PAX: The Indie Game Developer’s E3 Expo

With millions of marketing dollars hard at work on games like Call of Duty and Mass Effect, do independent developers stand a chance? You bet! The games industry has reached an interesting period where consumers have begun to actively seek out indie games. Is it because traditional big-budget titles are sorely lacking in innovation? Are today’s indie gems fulfilling a need through their willingness to take risks with gripping, heartrending tales like Freebird Games’ To The Moon? Or is it simply because there are now popular trade shows like the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) that let developers bring the games face-to-face with their target audience? It’s very likely a combination of the three, but PAX is the puzzle piece that has put the power directly in the hands of these indie studios.

According to the NPD, in Q4 2011 consumers spent $3.3 billion dollars in games outside of traditional boxed products. That includes “used games, game rentals, subscriptions, digital full-game downloads, social network games, downloadable content and mobile games,” and downloadable gaming plays a large role in this figure. Interestingly, SEGA, one of the larger publishers attending PAX East 2012, is showing eight titles at the show this year, including games like Jet Set Radio and Hell Yeah from smaller developers, while showcasing only one boxed retail game.

With a price tag of around $2,000 for 10’x20’ booth space and an attendance of about 70,000 at PAX East in 2011, PAX is the sweet spot for indie developers. At a show like this, not only can they meet their existing fans, but it’s also much easier to garner new fans, and even shake their hand, too. It’s hard not to feel special when given a chance to meet the actual creator of a game and offer feedback and encouragement. Attendees of a show like this are some of the most passionate fans, making PAX ideal for viral, word-of-mouth excitement.

Having attended PAX East since it originated in 2010, I’ve noticed a few trends – the ratio of big name studios to fresh new faces is almost 1:1, and nearly every booth location can be good real estate. A spot beside a booth like Rockstar Games may at first seem intimidating to a small developer, but with long lines wrapping around the booth, con-goers will quickly move on to the next shiny booth that catches their eye, willing to trade some play-time for feedback.

Traditional gaming expos like E3 cost developers hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars; journalists have limited time and resources to cover a slew of smaller titles that don’t generate the same attention as the AAA games. For these reasons and more, PAX has become an affordable, welcoming trade show that lets developers bring their games directly to the players. In fact, top-tier gaming press attend PAX to cover and discover the latest and greatest in indie gaming. It’s one of the few showcase opportunities where you’ll see indies honored right alongside their big-budget buddies.

TriplePoint will have a ground team at PAX East this year, manning booth #368 for Paradox Interactive and booths #548 and #448 for SEGA. Follow us on Twitter and send a shout-out if you see us or if you’d like to meet up!

Stephanie – @tigresaa  |  David – @dasupa1  |  Dustin – @DustinBlackwell  |  Ryan – @ArrrMo

VVVVVV and the Power of PR for Indie Games

It’s only the second week of January, and 2010 is already shaping up to be another incredibly strong year for independent game development. Derek Yu’s freeware colossus, Spelunky, and past IGF Grand Prize winner Darwinia are both coming to XBLA. Newgrounds sensation Meat Boy is headed to WiiWare, as is indie classic Cave Story. Many of the recently announced finalists in the 12th annual Independent Games Festival look poised to take the gaming masses by storm, if they haven’t already, and you can bet there will be plenty of talk about them as GDC approaches. Despite all the buzz surrounding the IGF and these heavyweight indie titles, some clever PR outreach by Terry Cavanaugh has ensured that his cruelly entertaining puzzle-platformer “VVVVVV” is the first big independent game of 2010.

Over the last week or so, talk of VVVVVV has been popping up everywhere, from EDGE (who gave the game an impressive 8/10) and BoingBoing to Destructoid and Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Some people might chalk that up to word-of-mouth and the fact that VVVVVV is a great game, but the true culprit is Terry himself. He’s kept his fans up to date and provided behind-the-scenes details with a regularly updated blog, taken his game on the road to big events, done interviews with the right outlets, and weathered bad news honestly and gracefully.

Even more importantly, his well-planned preparations for VVVVVV’s launch, including an incentivized preorder campaign, have caused a plethora of stories about VVVVVV to hit the web in an incredibly short period of time. Buzz can be built up in a wide variety of ways, but one of the best things you can do to get people interested is make sure they see your game mentioned so many times they can’t NOT look it up.

At the end of the day, VVVVVV’s success does, truthfully, hinge on the high quality of the title. If the game wasn’t fun to play, we wouldn’t be hearing about it. That being said, the simple PR tactics Terry used to get his game out there and get people talking are what may take it from being a good indie title to a top game of 2010.

Whether you’ve got a team of 250 people making a million-dollar title or you’re a one-man studio with almost no budget, spending some time (and sometimes a little money) on public relations can ultimately be the difference between a good game and a great one. VVVVVV, the first great indie game of 2010, is living proof. Do yourself a favor and give it a try!