Ottawa Geek Market: Post Mortem
It has been almost two weeks since the Geek Market, and I thought it would be a good time to break down the event and share what we learned. It was an especially eye opening experience for us, as it was our first time running a booth.
Ottawa Geek Market is something that has been on my radar well before our game got started. I actually attended some of the early shows over 5 years ago, back when it was still a small trade show. Fast forward to last week and we were there showcasing our game to a packed house. In this post, I’ll talk about what we did to prepare for the event, how we went about displaying our game, our takeaways and how they will inform us for future shows. If you saw us for the first time at the event, welcome! I hope this is an interesting peek behind the curtain for everyone.
First, when we reached out to the Ottawa Geek Market folks, we did it politely and professionally. Be nice. This point cannot be overstated. We actually ended up applying late, but there was a waiting list for latecomers in case there were any cancellations. It was only a little while later that we got picked to exhibit, giving us only a few weeks to get everything ready to go for the show. With this in mind, we took a step back to take stock of the situation.
The Ottawa Geek Market is at its core a festival for all things geeky. This vague classification actually tells you a lot about the people going. Unlike focused gaming conventions like the CGX show we attended, the Geek Market was going to have an audience with much broader tastes. This isn’t a bad thing, but it told us that we needed to cater towards a casual crowd. The attendees were going for a more pop culture driven show and weren’t all necessarily gamers. Also, being held near the subarbs of Ottawa, we also anticipated a lot of families passing through.
So the question became, how do we get started. Luckily, I had come across a GDC talk called ‘You Suck at Showcasing Your Game’ which was an immensely valuable resource for start up exhibitors like ourselves. In the video I got some great tips from how to stand out as an exhibitor to a checklist of things to bring to a show.
We began by discussing how our booth would be set up given the 6x8’ space that we secured. We settled on having two monitors, each with its own mouse for players to use. Behind the monitor would be one large screen in the back running a continuous AI vs AI game loop. To really push our name out there, we logged onto Vistaprint to get some T shirts, mousepads and a large banner ready to go. This was relatively inexpensive considering we could reuse all of these for later shows.
As we began working on that, we started to review the build to see what needed an update and what could be showcased. With most of the core game done, our demo was actually be quite robust. We sketched out a new simplified UI that had an emphasis on the Tutorial game mode. There was also a Practice Mode, a CPU match, and the ability to have a LAN match for any players that wanted to delve deeper into the game. To offer more information, Jacob implemented a move list that could be triggered just by right clicking. I think this was a crucial feature for some players and avoided a lot of confusion.
I want to give a very special thanks to our friend Tareq, who did us a major favor by helping us out at the booth. By helping us out, he allowed Jacob and myself to rest up or check out the rest of the show. Also he’s genuinely a great guy.
What we Learned - The Good
Diving right in, the show was a real success. We had heard that the show was going to be busy, but 11,000 attendees came out!!! That is a huge number for our first venture out and it got a lot of eyes on Sigils of Kairos. I won’t bore you with the quick and dirty estimates from our game stats (which were being tracked during the show), but each computer had about a 50% downtime overall. Since we had two machines, that means we could have had someone playing on one machine non-stop for the entire 15 hours of floor time!
The one thing that surprised me the most, was how many kids gravitated to our booth. Now when I say kids, I mean truly young elementary-aged kids. With Sigils of Kairos being a card game, I thought that it would be too intimidating for children. To our delight, kids as young as 5-6 were jumping into the tutorial and picking things up with minimal to no help. This was really great to see considering how much work we put into the tutorial and UI overhaul. All of our effort towards becoming more accessible definitely paid off.
Without going into the nitty gritty, we met some absolutely amazing people that weekend. All of the people who stopped by were very nice and supportive, which we are truly grateful for. Also, we made some great connections with people excited for Sigils of Kairos, and saw a lot of repeat players coming back for more. Our booth mates were very nice and I personally began to feel a kinship with the other exhibitors. The icing on the cake was the fact that it really was great to see so many people enjoying the project we’ve spent so much time on.
What we Learned - The Bad
With the overall show being a success, it should be mentioned that it was incredibly exhausting. With a constant stream of people in a loud space, my voice gave out halfway through the first day. I brought two bags of lozenges for the show, and went through a pack and a half almost completely by myself. The post-show wiped us out, with con bugs and con drop being a real thing.
In terms of the game’s stability, there were some small bugs that reared their heads really early in the show. Only a couple of hours in, we realized that anytime a LAN game was finished, we would have to reboot the game on the host computer. When watching people play, we also found a snag point in the tutorial that confused a lot of players. Though most people figured it out, the confusion lead to a break in the flow of the tutorial.
Lastly, we had pretty positive feedback for the game overall, except for the name. This has been causing us havoc in the past week as we have been bouncing back and forth on the pros and cons of revisiting the name ‘Sigils of Kairos’. Being so close to the game we naturally fell in love with the title, but it became pretty clear to us after the show that it is really hard to remember or latch onto.
Looking back, we got off pretty lucky with nothing close to being a disaster. The system was overall very stable, and the LAN issue was not much of a problem since the game loads pretty quickly. The tutorial confusion is an easy fix, as we can touch up a small part of the UI to fix the problem.
The game title not being liked seems like a negative, but really it was much better to get this feedback now as opposed to later. If it had come up after we reached out to media outlets, we’d basically be too far in to change the name if necessary. At least at this point, we have the option to switch things up.
If get to do this show again, I think we’d change very little. We brought plenty of food/water and had everything we needed to showcase strong. We could definitely jazz up the booth next year, and I’m thinking it would help to have more interesting cards. I know for sure that I would pace myself out more to try to preserve my energy and my throat.
Overall we took a lot away from the Ottawa Geek Market. Building a game involves a lot of speculating what the player would like. We have confidence that Sigils is fun and engaging, but with no feedback there’d no way to be sure. This show proved to us that our project is on the right track and it was very heartening to see people enjoy our game.
Lastly a big special thanks to all of the organizers and volunteers that put The Ottawa Geek Market together. The entire process was very easy for the exhibitors and everyone was incredibly accommodating. It is no small task to run a show for upwards of 11,000 attendees let alone doing it with everyone involved still liking you after it.