PAX West 2011 Report & Pics

As you may remember, I planned to try to emphasize SpyParty‘s gameplay depth at PAX West 2011 by setting up the booth with three playtest stations (six computers total), each with a different rule for what kind of players could sit down and play.  My booth was a tiny 10×10, so I knew it was going to be jam packed…here’s the diagram I used to plan out all the placements and cables:

Welcome to professional tradeshow booth planning!

So, how did the experiment in depth-based-playtesting-at-a-tradeshow go?

I think it went pretty well, and as you can see from the pictures below, it seems like the attendees agreed.  We had people playing at the “unlimited playtest station” for well over an hour without getting up, and a small community of regulars—including a bunch from last year, see if you can spot them—camping the station and helping others learn the advanced game.

I think it really helped people get a feel for the deeper game that is hard to experience in that kind of environment, and I think I’ll do it again, maybe at PAX East.  The one problem I noticed has an online equivalent:  matchmaking is hard!  Often a single player would come up and want to play, but there wouldn’t be anybody else at their skill level available, so they had to wait a bit for another single to show up.  This problem lessened over the course of PAX as more players became experienced and started hanging around the unlimited station, but I think next time I’ll have announced times when players can come and make a date with somebody for later in the day.  So, maybe at 11am and 3pm unlimited players can come and make arrangements with other unlimited players, or something like that.  Manual matchmaking, indie style!

Here were the three signs I made for the different stations:

One other flaw with the depth based testing was I didn’t have any way for players to log in and use a persistent username, so I couldn’t track metrics for each player.  I’ll post the metrics from all the PAX games soon, but they’re just going to be a jumble of every game played, which is fine when everybody just gets to play two matches, but I really wanted to track longer term data on the unlimited station.  I thought about a lot of different ways to do this, but they were all clumsy and error prone.  Then Matt Gilgenbach from 24 Caret Games stopped by to chat and told me about what they did for their Retro/Grade leader boards:  card readers!  Hardcore players were given a magnetic strip card like a credit card, and they could swipe this to log in before they played.  So quick and easy and tradeshow-floor-compatible!  Matt said they got the card readers for cheap on ebay.  I’m totally stealing this idea for next time.

Before I go any farther, I have to thank all the folks who helped me with the booth this year, they were amazing!  First off, Sean Willoughby, the PAX Enforcer assigned to the SpyParty booth, went way above and beyond the call of duty in helping me set up.  You can see him in the pics below helping me make signs!  He was an incredible help.  GDC volunteer Roger Hanna returned and did an awesome job of saving my bacon yet again.  He was joined by some game industry friends from the Spore days, Thomas Vu, Steven Lim, and their friend Tony Lee (who I’d never even met before he showed up out of the blue with Thomas and Slim and then proceeded to rock booth duty like a seasoned pro!) .  Paul Sottosanti, who you may recognize as one of my elite playtesters, and who has recently gone indie himself, also helped a bunch, as did Marc ten Bosch, creator of Miegakure.

Speaking of other indie games and helping each other out, I had planned on having Carbon Games show off their new game AirMech, and Marc show off Miegakure, but the Carbon guys ended up getting a fulltime booth at the last minute through some friends, so we had Miegakure set up both weekend mornings.  You can see it mixed in with the pictures below.  People had a great time playing it for an hour, and I let some real hardcores play until well past lunch since they were having such a great time!  I really want to thank the Carbon folks, and especially James Green and Ken Klopp, for being so cool…they lent me a big screen tv and stand even though they ended up not showing at my booth.  I owe them bigtime.  Indies rock!

Okay, on to the pictures, and thanks a ton to all the people who came and played!

19 Comments

  1. Jordy says:

    Way to go indie!

  2. Bas says:

    Looks fun, too bad I live in Europe. Also, how’s progress towards an open beta going?

  3. Tyler says:

    How did Richard Garfield do?

  4. Asaf says:

    I really enjoyed playing. Came back to the booth every day.I think I played over 15 rounds. Looking forward to play again in the beta.
    Is there a video of your PAXDev talk?

  5. Nocturna says:

    Sounded great, wish I was there :(

  6. OMGItsDigiot says:

    I was standing in line while you were taking several of those pictures but the most you can see is my shirt sleeve. My brother’s torso and tattoos are in one picture; we were waiting in line for station 3. In fact, there’s another photo of us walking away quietly, and without complaint I might add, absolutely heartbroken when you let the ringer in the green shirt go ahead of us. By the way, this also isn’t a complaint, it is objectively factual commentary. Like a photo caption, “Patient Torso”. We did get a chance to play it the day before that though, and despite my having gotten completely trounced all four games, it was one of the most entertaining competitive multiplayer games I’ve played. Thanks Chris, can’t wait to play it again.

    • checker says:

      Which picture are you in?  I have more pics than these, but some are blurry.  Maybe I got you in a different pic.

    • OMGItsDigiot says:

      Well, I was standing right next to my brother who is partly visible in the picture in the ninth row from the top, second from the right(p1050703.jpg), he is standing behind the player, and wearing a shirt that says “Transform”. In the picture one row further down, second from the left there is a different player at the station and on the left hand side of the picture you can just see a blurry grey thing moving away, that’s him again, but further to the left, just on the very edge of the picture you can see a little blue triangle, that’s me, or rather, that’s my shirt sleeve, I was wearing a blue shirt that said OMFG (Ontario Mega Financial Group) on the front. If by chance you do have a picture that he and I are visible in, I would love to get it, because we forgot to get any pictures of us together at PAX.

    • checker says:

      Check out p1050700.jpg (which I just added), is that you guys?

    • OMGItsDigiot says:

      Yes, that’s us! I’m the goony looking guy in the blue shirt. By the way, that guy we were talking with in the picture, whose name I don’t know, was absolutely awesome. I get the feeling that working at an event of that size, and interacting with thousands of people every day, the desire to have really long conversations with the groups of strangers that stop in probably fades pretty quickly, but even still he hung out and chatted with us for a fair bit of the time we were waiting for station 3 to open up.
      Anyway, I know I said it already, but the game is awesome, and I am eagerly anticipating the beta email. Sadly, I’ve already embarrassed myself twice by making some sort of w00t! noise before I bothered to look more closely at the subject line when I got the automated followup comment notification email. Also, being as the Q1 video game release blitz is in full swing, a lot of my money is going towards games for the next few months, and Spy Party can have whatever is left when the time comes since I don’t imagine needing anything else for some time afterward. Sorry I don’t write shorter comments, and thanks again for the pic. 

    • OMGItsDigiot says:

      I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that last part would sound so much like outright bribery. And as enticing as sixty five dollar reward sounds, I would urge you to avoid prematurely launching the beta for that reason alone.

    • checker says:

      Bribery attempts, while probably not accepted, are at least appreciated. Oh, and the guy you were talking to is Roger Hanna, booth helper extraordinaire!

    • Bas says:

      Does a lack of updates mean you are working hard and a beta will be here soon? :P

    • Bas says:

      Awwwwwwww yeah

      Are you going to release it to compete with Skyrim and MW3, or are you going to wait until after the Christmas rush?

    • checker says:

      I aim to invite the first 10 people in before Christmas break, and hopefully before mid-December.

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