Sup peeps! You may have noticed that I haven’t written a blog post for a while, but this week is different! This past weekend was MAGFest 2019, and, as Frank mentioned last week, he was unable to come. Since I ended up flying solo for this show, it only makes sense for me to touch base to talk about it!
MAGFest, and MIVS in particular, is always awesome, but this year was a little different. Frank and I usually drive down together, man the booth together, and basically work together on anything that needs to be done. With someone else there, it doesn’t seem that daunting, but it’s a pretty big task to take on alone – I feel bad for all of the conventions I’m unable to attend that Frank manages alone!
So It Begins…
After getting up at 4 am to catch my bus down to Maryland, I set up shop in the MIVS showroom. People started filtering in, and the convention had well and truly begun!
The first thing I noticed was that it felt like fewer people were coming over to the Where Shadows Slumber booth. At first I attributed this to the fact that it was the first day of the show, but it ended up being a theme throughout the weekend. I quickly figured out what it was – because I had taken the bus down, I didn’t have room to bring everything we normally bring to shows, including our banner. Without it, the biggest piece of marketing on the table is no larger than a normal piece of paper. Because of our unique art style, actually seeing a screenshot of the game is what makes people approach the booth – since there wasn’t anything large showcasing the art, a lot fewer people decided to engage. A lot of fellow indies at these shows lament about how hard it is to showcase a mobile game, but this was the first time that I really felt it.
That was made a little more sour by the fact that the game next to us, One Step From Eden, was really awesome, and their booth showcased it very well. People were crowding in front of it, which was both a blessing and a curse – sometimes people waiting for a turn to play would trickle over and play Where Shadows Slumber, but other times the crowd would spill over and block the view of our booth. Of course, I would never begrudge them for it – they’re fellow indies, and they managed to make a great game that people love, so I’m glad they got so much attention!
That small speed bump aside, the show was pretty awesome. Our player to bug ratio was the highest it’s ever been, almost everyone who sat down and gave the game a chance ended up loving it, and we actually had a few people buy the game on the spot, which was a new (and really awesome) experience. Overall, it’s this fact that made this weekend, and pretty much all of the shows we go to, worth it – people love the game.
In fact, for the first time, someone came up to the booth, started playing the game, and ended up actually beating it. To be fair, she played about half of it on Friday and picked up where she left off on Saturday, but it’s still quite an achievement. Any slight annoyance I might have felt about someone playing the entire game without buying it was salved when she brought not one, or two, but three more people over to the booth to come play her favorite game of the weekend. In fact, on Sunday, before I left, she stopped by again and asked if she could have some extra buttons and cards, so she could give them to more people. I either didn’t catch her name, or I forgot it, but thanks for your help, kind stranger!
When Frank found out he couldn’t come this past weekend, I knew immediately that I would still be attending; MAGFest is too big a show to give up. The reality of it – running a 4-day show by myself – didn’t hit me until I sat down to do it on Thursday morning. It really wasn’t too bad – I’ve given the Where Shadows Slumbers pitch a thousand times at this point – but there are a lot of logistics involved in these shows (making sure devices are charged, answering people’s questions, enticing passers-by to come and play, etc.) that get a lot easier when there are multiple people at the booth. One of the biggest differences was that I couldn’t really leave to get food or hit the bathroom, because there would be no one to watch the booth!
After a somewhat lonely Thursday and Friday, I decided to call in reinforcements. A friend of mine from the area was free on Saturday, and we had an extra ticket to the show for Frank, so he offered to come in and help out. Even though he didn’t have any experience running a booth, and had only played the first few levels of the game it was a huge help! After watching me talk to the first few people who showed up, he knew enough of the sales pitch to handle a newcomer if I was already in conversation with another player. In fact, just having someone there to talk to during the downtime made the day run a lot more smoothly.
I also want to throw a shoutout to Brian Intile and the team from Touhou Microgame, whose booth was immediately behind ours. We actually know them in real life, so it was fortunate that they were set up so close to us – in the stretches when neither of us had too many people to talk to, we could chat, or play each others’ games, or watch each others’ booths. Their game is also awesome (moreso if you’re invested in the Touhou Project), so if you get a chance, give it a shot!
Bugs and Improvements
One of the biggest differences between a show before the release of a game and one after is how we can handle things like bugs. When we’re still squarely in development, a lot of things tend to be in flux. At a lot of the shows we’ve been to previously, a bug would come up, and our reactions would fall into a couple of camps:
- That bug’s fixed in a more recent version.
- That bug will be fixed when we make some change that we’re planning on making.
- That bug has something to do with X, which we’re gonna update soon, so it’ll probably end up being fixed.
- We know about that bug, and we’re gonna fix it as soon as we get a chance!
- I’ve never seen that bug before – if we can reproduce it, we’ll try to fix it if there’s time!
A lot of these cases have a decent amount of guesswork, and the majority of them don’t actually involve going home and fixing the bug directly.
Once the game is actually released, however, it’s a different story. There’s really only one camp that the bug can fall into:
- We didn’t know about that bug, but we’ll fix it as soon as we get back!
Since there aren’t any big changes forthcoming, and there’s not a huge amount of work that we’re doing day-to-day, it’s a lot easier for us to figure out what’s causing the bug, we know our fix isn’t going to be invalidated by a future change, and we have more time to actually fix it! With that mindset, I kept a list of all of the bugs that I saw over the weekend (along with any places where the level and/or visual design could be improved), and I’m gonna start heading back into the code and fixing them! Fortunately, none of them were game-breaking or heavily impactful, so we don’t have to rush out a new build.
All in all, MAGFest was a great show, even if I was the only one of us who was able to enjoy it. It’s well-run, and it has a good crowd – I was glad that we were accepted to the Indie Videogame Showcase, and I would totally recommend that any other indies give it a shot for 2020!
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Jack Kelly is the head developer and designer for Where Shadows Slumber.