Alright, so some backstory here. I had reached out to DreamHack via their contact form on their website sometime in October (not sure exactly when since I can’t find a message from them saying they received it).
They reached out on November 3rd, wondering if anyone had contacted me yet. If not, they had a few spots open and was wondering if I wanted to showcase our game.
I was like, heck yeah, how much would it cost me? They said that they try to help out Indies as much as possible. The only thing I absolutely had to take care of would be the electricity and table/chairs if I didn’t want to bring my own.
It was a 10x10 booth at a pretty high traffic event for roughly $500 (for booth anyway). I was in. There was some back and forth to see if I could snaggle my way into their “Indie Zone” (which I figured would have the highest traffic), but due to timing (last minute) that was a no-go. I was given booth 716.
I paid the invoice on the 8th. On the 10th, I requested that they fix their expo map to at least state Burgos Games versus Midwest Esports.
I figured they would be able to get it done in 5 days...nope...The whole time it never was updated. So, I did what I had to do and on social media had a photo-shopped map.
So, for the event I wanted to get some banners, business cards and whatever I could. However, due to the timing, a lot of things couldn’t get shipped to me in time. Vistaprint had the retractable banner stand I wanted, but it would arrive late. So I had to go to Staples for my stuff. I’ll list prices towards the end. All the while doing this, I still have to manage the team and do my own work on the project while making sure the demo is as perfect as possible.
I outsourced the Vertical Banner design on Fiverr:
They did a pretty good job to start, I finished it with the icons at the bottom and changing up some of the pictures.
We had an image we’ve been using for horizontal banners so we did an 8' wide one based on this image:
I also hadn’t put up a Steam store page yet (shame on me, I had it on my list of to-do forever). However, I was able to do the page on Tuesday, and have it approved on Wednesday before the expo, so it all worked out… sort of :)
I had already printed out the banners and business cards before the store was approved, so I couldn’t add any icons on the banner or info on the business cards.
Also interestingly enough, I had been waiting forever to get our Discord server verified...that happened on Tuesday. I had the forethought to have a dedicated discord invite link and just have a placeholder URL that would redirect to our Discord server. So this wasn’t very much an issue. But it’s nice to have a discord.gg/NekoGhostJump url now :)
Getting back to Steam, we’ve been approved for launch on Xbox One and PS4 however we have been denied by Nintendo twice so far for release on Switch, even though this would be a perfect game for that platform! I was hoping that by producing some stats over the event (social media impressions, Steam wishlist numbers, etc) I could use them for my third attempt (I never give up BTW, ID@Xbox denied me the first time around, got them on the second)!
Okay, so Wednesday was packing day. I decided to bring two laptops, a 32” TV, and supporting gear. I had planned out the booth by using my living room and taping it off.
Thursday, the 5 hour drive to Atlanta happened, I had decided to skip the Omni Hotel/Dreamhack “deal” they had going and stayed at an Airbnb. I went straight to the DreamHack venue first to get my badge and setup. I go and get my badge...but somehow they ran out of “Exhibitor badges”... now tell me this, how is that even possible when you know how many exhibitors are going to be present, even if some don’t show up, you would have extras. I wasn’t the only one who didn’t have a proper “Exhibitor badge”, it kinda pissed me off having this blank badge, a “Nobody badge”.
Originally I tried to get a team member to come, but no one was available. My lovely wife said she would come but she had to work on Friday (she drove there after work). So I did all the setup by myself, which honestly, since I had planned it out already, was pretty easy. I immediately noticed an issue with my location. It was in an odd corner hidden behind two huge walls. I was starving and wanted to check out my Airbnb so I put it on the backburner. I grabbed a sub from Publix and headed over to the place I’d be staying at. It took a little bit to get into the place itself (it had like double security, always felt like I was in prison). But it was very nice. After eating and showering, my mind wandered a bit about the location (and the fact that the expo map was still wrong), so I started looking for influencers among the people tweeting about DreamHack Atlanta. I found a few and tweeted, all responded that they would show up! All but one ended up showing during the weekend, but the ones that did were amazing!
Day 1 (Friday)
Woke up at 7AM, brushed my teeth, ate a hashbrown breakfast thing, brushed my teeth again, then got to the venue around 8:10. I thought I would be able to get something for breakfast there. Well, after getting through security and setting up my booth, I was hungry and I went to find some food, but nothing was open! Luckily I brought some snacks to eat throughout the day if needed, and it was eaten.
The exhibits didn’t open up until 12PM, so basically after setting up my booth I just walked around to get my bearings. Interestingly enough, a lot of the prime real estable “Indie Zone” booths were empty (and even stayed empty the rest of the day). I found my college professor (I went to SCAD for Game Development after 12 years in the Marine Corps) trying to find me, we chatted up, he played our game, but he had other stuff to do so he didn’t get to play much. I actually meant to play his game (he was there representing his own company Garage Collective showcasing Theta Legion, a VR game), but honestly, I had my hands full all weekend.
So, 12PM happens, I chill in front of my booth for about 10 minutes, there’s definitely traffic moving around the expo, I clearly see and hear people...they just weren’t coming AT ALL in front of my booth, there was literally no traffic in that lane (and honestly, it was the same the whole weekend, just some stragglers every once in awhile). So, let me preface with that this was the first time I’ve showcased my own game (and so it was the first time Neko Ghost, Jump! was showcased to the public). I showcased another project I had worked on before, but it was VR and I had a pretty good spot.
I had a decision to make, remember I am by myself on Day 1, I had to formulate some strategy to get people into those cold seats, take down playtest notes, help when needed, but still also direct more traffic into the seats, keeping them warm.
I went with the simplest method I could think of… the hustle. I ran out into the busy lanes, talked fast, loud, and persuaded the shit out of everyone to try this random ass game in this random spot. And it actually worked out pretty well…
Green = high traffic areas. Red = Bad things for me. The blue spots were where I would try to find my prey, and as I walked back to the booth, I would talk about the game. I’m not going to lie, this was pretty tough regardless as each time I had to leave the booth unattended to find more people. I tried my best to never leave if there was someone in a seat, unless they had a firm grasp on the game and the seat next to them was open, even then I still would only venture up top. I would go to the farthest points only when both seats were empty. I continued this tactic all day, not eating lunch, partially because I couldn’t afford to but also I was pumped up and kinda forgot to. Some of the folks I tweeted out to the night before showed up, and a few brought some friends as well.
A couple of fellow SCAD alumni (Eric Scherper/Tyler Burgett from Origami Whale Games, creators of Danger The Game, a tabletop card game), found me while I was in the middle of a scout/intercept pitch. They said they were pretty impressed with how I was handling the whole situation.
Amazingly, every single person who sat down to play the game had a lot of fun...I am not tooting my own horn here. Positive responses from everyone, all demographics. I ended up grabbing up 63 people that day to play the game. I had filled up two pages of mailing list, and about ⅓ page of the Influencers List. Honestly, my main targets were anything that said Press or Special Guests (as I quickly realized these were streamers!) My hawk vision was on point, snatching them up as much as possible, I got rejected a few times, but never let up. When I couldn’t find them, I grabbed up anyone to fill up the seats. I also had a lot of folks that just wanted to watch or promised to come back another day (they all also amazingly did). Some of the watchers even signed up on the mailing list or wishlisted on Steam. I only ended up with 29 wishlists that day though.
Sometime during the night, I had kicked my vertical banner stand, causing the grommets from the cheap banner’s material to rip out. I repaired it the best I could with what I had.
By the end of the night, when the adrenaline died down...I was starving...someone invited me to a mixer, which luckily had food :) I talked to a few folks around the room, showing off some gameplay video on the 3rd laptop (ultrabook). I talked to a few DreamHack HQ folks, they said they were going to stop by the booth, sadly they didn’t.
But anyway, I made the best out of a crappy situation with my booth situation and talked to as many people as I could that day, then went to snuggle with the wifey bringing some Cook Out with me. I also realized sometime that day that while I had been handing out business cards they had no clue where to find me after going to the bathroom or wherever (if I were at a far spot and they were hesitant, since this wasn’t a foolproof tactic), so I had started writing in the booth number in the top corner, and also added “Wishlist on Steam” at the bottom (though I did that a lot earlier in the day). I brought back like 100 or so cards and we both ran through them adding the booth number and “wishlist us” before bed.
Day 2 (Saturday)
We woke up around 9, got there around 10 and walked around a bit then setup the booth again. I figured the only way to make it through the day with as good or better results was to do the same tactic as the day before. But this time I could double it! Or so I thought. We found out pretty fast that my wife was not cut out for it (at least not yet). So, I tasked her with staying by the booth, keeping track of people, helping them out when needed, writing down any issues in the game, while I ran out, stalked and snatched up my prey.
Eventually, she opened up a bit, and by the end of the day she was pulling in people herself (though she still kept in close proximity to the booth).
Saturday had a crapton more people than Friday, so even though it was still terrible, there was some minimal traffic going on in that aisle. It also helped that the guys next door opened up shop and had some big Jenga tower that peaked a bit of interest throughout the day (especially when it fell and made a lot of noise). One of the “HQ” or “Production” members noticed our predicament with visibility and was trying to figure out a solution for us. Speaking of staff, one of the “Crew” guys (sorry, can’t remember your name ;( ) was attentive and always asked when he came around if I needed anything (like standing by the booth while I went for a pee break, etc), thanks “Crew guy”!
We brought in quite a lot of influencers, and were one short of a full page that day. Another page of the regular mailing list was done as well. We got 14 more wishlists, for 43 total. And 59 people total new players.
Day 3 (Sunday)
We didn’t get to sleep in too much, exhibition opened up one hour earlier, 11AM. The night before I had texted the DreamHack Community Manager Tom for some visibility help. He sent out a tweet before exhibitions opened up! Thanks Tom! A few people that I pulled in said they saw the tweet and couldn’t find us. So, while people probably knew about this awesome game and they wanted to play it, they couldn’t find the booth, even with the map and number!
Well, remember that HQ/Production guy (sorry, I wish I could remember your name, but you know who you are!) brought some crayons, so that he could draw our booth number on the floor. I was like...wtf...that’s cool, gimme! Well, I wrote it as best as possible, but the crayons didn’t do much sadly, too much glare from the lights.
Tom actually stopped by our booth to say hi, that was cool. He didn’t get a chance to play the demo.
It was a slow day, but my wife was a rockstar and she had the pitch down pat. We ended up with 42 unique people playing that day and only 6 wishlists (49 total) but amazingly another two pages full for mailing list (these had 20 spots each page) and ⅓ of the influencer list. A lot of the mailing list signups came from people that were hovering and didn’t have time to wait for the other players to be done with their turn.
It was pretty much dead after 4PM, but we stuck around until 5:30PM then wrapped things up since we wanted to get home at a decent time (and have a proper meal along the way).
Grand Total Stats
- 164 unique first time players
- 92 people signed up for our regular mailing list
- 23 influencers signed up on their list
- 49 total Steam wishlists
- 2 rage quitters (who still liked the game, but said they just sucked at platformers)
- 4 pages of feedback from the players or observation
10x10 Booth $0
Electricity (10 Amps) $350
Table (8’) $21
Chair (x2) $32
Pre-paid 3-days parking $34
Additional Car Parking on Sunday $20
Airbnb (3 nights) $480
Steam App $100
PVC Pipe for stand $29
Staples - Banners and Business Cards $135
Extra Controller $20
Sony MDR-ZX110NC headphones x2 $50
Laptop Cooling Pads $50
Laptop sleeves $24
Laptop locks $47
TOTAL = $1785
Was it worth it?
I think it was a great learning experience overall for not only myself and the wife, but also the company as a whole and the game itself. I came out feeling very confident that Neko Ghost, Jump! was at a very good place as it was being received very well, something that will most likely turn much more of a profit than I had anticipated. Meeting and interacting with everyone who stopped by the booth was beyond amazing.
The game was able to get more visibility by those who would never have probably heard of it and we were able to confirm our target audience. I was able to reconnect with people I hadn’t seen in years and made plenty of new connections as well. Lastly, some of these costs that went into this event can be reused for future ones.
What I didn’t like
That ridiculous mile high/wide wall from Geico Gaming (btw, if you need "gaming insurance" that's what they offer) that basically blocked us off completely from one of the main entrance points of view. The wall north of us blocked by another vendor didn’t help much either.
Honestly, I’m not sure what I was hoping for exactly after learning about our predicament. I definitely don’t think they should put any games in that “no man’s land” aisle and/or not allow for such a huge wall to block other booths like that.
Also the cheap ass banner from Staples. Sigh. Guess I’ll be getting a premium material next time, along with a retractable banner setup.
- I will be asking what booths are available and where they are located on a map from now on, especially if I am going to be paying for one.
- I will be looking far ahead a bit with future conventions and see what they have for Indies and register in advance.
- I will make sure that I buy only the best quality materials for banners so I am not wasting money on that front.
- I will plan ahead with trying to get influencers to the booth days prior to an event
- I will plan ahead with merchandise so I can give out swag
- I will ensure that all marketing materials give the best information possible and whatever call of action is needed
I hope this helps someone else out. If you’re going to DreamHack, go part of the Indie Playground, if you can’t, don’t go at all. Honestly, it would be better to save up for either another DH, or another convention. For me it was worth it since it was our first public showing, we learned a lot from it and we have money set aside for marketing. If you don’t, then don’t waste what you don’t have.
Neko Ghost Jump!