Dabe Alan

Indies Unite! How 16 developers pooled their resources to create a PAX East “Indie Megabooth”

Indies Unite! How 16 developers pooled their resources to create a PAX East “Indie Megabooth”

It’s hard to be a small developer in a large convention, but Fire Hose Games gives PAX much of the credit for the discovery of Slam Bolt Scrappers. The game was featured in the Boston Indie Showcase during the first PAX East, and interest in the title followed. As time went on, though, the developer realized it just didn’t have the money for good space on the show floor.

“We always had to get the smaller booths on the sidelines,” Eitan Glinert, the “Fire Chief” of Fire Hose Games said. “This past PAX we wound up being on the 6th floor when the bulk of the conference was on the 4th floor, and so we wondered if it would be possible for the following show to get something bigger.” He had an idea: What if a number of independent developers got together and pooled their money to create a large space on the show floor where they could all show off their games? He ran the idea past the organizers of PAX East last September, received the official blessing, and the process began.

The official site praises Penny Arcade for allowing this to happen, stating that “the space we’re in is normally reserved for big AAA publishers and developers, so breaking it up for independent devs is really cool of the Penny Arcade Expo folks,” but Penny Arcade’s Robert Khoo downplayed their involvement. “Keep in mind, on our side, we had very little to do with it other than giving them to platform to create this really cool piece of the show floor,” Khoo said. “They deserve all the credit.” 

Glinert began contacting developers. “I sent the e-mail out to several mailing lists I’m on with other indie devs. I explained what we were trying to do, and the response was surprising.  A lot of people wanted in!” he said. “In general the indie community is more connected than you might guess.  We tend to talk to each other a lot.”

The project, dubbed “The Indie Megabooth,” wound up involving sixteen independent developers; between them, they plan to show twenty games at PAX East. Promotion and execution was a communal effort: Glinert came up with the original idea and contacted other developers to participate, Dejobaan Games and Marc ten Bosh worked together to create the website, Capybara Games made the promotional video, Drinkbox Studios came up with the idea of the “Indie Passport,” and Ska Studios led promotional efforts on Facebook and Twitter. A number of mainstream gaming blogs have picked up the story, with Joystiq noting that the project is sure to be the only booth at PAX with an official website. “Hey, big studios: most booths try to out-do each other,” the booth’s official site states. “Here are 16 of us working in harmony. Nyah.”

The gamification of game discovery

The organizers of the Indie Megabooth wanted a way to encourage people to try every game and meet the developers, so Graham Smith from Drinkbox Studios proposed the creation of a list of activities that would bring gamers to each booth. “We came up with the first Indie Passport for PAX Prime last August as a fun way to encourage people to visit a bunch of the indie game booths,” he said. “Some of the indies attending had already loosely organized themselves close to each other in a hallway on the upper level.  We were informally calling it ‘indie alley,’ and we wanted to find a way to tie this together a bit more. We had 7 participants total, and the reward for completing the passport was a button that proclaimed the wearer’s love for indie games.

This year, visitors to the Indie Megabooth can pick up the passport and complete a number of fun objectives by moving from booth to booth and interacting with other gamers and the developers. They will also get to play a number of amazing games along the way, and chat with the people who created them. The passport is a way of giving people a small incentive and excuse to interact with everyone at the booth and hopefully make some new friends and discover new games. We’ve included an image of one side of the passport so you can see what you’re getting into.

The reward will be another exclusive button, but the real fun will be in going through the challenges and playing the games themselves. Packing so many smaller games together into one central location on the main show floor will also make it easier for the press and gamers to play a large number of games in a very short time. The concept has already been a major success in terms of promotion, and has helped bring attention to the games before the show has even begun.

There is also the social aspect of bringing so many independent developers together in one space in a show that’s open for the public. “These studios know each other,” the official site says. “They are separate entities, but often work to create bigger things than they could alone. After PAX East, you’ll see them talking, drinking, and hanging out with each other—and with the folks who play their games.” You won’t be seeing PR people: you’ll be playing the games with the people who make the games, and the site goes out of its way to invite you to ask them about any aspect of their business. For gaming enthusiasts or those hoping to break into the business themselves, this is a wonderful opportunity to pick the brains of some very talented people.

Also, there is a game called Drunken Robot Pornography that will debut at the booth. I’ll see you there.