SpillExpo 2018: on the subject of stand preparation

I hope that the following post will give some insight into our work this last month. As an indie game studio, our considerations are by no means unique, and I hope other similar studios might find it useful as well.

Anyone who have ever done ‘stands’, ‘stand work’ or ‘stand preparation’ knows that issues are unavoidable. Setting aside the logistical puzzles of “literally what are we going to have at the stand?”, one must also consider the people operating the stand, like how to get food? Further, on a Studio level we must consider what are the goals for this stand? How do we make the most out of the space, time and money spent on this stand? The following is a blog post by me, Lise, about the preparations for SpillExpo 2018 from the point of view of a Business Developer! I hope you enjoy.

Developing the stand

A stand in itself can be incredibly fun to plan, especially in the early phases where only the imagination set the limits for what one can or cannot do. Still, some things are best considered during this stage. You want engagement from the crowd (activity points) as well as easily attained information (information points). This way, the stand is an ‘experience’ rather than a set piece to look through for a minute before moving on. 

For larger studios, this might mean several stations to test out games, free merch, food or snacks, third-party sponsored competitions or simply handing out stuff for promo. We had to take a different approach.

Developing the stand layout in cooperation with Norwegian Game Awards http//gameawards.no

There was also the fact that we are sharing our stand with Norwegian Game Awards, whom were kind enough to give us half of their stand! Their setup focused on inviting the crowd in through the use of a red carpet, really leaning into the ‘awards’ aspect. Considering how we could best use this to both our advantage, it was decided to make a flow through their ‘entrance’, into our section, this way those interested in NGA could see what kind of game had won this year, and we would get participants to stay longer than the 30 seconds needed to do a double take. 

Quick mock-up of the stand while planning.

Encouraging participation for us thus became a competition where participants could win free copies of the game and t-shirts. We decided on the time-tested wheel of fortune, where participants could draw suggestions for new levels in the game, and then scan this drawing to spin the wheel. We went through a few ideas for the wheel: should it be integrated in the game itself? How do we make sure that Studio Gauntlet personnel were involved in the process? Eventually we went with a handheld, home-made scanner. In the end, it looks amazing. However, in making the device so last minute (two weeks before SpillExpo), one of our developers, Christer, were preoccupied throughout most of the preparations.

T-shirt and scanner, then unfinished.

The results do speak for themselves, but is an example of the difficult choices a small indie game studio like Studio Gauntlet have to make. While Christer, our lead art designer was unavailable, myself and Alexander made plans for the rest of the merch. Luckily my teammates are highly effective at their jobs, and it is still amazing to me how quickly they put stuff together, so in the end the most nerve wrecking aspect of the stand development from my point of view turned out to be the printed promo. In fact, the final piece of promo arrived at our office the same day, only a few hours before Alexander was leaving for Oslo. 

Our roll-up! It looks even better in real life design @Christer

Still, if we were asking people to draw new levels for the game, we felt that they should be rewarded for their work. Consequentially, we also added a separate competition where participants whose level was added to the game would get it for free, and be mentioned in the final credits. 

Draw your own level! Template @Alexander

So, there’s alot of stuff going on at our stand. Two competitions, two developers (one wearing a lab coat and holding a scanner/wheel of fortune hybrid) as well as the obligatory showcasing of the game. 

The goals of a stand

We want people to see, try and buy the game.” A simple goal, a shared one among most having stands at SpillExpo I am sure. However, for Studio Gauntlet we have some additional considerations. We are new to the public, having relied mostly on word of mouth and promotion from NGA so far, we need to spread the word of our existence. Not only does this matter to sell the game, but also to ensure that publishers and the industry in general might find us. This way, we might make a stronger case when applying for access to, say, the Nintendo Switch. 

Mixed promo material for SpillExpo, including business cards and flyers to inform everyone of our 50% discount during SpillExpo! https://store.steampowered.com/app/889260/Bonkies/

Further, our activity points will enable participants to get involved in the development of the game. This way, we can get more direct and honest feedback from the gamers, and improve the game for our upcoming update(!). Currently, the game is out on Early Access, and there’s still work to be done to complete it. Getting this feedback will ensure we are moving in the right direction, and have a hopefully successful launch. 

The time has come

So, it begins. I, for all my talk above, am not at SpillExpo, but Christer and Alexander are there. They have been shopping for everything we need, endured hours on the train (and buss in exchange for train), carried several kilos of promo and merch, made every design, developed the game, built all furniture and prepared for the event. We all really believe in this game, and this studio, and I think their dedication to this stand and what it might help us achieve shows that. 

They stumbled upon the Iron Throne from GoT – follow us on Instagram to see more pictures from SpillExpo!

Already the gates of SpillExpo have opened, and people are testing out the game. Even still, issues are bound to surface. Who knows if this strategy will work, if people will find it engaging. The looming threat of being ignored is scary, especially since we have put so much effort, time and care into this stand. While the guys are down south, I have been spending my time working on the marketing strategy and making us an officially registered company.

Hopefully you have found this post insightful or entertaining or informative in some way, and if not, that’s okay too – the pictures are pretty at least. If you are at SpillExpo right now, I hope you enjoy yourself. If you want to get in touch with us, contact us on Facebook! And, if you want to give feedback on the game, use our Steam Early Access discussion forum. I should find some signature sign off, but that’s for another time. 

If you have any suggestions for future topics for blog posts, or comments, feel free to leave them below! 

Yes, I went for the “clever anime pose”