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  • How To Make People Play Your Game At A Convention

    - Giada Zavarise

  • Write your control scheme somewhere

    Conventions are attended by all kind of people. Not everyone will know that WASD is the default control scheme for moving around, or that ESC usually opens the main menu. Want people to play your game? Then teach them your control scheme!

    You don't have to bore players with endless tutorials: simply tape a piece of paper with instructions to your booth.
    I've also seen developers adding stickers to the keyboards and pads to indicate which keys to press. This is an excellent solution, but make sure you're using the right kind of sharpies or everything will become a smudged mess.

    Do this ESPECIALLY if you're exhibiting a VR game. VR is a new, costly technology, and different headsets have different control schemes. Don't assume people will know how to use your VR equipment.

    My teammate Chiara exhibiting Selling Sunlight at a convention. Look how she RADIATES ENERGY.

    Be a good host

    Standing near your booth to gather feedback and invite people to play is a good practice, but your presence risks turning off players if you don't behave properly. The two main rules to follow are always ask and never excuse yourself.

    Always ask means "ask players if they want to listen to you before telling them a thing".

    If someone is staring at your booth, greet them and ask them "do you want to play?" or "do you want me to tell you what this game is about?" Don't pressure people to play your game. I know you're excited about your game, but you will only look creepy and weird.

    If a player gets stuck, don't tell them the solution. Instead, simply ask them "do you need a hint?" I know watching players get stuck is anxiety-inducing: you fear they will get frustrated and simply stop playing. But observing how and why players get stuck is vital for learning how to improve your experience.

    Never excuse yourself means "never reply to players in a self-demeaning way."

    99% of the times, the demo you're exhibiting won't be your final build. The difference between your rough build and the polished game inside your head will make you cringe. Still, restrain yourself from saying stuff like "this part will look better in the final release", or  "this feature is not implemented yet, but in the final game you will be able to do X". Don't say it. Double NOPE if you are interrupting people while they're playing just to say it. I swear people don't care. They are here to play your game in your current form, and that's it.

    Once a player stops playing, they will have feedback. Sometimes, they will bring up problems you are already aware of. Again, avoid answers like "yes I know, I will fix it in the final release". You'll sound dismissive. Just thank them for their feedback.

    I know most of us devs are awkward nerds, and all this social etiquette is tiring and confusing. If talking to players doesn't come naturally to you, just stay silent. Don't push yourself. Being silent is better than being remembered negatively.

    Occasionally disappear

    Since many players, too, will be awkward nerds, sometimes you should just leave your booth alone and go take a break. Just go. Get some coffee. We all know you're tired anyway. Some players find speaking with developers intimidating. Others find difficult to play if they know they're being watched. Leave them space to play.


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