PAX Prime 2014 marked the first time our team has ever shown a game at PAX. Four days, 32 hours of public demos, plus a whole lot of networking. Nevermind the travel, setup time, and two days of PAX Dev prior. It was a heck of trip and we’re only just know getting back on our feet.
Going into PAX, we had a build that had been heavily tested thanks to our exhibition at GenCon just two weeks earlier. The game was solid, our promo materials were printed, flights were booked. Everything was looking great! Except we didn’t really know what to expect as far as our expo space was concerned. We had manage to get a coveted spot in the Indie MEGABOOTH, but we were part of the tabletop section. It’s a more communal area where a bunch of tabletop games share an area about the size of four normal booths. Our game is a bit bizarre and can sometimes take up a lot of space, so we were really anxious that things would be too cramped. On top of that, our attempts to send out cold emails to press to drum up appointments went largely unanswered. In short, we were trying to keep our expectations low for the show.
When we got to our space, we were able to quickly find a setup that worked for both us and our lovely tabletop neighbours (by the way - check out Grow and Slap .45!). It turns out that the tabletop section was actually smack right in the middle of the MEGABOOTH itself, so there’s no way we would be hurting for foot traffic. Things were looking good!
Then PAX opened. If you’re never been on the expo floor at PAX, it will be difficult to describe just how crowded and loud it is. Just wandering the floor is draining. Seeing the crowd filling in at 10am was both exciting and nerve-wracking.
Early that opening morning, Giant Bomb came by to play. Jeff, Patrick, and Alex were able to save Dan on the starter bomb. Then, fuelled by their success and overconfidence, they stepped up to “normal” mode. Patrick the defuser was not so lucky. They even talked about the game later that night on their after-show.
Later on, the Game Grumps stopped by (incognito! Sneaky Grumps) to try their hand at defusing bomb. This was the result: #bestgameatpax. And they too had great things to say about it on their panel later that evening.
We were pretty busy that first day. At no point were we waiting for players, but looking back it was definitely the calm before the storm. By day two, word about the game had spread and players were showing up saying they had heard about the game from their friends or from a panel they went to. We didn’t have much room for a line but eventually Enforcers (who should probably be called “Lifesavers”) were managing and capping our line for us.
Some players lined up multiple times, across multiple days. Having attending a few PAXes in the past, we realize how precious a resource time is, so this really meant a lot to us. Everyone was incredibly friendly and we had some fun conversations with gamers in line about all sorts of games that just made the whole thing fly by.
Chris Kohler from Wired came by to play and had some great things to say about his “clear PAX 2014 Game of the Show”. Indiegames.com had a similar experience. Indie Game Insider recorded their playthrough and even wrote up a play-by-play transcript of their 5-seconds-to-spare defusal. Polygon played, IGN played, ID@Xbox played (and @iocat saved them all), FanGamer played, Electric Playground played (and shot some video that we haven’t been able to find online yet). Tested played, talked about it, and wrote about it. We couldn’t even keep track of all the coverage. The response was simply phenomenal. It was almost overwhelming.
How We Ran The Demo
While this was our first PAX as exhibitors, we had some ideas for how to best make use of our time with players. Our game can really only be experienced in five minute chunks as players need to commit to playing a full round for the game to work. This meant we had a clear format to each “session” with a group of players. We got players to fill out a card as we explained the manual and the headset. The card included the names of the defuser and the experts who were trying to save him/her. It also included a place to mark off the settings the round was played at, including the difficulty and how much time they had. On the right was a space to scribble down notes about the wires and symbols being described to them. After the round had ended one way or another, the players earned a big “DEFUSED” or “EXPLODED” stamp for their postcard, which they kept as a souvenir of their experience. The postcard of course included all of the relevant Twitter and website information for our game.
(Photo by @janakinsman)
Our goal was to have the postcard act as a bit of a momento for players. It was practical, because the space for notes prevent (most) players from writing on the manual. It was useful, because it included our vital information for social media links and how to contact us. But above all, it gave players a way to talk about the game with their friends. We would see groups gather after a round, pointing excitedly at the notes they had made, trying to reconcile their asymmetric experiences, and reliving the game.
By the fourth day, the stamps themselves had become a huge hit.
(Photo by @Burning_Luke)
All in all, we could not have asked for a better PAX. We met some fantastic people and I think we really made some great fans too. The sheer enthusiasm and love of gaming we saw throughout the weekend was renergizing, even as the demands of exhibiting wore on us. We are exhausted but somehow refreshed.
A huge thanks needs to be given to everyone at the Indie MEGABOOTH: all of the organizers, all of our fellow exhibitors, all of the sponsors (thanks Cards Against Humanity!), and all of the tireless Enforcers. Thanks to the attendees who stopped by, and thanks to everyone who gave us feedback and helped us spread the word about the game.
As always, you can keep up with us best on Twitter @KeepTalkingGame (or Facebook or our mailing list. Or all three!)
Until next time!
ps: we stole your sign!