Hidden Folks Minibooth @ PAX East
April 28, 2016
Hidden Folks was fortunate enough to be selected as part of the IndieMEGABOOTH at PAX East. This article reflects on the game exhibiting there and explains my findings of selling Steam keys and posters at a MINIBOOTH.
Printing Posters in Boston
I called a lot of print shops in boston and decided printed at Boston Pro Print because my contact Suzanne was the only person that responded within a day, out of the 6 shops I tried. This meant that I could have an actual conversation about the quality of the posters with her, which was really important to us. She did a printing test and the posters turned out great. Because of the high costs to print the posters, I ordered ‘only’ 150 A2-sized and 100 A3-sized posters: that turned out to be more than enough.
A closeup of one of the printed Hidden Folks posters.
I thought about many ways to make it easier for people to carry them with them without accidental folds or torn edges, but all my solutions were impossible to do in the tiny minibooth I had. I ended up buying a thousand rubber bands to roll up each poster and put 3 rubber bands around it. It worked well for most people, so I can recommend that.
Tax and merch license
Being a company from the Netherlands, nobody knew what I had to do with tax selling merch at PAX East in Boston, so I simply figured the tax treaty between the US and the Netherlands applied. One other developer mentionned that I might have needed a license to sell merch at PAX East, but I couldn’t find anything about that on the internet, nor the PAX East website, nor in the exhibitor agreement.
Sell the game first and foremost
I figured I needed to make it extremely obvious that I was selling keys and posters and so I made a sign that said I sold steam keys, XL posters + steam keys, and XXL posters + steam keys. When I was asking developers for feedback, IndieMEGABOOTH overlord Kelly Wallick gave me the great advice that I should be selling the game first and foremost. And so I A/B tested the ‘menu’ with a different version saying that I was selling steam keys, steam keys + XL posters, and steam keys + XXL posters.
As it turns out, the latter way of selling the posters worked much better. If people didn’t like the game enough, or didn’t plan on buying the game yet, they were also very unlikely to buy a poster. Even though Sylvain and I regarded the poster as being a work of art by itself, we were at a game convention after all, so the fact that people valued the game more than the poster made a lot of sense in this context.
Costs and Sales
- IndieMINIBOOTH: $1435
- Return flight Amsterdam <-> Boston: $800
- AirBnB: $300
- Public transportation & Ubers: $50
- Posters: $781
- Business & give-away cards: $200
Total costs: $3566
- Day 1 sales: $110 cash, $55 card.
- Day 2 sales: $400 cash, $115 card.
- Day 3 sales: $220 cash, $80 card.
Total sales: $730 cash, $250 card, $980 in total for selling 121 keys and about 80 posters.
Overall, selling the keys and posters was worth it, if not for the experience of having done this once. The posters paid back for itself, which is great, but I would have loved to have made a little more to pay back a larger chunk of all the costs. I think I could have if I made my demo shorter, but more on that later on in this article.
Something I should remind you of is that we still have about 170 posters left that we could potentially sell too.
Credit cards and cash
One thing I had heard from other developers who had sold merch before was that about half of their customers wanted to use their credit cards to pay, and that people had good experience with their iPhone + Square + Square Reader. However, Square is only available to US-based companies, so I asked a dear US-based friend whether I could setup a Square account for his company and use it to process the transactions. At the convention, I had my Karma Go which supplied me will pretty stable internet throughout the event, and I only had to go into Square's offline mode for one or two payments. After PAX East, I simply invoiced my friend's company for the card payment minus all and any fees and returns. My credit card payments did not contribute to half of my what I made selling merch at PAX East, but it was still a large enough chunk to justify setting up all of this.
So what does a Dutch person do with $730 in cash? I found a few options: a) take the money home and spend it on my next US trip, b) pay exchange rates at the airport, or c) give it to a US-based person who then transfers the money to you, through paypal or through their bank. I don't know enough about money to decide which of these options is the best, but I went for option C considering the relatively small amount of money.
One of the biggest reasons to be part of the IndieMEGABOOTH is to be invited to their mixer, which is by far the craziest party for any game developer who seeks contact with platformholders. They were all there, literally.
But other than seeing all platform holders at the mixer, Apple, Google, Sony, Twitch, and big and small publishers all came by my booth and loved the game. A few really cool journalists came by too, nearly all with an appointment I made with them prior to the event. No articles have popped up yet, but it was definitely good hanging out with them and showing them the game.
MINI- vs. MEGABOOTH?
Having a MINIBOOTH at PAX East puts your game on the show floor and with that comes all the good stuff (the exposure, the business, the fans, the parties). However, having a minibooth also means:
- no booth dressup. You can’t put pretty banners on the background drawing people’s attention. I was lucky enough to be on the side of the booth without curtains, so I could hang up my posters.
- only 1 person can play at a time. This is especially inconvenient for a game that is not so well known, as people tend to walk away quicker.
- you might be situated in the middle of the isle where it can be crowded or difficult to attract people.
- 3 days of standing. There are no chairs or stools.
The Hidden Folks minibooth setup.
Manning the booth by myself
To keep costs low, I manned my minibooth by myself. This was only possible because I brought lunch for myself every day and asked a megabooth volunteer to take over my booth for 10 minutes so I could quickly eat and go to the bathroom. Also, because the minibooth only allows for 1 person playing the game at a time, you can direct your attention to the person next in line while someone is playing. (I’d say that one developer per playable device is what works best and is most cost-effective, if you’re going for a bigger booth.)
Lessons from demoing Hidden Folks
One mistake we made was the size / length of the demo. It was too long. Nearly everyone finished the demo, which took on average 15 minutes, and this resulted in most people in line walking away after a few minutes. Hidden Folks is simply not as enjoyable to watch when you can’t help the person playing it. My gut feeling says that this cost me a lot of potential fans and a lot of potential game / poster sales too. I simply wasn’t able to do smooth talk for 15 minutes with every new person standing in line, ya’ know!
We learned A LOT about Hidden Folks from showing the game at PAX East. It was a proper playtest - also in terms of marketing / talking about the game. For instance, my tagline for the game used to be ‘a game like where’s waldo, but black and white, interactive, and animated’, but I quickly discovered that I could easily drop the ‘black and white’ and ‘animated’ parts of that sentence as people already saw that on the screen and sign. This taught me that (moving) pictures actually DO tell words and that they complement each other in getting a message accross.
Something else that seemed to work really well was to take out any abstractions in my pitch. In my pitch, for instance, I replaced ‘you have to find a bunch of targets’ with ‘you have to find the targets at the bottom of the screen’. And people kept nodding when I told them what specific interactions they could do in the game instead of letting them figure it out (‘interactions’ vs ‘open garage doors, shake trees, dig holes’).
Cards & email signups
A lot of people don’t buy the game immediately, or would rather want to play Hidden Folks on a different platform than Steam. I would give these people a card with the game’s website (+ a small description for them to remind them of the game) where they could subscribe to get an email when the game releases.
In hindsight, it would have been much better to create an offline signup form on my phone that I could just give to people, and then I could have advertised more as well. Still, since the first day of PAX East, an extra 40 people signed up to get an email on release, so that worked out quite well.
I have this weird thing that my brain shuts down when people give me compliments. On the second day, Steve Swink (of Scale fame) reminded me of the fact that I should reward my biggest fans for being my biggest fans with, say, a free poster, just because they are awesome. Yet when I was clearly dealing with people that absolutely loved the game, it never came to my mind to actually do this. Ugh! One woman nearly made me cry after endlessly telling her husband how much she loved the game. And two guys bought two posters each wanted my autograph on the poster too. I absolutely loved these people and in hindsight I may not have given them what they have given me. Now I go and make the game amazing, for them, I guess?
Awesome people playing Hidden Folks!
Livestreamers / Youtubers?
Hidden Folks isn’t an inherently great fit for video content (because of spoilers) and this became only more apparent as no more than one livestreamer approached me wanting to stream the game. But talking to a bunch of folks at Twitch has definitely got me thinking about some alternative gameplay that would work well on their platform that I am now seriously considering building. We’ll see.
Redirecting people to other minibooths
I feel like the minibooth is its own little indie corner that by itself has enough trouble of drawing people in, so I figured I’d give my players some recommendations every once in a while so that they would stick with the minibooth for a little longer, instead of wandering off to the bigger booths again. <3 Burly Men at Sea and Circles.
The minibooth area.
- Sell the game, then the merch.
- Make appointments with press / youtubers / livestreamers at least one month prior to the event.
- In a minibooth? Keep your demo short (5–10 min) so that more people can play.
- Think about the follow up: sell keys, offline signup forms, promote your social media, etc
- Reward your biggest fans.
Comments? Tweet at @AdriaandeJongh.