A PAX Roundup

When exhibiting at something like PAX, you need to think about what exactly you’re trying to get out of it. Where your game is finished and available for sale already, your “Call to action” at PAX would be for people to buy your game. Black Annex isn’t finished yet, it isn’t even in beta and there’s no publicly available demo for people to play, so what is the “Call to action” for attendees who saw Black Annex at PAXAus? Three things, in order of priority (this doesn’t include vague things like “Get excited about Black Annex! Tell your friends!”, these are measurable things).

  • Follow @manfightdragon on Twitter
  • Vote for Black Annex on Steam Greenlight
  • Visit blackannex.net

For media at PAX, the call to action was:

  • Write something about Black Annex on the internet.

So lets talk about how I expressed these calls to action to the people I met at PAX (or communicated with online before/during/after PAX), and what kind of result it all had.

The first thing I had to do was prepare media for Black Annex at PAX. I wrote about 190 emails individually to media people who were granted media passes to PAXAus. For every person I emailed, I made sure I already knew a little about them. Do they follow me on twitter already? Do they follow me back already? Have I talked to them before? Have they written about me online before? What kind of stuff do they write about online? etc.

I build a huge spreadsheet of all this information in one place, and spent about three days (one month prior to PAXAus) writing all the emails up. I asked Mark Serrels (Kotaku Australia) for some opinion on how/when to send emails to press. Among the advice he gave, he also published an article on KotakuAU (which I think aggregated to Kotaku US maybe?) where he mentioned the insane effort I had put into press contact. You’ll notice the effect this article had on my Greenlight stats later in this post.

The emails I sent all were about 2 paragraphs long. Here is an example of one I sent:

“Hey, Dave! It’s Lance here (@manfightdragon on twitter, guy making Black Annex, http://www.blackannex.net, don’t act like you don’t know me). Anyway, you’ll be at PAXAus, yeah? I’m in the “Indie showcase” there, at booth 2330 specifically (theres a map app thing here: https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/pax-aus-2013/id657630506?mt=8 ) . If you don’t come say “Hi” to me at some point, I’ll be a big sad baby forever because I am literally a child.

So yeah, I better catch you there at some point!
(I’m also on the indie showcase panel at 8:30PM on Friday but that’s boring you don’t have to do that)”
Now, Dave already followed me on twitter, and we had talked in the past and he had DMed me his email address, so I didn’t need to mention twitter to him as we already have a relationship there. But, almost every email I wrote to press that day ended with:
“(PS. tweet me maybe, @manfightdragon)”
post email twittersSo I wanted three things from this exercise. Email replies saying “I will come say hi!”, people to actually come and say “hi!”, and people to follow me on twitter. The most immediate result was twitter follows (emails were sent on the 24th, you can see an immediate spike followed by steady growth.). About 80% of email I emailed replied, and about 90% were “Yeah, I’ll come see you!”. I had a short dialogue with everyone who replied.
So that was the main action I took to prepare for PAXAus. I hadn’t updated this website since getting back from E3, as it’s not really a marketing tool in any way at all.
So lets look at what happened during, and just after PAX in any measurable way I can so far.
The Press: The most immediate press results were in the form of tweets, here’s most of the ones I can find that happened during PAX (or just after):

Articles went online starting from the first day, and are still continuing now. Here’s a few I’ve seen so far:
There’s a few others floating around, but Google Alerts is probably the most awful way to try to track this kind of thing, so I can’t pull up a list of them easily right now. A huge part of the press result was meeting so many people, and I’m not in a lot of discussions in regards to further marketing opportunities, so this will span a fairly large time-frame.

pax twitersTwitter: At the booth, we had mints with our twitter handles written on them, and I had business cards with my twitter name. The mint trays also had little tags sticking out of them with @manfightdragon written on them. Twitter followers are probably one of the best things to get out of something like PAX, because they’re people who care about you, or your game, and they’ll help promote it for you. If you say something interesting, they’ll hopefully retweet it and spread it around super-fast. Twitter followers, for me personally, is the most valuable thing to have in promotion. Other people might be better that harnessing Facebook or Google+ but I can’t get my head around how to use those effectively. So, overall, a great result in twitter followers. I was telling a lot of people face-to-face, on camera, or on the panel “Follow me on twitter”. I wasn’t giving anyone my email address or any other way to contact me.

pax greenlightGreenlight: Okay, let’s talk about Greenlight for a bit. Everyone wants to talk about Greenlight, right? Well. PAXAus was, easily, the biggest Greenlight spike I’ve had in a while. It’s not as big as a fantastic RPS article, or getting a storm of KotakuUSA+PCGamer in one day, but it was still really REALLY good. Also, just out of interest, notice how a KotakuAU (And I think it went on KotakuUS at the same time) article gets more visitors (yellow) but less “Yes” votes (green). Where as an article on RockPaperShotgun gets less visitors, but the traffic you do get are more likely to vote “Yes”. Target your marketing!

Ahem, anyway. Yeah, so PAX had a great result, partially because a KotakuAU article went up on Day 1, but also because one of my big “Call to action”s for visitors was to go to Blackannex.net, which has a big Greenlight button on it. Greenlight doesn’t tell you exactly where people are coming from who see your campaign, so it’s hard to get a result on that kind of thing. I’m interested to see how Greenlight fares as a few more articles go up over time in the post-PAX period, and which spikes I’ll be able to correlate to what events.

So yeah, PAX was a big marketing success. Now I have to actually make a game, I guess…

Let’s talk about PAX, baby.

I spent the entire last two months preparing for E3, which was an awesome lead-up to readying Black Annex for PAXAus.

Knowing that Black Annex would be playable by the general public at PAXAus in a massive booth, I took a very rough build to E3 and let about ten people play it there with no guidance (I just silently stood behind them to find out what guidance I need to build into the game and get it ready for PAX).

E3 was great. It was super fun and absolutely massive, I met some amazing people there. I spent time talking to Joystiq, RockPaperShotgun, GhostRobo, Fullscreen Arcade, BeefJack, and Random Assault Podcast. Among all that, I also got a chance to just explore E3, see lots of awesome games, and also be amazed by my first time in the USA.

BPR5pMvCYAAKHp_But that was all to prepare for PAXAus. So I made a single mission for Black Annex that was *fairly* hard, but also do-able with a few brute-force attempts, and built a short (somewhat confusing) tutorial into the start of the game. I had a team of five people including myself to help run the booth (@manfightdragon, @honeycommbe, @urbanneurosis, @takorii, and @davomagnifico). I had sent out about 200 emails a month before PAX, each individually written and catered to each person inviting them to stop by the booth and meet me to check out Black Annex. I was fully booked all 3 days to be in interviews, so I knew I’d need people at the booth the whole time for me.

IMG_1386In the lead-up to PAXAus, while I was preparing the demo and talking to media, @honeycommbe was preparing the booth. We would have a trestle table with two desktop PCs (actually an iMac and a laptop hooked into a KVM), and one press-only demo unit (a laptop on a bar table). We also had a small cabinet, and five seats. We brought two A1 posters with our own art, three rice-bubbles boxes that we put printed sheets over to create fake “Big box” Black Annex retail boxes, glass jars filled with mints which we had written our twitter handles on (using food dye), about 1500 button/pins, of which there were 6 different styles in two fishbowls at the booth. We also brought business cards in holders.

IMG_1396We packed a car and drove to PAXAus. I arrived Wednesday in the expo hall (PAX begins Friday). I took all the bulky items in and set them up. I wasn’t allowed to hook up the electrics until they’d been “Tagged”. I ran into Jerry (from Penny Arcade Co.) and got a very excited photo with him after giving him a run-through of Black Annex. I left things for the night and got some sleep.

The next morning, I wandered back into the expo hall, still with one day to go before the actual show, hooked all the electronics up and made sure everything was sound. After a lot of work, preparation and meditation, we were ready for the media and the public to come and play Black Annex for the first time. (Sidenote: I’m pretty sure the entire “we have to test and tag your cables!” thing never happened). I didn’t want to leave, but I had a VIP event to go to where press people would be mulling around, so we headed over there.

IMG_1411The next morning we arrived about two hours before the media would be allowed in (which happens one hour before the public are allowed in). We chatted with other exhibitors, and waited. I expected a huge flood of media to enter, but it was only a very small group of people scattered around. All the media people who came by in the first hour knew who I was, and a few sat down to play Black Annex and have a chat. They all seemed fairly happy.

IMG_1439Eventually, time passed and the public came in. The public was a massive crowd, and after about 30 minutes, the Black Annex booth was absolutely packed with lines for both demo units. It stayed that way for the entire expo. People found game-breaking bugs and we realized that we needed to manually re-start the game every time people walked away from it (when the public sit down to play a demo game, they don’t esc->new game, they just start playing.). The response was fantastic, most of all from the press-people who wandered by. There was a huge mix of people who had heard of the game, and people who had no idea what it was. I spent all my time between booked interviews and ad-hoc interviews. There wasn’t really any down-time at all. Having five people at the booth was definitely necessary.

IMG_1452So I took an alpha build of Black Annex to PAXAus as one of six people chosen to be in the indie showcase. I had an enormously positive response from the media and the public. I got to meet a lot of new media I’d never met before, and got to finally get face-to-face with many I already knew well.

It was an immensely important event for Black Annex, and it’s caused a massive boost for the game’s position online now. I’ll be pushing out a lot more information about “What PAX meant for Black Annex” over the course of this month and as time goes on. There’s a lot to be said, and I’m really glad it’s all done now.