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PAX Prime 2013 Post Mortem – Part One

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Part one of two

PAX Prime was our biggest event yet and I wanted to talk about how we got there, what we’re working on behind the scenes and where we’re planning to go from here. I don’t normally write blog posts but we’ve begun adding content to our website (thanks to the very talented and dedicated Christopher Floyd!) and have decided this would be a good way to discuss a few of these things. This post mortem will be the first of two, with a second one addressing our thoughts on the ongoing debate about PAX and Penny Arcade.

For those of you who know me or have worked with me before I tend to spend a great deal of time thinking about and researching topics before I discuss them. These will both be long posts with some reference material included, but I think it’s important. Sorry in advance if you’re not into long posts!

A bit of background

I’m not going to assume a lot of things for this since you know what they say about assuming… If you’re not familiar with myself or the Indie MEGABOOTH here are some handy materials for you:

How PAX Prime was different

One of my focuses for this PAX Prime was to expand what we were doing outside of just showing at a conference. The way we run things is based on the idea that we can bring people together to do something positive for the community. Alongside the excitement of the MEGABOOTH on the show floor there is a lot that goes on in the background – we help make business connections, provide emotional support, open a developer mailing list to share ideas and ask questions, coordinate with press on features, work with platforms and publishers to help with discoverability issues, bring in sponsorship money, provide equipment and run networking events. Essentially I work behind the scenes to provide a support structure to small companies that don’t have the internal infrastructure to handle all the nitty gritty that goes into running a company and showing a game at conferences. We want to help developers build their network and have somewhere consistent to go for help when they need it.

This was the first event where I was working full time on the MEGABOOTH. This past April I quit my day job and founded Indie MegaCorp, Corp (the most corporate of corporations). Prior to this I was running things on the side so we mostly just worked on the immediate physical aspect of actually showing at the conference. This last PAX East was the first time we made a real push to reach out to press and try to build the MEGABOOTH as a brand. The high point of this was the Polygon Human Angle feature (thanks to Sean Baptiste and Jeff Dunn!). I was able to use this coverage later to leverage sponsorship, arrange individual game features and networking opportunities for Prime. I spent the better part of my time chasing down as many opportunities as possible and then following the ones that seemed promising.

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We also began solidifying our team and seeking out people we’ve worked with to take on larger roles. We have a close knit group of (quite frankly) amazing people who volunteer their time and have worked with us over multiple shows. I’ve realized that one of the reasons this all works is that I extensively vet who we work and partner with. A project like this only works if everyone involved has the same goals and can have a mutually beneficial partnership with us. This is a labor of love for everyone involved, and I am 100% biased when I say the people who help make this all happen are some of the most dedicated, talented and all around good people I’ve worked with. As we grow I want to make sure we also support these people. An excellent first step to this was being able to help offset costs for people who wouldn’t have made it otherwise. It was the first time we’ve ever been a position to do that.

What went well

The result of all this work?  PAX Prime went really, really well. I’m normally pretty cautious business wise and have been able to project our impact fairly well. This time though, caught everyone off guard. We had unforeseen amounts of traffic for all four days. Each time someone would say – ‘Oh, Sunday is the slow day’ or ‘Monday is a holiday so it will be pretty empty’ the hall would open and we’d be just as crowded as the day before. At some points we even had lines for people just to walk into the space.

It wasn’t just attendees that showed up in full force, it was press as well. We didn’t focus on creating coverage for the MEGABOOTH as a concept, but turned attention on press for the individual games. We had features with Revision3, Game Trailers, and Twitch – the space was constantly full of film crews, panicked press with clipboards, and developers scrambling to keep up with it all. Coverage that came out of Prime was game centric, with the MEGABOOTH as a byline accolade. Moving forward I would like our coverage to continue this way – focusing on the games and development teams and using the MEGABOOTH brand to add legitimacy and draw press and fan focus. When it comes down to it, the MEGABOOTH is not about myself or hyping the company. The MEGABOOTH is about the games and developers, and driving the conversation about indie games out into the larger gaming industry. It’s a way to address discoverability issues and an opportunity to create networks and support. It’s a community.

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Thanks to work prior to the event I was able to line up long-term partnerships and new financial sponsors. We were able to gain equipment support from Intel, Mad Catz and Sound Blaster. This meant every developer was provided a 46” LCD with pole stand, all peripheral equipment they needed and any headsets and speakers they requested. Developers were even able to keep the peripherals and audio equipment after the conference. I’d estimate this saved teams anywhere from $800-$1,500 depending on how much equipment they requested. We also pulled in financial sponsorship from Sony, Microsoft and Google. This helped fund networking events, paid for the entire MINIBOOTH space, paid for the previously mentioned volunteers to attend PAX and funded running the company through the next event!

Where can we improve?

From a post mortem perspective I feel compelled to also mention some things that we would like to improve or that didn’t go well. Really, many of these types of things were logistics based or ways we handle stuff with the mailing lists and bookkeeping type things. We recently moved the website into WordPress (HUGE thanks to Ryan Burrell for his amazing work on the site!) which means we can be more flexible and have a better approach for accepting game submissions. Last PAX East was the first time we opened submissions, mainly so I could have a spreadsheet of the information coming in from everyone rather than sifting through dozens of emails and manually entering the data. We’ll be putting this to the full test for our upcoming submission round. We also addressed issues with how to display such large numbers of games and content and created plugins with presskit() to create individual and customizable developer portals for each game.

We’re also looking into ways to better manage the developer mailing list in general. It gets very noisy closer to the conference date when there is a lot of important and time sensitive information flying around. We’re hoping to address this with forums integrated into the site along with a wiki for reference to standard questions and formalized procedures. We’ve also added a mailing list to the website for fans and developers interested in joining to sign up which in theory should reduce my email load…

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A major logistical issue at the conference was the MINIBOOTH space. This is an area shared by a large group of developers within the MEGABOOTH and was something we first debuted at PAX East with 3 stations and 7 companies over the weekend. At Prime this increased to 16 stations and 30 companies with 3 spotlight games. Due to a series of very boring and complicated behind the scenes issues we were not able to physically set up this space the way it was intended. There were a lot of traffic flow issues and  we ended up re-arranging the whole space after the first day. Even with this, the section was still incredibly congested. For future events I plan to standardize the appearance and how developers are involved to help reduce the problems we had at Prime. It will function more as an IGF-style with kiosks and with less developer involvement during planning. I also hope to continue funding the space through sponsorship funding.

Moving forward

pax-prime-2013-dominationWe have lots of new ideas in the pipeline and are looking at expanding our reach outside of just conferences as well. We’re working with gamescom on a full MEGABOOTH space for 2014 along with some other exciting partnerships that we will announce as they become formal. We’ve already secured our space for East and it will be our largest booth yet!  We’ve also been adding content to the website, started a regular podcast series, kicked off our Twitch channel with a 25-hour charity marathon for Extra Life and have begun more regularly updating our social network accounts. We’ve sent out our first mailing list email (sign up here) and are steadily adding new members to our MEGABOOTH alumni mailing list.

Global domination is a go!

Part 2 will be published next week.

About the Author

Kelly is the founder of Indie MEGABOOTH, a showcase that brings indie games into the heart of conferences previously dominated by AAA budgets and works to create support networks for small development teams. She's involved in local community building along with creating cross community networks and acts as an advocate for indie developers with platform holders, distributors, publishers and press. The MEGABOOTH's current focus is on expanding community support efforts and addressing discoverability issues for indie games.

  • Lars K.

    Amazing first blog entry! And I just want to say thanks to everyone involved in this. The Indie MEGABOOTH was my personal highlight of PAX and made my flight from Germany worth. So many great games in such a compromised space. Seeing how passionate everyone behind the scene is a joy to read! I wish I could check out the Indie Mega Booth at East, but no passes get, and so it will (hopefully) be GamesCom and PAX Prime!

    • Kelly

      Wow, thanks! From Germany to Seattle is certainly a long trip! If you’re stuck without a pass but still want to attend PAX East you could sign up to volunteer (it’s in the About section : http://indiemegabooth.com/about/). Regardless we’ll be at gamescom this year which will be a shorter trip for you :) Glad you enjoyed the post!

      • Lars K.

        Sorry for the late response! PAX East is always an hit and miss by me. Priority is PAX Prime, but still thanks for linking to the volunteer form. (to be honest I already signed up to volunteer with the comment I will be yours for GamesCom or something like that. Can’t remember). But yes. I will be checking out the booth at GamesCom and Prime this year. (btw. you will solely to reason for me to check the GamesCom again. I gave up visiting it since 2010.)

  • Simone de Rochefort

    Thank you so much for your hard work! The Megabooth was my favorite part of PAX Prime this year, and I’m already looking forward to next year. :)

    • Kelly

      That’s great! Thanks so much for coming by :) PAX East should be really fun, I’m looking forward to it as well!

  • Joseph Hogwood

    How difficult is it to get a spot in the MEGABOOTH?

    • Kelly

      It depends on how many submissions we get and how we arrange the space! Even if we can’t offer space we try to help connect everyone with other opportunities, so it’s definitely worth applying :)