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  • How To Make People Play Your Game At A Convention

    - Giada Zavarise
  • So you are exhibiting your game at a convention. Perhaps you are looking to see how players react; perhaps you just want to build some awareness ahead of the game's release. Regardless of your motivations, you are here to make people play your game. And to reach your goal, you have to make sure your game is easy to access.

    This doesn't mean the game itself should be easy! It means players need to be able to start playing and get what the game is about within seconds. If you fail to do this, people will get frustrated and leave your stand after a few minutes. Not only they will not play, but they will hate your work without even playing it!

    I have attended multiple conventions both as a journalist and as a developer, and have compiled a series of good practices you should follow if you want people to play your whole demo and leave your booth with a smile.

    Your new best friends: crayons

    Before we start, remember to bring paper, tape and crayons or sharpies with you. They are your new best friends. If you don't have them, find the nearest developer with a pencil case. They are now your new best friend. You will use your newfound equipment to write instructions and tape them to your booth.

    I know what you're thinking. "But Giada, taping pieces of paper to my booth looks unprofessional!" No, it looks nice because it helps people play your game. And cheap paper instructions can be easily altered and replaced on the spot, so you can tweak them based on players feedback.

    Once you have a reliable set of instructions, you might want to hardcode them in your build, or print them on a solid piece of cardboard to reuse during conventions. On the other hand, I think hand-written instructions can look very charming, because they show how much you, the developer, personally care about your players. Your bad handwriting is valid.

    Make people able to actually play your game

    New players must be able to immediately restart your game without having to fiddle with the controls. Make your game reset to the menu screen after a few minutes of inactivity, or tape instructions like "press F12 to restart!" to your booth.

    If I don't see instructions, my first instinct as a player is to press ESC to open the menu. If ESC doesn't work... I'll probably end up playing another game instead.

    Add subtitles

    If your game is dubbed, add subtitles to your game, and turn them on by default. Convention floors are busy, and players will struggle to hear the audio even with headphones on. Non-native speakers and people with auditory processing issues will struggle even more.

    I'm an ESL developer, and nothing turns me off more than starting a game and be greeted by an Important Looking Cutscene I can't understand. It's as if the game is saying "this is not for you". Don't alienate your players.

    I know subtitles are is a pain. I know. If you really can't sub your whole game, at least add sub the tutorial messages.


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