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  • How To Host An Online Gamedev Event On A Budget

    - Colin Macdonald

  • Next I needed a page for the event to give people details of the event - and when there's no cost for free events I'd recommend using Eventbrite which gives you a simple editable page where you can include speaker details, fundraising links etc, and most importantly, allows people to register so that nearer the time you can email them reminders.

    (In practise for this most recent I event I did pay for a HeySummit account, and whilst that gave me a much nicer landing page, along with a great speaker registration system that automatically updates on the landing page, ultimately I didn't use enough of the functionality to justify the cost, and if you really need a nicer standalone landing page you can set one up on the likes of Medium or Wordpress for free, or a modest cost if you don't want it to have ads.) 

    Another avoidable cost is a custom domain; but I found that buying was only going to cost me £10/year through Google Domains, so bought that and redirected it to my landing page which I felt gave it an extra air of professionalism rather than promoting a long-winded custom URL.

    Thankfully I didn't need to buy any new hardware - I used my laptop with a second monitor, and because my laptop has its builtin webcam uselessly located at the *bottom* of my screen rather than give folk a few of my fingers typing, I use a £5 external webcam that I put on a camera tripod to keep it stable and easily adjust the height.  

    My final worry before hosting the event was whether my internet connection at home was stable enough, after a few days periodic testing with, I decided it wasn't. So arranged to go into the offices of a company I work with to use their commercial connection - convenient when everyone was working from home anyway. Although, the office had an automated alarm due to set half an hour after my event was due to finish - and as it turned out, the event ran over by more than half an hour, thankfully not causing me a problem, but I'd allow much more contingency time in future.

    Organising / preparation

    I was fortunate that I was able to round up eight amazing speakers from the likes of Epic Games, nVidia, London Venture Partners etc, obviously everyone's network is going to be different in terms of who they've come across they can reach out to, but my advice would be to think about who the audience is likely to be, and seek out people that will most value getting in front of them. I've found that the more events I put on, the more publishers, investors, service providers etc realise that speaking at my events is the easiest (only!?) way of speaking to the whole of the Scottish development community at once.

    I waited until I had the first three speakers so that the event was as tangible as possible, then started promoting it - I've a head-start by having a few mailing lists that it'd be relevant to, but I find most of the traction I get otherwise is through my network on LinkedIn - everyone likes to hear about a cool event organised by someone they know, and their 'liking' it means the story is shared with their network and so on.

    I'd decided this event would fundraise for local NHS hospital charities, but I've never been comfortable just asking folk for money, even when it's for such a good cause at the moment, and instead I thought we would raise more if it was a raffle with some prizes at stake. Thankfully all it took was a few emails round the local studios and speakers and I had more than enough game codes to put together 14 bundles of game code packages that I could draw for at the end of the event. 

    In preparation I'd watched a few other events that had recently held online versions (a beer festival, and a local comedy club.... I know, I know, I'm the consummate professional) which I'd recommend anyone else do partly to get the feel of what the flow of such events can be. But also to see what goes wrong - in their case not much, but they did have different speakers at vastly different audio levels which could be annoying, and they had trouble getting some of their speakers connected to the feed.

    So I encouraged our speakers to do a dry run ahead of the event which let both them and me get familiar with the process of how they joined, particularly as they needed to install a plugin in order to screenshare which was another thing that could go wrong if doing on the night, and it let me check audio levels seemed fine. I'm not sure what I'dve done if they weren't, but thankfully it wasn't an issue.

    Some of the other online events I'd watched had mostly used pre-recorded videos for their guest speakers, and it was only the compering which was live - which I felt detracted from the feel that it was a live event. But I was also conscious that it would be safer to have a few recorded speakers in the bag I could jump to if there were problems connecting live speakers, so I was secretly happy that one speaker chose to pre-record and I scheduled it last so that I could pull it forward if needed.


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