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  • Design Insights We Learned At Dreamhack Dallas 2019

    - Ross Przybylski
  • My teammate Peter and I recently returned from Dreamhack Dallas 2019 where we showcased our upcoming indie game, Summoners Fate, at a major event for the fourth time. Events like this are major learning opportunities that continue to help us improve both our marketing and game design (see here for data on our past events). What makes indie development so compelling to us is the comradery we share with our fellow devs. By being open and honest about our experiences with each other, we can all up our game and share in the success of what we learned.

    In that spirit, here's an in-depth look at our budget, detailed session data, and our unexpected discovery of how originality and choice influence player perception that we learned at Dreamhack Dallas 2019.

    Our Budget

    Dreamhack has an outstanding reputation for supporting indie devs that apply for the playground with a category award that includes a free 10x10 foot booth. This year, we were among those that received Best Strategy game. The only out-of-pocket cost required for the booth to showcase is power, which cost $150 at this event. So let's take a look at the other costs involved for travel and marketing:

    1. Airfare (2 round trip tickets) $632.40
    2. Hotel (2 queen beds for 4 nights) $589.60
    3. Booth Power: $150.00
    4. Food & Lyft Expenses $189.30
    5. 500 Marketing Post-Cards (double-sided) $83.01

    Total: $1644.31

    Since this is our fourth showcase, we already had booth essentials such as our vertical standing banner, horizontal hanging banner and equipment to showcase the game (laptops, tablets, cables, mounts, etc.). See our prior showcases for specific breakdowns on these costs (or roughly calculate between $100-$200 for banners depending on size and where you order from). It's important to note that Peter and I maximized our budget by traveling incredibly light. We brought our entire booth setup as carry-on luggage (that includes a 32" flat-screen monitor).

    Our Session Data

    We designed our game demo to run automatically and onboard users to the experience as well as provide a vertical slice of what's to come in later gameplay. The demo takes between 11 and 15 minutes to complete, divided roughly equal time between the onboarding missions and the final boss battle. Our demo tracks detailed session data so that we can determine precisely how much traffic we received at the booth, downtime between sessions, and specific insights on where/when players are dropping off in the demo. Here's a summary of the data we compiled:

    Notable callouts include:

    1. Total sessions (127) were comparable to Dreamhack Atlanta (142).
    2. Our email sign-ups (25) were less than half Dreamhack Atlanta (61). I suspect the drop-off in email registers is due to the fact that we provided a new CTA (call-to-action) to purchase our prerelease, while in past shows, our CTA was to get informed about when the prerelease would be available. Keep in mind you're lucky to get a player to execute on a single CTA - choose wisely whether you want an email signup or a game sale.
    3. Our hand-outs were more effective this year (265 vs 204). One of the observations I've made in the past is how almost everyone you hand a card to instinctively flips it over to see what is on the other side. Don't disappoint them. Make double-sided cards with a clear CTA on the back.
    4. Dreamhack is lighter in foot-traffic compared to PAX East. We achieved more sessions at PAX East (149) in two days compared to three day period at Dreamhack (127). However, the lighter traffic gave us more opportunities to try out other indie games which turned out to be the largest benefit of our experience (see What We Learned About Our Game Design below).

    Here's a summary of our gameplay funnel showing the percentage complete and where users are dropping off:

    Not surprisingly (since we did not alter the demo) our data is consistent with our PAX East demo:

    1. We see drop-off happening on completion of levels 5 and 6. We believe this indicates that the demo is too long and that we need to eliminate a couple levels to reduce session length.
    2. We see drop-off on losing level 2. This indicates a design problem where users are getting frustrated because the puzzle is too hard (Likewise, on Level 4).
    3. The final mission varies in difficulty too much depending on how the AI's deck is shuffled. The issue here is that our email sign-up does not surface unless you win, so we are losing potential sign-ups with the mission being too hard.


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