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  • Launch Parties: Not Just For AAA

    [03.19.19]
    - Nathaniel Ferguson
  • Having a launch party for Rollossus was a really cool and unique experience as a student. When the development team started on Rollossus over a year ago, none of us expected to have 70 people pay to get into a small bar for a launch party for our game on release day. But there we were, making revenue on our game four hours before it was even live on Steam or Itch.

    I think that having a launch party for your small indie or student game is incredibly beneficial. You generate revenue, have a chance to celebrate, get a lot of really practical experience doing live game testing, and you might get a cool Game Career Guide post from it, too. There's a solid amount of planning and organization that needs to go into one, but it's definitely achievable, even by a small indie studio without a budget, or even students.

    For starters, your launch party doesn't need to look like the EA booth at PAX or anything wild like that. To organize the launch party for Rollossus, I had originally reached out to a local arcade bar about doing some marketing at their business. After some discussion, the owner said that we could use their space for free if we brought them in extra business. Fast forwarding to the launch day, we had three screens connected to developer machines, a couple activities for patrons, and some prizes to win in a raffle. The total cost of the event was the $5 that I spent on colored pencils.

    Problems and Solutions

    Planning the event itself proved to be the hardest aspect of everything, second to only making the game itself. The main problems that I identified when planning was as follows. We need to get people to care about the event, we need to get people to the event, and we need to get people to stay at the event. Things such as getting raffle prizes, making builds of the game, etc. all fall under the umbrella of those three problems.

    Our first problem was to get people to care about our game. As many student projects suffer do, we admittedly had a subpar amount of marketing. As a result, nobody realistically cared or knew about our game apart from a few friends and family. To get people to care about an event, free stuff is the way to go. Between the venue and some legwork on my part, we had two $20 Steam gift cards, a $25 gift card to a local shop, and a NES Mini up for grabs. Finally, I came up with the idea to offer something up which grabbed everybody's attention. The grand-prize in the raffle meant that we would take a picture of your face, texture it onto a rock in the game, and hide it in our map. The prospect of being in a video game, even something they had never heard of before, excited people. We also put them in the special thanks of our credits. Between all these things, people showed up to the event excited for the raffle and wanting to win.

    The next problem was to get people to the event. I think overall this was our weakest area of the launch. As it is, we started distributing flyers about a week before the event, which isn't great. What we could have done better is as follows. We should have prepared all our marketing materials much earlier to make sure our wording and imagery was optimal. We could have started advertising 1-2 weeks sooner (2-3 weeks before the event). We could have also gone to various campus clubs and local communities associated with games (board game clubs, e-sports clubs, Smash Bros clubs, etc.) to advertise. I think that if we had marketed better, combined with our incentives for showing up, we would have been able to improve on our 70 person headcount.

    Our last problem was to get people to stay at the event. I feel like we handled this issue well and had really good retention during the event. When you got to the event, you had several ways to earn tickets. You got a raffle ticket for paying cover at the door, playing our game, and buying our game. We also had a few event ideas throughout the night that we introduced when we felt like the mood was dying down a little. One of the activities we had was to "draw concept art" (we printed half sheets of papers with circles on them and provided colored pencils, because all of the enemies in our game are balls), which was directly inspired by the Move Or Die GDC talk about boothing. Another fun activity we had was to let people play against devs in arcade games in order to win an extra ticket. Between all those events, and the social nature of the arcade bar, time flew by until release.


    (These were about half of the pieces of art that we got from the event)

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