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  • How To Host An Online Gamedev Event On A Budget

    [06.11.20]
    - Colin Macdonald

  • Live in 3...2...1...

    I'd worked out a rough schedule and emailed it round all the speakers, asking them to dial-in 10 minutes before so that we had a little time to work out any issues, but the system (or me) wasn't overwhelmed by having all eight speakers in virtual 'green rooms' the entire event. That worked well, and I could check in with upcoming speakers during the preceding speaker. I typed up the schedule onto a PowerPoint slide, and had that as the holding slide ahead of the event going live so folks knew roughly who to expect when.

    I'd looked at whether I'd encourage folk to chat on the event website, or in Discord etc, but ultimately decided it would be simplest for all for folk just to chat in the YouTube stream. In order to make it feel as 'live' as possible I wanted to put questions from viewers to speakers, but to try to avoid getting overwhelmed at information overload, I asked folk to put questions in the YouTube stream chat - also ensuring folk felt like there were plenty others watching alongside.

    I'd realised from testing that there could be a delay of anything from 20-60 seconds between saying something , going through the various systems, and it being heard by viewers. I'd warned the speakers of this, and because them and I could chat fairly interactively, it still worked well - and didn't matter to viewers that what they were getting was slightly delayed. This happens with regular television anyway if you watch the same live televised event on satellite versus cable versus terrestrial.

    But I hadn't realised it meant any questions/comments would appear "later" to me and the speakers by the time the transmission processing, and folks typing time was accounted for. Because the speaker had usually moved onto another topic by then, that made it hard to keep track of the context of questions, so I'd make a note of anything I wanted to remember to ask on post-it notes, and stick the note immediately under the webcam before the end of each talk so that I could read the notes as if looking straight at the camera.

    But where that transmission delay really caused me problems was when something went wrong. In hindsight, although I'd done a number of test broadcasts, it clearly wasn't enough compared to a multi-hour live stream with eight speakers, most with their own screenshares, and various slides and documents that I'd bring up. I'd completely misunderstood when I would still be heard by the audience - I thought I was heard either when I was onscreen, or when there were no other speakers. It turns out the latter wasn't true, so I'd switch the feed to show slides of all the great prizes we were raffling, I'd keep talking excitedly for several minutes until I'd notice my phone (on silent of course...) go nuts, and it'd be half a dozen folk trying to tell me no-one could hear anything.

    Of course, when you're "presenting" you're not thinking to check comments feed, or even text messages, so there were some gaps of several minutes until I'd be alerted, fixed the problem, particularly with the transmission delay. Although this would normally be mitigated by someone sitting nearby monitoring what viewers were actually seeing/hearing, in lockdown that's more difficult, but in hindsight I'd have a system where one person charged with letting me know of any problems could popup a message to me somehow - perhaps just as simple as propping my phone up in plain view. 

    My raffle system for the prizes was fairly basic - for every pound that anyone donated, they'd get a virtual raffle number that I'd assign. So whilst the final speaker was on, I'd scrape the donations list from the charity site, paste into a spreadsheet, and run a script that assigned a unique number for every pound donated. I'd then use a random number generator website to pick numbers live, and look up the spreadsheet to announce each winner. Except this was one of the sections where I lost my audio, so folks got to see 14 random numbers being generated on an otherwise static screen; not the most engaging end to the event!

    Thankfully most folk appreciated the insane multi-tasking that was required, and there was lots of speculation in the comments about whether I'd been locked in the offices because we'd overrun, or I was off playing all the game prizes rather than announcing the winners. Pulling off such an event would ideally be a two-person job, but in current circumstances, doing it with just one is still possible.

    And we've raised almost £3,000 for charity. Not bad for a night's work :) If I was doing it again, I'd definitely do more practice livestreams, and I'd setup a system so that I could be sure I was alerted to major problems earlier.

    But it's proved it's possible to hold an engaging, fun, and interesting event that hundreds of people seemed to find valuable - that raised a good amount of money for a great cause. And whilst a couple of modest outlays can improve it, it's possible to do it all without spending a penny. So I hope this encourages others to do just that.

    If you'd like to watch my event, it's here.

    If you're thinking of doing similar for your local community and have any questions, email me at [email protected], and/or subscribe to my Opportunities newsletter which goes out once a month listing funding, awards, and of course events that game developers anywhere might be interested in; subscribe here: https://gamesopportunities.curated.co/

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