We’re the developers of Killsquad, which was just shown at E3. We feel we did a reasonably good E3, in all humbleness. So, as a way to contribute to the community, here’s a postmortem. I think a lot of the decisions we faced can be useful to others. Needless to say, if you got a question, feel free to ask, I’ll do my best.
To kick things off, here’s a video of our E3 presence. Please don’t take this as a promo, but more as a way to give context to things I’ll explain later:
Backstory: after about 20 months of work, it was time to show our new game Killsquad to the public. We’re an indie studio from Barcelona, Spain. Team size on the project was 16 people. Engine is Unreal. Studio history is 10 years as Sony exclusive, not exclusive anymore since 2016, now indie, multiplatform, self-funded. And with a goal in mind: show our game at E3 to get media traction.
First of all, we needed a booth. The best way to get one if you’re small like us is to secure space inside some larger entity, so you’re effectively a mini-booth inside a bigger one. In our case, our booth was a section within the larger Indiecade booth, roughly 10x10 feet. We chose Indiecade as we love their mission, and we rightly believed they would give us good visibility as everybody knows Indiecade. Good choice! Talk to Indiecade if you need exposure at shows, super nice people.
Seen in hindsight, our size was appropriate, as you can see on the videos, for our game, which is a 4 player PC title. All in all (floor, internet, décor, etc.) we paid roughly 10k USD for it. If you ask me, we feel this is a good value compared to what we got in response: we got 3 award nominations at E3, we did +300 demos, +30 media presentations, we were featured on the Steam home page… so of course owning a booth is a significant investment, but we feel it’s worth the money.
When booking booths, remember alleys are *not* part of your booth. Hence, 10x10 ft is actually bigger than it seems: your space is just the raw space occupied by your stuff, not the space around it.
Second, remember booths usually are not networked. Our game was 100% online, so we had to fork extra cash to have a cable and be ready to connect. Never use WiFi at shows: it’s usually congested with the audience's cell phones, so you’ll have poor performance and the experience will suffer. Always make sure you get a guarantee that all the ports will be opened, no firewalls, so you can connect to whatever service you need, in our case, Steam.
In terms of décor, always manufacture everything onsite. In our case, we manufactured all the materials in LA (we are from Barcelona, Spain). We used Vistaprint, we shipped it direct to E3, so we picked up right at our booth. Saves a ton of logistical nightmares and a lot of cost. Once the show is over, just ship the items back home and you have nice décor for your office!
For audio-visual, we did a couple tricks worth mentioning: first, we didn’t rent on-site. Quite frankly, renting a TV at E3 would have cost us more than buying the TV itself. Not kidding. Instead, we rented everything from a reputable audio-visual company in LA, paid one third the price, got super good service. Shout out to Red Carpet Systems, you guys rock!
The other trick as to look for a sponsor. Our PCs were kindly donated by Lenovo, who supplied 4 super-duper game boxes, the Ideacentre. Not only are they amazing, and our game set on a solid 140 frames per second, but we also saved a ton of money and logistics. Of course, this was a loan, so the PCs were gone when the show was over, but that’s exactly what you want: killer machines delivered to your door, and picked up on final day.
Now, you got your booth. As a general rule, you want to have as many people onsite as gaming stations, plus one. That’s because all gaming stations will be busy and require assistance, and the extra person can be doing interviews, maintenance, etc. In our case, we were only 4, so we ended up luring a good friend (thanks Saul!) to help out as we were overwhelmed by reception. I’d say the longest pause we had in 3 days was maybe 10 minutes. All the rest was game demos back to back, which is great but extremely tiring. I survive on Halls pills as my throat kills me after the first day.
For E3, booths are assembled the day before opening. In our case, it took us approx. 4 hours to get the booth to its final form. Just make sure you have a clear idea of how do you want this thing to look, and be ready to change plans on the fly. In our case, quite frankly, the layout we had designed didn’t quite work out, so we ended up moving pieces around and improvising a bit. If that happens to you, communicate with the show people: they’ve done this a million times. In our case, we discussed ideas with the Indiecade people, moved tables a bit and, all of a sudden, our booth looked fantastic. Humble, but so cool.
And so the day comes, doors open, and people flood the booth. No! That only will happen if you’ve done your preparatory homework. It is *true* that a lot of people will just show up, and I mean very senior people who just walked by, engaged with us, and we now are friends with. We had people from Sony, Microsoft, Universal, and many many more just coming over to check out the game. Still, it’s good to have an appointment list and work on it ahead of the show. In our case, that was 3 weeks of work before E3 by our PR company. They just reserved slots, and we kept track on a GoogleDocs sheet. Nothing too fancy, but definitely useful. At the show floor, we had an Ipad so we could keep track of schedule.
Once the show starts, it’s time to sell your game. Keep things short and to the point. For Killsquad, we knew our demo lasted about 15 minutes, which is on the long end of the spectrum. Aim for 10 minutes and you’ll be ok, demos for shows need to be short. Additionally, prepare your presentation notes, so all team members communicate exactly the same message all the time. Keep it short and focused. In the case of Killsquad, the notes were literally two slides: one about the game design, one about the lore. Don’t get creative or improvise: you’ll do a lot of presentations (in our case, approx. 300 people). Being consistent on your messaging is key to a successful campaign. A good trick is, for every feature, try to define it in a 7 word sentence or less, so it becomes a slogan of sorts. At the show, conversation will be more free-form and fluid, but you will have your key messages ready at hand in this super compact form if you need them.
Another good advice I can share is, be ready to jump at every opportunity. Don’t be the guy who says NO: be the guy who says “sure!”. For example, BBC came, all of a sudden, with a coverage opportunity. Say YES! A very well known German streamer came with a specific capture card, and needed a complex set-up to record him talking to camera while playing our game. Say YES. In my experience, the complicated bits are where good rewards lie. Don’t ask me why, but generally speaking complexity of set-up is proportional to impact. I have a perfect example, at this years' E3. We were hanging out at the booth doing demos on Day 1, and all of a sudden, a person from Indiecade (hello Tiffany!) comes and says “hey, we had a game planned for an event at the Esports Arena, but there’s a problem, so we have a gap. Could you jump in and be ready to show your game on stage, tomorrow”? As you can imagine, this was a logistical nightmare. In 24 hours, we had to:
- Cut down a demo lasting 15 minutes to 5 minutes, including a build recompile in LA on UnrealEngine
- Prepare 2 hours of live commentary on the stage
- Do tech support to the staff taking care of the event, so they could set-up the game quickly.
- All in all, this was enough stress to kill a grown up elephant
In other words: a nightmare. But you see, this is the kind of nightmare you should *dream* of. What is the value of the coverage we received? Huge. And we got it just because, even before feeling scared and stressed, we said “YES”. Trade shows are a land of opportunity. Make sure you use it well. Make sure you’re nice to people. And great stuff will happen. I've seen a positive, open attitude pay off again and again.
In my mind, those are the main lessons we can extract from this year’s E3. I don't want to drag on for too long. Now, I’d just want to wrap up with a couple negative points as, let’s face it, we didn’t achieve all goals despite the overall positive balance:
First of all, we failed at attracting bigger media, such as IGN, Gamespot, etc. If you're reading this, let's talk! You could believe this failure to reach them is due to them not covering indies, but that would not be true: they have covered a lot of indies at this years E3. I think we failed as we didn’t work hard enough or long enough to generate buzz and get the bigger outlets into our booth. With so many games, journalists naturally tend to flock to the bigger titles. Securing coverage was harder than we anticipated, as you need to surpass a certain threshold to be noticed by the bigger outlets.
Which brings me to the second point: in hindsight, we should have planned this with more time. We managed to assemble a booth, we got really nice awards, we got really good coverage, but I feel we could have achieved even more with longer planning. Our E3 plan was executed in the month prior to E3. It’s way too short. We indies tend to overvalue development work, and undervalue marketing effort. When marketing does take a ton of time and effort as well.
As a consequence, we will do PAX West end of July, and we’re already working on it.
That’s about it. As I said, I hope it was useful. Feel free to ask anything on the comments section and I’ll do my best.
Feel free to copy this article wherever you like, just credit me.
And, if you’d fancy a 4 player coop bounty hunter RPG, make sure you add Killsquad to your wishlists on Steam!