real indies (whole blog post unto itself) (b) our booth, regardless of our layout, is the least professional looking booth at PAX that I'd seen and (c) I'd been screwed on Thursday and (d) this is approaching the optimal exposure to passerbys for all our displays...perhaps I could even prove it with maths.

Welp, we went with the professional looking "U" shape, as it was described, tho I believe it to be more of a crescent, you know? Here's my mock up. I was given the choice of being in either of the two middle tables.

Red arrow is me. The green bar is where I placed my banner, yellow is where Hexile's banner was, and orange was where Feeble Force's banner. Hexile told me that a number of people asked him about Flock of Dogs and he tried to direct them inwards, but they'd just get confused. Hahalol. The other issue with this layout is that the inner arc, where people would stand to play the games, is a much smaller arc length, and visibility of the monitors gets super reduced. This also completely under utilizes the bottom side of our booth, which was the side facing the major walkway.

Photo before PAX opened to public (these are the devs awaiting the floor opening up):

Friday was better in terms of popularity of my game. The convention had better attendance as well, but nothing as overwhelming as the stories I'd heard of. But other than the BU sophomore coming back by the booth, zero press folks.

On Saturday, the Feeble Force dev agreed to swap spots with me.

The Ultimate Clapback was back in our booth, at the rectangle table. The dev, bridgs, wasn't showing with us, so it was a little less crowded. The circular table without a monitor was used by the Playcrafting rep for handing out flyers, tho typically he just stood in the middle of the walkways and handed them out.

So Saturday was, by far, my most popular day. I had a woman, before the even begin, walk up and tell me the the flying narwhal and dogs was the most interesting thing she'd seen at PAX.
I said, "Wanna play?"
She said, "Oh no, I don't play video games."
I asked, "So...what are you here?"
She said, "Oh, I'm in the booth next to you [selling video game merchansdise]."

So she'd been my booth neighbor for the past two days and hadn't even seen the whale? Saturday restored my faith in my game as a game that some people do like. I had several repeat players and I had some people tell me it was their favorite game at PAX. So...that meant a lot to me. That anyone would say it's their favorite game of PAX seems like a big deal. I had a father and son say they searched all over PAX to play my game a second time. I had a man email after the show that he'd played my game on Thursday and tried to play on Saturday, but it was too busy, and then he looked for me Sunday and couldn't find my booth (I wasn't exhibting). And some more stuff like that. Oh yeah, the deveoper of Mama Hawk came by and chatted with me a while and was super encouraging. Some other devs played my game and were encouraging. I don't know. No press coverage. Who's going to tell the creator of a game, to their face, they don't find it interesting? Am I grasping at straws, here? Did press walk by my game and dismiss it out of hand? I don't know. I saw one girl with a press badge walk by, whisper something into the ear of a guy playing another game at the Playcrafting booth. I asked her if she wanted to play my game. She turned and just shook her head and walked away.


Was it worth $1500 for 1/6th of a 10x20 booth for 3 days at PAX, that was only open on 2 sides instead of 3 as I was promised? Nope. Was it worth spending like $150 for banner, stand, buttons? Eh. Was the Pre-Gamer event really fun? Yep. Did I really connect with some people and did they have a good time playing my game? Yes. Did I make some fans I wouldn't have otherwise? Yes. Was it good, in terms of future development, to watch so many people play my game? Yeah. If press had played my game at all, whether or not they responded well, would it have been worth it? I DON'T KNOW. Am I embarrassed about spending that much money for what I got? Yeah.

Hard to believe I exhibited at PAX and got 0 articles or write ups or Twitter mentions at all. Is this a big warning sign that my game is going to fail? Maybe.

What I did get was nice, but I've had just as good experiences at events where I could show my game for free, such as Playcrafting's own Pre-Gamer event and Spring Expos. I wouldn't have gone if it weren't in Boston, which is where I lived for the past 7 years and had a free place to stay and tons of friends to visit. So it was really great to be back in Boston for a week.

Also, I just wanted to add that I did have a good time with my boothmates, just hanging out, joking around. I guess another reason people exhibit at conventions is for networking purposes. I mean, none of my boothmates were real industry veterans or anything, but I've got a few new Twitter friends and I've emailed them a bit.


I assume you can post photos of people taken on the floor of PAX without their permission. If not, what kind of a world do we live in.