November 19, 2014Building a Booth on a Budgetby Ben

Last month, we attended the Ohio Game Developers Expo in Columbus, Ohio to show off an early demo of our game “Octile Takeover.” This was an incredible experience for us, and it was one of the few conventions we could afford without begging for money. Here’s what we did to keep our costs under control and still have a great booth presence.

First, the swag. People want stuff when they come into your booth. At the very least, you’ll need cards for people to remember your game. We considered stickers, but not only are stickers relatively expensive – they’re also prohibited at most conventions. We didn’t know the rules early enough for this expo, so we just went with cards. In order to help us stand out a bit, we got a half-circle shape to accentuate the main character of our game: an octopus. We ordered them from gotprint.net, and they turned out beautifully:

My Dad offered us some of the best advice: If you have candy, they will come. We bought a couple of small plastic fishbowls (to keep the theme), and put candy in one. Tons of people just came over to the booth to grab a Tootsie Roll or a mint – also, there was a trick-or-treat event going on at COSI (the building where the convention was held), so we had something to offer visiting families as well. We originally were going to get a bunch of individually wrapped Swedish Fish to fit our theme, but they were far more expensive. A bag of 3 billion tootsie rolls is super cheap, and it fulfilled our needs.

Second, signage. We got a 2’ x 4’ banner for our company name, and it turned out great (again, an excellent job from gotprint.net)! However, we were between two booths with massive banners, so it looked a little small. Banners are super cheap (ours was only $15), so I might recommend going a bit bigger for your booth.

My favorite item that we ordered was a 4’ free-standing plastic octopus cutout from partystandups.com. I had looked into other companies, but partystandups.com had two options that I was very excited about: they could print on a sturdy plastic material, and they could provide an easel that uses velcro. This makes it much more durable and reusable, and it was still about the same price as other companies using cardboard. I have to say that their website gave me hesitation – the site design looks dated, but the quality of the product was excellent. Also, we originally received the wrong kind of easel, but I called, talked to a real person right away, and was shipped a replacement easel the next day.

After being a company for a decade, we decided it was probably time to order some official Okeedoke Studios shirts. Unfortunately, there are 50 billion T-shirt companies online. We ended up going with one of the best: customink.com. Their mascot is an octopus! How could we not order from them?

Now, I’m very particular about my T-shirts. I was looking for a very specific feel of shirt, and a particular printing style. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to discern how a shirt is going to feel by browsing them online. We ordered the Hanes Tagless T-shirt, and I was hoping for a softer feel, but they still felt a bit rough, even after a few washes. The printing on the shirt looks great – they even added a “distressed” look upon request, which I absolutely love. I have to say that I was looking for a specific printing style, which happened to use water-based ink, but I didn’t figure that out until after we had ordered the shirts. However, customink.com was incredibly helpful and easy to work with – they even recommended that we order twice as many shirts for the same total amount!

To actually show off the game, we brought our desktop PC, and bought a wired Xbox 360 controller. Our game is meant to be played with a controller, rather than a keyboard. We had a wireless controller, but we thought the wired version would be a better idea. That way, no one accidentally walked off with a wireless one.

Originally, I was planning on bringing my 22” monitor, but my wife had a much better idea: bring our living room TV. Transporting our 42” TV was a giant pain, but 100% worth it. Every time someone was playing through the game, it attracted attention. Be sure to test your game on whatever display you’re using – I had to make a couple quick tweaks before we left to get it working right.

Also, TV speakers generally suck, so if audio is important, bring dedicated speakers. We brought a couple studio monitors I had, but I forgot one of the power cables, so we survived with only one. Running the game in mono through that speaker was much better than the tiny TV speakers in stereo.

We also wanted to show off a couple of our iOS games in the App Store, so we setup two small tables with iPads (one ours, one borrowed). We turned on Guided Access to lock them into each game and provided headphones for our music game. We also invested in a couple iPad lock cases from tryten.com, and they worked amazingly well for the price.

We opted to bring our own tables and chairs rather than rent them from the convention center. That way, we had two smaller tables for people to try our iPad games. We also printed out signs for each iOS game, as well as surveys for people to fill out about playing Octile Takeover.

Random advice:

Be as prepared as possible – we brought command strips, zip ties and tape, because we didn’t know what we’d have to hang the banner on. Also: snacks! Most of the time, it was just my wife and I. Time goes by super fast, and you don’t think about getting away for lunch.

We had a stack of paper surveys for people to fill out, but forgot a pen the first day. Oops!

Also, be sure to order all of your stuff at least 3 weeks in advance to allow time for printing and delivery!

So, how much did we end up spending? Here’s the final cost breakdown:

10’ x 10’ booth rental $100
2,500 cards with half-circle shape (gotprint.net $90.70
2’ x ‘4 banner (gotprint.net) $15
Banner + cards shipping $18.71
4’ free-standing octopus cutout on hard plastic w/velcro easel (partystandups.com) $90.95
3 massive bags of Tootsie Rolls (Walmart) $15
1 large bag of peppermints (Walmart) $5
12 Hanes Tagless T-shirts w/1-color, 1-sided printing (customink.com) $156.12
2 small plastic fishbowls (Petsmart) $12
Xbox 360 wired controller (walmart.com) $30
2 iPad security lock cases + shipping (tryten.com) $92.02
Snacks (Target) $15

 

Everything else was already owned or borrowed, so in total, we spent $640.50 on a 2-day conference, and most of these investments are now reusable for future shows! Only $135 was spent on items for one-time use (booth rental, snacks and candy)!

This doesn’t include travel or lodging expenses (which were minimal for us, since it was nearby), but we had a great time with a very low budget! 

 

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