How indie games can get the best marketing exposure at expos

Gamescom’s just wrapped up in Cologne, PAX heads to Seattle this weekend, and EGX and the Paris Games Week hit Birmingham and, uh, Paris respectively next month.

It’s that time of year where thousands of indie developers around the world head to expos to showcase their latest creation. But with booths at many such events costing thousands, if not tens of thousands, how can indies get the best bang for their buck?

Here are our five top tips – for getting the most out of your marketing, and more besides.

1. Go with a plan

Expos and other events can be a great place for indie developers to achieve all sorts of goals. From highly visible marketing to invaluable testing, shows are an opportunity to get thousands of pairs of eyes in front of your game across a weekend.

But with so many opportunities, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to take all of them, and ending up with none. Try to focus your attention on one or two high-priority goals for the weekend. Maybe it’s to reach a certain number of mailing list sign-ups; perhaps it’s to meet journalists and generate hands-on preview coverage. By ensuring you have clear objectives, and a plan to help you achieve them, you’ll keep your eyes on the prize and have a tangible way to measure the show’s success.

2. Take a team

“It’s just standing on a booth all day and talking to people. How hard can it be?”

That’s the attitude I had the first time I worked at a games expo. By the end of the first day, I was exhausted, and ready to go home. Three more days loomed out in front of me. It was hellish.

Spending all day on your feet, telling people about your game, herding excitable players to the right screen, helping them when they get stuck, rebooting after a crash, heading off for a while to meet a journalist or influencer, having cameras shoved in your face for interviews… it becomes very tiring very quickly.

To ensure you’re still on top form by the end of the event, make sure you have enough people with you to handle the footfall and allow you to take regular breaks. If you’re a micro-studio or solo developer, this might mean roping in some mates – but it’ll be worth the beers you have to buy them!

3. Be memorable

At the biggest shows, there are literally hundreds of games vying for people’s attention – and in a typical day, an attendee might only get the chance to check out five or ten. Besides, the big publishers spend millions on extravagant booths, designed to get people heading straight for their next big triple-A release.

As an indie developer, it can be easy to feel lost in the crowd. The trick is to ensure your small booth is as memorable as it can be. Superb artwork is a prerequisite. But try to take things further and make it easy for people to spread the word. Add an unusual, visible physical item to your stand, encouraging it to become a landmark among the masses. Host a competition and encourage entrants to tell their friends. Have flyers or, better, merch such as badges and t-shirts to hand out. When people wear them, they’ll be doing some of your marketing for you!

At EGX last year with our client Bedtime Digital Games, we hosted a ‘guerrilla gig’ on the stand, in which Figment designer and composer Niels Sorensen from the Danish band Stoj Snak performed an acoustic set to celebrate the launch of the game. As people gathered round to find out what was going on, we handed out slices of cake and glasses of champagne, and live streamed the event on YouTube – creating an additional buzz to time with the game’s appearance on Steam.

4. Don’t head home after the show

At the end of a hard day’s work at an expo, you’ll want nothing more than to head back to the hotel and sleep for as long as possible. Unfortunately, to get the most out of the event, you’ll need to push through the fatigue.

Most expos feature accompanying nightlife – from community drinks to industry parties and beyond. These can be an excellent place to meet potential fans, influencers and journalists, away from the bustle of the show floor.

Unless the event is specifically tailored towards it, resist the temptation to simply pitch your game to anyone who’ll listen. Instead, get to know people in a meaningful way, make some new friends, and see what opportunities may come up later down the line. A nice chat with a games journalist, about something other than your game, can pay dividends at a later date when you pitch your game for review, and they remember your witty conversation and top bantz and think, yeah, go on then, I’ll give this a go.

5. You don’t need a booth to get the most out of expos!

Getting a stand at a gaming expo can be expensive. What many indie developers don’t realise is that they can boost their marketing and PR without one.

From a PR perspective in particular, there are plenty of opportunities to be had with a standard guest ticket and a laptop. Email some journalists and influencers in advance, and arrange to meet for a coffee to show them what you’re working on. Attend networking events and become a known face to those who might be able to help you later down the line.

Give and receive business cards, and follow up after the show. Even if you don’t stump for a booth, you’ll find that being present at industry and community events contributes to making you a known name and face – a real bonus the next time you have something to talk about.

So there you have it. Five top tips for expos. They’re fun, and exhausting, and horrific, and smelly, and brilliant, and so, so useful. Go get ’em!

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