Top Tips for Exhibiting Your Game At The UK's Largest Gaming Event
Any die hard gamer will tell you that September holds a special place in their calendar due to EGX, the UK's largest games fair. Over four days more than 70,000 gamers descend on the NEC Birmingham to be amongst the first to discover upcoming titles from both the Triple A studios and indie developers alike. Known for its bold mixture of debuting commercial titles like Call of Duty: WWII and Assassin’s Creed Origins alongside innovative indie games, over the years EGX has established itself as the place to showcase your game as an upcoming developer.
Last year I was fortunate to have the opportunity to showcase my debut game Into the Black there. Made as part of my Master’s degree at the National Film and Television School, the game is a third person VR game set during the infamous wildfires in Yellowstone Park during the late 80s. What happened next was the stuff dreams are made of. When we first arrived at Birmingham International, both myself and the games designer-developer Naomi Kotler, were infused with a sense of excitement and blind panic at what people would think when playing the demo of our game. We never expected to walk away from the festival with two nominations for the Unity Awards, including being the only UK student game selected that year, or universal praise from several of the industry’s top publications such as Upload VR who cited it as one of their top 50 games for 2017. This year I’ve been invited back by NFTS Games to help the current students to unveil their graduation projects. To say that I’m blown away by the innovation and quality of their work is an understatement to say the least. Having spent the past few days engrossed in talking all things games, it got me thinking about what my top tips for exhibiting a game at EGX are, especially when working with a limited budget.
As an indie developer the prospect of exhibiting your game at a major gaming event can often feeling pretty daunting, and leave you questioning whether it’s possible to stand out compared to the bigger titles that have multi-million pound marketing budgets. Over the past few years there’s been a noticeable shift in the industry towards independent titles. EGX has been a particularly vocal champion of this with both the Leftfield Collection and Rezzed sections at the festival demonstrating the best and brightest new talent on offer. Personally, I think this trend is going to continue for the foreseeable future and with some careful planning it’s possible to punch above your weight.
I’ve broken my top tips down into the following sections: Prep, On The Day and Press so that it’s hopefully easier to find what you’re after.
- It’s always tempting to keep adding new features right up until the day. Last minute additions are often the ones with the most bugs. When prepping your demo for EGX, set yourself a cut-off date for new content and focus on honing what you have. It’s better to have 10 minutes of great content, than 30 mins that are plagued by annoying glitches. Sods law is that the moment your game breaks it’ll be right in front of a journalist, so best to play it safe and not risk the embarrassment.
- Try to hold a playtest before going to EGX. Even if it’s just amongst a few friends their advice can be invaluable and should any bugs pop up, you’ve got that crucial time to fix them before it goes on show at the event.
- Set a time limit for your demo. It might sound stupid, but do you want 1 player to spend five hours playing your game, or 50 players to spend 15 minutes each playing? Personally I’d aim for the demo to be around 10 minutes. It gives you enough time to give the player a good sense of what the game is about and show off your skills.
- Always, always check the equipment you’ll be taking to EGX beforehand. It’s also worth bringing a hard drive with a copy of the latest build on it. That way if anything goes wrong you’ve immediately got a back up to hand.
- If you’re using handsets, always make sure to bring spare batteries. It might sound like super obvious advice, but good luck finding anywhere nearby that sells them!
On The Day:
- Make sure to get to there nice and early so you have plenty of time to set up your stall. First entry for guests into the NEC is at 10am.
- There is free wifi available throughout the presentation hall. However, depending on where your stand is it can often be quite slow and patchy. Sneaky tip: Outside the presentation hall is a Weatherspoons. All Weatherspoons pubs are connected to “The Cloud” which offers free fast wifi. So why not grab a quick drink whilst fire off those press releases…
- There are a number of places to get food inside the NEC and within EGX itself. Like most events, the food tends to be on the pricier side. I’d consider bringing food with you, or having a look online beforehand about where best to get food. Also, always keep a few bottles of water at your stand. It’s surprisingly tiring work standing around for four days.
- Always bring cash as there aren’t many cash points around and the ones you do find will normally charge you to withdraw cash.
- Wear comfortable shoes. Seriously. After 4 days on your feet the last thing you need is blisters.
- If you’re keen to try out any games, try walking around before the event opens and exhibitors are still setting up. Most are quite happy to let you have a go whilst it’s still quiet.
- Sometimes you’ll get poor feedback which can be heart breaking after you’ve spent months perfecting each aspect of your game. Try to view all feedback as constructive and assess whether the feedback is based on personal taste or if it reflects a genuine concern with the gameplay. Often the most valuable thing from exhibiting your game isn’t publicity, but the feedback that allows you to make improvements before it goes on sale.
- When the hall first opens most people will stampede towards the latest Playstation, Xbox and Nintendo titles. Don’t worry, people often go straight for the “Must Play” titles to try and beat the queues and claim bragging rights that they played it before their mates. Once they’ve had chance to try out the game, they often then go searching for other titles to play and will often be quite excited to chat to developers about what they’re working on.
- Write up a list of journalists and publications you’d love to come and try out your game. Spend a couple of days researching online who the most relevant contact is at each publication and send them an invite to come play the game. Make sure to include a press release and some high quality images from the game. Better yet, why not write to your favourite publication offering them the first look at your trailer or content? Journalists love exclusive content as it not only makers it an easier pitch to their editors, but also helps them to stand out amongst their competitors.
- Always send out any invites or press releases a few days in advance. You want whoever is reading it to give it their undivided attention, leaving it until the last minute means you risk them casually glancing at it whilst they are standing in a queue to play a different game.
- Everyone at EGX will be wearing a wristband. Press used to be given a white wristband, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for them. It’s worth noting that this covers everyone from major publications right through to Youtubers with small followings. The important thing is to treat them all equally. Their support, whether they have 20 followers or 5 million followers, is what enables us to pursue our passion of making games for a living and that’s something we should always be grateful for.
- Some press may ask to film themselves playing the demo or ask to record a quick interview with you. It’s worth deciding beforehand if you’re comfortable with them filming the gameplay as often it may not be the finished version. You could alternatively offer them a copy of your trailer or high res images instead to accompany their article. Visual content is king in today’s media landscape.
- The PR agency Indigo Pearl is responsible for validating all journalists who attend EGX. If you explain that you are attending as an exhibitor and ask nicely they will often send out your press release to all media delegates attending EGX.
- There’s an entire audience that view the releases and announcements from EGX online. It’s worth dedicating time towards making sure you have great digital materials you can post about throughout the 4 days the festival runs.
- Press & industry members attending EGX often update their Twitter handle to say “Bob Anybody @EGX”. It’s worth checking each day to see who is listing themselves with the @EGX handle, and potentially inviting them to come play your game.
- EGX lasts for 4 days, as silly as it sounds most gamers go for all out publicity blitzes on the first day. By lunch time they’ve run out of new content and spend the rest of EGX recycling old images, try to stagger the material you release so people have a reason to come back and check for new updates.
Most importantly, enjoy it! EGX is a mad few days, but you’ll have a great time and meet loads of wonderful people! If you’re around make sure to drop by the NFTS Games stand and say hello.