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! 

 

December 20, 2012I Want to Make Games (and why I was the only 8th grader that believed in Santa)by Ben

I've wanted to make games forever.

One Christmas, about 25 years ago, we stayed at my cousins' house in Texas. We awoke to hearing sleigh bells in the middle of the night, and we all saw Santa delivering presents. And yes, that led me to believe in Santa far longer than my peers. But, the real magic for me was on Christmas Day, when my cousins received a Nintendo Entertainment System. I remember watching for hours as they played Super Mario Brothers, Duck Hunt and 3-D WorldRunner.

After that, I was hooked.

My Dad later told me that for the next year, that's all I would talk about. When we'd visit my grandma, the highlight of the trip (for me) was watching my uncle play through Zelda, Metroid and Golgo-13. I'm sure it wasn't my teenage uncle's favorite thing, to be forced to let your nephew hang out with you, but that's where my love of gaming really took hold.

My parents heard my incessant pleading, and the next Christmas, we received our very own NES. We had a rental shop near us that offered a free rental if you brought your movie or game back the next day, so we took full advantage of that and played through almost every game they had. I have no idea why they went out of business…

Side note: The only game I ever remember my Dad playing was Dragon Warrior, which he completed to the end. The random encounter sound still freaks me out to this day. However, what's really odd is that my first roommate in college said the only game his dad ever played was Dragon Warrior as well, which he completed to the end. Weird, right?

So, fast forward a few years, and my mom starts managing a Christian bookstore, where I start playing with the new-to-me computers. I read the entire MS-DOS 5.0 manual in one night and began messing with batch files and QBasic. I made a text adventure game for my brother one year. I also made a game called "Faith Invaders." Can you guess what that was like? Yeah, space invaders, but the enemies were sins or something, and the ship had a cross on it. Awesome, right?

With people sharing games on AOL, I wanted to create something there, but QBasic didn't make .EXE files, so it wasn't as easy to distribute. I wouldn't get a copy of QuickBasic 4.5 (which does create .EXE files) until many years later. One day, I found Klik & Play, a goofy game creator from Maxis. I made a ton of random, ridiculous games that weren't worth sharing. I think there was one involving a bee that traveled through a bunch of different flower-based levels that was pretty sweet. I'm sure it's on a floppy disk somewhere.

I'd like to believe that if it hadn't been for our school newspaper that I would have pursued a degree in computer science and ended up at some game company. You see, I had taken two semesters of Computer Science in high school (which I loved), and they were going to switch from Pascal to C, which is actually a language I wanted to learn at the time. However, my writing skillz war apparently good, and I was invited to write for the school newspaper. The problem? They met at the same time. Why did I choose the newspaper over programming? I was promised that girls would be throwing themselves at me, because it was a 90% female class. I would later make the same mistake when it came to selecting a college.

My wife Delayne, whom I am crazy in love with, came from neither of those situations. :)

Instead of pursuing something ridiculous like game design, I went a far safer route – music composition at a Bible college. How have I made a living since college? Self-taught web design & development. College is totally not a waste of time.

However, if I had pursued computer science, I would have realized far too late that I am unemployable, and might have ended up working in a company I only slightly like, and probably would have been laid off several times (considering how there's a layoff at a major game company every other day).

It's crazy when you look back at the path your life has taken and you realize that the things you thought you would absolutely love are not even remotely what you should be doing. At one point, I wanted to be a studio engineer. I've had a ton of training in that area, and quite a bit of experience. Ask me if I want to do that now? Absolutely not. Producing music appeals more to me, because I've found that I am a creative, producing person. I'm not an engineer. I can be, but that's not my core desire. I want to create.

For a time, I thought I wanted to create music, and later, film. I wrote, produced & directed a film for my senior recital in college, and I enjoyed it. I'm sure I'll work on more music and film, but you know what I want to do even more?

I want to make games.

People unfamiliar with gaming think that's stupid. Why would you want to create something so juvenile and small when you could be producing a hit song or feature film? That's because they don't realize what gaming has become. Gaming is all of these things put together. I've been watching a ton of Indie Game: The Movie (and you should, too). In it, Phil Fish says it perfectly:

"To me, video games are the ultimate art form. It’s just the ultimate media. I mean, it’s the sum total of every expressive medium of all time, made interactive. Like, how is that not…it's awesome!"

Books and film and music can be incredible. They tell stories and provide depth and help us relate and understand complex emotions. However, a game has the capability to make you feel like you're a part of its world.

I only finished playing a few games this year (in my defense, one of them was Skyrim, and I have 3 children). Another one was Mass Effect 3. Say what you will about the ending, but there is no other medium that can provide the kind of connection to the characters and decisions that you make throughout those 3 games. If you tried to fit the story into film, you'd need a trilogy of trilogies to do it justice, and because of the variety of choices, you'd still only experience one linear path.

That's why I'm choosing games. And while I want to create the epic worlds someday, I need some experience first. And so, I've put my musical expertise into a simple, first game: Beat Brite. It took 2 months, 12 viewings of Indie Game: The Movie and 83 hours of Skyrim to develop, and I'm quite proud of it.

Please play it. I love you.

June 12, 201230songs30days Song #30: Are You Wearing Pants?by Ben

And now, we've come to our final song. We wrote 30 songs in 30 days with VCVCBC. We believe VCVCBC is the easiest way to get the song out of your head and into your iPad, and we hope you'll try it too.

Today, we're going out with a bang with a music video for our last song "Are You Wearing Pants?" There's nothing I can really say, except that you need to watch it. Now.

 

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