PAX East 2018 Postmortem
This last week, I attended PAX East. This was already an awesome experience, as it was my first PAX, but it was made even more special by why I was there and who I was with.
I already had plans to attend PAX this year with some friends just as a fan, and I made those original plans back in the fall. However, due to some awesome developments, those plans had to change. If you read through the rest of my blog, you'll see all of my work on my current project, Groundless. Groundless is my senior project that I have been working on with my amazing team, Root121, for just over a year now. One of the primary traits of my team as a whole is that they shoot for the moon, and we don't want anything other than the best for us and our project. As such, one of our main goals when we formed our team and started development was to represent Drexel at Intel's University Games Showcase at GDC 2018. To sum that up, we ended up not getting picked by Drexel staff to be sent, and just barely too.
(It's okay, we lost to a PHENOMINAL project, and they ended up winning first place in gameplay and third place in visuals. Please go visit their website here and learn as much as you can about Fling to the Finish.)
So, that sucked, but it drove us to dive back into development and get a ton of good work done. It also meant we didn't have to spend time preparing a presentation or build for GDC. In the whirlwind week that took place the week after our internal GDC pitch, something awesome happened. Our insanely awesome staff mentor, Jichen, offered to pay for us to get a booth at PAX. All of a sudden we had a new major goal and all of our efforts went toward preparing for PAX including marketing materials, fundraising for the fees, and developing the build to a polished enough state to present. So, last week I went to my first ever PAX, but it is made even more special by the fact that I went as an exhibitor and not just as a fan.
Groundless had a booth for all four days of pax. We drove to Boston from Philadelphia in two groups, a morning group and a night group. The morning group left early on Wednesday and handled the booth set-up on Wednesday night. I was in this group since I wanted to oversee the gear transportation and booth set up. The second group arrived late Wednesday night and headed straight to bed. Through a stroke of luck, we got an amazing booth spot right behind the PAX indie showcase booth. We got a corner spot, which is amazing because it meant that we could set up two displays running the game that would be seen by two flows of foot traffic. Before I get into what actually happened at PAX, I'm going to dump a TON of photos.
What went right?
I went to PAX with zero expectations, both for what the experience would be like and also for what the reception of our project would be. I was, however, prepared for people to have negative reactions to our game and give criticisms, but holy shit, nothing could have prepared me for the kind of reception we got. People LOVED our game, and we never had a slow moment at the booth in all four days! The kind of positive reception we got from everyone at PAX was honestly overwhelming. We met so many players, fans, writers, publishers, and other developers who all praised our project. We had groups of people who would return multiple times to play and many of those people would bring new people to play with them. We got a lot of questions about when we were releasing and what else would be added. We got a ton of comments about our idea and how much people liked it and how excited they were to get the game when it launched.
We hosted "beat the devs" events every day (except thursday) in which players could challenge two of the devs and earn a free shirt if they win. These events were unbelievable successful and we often had lines form for our booth when these events were in full swing. It was super cool to see our return players come back and challenge us, you can see more about that on our twitter here.
There's too much to completely remember, so please read our team postmortem here.
For me personally, being able to see other people play, enjoy, and react to our game was the best part. This was our first real exposure to players who had never seen our heard about our project, all of our testers have always been students at Drexel or other devs in Philly, so getting such a new and fresh perspective was extremely valuable to me. Being able to see how positive of an experience these players were having was unbelievable to me. My absolute favorite was groups of friends that would come play our game together and would get fired up and verbal while playing. Being able to see such a reaction that said that our game was a fun experience was priceless to me. All I ever wanted out of this project was to create a game that was, at its core, fun.
What could've gone better?
Before I jump into this section, I think it's important to remind myself and everyone who may be reading that this was my and all of my other team mates first convention and first experience being an exhibitor at an expo. In hindsight, we killed it. We did such a good job and I couldn't have asked for a better experience for this year. That being said, there was some stuff we could've done better.
First, we initially struggled with managing the booth. We never explicitly set shifts or expectations for how we would work the booth, so this caused some frustration and arguments when some members took way too much time off during the day and wandered around the expo instead of working the booth, causing other team members to have to pick up the slack. The team had a conversation about it after our first day and the problem was quickly rectified, but it was a frustrating situation that could've been avoided.
Second, we had a mishap where one of our drivers lost his car keys on the final day, right when we were trying to do pack-up. His car was the one we used to haul all our gear, so that sucked. The situation was eventually resolved and we got home fine, just a little late, but it was an extremely stressful situation that caused a lot of tension in the team in the last day. By that point, we'd seen a lot of each other, and it just didn't help anything at all.
We learned a lot, but again, I think we killed it and did the best we could've done at this point in our lives with the collective lack of experience that we all had. PAX was an incredible experience that I'll never forget, and I can't wait to make Groundless even better for everyone who said that they were looking forward to playing it.
Visit our website here.