Once we’ve closed out feedback by judges, Chris and I begin the process of reviewing the comments and votes. Generally we start by sorting all the games by Overall Votes and Votes to Views (how many people viewed it versus how many of them voted for it). We then take the lower third of both of these lists and review each submission to check if it had enough judges look at it, and/or to clear up any major technical hurdles that prevented proper testing. This is mostly to ensure that the low number of votes is for valid reasons and not because of something on our end.
We’ll normally re-review these, and manually assign a high-level reviewer for additional opinions, then follow-up with developers if there are outstanding questions.
From here, Chris and I will go through and tag games we want to highlight for the first pass (typically not the highest rated games since those will end up getting visibility regardless). We’ll also tag games that are on their last showing with us or add other relevant notes to special cases. Tagging helps us see where there are taste overlaps between the two of us in order to make the top picks quickly. Typically a round of submissions will have 10% ‘totally awesome amazing OMG we must show this game‘, 10% pass, and about 80% will fall somewhere in the middle.
That middle 80% is where we spend most of our time. Typically we start from the bottom and work our way up to make sure that once something is eliminated it has been thoroughly vetted to reach that stage. Typically, a game in the overall lower 40% will be discussed across three or four different decision meetings before it will be cut. It is common for games that don’t get selected to have more time dedicated to them than any of the other submissions! I’m only mentioning this to highlight that decisions to not include a game are actually pretty intense — not some snap decision we make based on a single sentence or bug in the game. It’s a culmination of hours of work and real thought put into all aspects of the submission.
We also work around the number of spaces we think we’ll have, along with whether or not a game is a better fit for a MEGABOOTH or MINIBOOTH space. Mostly this has to do with what the team requested, but also the scope of the game, resources of the team and competition for the spaces.
Which brings me to another point. The games selected for each showcase are not necessarily judged on the same criteria each time. We try to reflect where the indie scene is at that particular point in time and showcase industry trends using the best examples with which we have been provided. For instance, if we get 30 local co-op multiplayer games submitted for one round, you’re going to have a much harder time having your local co-op multiplayer game selected even if we do have a higher number of them represented in the booth that year. It works the opposite in your favor as well – if you’re the only company representing the JRPG genre that round then you’ll have a higher chance of getting selected since you’re representing what is, at that stage, an under-represented genre.
Many of the middle selections start getting us into the nitty gritty of overall submission quality, company merit and individual reviews that are compelling in either direction. If the person who reviews fighting games thinks your fighting game is awesome that will hold much more weight than someone who typically reviews interactive fiction games and so on. Sometimes these decisions will come down to an ‘if X has space, then Y will not’, or digging into Facebook pages, Twitter presence, and blog posts to provide additional context on your submission. If we’re really stuck on something, I’ll call on someone, such as a key judge from that particular game’s feedback, whose opinion I trust to act as a tie-breaker of sorts .
FOLLOW THE MONEY
Although this isn’t particularly part of the submissions review I also wanted to talk a little bit about where the costs for space come from and what role the MEGABOOTH plays in this.
When we run a submissions round, there is a nominal fee of $40 for new submissions — this is intended to get people to stop and think if they are ready to commit to the time and costs associated with the process. (These costs are broken down below). The proceeds from this go towards offsetting costs for the backend system implementation and upkeep, plus time spent processing reviews.
MEGABOOTH – $3000 – 6000
Shown above is Ryan Wiemeyer’s (The Men Who Wear Many Hats) cost breakdown of PAX 2013 MEGABOOTH costs.
We typically estimate that teams should budget between $3-6k for a 10 ft x 10 ft booth space (excluding travel). There are plenty of in-depth cost breakdowns (like Ryan’s) that you can read, but typically it runs like this:
- PAX floor space: $1700-$1800.
- This is sold at cost. We have central floor locations which are not available for smaller purchase and discounted from AAA rates.
- Electrical power drops and Carpet padding: $60-$200.
- Sold at cost. We coordinate paperwork, deadlines and purchasing from convention vendors.
- AV rental: $0 – $1200.
- Either free or at cost. We negotiate equipment sponsorships and donations along with bulk discounts and delivery waivers from vendors.
- Internet: $600 – $2000.
- Sold at cost. Internet at conventions is expensive. This is an opt-in item for teams that require it but we normally work with teams that have networked games to come up with alternative solutions.
- Signage, booth decorations, swag: $300 or more.
- Discounted or at cost – this is up to your team. We have vendors that provide MEGABOOTH teams with discounted printing but each team is responsible for budgeting and spending their money here as they see fit.
- MEGABOOTH shared fee: $250, or more if you wish to contribute.
- We use this to purchase signage for the entire space, HQ space (for volunteers, check-in and bag storage, merch sales, equipment check out and drop off, volunteer support), shared supplies purchases, shipping costs, etc. Basically anything that benefits the group as a whole. We also give two MEGABOOTH T-shirts to each team with the option to purchase additional at cost.
So how does this add up? Well, assuming you opt for everything on the low end? $2500 – This is a minimum possible booth space. No padding, no rented equipment (bringing your own, or relying on us providing it), no Internet, basic signage, etc.
Assuming you want the most high-end booth? $6000 – This includes two TVs, high-bandwidth internet, double carpet padding, and upgraded electrical, with basic signage.
What this breakdown does not cover is the travel or accommodations, which can range from almost nothing if you’re local to the event, to thousands if you’re travelling from the other side of the world. This also depends on team size, distance traveled , type of accommodations and travel, etc.. Each team is responsible for their own arrangements.
MINIBOOTH – $500 – $2000
Shown above is The Amiable’s (creators of Tetrapulse) cost breakdown for a one-day Minibooth at PAX East 2014.
This cost depends on our costs for the space and how many days you’re showing. We have kiosk setups and equipment we store between shows and ship to each show (anywhere from $3-6k for the setup and shipping). We also purchase the floor space and electrical required, cover all administrative work and place orders, design, print, produce and ship signage, equipment rentals, and passes so essentially you can just show up and everything is ready to show your game.
There is no shared fee for this area but T-shirts are included.
Tabletop – $0
Shown above is the cost breakdown for full tabletop showing at PAX East 2015.
This space is fully sponsored by Cards Against Humanity. No costs are due from the developers. T-shirts are included.
Some things benefit everybody
In additional, all selected teams are invited to pre-PAX parties, as well as our networking event where teams meet and talk with platform holders, publishers and partners.
We also have about 30 volunteers for whom we provide shirts and passes, who come and help us run the show and help with setup and breakdown of the space at the end. All teams are expected to pitch in and help each other during this time. It’s a pretty crazy amount of work and it takes the support of a huge amount of people to make it all come together!
How do you keep afloat?
As you’ll notice, none of these items are revenue generators for the MEGABOOTH. The idea is that we net out at $0 for the end of each show, or operate at a minor loss if needed. We are able to exist as a year-round company thanks to financial support from our sponsors — not from costs associated with the shows themselves. I’d actually like to thank our long term supporters here because really this isn’t possible without their continued contribution!
- Cards Against Humanity
Their continued support helps us to work year-round doing things like:
- Improving relationships between larger companies and smaller development teams.
- Building partnerships with companies who want to work with and support indie developers.
- Helping developers with marketing outreach and addressing discoverability issues.
- Partnering with and advising up-and-coming events and shows such as BitSummit.
- Running no-cost showcases at GDC and E3.
- Attending events for developer outreach, learning and sharing knowledge with our peers.
- Discovering new content and brainstorming strategies for small teams to become sustainable in the industry.
In short – every day Chris and I, along with help from our core team – Jess Floyd, Ryan Burrell, Eric Chon – are out there busting butt to help you get your awesome games in front of the people who want to see them!
Now that we’ve reviewed the costs, let’s get back to the final stage of the submissions process.
Once we have about 95% of the selections made, we start notifying teams of our decisions. We send these out in staggered tiers to give teams time to accept or decline a selection before we notify the remaining teams. Sometimes things have changed since a submission started, and teams may need to decline their space or move into a MINIBOOTH space due to financial constraints. In this case we move down our list and offer someone the newly-open space. After we have most teams confirmed and finalized, we send out the remainder of the notices. This prevents someone from bouncing back and forth in the first week or so when acceptances are still in flux.
Often if we cannot immediately offer you space, we’ll offer you a place on our waiting list both for the MEGABOOTH and for PAX directly – we work closely with the sales team to coordinate the moving of companies to our space. We may also suggest that a team volunteers with us for the show and resubmits at a later date. Normally this is a case when the team seems eager to help, are local and would work well with the community, but the game wasn’t ready. This gives them the opportunity to meet other developers and start making connections without the burden of running a booth space.
For the majority of the time, we don’t select a game simply because it’s not ready. There are few instances where a game was terrible or the submission materials were so awful that it disqualified a team immediately. We also note progress over time with your submission – in terms of the game and the company. We often see games submitted over multiple rounds and if there is constant improvement we’ll weigh that pretty highly as the game is coming up to launch.
Once you’ve been offered a space and accepted, we then open up a mailing list where we coordinate with all the teams to provide information on paperwork due dates, placing orders, announcement and PR efforts, information entry for the website and general advice. This is also available for teams to ask questions and/or exchange information from those who have experience showing with us before. After an event finishes, we add participating teams to our Alumni list where they can continue to use each other’s expertise – and our own – as a resource for information and support as they move further into their game launch and (hopefully) a sustainable career making games.
If you’ve made it this far — congrats! As I mentioned at the start there isn’t really a short answer about how we select games. Rather it’s a series of nuanced steps that involve a lot of people’s time, effort and expertise. On average it takes about 4-6 weeks to review and select games with most of those weeks being full time efforts from Chris and myself. By the end, we can rattle off an impressive list of information about your company, game, and materials regardless of your selection status. I get surprised looks all the time from teams who submitted and assumed I didn’t remember them or their game. I ALWAYS REMEMBER. It’s the best and worst part of the MEGABOOTH all at once.
Good luck and thanks for reading!