PAX East 2013 Report

Jennifer and I recently returned from our first ever trip to PAX East in Boston, so we thought it would be worthwhile jotting down a brief report of how things went. Not only was this the first time we had been to PAX, but it was the first time that I had ever visited the East coast of America.

We showed Tengami as part of the fantastic Indie MEGABOOTH. For those that don’t know, the Indie MEGABOOTH is a collective of indie developers that club together to acquire show floor space. By being part of the MEGABOOTH many things are done for you, not to mention the incredible support you get from all the volunteers during the show. The basic booth is constructed for you with carpet, partitions and simple furniture (a table and couple of chairs). Anything else that you require you must supply yourself. Being from outside the U.S. this can prove to be tricky, but thankfully for us our game is on the iPad so we were able to bring almost everything that we needed with us. What we weren’t able to bring was a TV which we wanted so that we could show the game to people passing by the booth. It turns out, rather bizarrely, that buying a TV is cheaper than hiring one, so Jennifer got one at Best Buy the day before the show. As we had no way of bringing it back to the UK, we donated it as a prize in a giveaway to the PAX Enforcers.

PAX East 2013

We arrived late on the Wednesday night with the show starting on the Friday morning. We knew that the Thursday was going to be really hectic. We hadn’t had enough time to complete the demo version before leaving the UK and we also needed to setup and prepare the booth for the show. In order to get everything done we decided to split up; Jennifer took the job of going to the convention centre and setting up. While Jennifer was doing all of this I had the job of trying to pull together the demo. We were attempting to show a whole new level that we hadn’t shown previously. On Thursday the level was still in pieces and we’d almost given up hope of getting it into a sufficiently good shape for the public to play: there were no sounds or music, the camera work was incomplete and you couldn’t even play all the way through the level. It took me until midnight to get everything together to the point where we felt we could show it. To make Thursday even more demanding, Jennifer came down with a severe cold and temperature and she almost passed out at the convention centre. Unusually for me I managed to avoid picking up the same cold until after PAX. Even feeling ill, she did an amazing job of soldiering on and talking to all the many people who came to the booth on subsequent days.

With everything ready we got up at 6am Friday morning to have breakfast and get to the convention centre in time for the press hour from 9-10, before the show opened to the public at 10. With only me and Jennifer at the show we had requested a helper for our booth so that we could occasionally take some breaks. Eric, who was in charge of assigning the MEGABOOTH volunteers, supplied us with a steady flow of people who had kindly donated their time. We talked nonstop to people who came by the booth only taking a few minutes here and there to take breaks. Even lunch had to be eaten at the booth. By the end of three days of doing this my feet and back were aching and I’d almost lost my voice.

PAX East 2013

Besides showing the game, I had also agreed to be part of a PAX panel that a friend of mine, Jon Ingold of Inkle studios, had organised. The panel was about storytelling in indie games and took place on the Friday afternoon. Initially I had been a little unsure of agreeing to be involved for two reasons: first I was worried about preparation time and second I wasn’t sure I would have much of value to add to the panel given that Tengami is not a game that has storytelling in any traditional sense. In the end I was glad I did the panel. I managed to grab half an hour on the Friday morning to gather my thoughts and it was a very enjoyable experience. While what I had to say was quite different from many of the other panelists, everyone seemed to agree that this gave the panel a better balance than it might otherwise have had. I did somewhat shamelessly plug Tengami in the panel which was great because we then had a decent number of people who came to see the game off the back of going to the panel.

Looking back on the three days after recovering, I can say that it was a fantastic experience. The overall atmosphere was fun, friendly and inviting. I imagined before going that it was going to be more of a ‘hardcore gamer’ crowd, but in reality the people we met were remarkably diverse and our booth was always busy. I had many wonderful conversations with players about the ideas behind Tengami as well as just indie games in general. Two things in particular stuck in my mind: the first was a woman who upon completing the demo said that she couldn’t thank us enough for making the game. It was exactly the kind of game she wanted to see on the iPad and just wished there were more. To have a player tell you something like that is the most amazing feeling. The second was a seven year old boy and his father playing the game. The boy played through both demos almost completely on his own. Afterwards he told his dad that he couldn’t wait for the game to come out. His dad then told him he should tell me that, so he shyly came up to me and whispered the same thing. I was really touched by this.

Making games is all about people playing games, and ideally about touching people’s lives in some profound way. To be able to achieve this, even if in only some small way makes all the challenges and struggles of development worthwhile. I came back from PAX feeling energised and more determined than ever that we are going to make Tengami the best that it can be.