Taking your game to a convention can be very rewarding, but expensive. Still, you can do it (with a little pre-planning)!
Through building your audience, making business connections, or meeting new developers, you can help grow your game’s potential a great deal through taking it to a show. However, the price of doing so is something you should be aware of, as it can cost a great deal of cash to set up one of those amazing booths at PAX or Gamescom.
That’s not to say that you can’t do it on a careful budget.
To get an idea on the various expenses and surprises that come from showing at a convention and how to budget for them, Indie Games Plus reached out to a handful of publishers and convention staff to learn more about the amount of money that can be necessary for these events, as well as some ways to save money through being choosy about shows, equipment, and other aspects of showing off your game. It’s a lot to digest, but with some planning with these things in mind, you can go into your next convention knowing what to expect!
There is a large variety in booth costs, depending on the show you wish to attend with your game. Toge Productions has been in game development for a decade, with its successes leading it to begin publishing games in 2017. With a suite of great games it helps show at conventions, we spoke to Mohammed Fahmi, Marketing and PR Manager at Toge Productions, to see what they felt was important to think about when talking costs.
Fahmi remarks that there is a huge spread depending on where you go to show the game off. “For an event like Gamescom, the cost of an Indie Arena Booth is around 1700 Euros (or $1930 USD), which is pretty expensive, but the good thing is they provided a PC/console (in our case, they even made a custom arcade cabinet for Ultra Space Battle Brawl), lunch throughout the event, and the whole show is five days long (which is good for getting your money’s worth, but it takes a toll, especially when you run around between manning your booth and doing meetings),” says Fahmi.
Things get a bit higher for shows like PAX East. “For the PAX East Indie Megabooth, a 10×30 ft booth space to showcase 3 games (it was Infectonator 3, Ultra Space Battle Brawl, and Rage in Peace) cost us $4000 USD. You also needed to pay for additional carpet (which is important because it makes your booth look good and helps dull the pain from standing for 3-4 days). There’s also the cost to rent TV/PC/Laptops,” he continues.
Fahmi found there were several other, somewhat cheaper options for them for showing throughout Asia. “Showcasing in Asia is definitely cheaper considering that we’re in Asia, too, so the flight ticket is far less than going to US or Europe. Here are some of the conventions we attend:
Busan Indie Connect (BIC): The best one because the booth is free, and they provide you with free accommodations at a four star hotel. So far, this is my favorite event.
BitSummit: Indie Area costs you either $300 or $450 (with free PC provided).
Taipei Game Show: Free booth for B2B (business to business connection), around $150 for the B2C (business to consumer connection). They provide free hotels for B2B as well. I would recommend going to the B2B because there are a lot of business meetings you can do here, and it was next to nothing, cost-wise.
WePlay Shanghai: Not sure about the cost, but thanks to our participation at PAX East, IMB provided Infectonator 3 and USBB a free spot at their booth. And we also brought She and the Light Bearer to the BIC booth thanks to our participation in their event (they even gave us free hotel). So, going to an event might lead to another event for free!
G-Star: It was also free for us because we got a free booth from participating in BIC two months before the event. Another good investment.
Tokyo Game Show: I won’t say TGS is worth it because people go to the event for AAA games, but you can do some business meetings and meet a lot of fellow indies here. The booth is free if you pass their selection, otherwise it’s $2000.”
For Dreamhack Austin, a 10×10 Indie Playground space with two chairs, a table, and a placard with your company name and booth number on it, as well as two tickets to the convention, costs nothing, should developers submit their game and have it approved. EGX Rezzed’s Leftfield Collection also gives you a place to exhibit at no cost if you are selected to show there (thanks Eric Merz!).
Also, for those with small budgets, there may be tiny local shows to bring your game out to as well, allowing you to keep costs low while still bringing your game out for players and others to see. Talking with your fellow local developers may turn up some interesting things in your area that may be much easier to reach and pay for than a trip around the globe.
“My advice when setting a general budget is to make sure to really think through what convention you want to attend, what your goal is, and what you want to get out of it. Plan an event as carefully as you plan your game,” says Jeanette Bauer, Events Mastermind at publisher Raw Fury. Raw Fury has been in the business for four years and shows a sharp eye for critically-acclaimed titles (Gonner, Uurnog Uurnilimted, Dandara) and how to help them look good at conventions.
“There are consumer trade show like e.g. PAX where you will meet gamers face to face, or a business /conference event like GDC if you are looking for an indie publisher or just want to learn more on how to reach out with your game.”
“Choose your event wisely. Usually, we go to events in the West for the consumers (Gamescom, PAX) and go to events in Asia for business and friends. Because the attendees of PAX and Gamescom are mainly indie gamers, you might consider them as your main target market (and you should be able to communicate with them easily in English), while events in Asia will have business people from all over the world (for example, we made connections with Valve in Korea and Malaysia, while we met Nintendo in Korea and Japan),” says Fahmi
Knowing what you want to do, be it seeking a publisher, making business or development connections, or growing awareness among players, can help you find various conventions that can suit what you’re going to do, as well as the budget you have in place.
You’ve got your little slice of convention cut out for yourself. Now, you just need to put everything into it.
“Make budget estimates for all booth related details – booth space, furniture, tech equipment, electricity, signages, graphics, walls, carpet including padding, lights, decoration, merch, staff clothing (e.g. branded T-shirts), freight, rentals of other various items needed, and shipping/handling,” says Bauer.
You need power for your equipment. Monitors/TVs. Consoles/laptops/tablets. Seating. Tables. Signs. Decorations. You need all of these physical things to arrive at the convention somehow. You need to buy new or used ones if you don’t want to ship stuff in. Getting that booth filled with the equipment you need can accrue a ton of new costs you need to factor into your budget.
Bauer mentions that electricity alone can be a headache. “Another surprise which you need to be aware of in the US is that you need to order booth electricity separately, have a second company or labour workers splitting the power in requested outlets separately, and both needs to be calculated, ordered in advance, and is also expensive.” $80-100 was quoted to us by Dreamhack, to give developers an idea.
As for monitors, consoles, and the like, these bulky, breakable items can make trouble in their own ways. Traveling with your own equipment may save you from buying new, but you have to factor in the shipping costs, chances of it getting damaged, and the amount of time it may take these items to arrive. You have to pay to stow these things on the flight with you if you choose to bring them on your flight. If it’s feasible to drive, you may be able to be more careful, but this may eat up more funds due to hotels, gas, and your own time.
Rentals are possible in many places, although you may wish to be early if you want to get the items you need (you’re not the only person at the show, after all). For a three day rental, Hartford Technology Rental quoted the following prices on some gaming-related equipment: MSI GT73VR Titan Gaming Laptop (Quad Core i7-6820HK 2.7GHz, 16GB, 128GB SSD, 1TB HDD, NVIDIA GTX 1080 8GB DDR5X, 17.3″ 1080p 120Hz IPS Display, Win 10) was $160 for three days, a 27” Monitor was $45, and a 32” Monitor was $73. These prices may vary widely depending on where you are, but may offer a useful possibility.
Another possibility that was offered anonymously, from a handful of sources, was to take advantage of the return policies of big-box stores. “I don’t know whether it’s okay to share this or not, but in the US, you can cheat the TV part by going to Walmart/Target, buy the TV you need, use it throughout the event, and then return it for a full refund after you’re done with the show (make sure you take good care of the TV, though).”
Borrowing from friends might not be possible, but keep it in mind if you need another trick up your sleeve. You can also try contacting your local branch of the International Game Developers Association to see if they have any advice or can help you out in some way.
Setting your booth up may also require laborers, depending on how your choice of convention handles things, which is another cost that may sneak up on you. “What may be of a surprise for indie game developers at their first show is that, at some shows, you need to contract labor workers for almost everything. You can’t expect to do most of the work yourself, and that can turn out to be quite an expensive affair,” says Bauer.
You also want your booth to be more than a game running on a table, so signage and other decorations are also key. You can shop around various banner printing places that are local to your convention to save you the cost of shipping the items (and reduce likelihood they’ll be damaged in transit), but you run the risk of things possibly not being ready on time unless you plan this early, or if your pickup doesn’t go quite as planned. Many of these print shops have a wide variety of prices you can get quotes for online, allowing you to get things in place with a comfortable time buffer for disasters. Not that they happen often, but sometimes, just hearing that something is ready can take a welcome load off of your mind as you’re prepping.
This also goes for business cards, buttons, stickers, merch, and the like. These are less of a necessity according to some developers, but you may want something the player or business person can take in order to help them remember that they played your game (certain journalists keep stacks of cards/postcards from the con to remind them of what they played so they can cover it later, for example). Most attendees are extremely busy, so a small keepsake can help trigger that memory later.
“I won’t recommend stickers because some events ban stickers and will charge you if they find your sticker around the convention area. Go with postcards with beautiful/cool art in the front part, and game descriptions, how to play, and links/QR in the back part. Limit giving out the postcards each day, too. You don’t want to be out of things to give out on the last day,” says Fahmi.
Barring that, an email list can work wonders as well and cost you nothing other than a sheet of printed paper. This also puts the contact in your hands, rather than relying on someone else to remember your game when they’re tired/busy, although not everyone is comfortable giving away their email address. It’s hard to argue with something that’s free when you’re worrying about so many costs, though.
You may need to think on whether you speak the local language, depending on where you go. “Don’t forget localization costs! In case you’re showcasing in Korea, China, or Japan – localization is a must!
For events in Asia, they usually have volunteers to help out as interpreters. There’s a big chance the volunteers would be very busy, though, so if you know someone or have enough budget, hiring an interpreter is a good thing (although not always mandatory),” says Fahmi.
If this all sounds like too much to bear, you can also consider hiring someone to plan it all for you, although this will inflate your costs. “You can decide on organizing all the details by yourself, or you can contract a company to handle the service for you. It depends on how much time you can invest to organize it all or how much you are willing to spend to let someone else do it for you. Contracting a firm to handle the booth for you is a great alternative and can be a smooth experience. However, it´s also very expensive if you have a tight budget,” says Bauer.
These things may sound like a look to deal with, but now that you know to consider them, you can take some time to plan for what you’d like to do with them. You’re already a game developer, so breaking down big jobs into single steps is what you do! This is just another thing you’ll need to put those skills to work doing.
Outside Booth Costs
You have your booth, and its full of neat game stuff and signs. Now, you, and whoever is working with you, needs to get there and stay there.
Flights can be one of the most unsure variables. Some developers suggest seeing if something other than the standard commercial airline can get you to where you need to go. You may have to do without a screen or in-flight food, but it may make the difference between going or not. Travelling by car might be a possibility, but be sure to factor in gas, distance, travel time, and parking when you’re doing your budgets.
Once you’ve arrived, you need to sleep somewhere. Hotels can provide a place to stay that’s close to the convention, but these can get quite expensive as well. Splitting a room with others can make those costs a bit more manageable, but you may also want to consider renting a house, AirBnB, or a hostel to make things a little cheaper for yourself (and maybe stay with some friends who can make things a bit more relaxed). Watch where you’re staying, though as you will need to factor public transit, cabs, and other travel arrangements to get you from the convention and back.
“If you are going in order to get the opportunity to meet other developers and share experience, demo the game to press, potential sales partners, connect and build a network within the gaming industry, it really doesn’t have to get so expensive. You can choose to stay at a hotel close by where everything happens and pay more. Or you can find an alternative further away, rent apartment or even share a house with other indie devs and pay far less,” says Bauer.
You’ve also got to eat while you’re there. Hitting up parties and developer dinners can be a source of free food, but they can be hard to rely on, especially if you have dietary restrictions. Eating out adds up fast, as does getting food from the convention itself, so keep an eye out for cheaper options nearby. You can also hit up a local grocery store and load up on fruit and portable food. Sandwiches may get old, but they cost a fraction of what you will spend on one meal out in many places.
“Bring food! I would also recommend buying a box (or a few bottles) of water and hiding them underneath the booth. You will need A LOT OF water for conventions,” says Fahmi.
Also, you may have to look at all of these costs for more than one person, as you run the risk of burning out hard if you try to do the entire convention on your own. Be sure to look at each cost here as a collective to ensure you know how much it will cost to bring all of your people to where you’re going, and then keeping them upright while they’re there. With some careful pre-planning, though, you can get yourself to the show, ready and raring to break your game to its future adoring public.
We received a few additional pieces of advice for planning a convention budget, and how to keep costs down so that you don’t go broke trying to get your game into peoples’ hands.
For Bauer, planning in advance was big in keeping costs down. “If you do plan in advance, trust me, it will really help. You get the discount rates most conventions are offering for early birds. This also goes for booking flights and hotels early, since prices tend to get higher the closer you get to the travel dates. And you may risk that all hotels rooms are fully booked and need to get expensive alternatives. Last minute solutions are always horribly expensive.”
Part of knowing how to plan may require you to go to other conventions first to get a general feel for what you’ll need. “If you haven’t been to conventions before, maybe start with a small event somewhere closer to home just to grasp all the things involved. Then you might realize if you feel ready to travel across the globe,” says Bauer.
You’ll also want to leave some room in your budget for the inevitable disasters. Someone doesn’t show up, TV gets busted in transit. Your cable fries. Your merch doesn’t get printed right “Before an event, make sure to have a backup plan for the worst possible thing that could happen. It probably won’t happen. Don’t have nightmares, it will all be well in the end, just try and be ready for anything. Anything from computers or consoles crashing (have a backup if you can), the person planned to demo the game gets the flu or misses his/her flight (make sure someone can jump in), your bag with all goodies/flyers disappears during travel (buy candy and run to a printer service with a USB). You get what I mean!” says Bauer.
Budgeting for your booth will require a ton of calls, emails, and research based on the area and convention, but can help keep an already-expensive event from spinning out of control. By keeping what you want to spend in mind alongside what you wish to accomplish, though, and factoring in the many, many things that go into running a booth, you can create that play space for your game to thrive at a convention, drawing players in to see your game in the real world and experience the fun you’ve got to offer with it.
Dive headfirst into the exhibiting experience by joining the Indie Playground at DreamHack Dallas this June. Selected games will receive a free booth in the Expo at a festival that encompasses everything gamer life from esports, to indie games, to midnight horror films.