Going to a conference isn’t cheap. Even if you get a free pass to a conference, you’ll need to take time off and spend money on room and board while you’re there.
The good news? The upside can be potentially transformative. Finding investors or publishers, meeting an individual who ends up being incredibly valuable, learning something you didn’t even know you didn’t know…
But, there is a catch. You can’t just show up at a conference and expect to get value. You’ve got to do some homework. In my experience, the value you get from a conference is directly proportional to the work you put into it.
Here are my tips to get the most out of your next conference, broken down into three parts: prep work before you go, what to do while you’re there, and how to follow up effectively.
Preparation before the conference
What do you want to get out of the conference? If you can’t think of something, don’t go. It’s not enough to say you want to “stay open to possibilities.” I don’t know many developers who have been successful at a conference that way.
If you’re looking for a place to start with goals, here are some ideas worth considering:
- Meet a publisher or investor. Make yourself known and set up a follow up meeting. (Don’t expect to ink a deal at the conference. Typically, that happens later.)
- Enter an indie game competition. It’s a great way to get exposure to influential folks in the industry and maximize exposure for your game. You may even get to showcase your game at the conference!
- Get a mentor. Folks in our industry love to help each other. Meet folks at the mixers and parties. You may hit it off with a fantastic mentor who can help a lot. Make sure to have a clear ask on what you want to be mentored on.
- Learn how to… Increase downloads, conversions, ad revenue, etc. There will typically be talks covering just about anything you want to learn more about. There are also a ton of vendors who would be happy to help, and even other developers will likely share what they’ve learned. Remember to check session attendance against your goals.
- See your competition. It’s possible that the games competing for your potential players' attention are much better than you had thought. Do you need to change project goals to be competitive or are you setting the bar in your category?
Create a meeting strategy
Based on your goals for the conference, you should have a good idea who you want to meet with. If not, most conferences will have a list of attendees, so you can look through the list to help you find people to meet with. Do this early, as folks’ calendars fill up quickly.
Here are some tips for setting meetings:
- When setting a meeting via email or a conference system, be sure to include a concise ask. For example, “I’d like to show you my game in development and discuss if there is a potential publishing arrangement for Q3 2018.”
- Avoid scheduling or accepting un-needed meetings. Remember your goals, and be respectful of the time of others.
- Be location-aware. Not all meetings are at the conference center.
- Confirm meetings two days prior to the conference.
Give yourself time to process the last meeting before your next meeting. Make sure you finish your notes and leave time to travel to your next meeting. The worst mistake I made was to book meetings back to back. If they ran short, I was okay. But few ran short.
Prepare for your demo
Do you plan on doing a demo of your game? If so, here are some things to think about before you arrive at the conference.
- Have a quick reset build available. It should take seconds to make your game demo ready for the next player.
- Know what you want to showcase. You could choose to highlight amazing art, clever monetization mechanics, engaging game loop, or original game mechanics.
- Create your demo build to show off that aspect of the game. Publishers probably want to see a fun loop that can be monetized. Investors may want to see you have an outstanding artist on staff. Prize voters (game judges) may want to see originality and creativity.
- Don’t forget to check this against your conference goals.
If all of this sounds like a lot of work, it’s true. And if you also need to staff a booth where you are showcasing your game, you may want to consider taking someone with you to the conference. Just make sure you have assigned tasks that they can do on their own while you concentrate on your own tasks.
At the conference
Smile! Say hello to strangers. The least productive attendees spend the conference sitting down, staring at their phone just waiting for someone to come up and talk to them. That almost never happens. Instead, stand up, smile, and greet people. Every person you talk to is an opportunity to practice your elevator pitch! You never know who you might meet this way.
Manage your meetings well
A well-prepared dev will always impress more than one who is disorganized. Here’s how to give a great first impression while being practical at the same time.
- Print a hard-copy of your schedule. WiFi at conferences rarely works as well as you like, and never as well as you need.
- Come prepared. Bring cards, pen and paper, but also research on the company you’re meeting with. Little is quite as embarrassing as asking for a meeting, only to learn that you don’t really understand what they do.
- Take notes. You never remember as much as you think you will.
- Make sure you get their business cards. This is critical for spelling and title accuracy when you follow up.
Demo your game
The first step is optimizing for your typical demo space. Rarely will the space available have bandwidth that makes your game look good. Consider this as you prepare the demo you want to show. If you are showcasing your game in conjunction with a competition, you’ll likely have a table to demo from. Yay! If not, you may need to optimize for two people standing next to each other in the middle of a crowd. In either case, showing off your audio will require headphones (don’t share earbuds. Gross.) So how do you get people to stop and play?
- Ask people if they want to play your game
- Be able to describe it in two sentences
- “It’s a match-3 game where you can move the board 90 degrees and cause a big reset!”
- “It’s a puzzle game set inside a text adventure. You get clues to the puzzles as you go farther through the adventure.”
- “It’s a first-person shooter where you attack with clever insults and defend with witty comebacks instead of using bullets and shields.”
Here is how to make sure players have a good experience once they stop to play your game:
- Have the game ready to go. No waiting rocks!
- Let your guest play the game. Don’t play it for them.
- Offer influencers a copy of your game. You want to help them play, write, and talk about your game as much as possible.
- Ask for their business cards.
Other useful hints
- Introduce people to each other, and include context for the introduction. Both parties will remember the introduction with context favorably.
- Check in on your staff occasionally. Not only to help them stay on-task, but to gather any hot leads or connections that you should act on quickly.
- Remember your conference goals!
Every bit as important as preparation and execution, follow up is where business is conducted. Schedule time in your calendar for follow up. I am typically able to schedule two days to devote to following up, and it’s never enough.
Here are some things that people appreciate:
- Provide a lot of context in your follow up mail. They may not remember you, but don’t be offended. They probably met 100 devs just like you. A detailed follow-up will differentiate you from the rest.
- List deliverables (yours and theirs). It’s why you need to send the follow-up mail, after all.
- Add the people you met on social media. Use a custom greeting, not the default note. You want your contact to feel special.
- Record all your notes in one place. Make sure all the information you gathered gets recorded in one searchable place (CRM, Excel, whatever).