Penny Arcade Expo 2013: A Look Back

Had a great time in Boston--PAX was my first time attending a video game convention, and I was fortunate enough to be an exhibitor! I think people responded fairly well to Fire With Fire, all things considered (more on that later), and I'm proud to say that Theory and I were able to bring the game this far. It was an amazing weekend being in the same convention center as big names like Nintendo, Capcom, and Ubisoft, but just as great was being able to meet and talk to other smaller independent teams just like us. There are so many cool people in this industry and community and I'm glad I was able to meet them. If anything, it made me want to attend more conventions in the future.

Boston or Bust

The trip began on Thursday March 21, the day before PAX officially started. Headed to the Jacksonville airport for my first time on a plane. To be honest, I was too tired to be nervous about it since I didn't sleep that well the night before. But the plane ride was fine; flying's not as terrifying as I thought it might be at all. When I first arrived in Boston I was just surprised by how there was snow everywhere. Never see that kind of thing in Florida.

Oh yeah, ignore the timestamps you see in this post. I'm not sure why my camera thinks it's permanently Christmas Day of 2011...

I took a little walk around the hotel we were staying in and snapped some photos Thursday evening. It was... cold. But I don't know when I'll be back in Massachusetts, so I wanted to get some nice photos of the scenery.

Other than that, Thursday was mostly a travel day and not hugely eventful. That night Theory (lead developer for Fire With Fire) arrived in Boston alongside his friends Shane, Eric, and Ryan he'd brought along for the trip. It was awesome to meet everyone, and the weekend wouldn't have been half as successful if not for everyone pitching in to help. And having a bigger group is just more fun at this sort of event.

The Beginning

Friday morning the five of us made way for the Boston Exhibition and Convention Center.

Yeah, traffic was crazy as you might expect and there was a big line outside as we were driving by. We had to park... pretty far away that morning.

When we first got there our first priority was to get badges so people would know we were Exhibitors, and find out exactly where our booth was. But I couldn't help snapping more grainy photos along the way.

From the moment we stepped inside... I knew this was going to be a great weekend. Props like this and cosplayers were everywhere.

The main exhibition hall was pretty sparse since only exhibitors/staff were given early access. Still, seeing all of those banners and booths set up when we first came in was incredible.

Ours was way in the back corner. Here's a fuzzy picture of our booth's title card they'd set up for us. :D

My photography skills leave much to be desired, but you get the idea.

We had a table and a couple of chairs provided by the convention center. The rest we hauled from Theory's car across a frozen tundra, made more difficult by the fact that we'd foregone breakfast that morning. I'm not complaining though, looking back it was all worth it... I'd do it again if I had to.

We spent the morning getting everything set up. We had a giant backboard displaying artwork from the game, as well as our own title card with the name of the game on it velcroed against it. On the table we had laid out buttons, stickers, and flyers (with the artwork from the previous post on them) to hand out to passersby. People love free stuff!

Took a photo of one of the buttons/stickers we were giving out. We had a bunch of different types displaying artwork from the game, but the Spitfire Creep merchandise like these seemed to run out really fast.

To be truthful we did run a little late that day (still setting up the backboard when the doors officially opened for everybody that morning), and weren't quite as prepared as we could have been to show gameplay footage (technical difficulties everywhere!), but people were more forgiving than I would have expected at a huge event like this where the stakes are high.

The entire weekend we had issues getting the servers/WiFi to function. But we were still able to explain how the game worked and showed screen captures to get people interested in the project. And that had to have been one of the highlights, for me anyway, to see the expression on people's faces light up when we told them what FWF was about. Apparently a lot of people are interested in a player vs. player tower defense game, so we feel pretty good about moving forward with it.

All Work and Some Play

Running a booth is, well... work. A lot of work. Setting up is only the beginning. Those of us at the booth (we kind of worked in "shifts" among the 5 of us, some of us staying at the booth while others could take a break and explore the showfloor) spent the majority of Friday talking, and talking some more, and talking still more, from around 10:30 AM until 6 PM to everyone who came by. By the end of exhibition hours, we had pretty much nailed down our pitch to people explaining the game since we had had to repeat the information so many times. I dunno about anyone else, but my throat was so dry that day... my fault for not taking the time to plan out a schedule for food and water. Fortunately our enforcer Andrew was nice enough to bring us water and food during the weekend, in fact he was a significant help in keeping us (somewhat) sane and organized throughout the event, huge thanks to him.

But again, it was all worth it. I didn't really know what I was doing at the start, I'd never had to try to flag down customers or anything like that and try to explain a product. But we started to get used to it and of course having Ryan, Theory, Eric, and Shane there working the crowd as well made it possible. Definitely couldn't have done it on my own. I have to say we did a pretty good job at getting people to stop at our booth and listen to what we had to say. By the end of the weekend we amassed around 500 signatures from people wanting access to the game's Beta release in May. Not bad for our first attempt at this exhibition thing.

On that note, I felt like I caught a glimpse of the whole marketing aspect of making games as well. We basically had to constantly ask ourselves, how do we explain this game and keep people's attention? How do we pique their interest and make sure they remember us after they walk away from our table? There were a lot of other booths there and people could have easily ignored us. But I think the free stuff helped. Usually someone would stop by to take a look at our wares, which would give us an opening to explain what FWF was (assuming they didn't ask us first). But Ryan must be some kind of marketing wizard because he did a lot of work getting people to stop by as well, pretty much saying anything that would get the attention of anyone even remotely interested. And about 95% of the time it worked! If you can make people laugh or just come off as being friendly, I think most people are willing to spare a few minutes to listen to what you have to offer. At least as far as I could tell from our experiences at the booth. Even though we didn't have a working demo ready on Friday, quite a few people actually remembered us and came back on Saturday/Sunday to see what we had to show. I was surprised but really just in awe that people were interested enough to come back, keeping in mind that this was the first time we'd ever showed a game at a convention like this.

Check Out This Other Stuff!

Like I mentioned earlier, we took turns at the booth so I did have some time to look around at the other games during the day.

Capcom was showing off a bunch of titles, but the one I was most interested in seeing was Remember Me.

Apparently you get to play as a memory hunter in NeoParis? I honestly hadn't even heard about it until PAX, but I was really excited about playing the demo once I learned about it. Sadly due to running our own booth combined with 3-4 hour wait lines, I never got the opportunity to try it myself throughout the entire weekend. But I got a pretty nice promotional poster for the game on Sunday, and managed to get a photo with a cosplayer of the protagonist. And yes, I do have a silly grin.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag was kind of the same story. Really wanted to see the demonstration they were showing, but the 4 hour wait didn't agree with my schedule. D: Oh well. I'll have to wait a little longer to see Edward Kenway punch sharks.

Another title that caught my eye was Contrast, a game in which you literally turn into a shadow to achieve certain goals and reach otherwise inaccessible areas. You basically play as this little girl's silent, imaginary friend who can jump in and out of solid surfaces to become a shadow at will. The game has a really unique 1920s kind of setting and it seems to have an overall light/shadow theme going which is really nice. I always like seeing really original ideas for games that make me think... "Man, I wish I had thought of that." Really fun to play, though I wish I could've spent a little more time on it.

Oh, and DiveKick. A fighting game where the only move is dive kicks and a single hit will result in a KO. Yes, it's as amazing as it sounds. And it was amazing to see a line of people challenge Mike Ross. Did I mention that this game is amazing?

By the time 6 PM rolled around on Friday evening, we were pretty beat up and exhausted (especially Theory and his crew--they had done a lot of driving and not a lot of sleeping in the past few days...). But when the doors had closed for the day, I'm pretty sure there was a collective sigh of relief from all of the exhibitors.

Since exhibitors were allowed to stay after hours, it was kind of a more relaxed setting in the evenings on Friday and Saturday and we could play other people's games without having to wait in lines. Which is exactly what we did.

One of my favorites was Electronic Super Joy. A little platformer with an amazing soundtrack. And... it's really, really difficult. I've never played Super Meat Boy before but the comparison was certainly made. Eric, Ryan, and I played it for about 45 minutes, taking turns whenever one of us died too many times in a row (which happened a lot). It was fun, but your patience will be tested. Definitely looking forward to that one when it comes out.

I also feel really lucky to have gotten the chance to play Transistor, an upcoming isometric RPG from the people who gave us Bastion, Supergiant Games. The lines were really long during the day of course, but I just happened to walk by after hours and there were a couple of stations open. It looks amazing, plays, and the narration, of course, is as stellar as ever. Really sets the atmosphere. The team members from Supergiant Games were sitting right there, but I regret that I was too timid to say anything to them. Would have asked Jen Zee what it was like to make the artwork for Bastion for sure!

We also talked to the guys showing a mobile title called Hamster Drop (their booth was really close to ours, almost directly across the aisle from us in fact). We were able to get some insight on how other studios go from an idea to a finished game, financial hurdles that teams face, the process of managing a team to get a game completed, etc. And it's not like we only talked about video games, really, we somehow went from discussing the budgets of AAA titles to race relations to rock music. That was a really great part of PAX, just talking to other studios and all kinds of new people. We just met a lot of awesome people throughout the weekend.

They had a bunch of stuff going on after the doors closed like more panels, free play of classic and modern games on various consoles, and other events. I underestimated the amount of work it would be running a booth, so I didn't make it to any of the panels, though there seemed to be a lot of really good ones. We tried to get into the Bioshock panel on Saturday afternoon, but apparently we needed to show up several hours early to even get in. Lesson learned. I'll have to make time for a few in the future if and when I return to PAX.

Sunday and Closing Thoughts

Sunday was another busy day of course. For some reason, I figured it would have slowed down on the last day, but it almost seemed like there were just as many attendees as the other 2 days.

We gave away the last of our buttons and stickers, and we had printed out more flyers that morning (but all of those were pretty much gone at the end too). We got several people returning from the previous days and a whole slew of newcomers as well. By Sunday we had a functioning demo to show how Fire With Fire looked in action, though unfortunately we couldn't manage to get a version where 2 people could play against each other like we intended. But from what I could tell, people are excited about the chance to play against their friends, so we got a bunch of sign-ups for the Beta we'll be releasing in May.

Sunday we actually had to conduct a couple of on camera interviews, which was a little surprising. One of the cameramen was shooting for a TV station local to Boston I believe, and the second interview was for What's Jump. They came to our table and we basically told them who we were and explained about FWF. First time being interviewed on camera. Hope I didn't mumble too much during what little I said... guess we'll see soon enough!

Another highlight of Sunday was people asking if we were selling the artwork we were displaying to promote the game. We actually did end up selling one of the display panels to a nice couple, and they asked me to sign it and everything. That was really surprising, but I was happy to oblige if people really like the game's artwork. Also signed a few other panels for the 5 of us to take home as souvenirs. Our booth was pretty cleaned out by the time I had to leave to catch my flight, but I did manage to get one last photo of our team together in front of our table before leaving.

In closing, all I can say is that I learned a lot and the entire weekend went better than I could have imagined. We were physically and mentally drained by the end, but just being able to mingle with other studios and other people in this community far outweighed the work we had to do. And even while we were working, it was still pretty fun, looking back. Fire With Fire is going places, and so are we. We weren't perfect by any means, but because we made mistakes we'll be that much more prepared next time... And I'm really hoping there is a next time!


  1. I tried to comment in the Divekick thread of SRK

    Still banned, though

  2. Oh, you.

    Did you anger one of the moderators?