How tinyBuild won PAX South (again)
The show is winding down. We need to do this right now. Grab those packed lanyards and start unwrapping them. We need at least 50. Meanwhile I upload the Party Hard soundtrack to my phone locally and yank one of the battery-powered speakers out. This is happening. We're pulling off the dumbest stunt at PAX South.
Yulia starts leading with a dance. Luke is carrying the giant speaker phone with the Party Hard OST playing. Lerika is getting everyone into the line. Me & Mike are running around filming it. We have a giant, absurd, loud conga line going through PAX South, and it was glorious.
This was PAX South -- here's the full post-mortem.
Last year was a bit odd, as we decided to ignore everything people know about exhibiting games at conventions, and invent our own playbook. On a shoestring budget, somehow we were able to bring flavor and obnoxiously orange setups to the shows, and people responded really well. Here's what we did with our biggest, brightest booth so far.
It's important to figure out several things before you decide on a layout. If you're ordering carpet from the venue, you're already screwed and have to plan ahead -- and odds are you might get walled in by someone next to you. The issue with ordering carpet is that you need to laydown power before the carpet gets there, and you can't change power layout after it's done. You can only make assumptions based on the map before build up begins.
Often the final layout is ever so slightly different from what was on the map, and more often I'd make the wrong assumptions on where traffic would flow from. Here's a general idea of what to watch out for:
Where is the main walkway? The main entrance that leads into the hall will always have this one packed walkway, and you want to be facing towards it
Is anyone next to you going to build walls? If so, that aisle might be dead and worth walling off as well
Are there going to be large-ass speakers with music blasting out of them? (Sorry Devolver...)
Is there a great viewpoint when people are getting close to your booth? Is your logo clearly visible? Is there a centerpiece people will instantly find interesting? Do you have bright lights? Do you have instantly understandable activities?
We avoid the issue of carpet by using these stupid orange tiles on the floor. They're soft so we don't need padding, and we can easily pull them up to laydown wires. You really shouldn't use them on top of carpet though - they'll slide off. Also, if it's cold outside you'll get lots of static shock. Main walkway was to the south of our booth, and traffic would be coming from the west. So we decided to face the booth south-west, putting a giant projector screen with SpeedRunners in the center. We also have this giant Blimp tower with game logos on the side, and a spinning orange tinyBuild logo at the top. We put that on the south-east corner that'd be most visible for people walking through the main aisle. We positioned our "Truss systems" (multiplayer walls that hold 2 screens and form a shop area) on the sides, and our single player kiosks on the far east side. The closest to entrance corner had our punching arcade machine, and a couple of iPad kiosks next to it.
This created a huge open area in the center of the booth with activities on all sides, and in the center for the screen. It's very important to make your booth feel inviting and cozy. So we ended up hanging out in the middle all day, chatting to people, fans, press, media, partners, etc. Don't do inwards facing booths. It's stupid. It's uninviting. It feels crammed and gives people anxiety about walking in, and then feeling trapped and obligated to finish demos. If your showbuilds suck - the best way to check is to make it easy to be in and out. Here's what the user experience was for our booth:
Walk into the hall
See giant orange spinning blimp in the distance
See giant orange lit up hanging sign for tinyBuild (people actually used these for meeting points)
See giant SpeedRunners projector screen
See people punching an arcade machine bag, with a line leading up to it
Recognize giant Punch Club logo on the blimp
See lots of loud multiplayer action all-round, alongside our newly announced single player games
Hangout for hours, trying out all the games, punching the arcade machine, talking to us, participating in tournaments, and leave having a good feeling
Many people kept on coming back, especially our SpeedRunners fans. I also love how well ClusterTruck formed a crowd.
For our Party Hard booth, we got these over the top speakers with LED lights that illuminated the whole ceiling. They were also loud.
For Road to Ballhalla, we plastered the booth with LED lights that responded to the soothing music. The lights were bright and in your face, making it a very trance-like experience. It was packed. So were the other single player games.
The layout was perfect and the fun began.
The tinyBuild team really likes to have fun. We don't want to have "normal" jobs, otherwise we'd be working at our old corporate jobs. Yulia was in charge of our shop area and is really good at dancing. This caused situations like this:
Then the business began. We are really good at working with streamers, and since it's super easy to spot us, the facetime with streamers was really important. I ended up bouncing all of the ideas we have for the coming 6 months -- and iterating on them to make them better. All 3 days were non-stop chatting.
What went right
Logistics and building up 3 days ahead (we started on Tuesday)
Having enough time to build up means we can brainstorm a lot about activities we can do, layout, etc. It also means we don't need to scramble for things. Logistics-wise, we shipped everything to the convention center and that helped immensely. Last year I had to drive around like an idiot collecting shipments from different locations. Don't do that - ship everything to your house, package it up, and send to the convention center on a pallet. It's expensive but will save you precious energy and time.
Having an inviting layout & activities
Our layout was super open and friendly and inviting. People loved that. It felt like there was always something to do and no obligations to stay. Tournaments, punching competitions, all of this worked.
We did a good job at getting more swag this time, and giving away some of it in tournaments and activities got other people to notice, and actually buy some things. It got silly withÂ the lanyards, because when you went to any PAX South party you'd see people with these super orange lanyards everywhere, shining and looking great to the beat.
The Punching Machine
It stole the show. We rented this punching bag machine that we placed as a showstopper, and the line was huge! We spent all of day 0 punching it, scoring on average over 500-600 points. So we figured 700 would be hard to hit for people, and we'd give away shirts for those who do. We burned through 40 shirts in an hour, and changed that to lanyards. So the whole show was wearing our lanyards.
Spending time on making proper showbuilds that run themselves always pays off. When you don't need to micromanage a station, you can be talking to people and that's important.
We spent an insane amount of effort on building relationships with livestreamers, and being so loud and recognizable - it was easy to find us and say hi. Extremely valuable facetime.
Using laptops instead of micro-PCs
Our tiny steamboxes are great, but all the wiring that comes with it made it a hassle to setup. Also, we had to use fans in our single player kiosks to make sure they don't fry themselves. I had to even drill holes in the sides (yes, glory hole jokes were made) to get some airflow through. Using laptops however makes it so much easier.
What went wrong
Drinking 9 shots of whiskey during teardown
I thought it was a funny idea to start giving everyone shots at the end of the show. Yeah. Of course it was.
Covering our floor with plastic wrap to protect it
We wrapped the tiles in plastic during build up to preserve it, otherwise it gets dirty. This caused massive build up of static electricity, and we all felt it. You'd just rub your feet on the floor a few times and come up to poke someone. Great fun, annoying as hell.
Kids ruining our train prop for Final Station
Kids really like to grab things. So they grabbed our train a lot. We had this train going in circles next to The Final Station demo, and it was used to draw attention to the beta sign up banner. It survived only the first day, and stopped working on the second. Note to self - make props impossible to ruin easily.
Drinking too much
One word - Hurricane. It's a drink. It's strong. And sweet.
All in all, it was well worth it spending a ridiculous amount of time and money on pulling off such a show. I'm still in aftershock of the amount of work, but we got great feedback on how well our new line up of games work at shows, and solidified our brand in the community.