[Stephen Caruana is managing director of Pixie Software, an independent game studio based in Malta, focusing on casual games for mobiles and the web.]
For the better part of 2013, I had been very busy organising Malta’s first digital gaming convention, PixieCon 13, which was held on the 5th of October.
This event provided an informal setting for developers, artists, designers and other game development professionals in Malta to gather under one roof and was an excellent opportunity for Pixie Software to showcase its work.
I do not intend to discuss the details of what went on during this event, but rather to highlight what I think are the major benefits which come about from holding such an event, benefits to you (individual or studio) AND to the local game dev community.
Naturally I am drawing on my recent experience with PixieCon 13 as a case study so my comments will be framed within that context; however they are meant to be relevant to any kind of event you might wish to hold, irrespective of its scale or nature.
First of all let me start by getting this out of the way: organising PixieCon 13 was extraordinarily hard work and a constant uphill struggle, especially since Pixie Software is a small studio with limited financial and human resources. In fact, in hindsight, I realise that I might have been a bit overambitious when planning out the event and might have set too high a target (although thankfully, everything went extremely well and the event was a big success).
But despite it being quite a challenging undertaking, I would still recommend that every studio at least tries to organise some gaming event of sorts, no matter how simple or complex. Even if you’re a solo indie developer, do try and find a way to organise your own thing, no matter how limited your experience and resources may be. If necessary limit the scope of your event, but do it anyway, and here is why:
It gets you noticed
Holding your own event gets you out there and gets you noticed, which is particularly valuable if you are still starting out. It is a two?way exposure: not only are you increasing your visibility within the community, but you are also in an excellent position to get to know other people in the industry who might otherwise have been unknown to you or difficult to reach. These include other studios, game enthusiasts, potential additions to your team, press and academics.
It builds interest in your work
Whether you develop games, tools or perhaps offer a related service, this would be the ideal situation in which to showcase your work. Anyone attending your event will see what you do and will be in the right place should they want to learn more about it. Cross?promotion comes into play here as well: people who were drawn to your event by a specific game or activity will also discover all about your other work.
Gather mass feedback
During PixieCon 13 we held a simple competition where attendees could play our upcoming game, Trail of the Treasure Snatcher, and compete to achieve the highest scores by the end of the event. Sure, this served as a promo for the game and the rewards helped attract more attendees, but the true benefits of having such an activity is the huge amount of direct feedback you can get from the players.
Not only are you soak?testing the game through constant, non?stop play, but you are also in a position to actually watch the players engage with its dynamics. You get to see them struggle, gauge their reactions and benefit from all the other oft?discussed principles behind observing testers play your game.
Furthermore, players start offering up criticism and suggestions which you can discuss with them and take into consideration. So you’ve got a nice mixture of a number of testing strategies all rolled into one. Naturally this is no substitute for proper testing, with pre?selected testers and formal feedback. Consider it an extra layer of initial feedback, a controlled soft?launch of sorts.
Make sure that you are present on the event floor and meet and speak with your attendees, and I can guarantee that some kind of opportunity will present itself. Whether someone invites you to present a talk to a group of students or to form part of a judging panel in a dev competition, all of these “little wins” contribute towards your progress and growth.
Particularly if you are a solo indie developer, or a young or small studio, every new opportunity matters. No matter how small, it can make a difference.
Benefits to the local game development community
Such an event attracted the attention of local media, which goes a long way in helping to overcome social issues, which I had discussed in some detail in an earlier article.
For example, such media coverage helps with the stigma brought about by people thinking that digital gaming and iGaming (online betting) are one and the same. Similarly it goes a long way in showing that game development is not just an excuse to keep playing around with games. OK, to a certain extent it might be (shhh), but you get what I mean.
It also helps encourage individual indies and aspiring game devs. Some attendees had commented that they never knew so many people were interested in game development in Malta. This just goes to show that there could be a lot of hidden talent. People might not be aware that there are others with similar interests, or they simply might not have any idea where to meet them.
All in all it simply helps the local community grow and strengthen, especially one that is still young, like ours. Being in this situation we often complain (and here I too share some of the blame) that we suffer by being a small community because it is a numbers game. OK, granted, this is partially true: being a young community, the quantities are just not there.
I’m not saying that the problem is not real, far from it, but simply acknowledging its existence and stopping there will not make the situation any better. So I hope that all you other game devs out there (whether you are an individual or a studio, large or small, within an established community or an emerging one) will take an initiative and do your thing. The results will come.
If nothing else, the experience is amazing!
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