Monday, September 15, 2014

THE GIANT PAX POST: A real in-depth look at the entire experience of running a booth at PAX Prime.

Since our last booth setup post was very well received, and quite a few developers thanked us for the info, we decided to to a giant post about our experience running a booth at PAX. Hope you enjoy!

Taken at the end of the show.
From the Left: Speedo, John, Koriel and James

TL;DR
PAX Prime was a great experience. Making the booth come together was a challenge, and took a lot of time, planning, and care. We drove all the way up to Seattle and back from LA in order to bring everything we wanted to have in the booth, and it was well worth it. We brought lots of tools for setup and breakdown, which came in handy for other exhibitors too. 

Thanks to the MEGABOOTH and Enforcers, all we had to worry about was our own booth space. We had 2 Oculus Rift demos set up, and those helped to draw in the crowds - giving our booth a 30-50 minute line at all times during the show. It was incredible, and around 200 people got to play per day. That's about 800 people total for the weekend! That doesn't include all of the people who just came by and talked with us.

We went out to parties 2 of the nights, and the rest we stayed in (to get some sleep). Seattle was beautiful, and we did everything on a very small budget: using Airbnb, taking advantage of free food for Exhibitors, and driving furniture/TV Displays up ourselves as opposed to renting anything.

_______________________

The Beginning:
Well, where to begin? I suppose as soon as we got the "Ok" from Indie MEGABOOTH that we could have a spot, we started preparations for PAX. Now, we didn't want this to slow down our development of the game in any way, so we devised a way that we could be working on the actual game (instead of something that was purely a demo), almost up until the day it was time to pack. We had about a month's notice - so that gave us plenty of time to figure out the logistics of the booth.

My job was to make plans and preparations for places to stay, ways to travel, and the most efficient, inexpensive ways we could set-up a booth that we could all be proud of. 

When you spend so much time putting love and effort into the game itself, you really want the presentation to show it off in the best way you can.


Monday: Packing Day

On Monday I made sure to print all our last minute signage, and pack everything as tightly as possible into my car. Within the last month I bought a car rack ($28 on eBay) and canvas roof bag ($50 on Amazon) to give us extra cargo space - and we needed every last inch. I had placed them and tested them days before, and made a few modifications to make sure that they would hold. 

Packing inside the house took me longer than expected, and it wasn't until 11:30 pm that everything was in the car and ready to roll. It took all of my Tetris Powers to make the 2 TVs, computer tower, 2 monitors, furniture pieces, clothes, food and booth decorations fit inside the car, while still leaving a seat and a half in the back seat for Wednesday evening when I would pick up John and Speedo at the Seattle airport.

Tuesday: The 350 Mile Drive

I woke up at 4 am the next morning with about 4 hours of sleep to go on, and packed the rest of the things into the roof bag on the car. It took me quite some time to actually secure the bag on top, which set me back almost an hour. After everything was properly in place, I started making the drive to James' house in Saratoga, Ca (about 360 miles / 580km).

My family left me this note on the front door :)
I got to James' house around 12 noon, and went out to lunch. On the way back, we stopped by the Tesla store, and both played pretend:



After that I was ready to crash, because I knew that then next day would be an even longer drive (850 miles / 1370km), and we would be leaving around 4am once again. We packed James' computer and clothes into the car, and promptly fell asleep.

Wednesday: The Long Drive

The next day was the new longest drive I had done in my life (as a driver), and James and I switched off 2 times when we had to take breaks. In total it was around 14 hours of straight driving, all the way up through California, passing through Oregon, and into Washington.

What ended up making the drive much more bearable, and even entertaining, was listening to the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire audiobook. Amazingly, even after the 14 hour drive, we were only half way through the book!
Parts of the drive were very pleasant surrounded by trees
The current drought in CA has made Lake Shasta look more like a pool :(
Stopping for a quick break
I'm wearing a jacket to make sure I don't get sunburned.
Passing through Portland, Oregon
At last, around 6:30 we had made it to the Seattle airport to pick up John and Speedo (our friend who had volunteered to help us out). After waiting for what felt like an hour at baggage claim, their stuff was also crammed into the car. Then they just had to endure the 40 min drive to our first location, with their squished legs up on the seat in front of them (thanks to my tower taking up the seat well), and things piled on top of them. I admit, it was a bit crowded...but it worked.

Speedo and John being packed into the car like sardines.
That night around 9pm we were graciously greeted by our first Seattle hosts, who had volunteered to have us there for the first 2 nights after seeing our Kickstarter update, asking our backers if they had a place we could stay. It was our first time meeting them, but right away they made us feel at home. Both Denise and Trevor took us in that night and helped us get our things inside. Denise had prepared some chili and corn, and even baked us muffins! We were stunned by the generosity :)

Once we had some food in our bellies, we immediately started to test the build on the computers. John spent some time making sure my computer would run smoothly with our newly acquired Oculus Rift Dev Kit 2 (which was in John's possession at the time), and then took James' tower and replaced James' video card with John's nicer card (to make sure his computer would run our second Rift demo on the HD Prototype Rift well.) We all knew we would be getting up around 8 the next morning, so after we were happy with the computers, we all went to sleep.

Thursday Before PAX: Setup Day

The next morning we were very excited to get to PAX and see the show floor being set up - and also to see what our own booth would look like once it was fully realized! We left the house around 9am (after making sandwiches with the bread, meat and cheese that Denise and Trevor had left for us), and were finally on our way to the Washington State Convention Center.

The drive was about 25 minutes. We parked the car under the convention center and went to grab our badges. Once we had them, we went straight to where our booth location was:

Top left corner! (You enter the area from the bottom up)
The booth space (with a free 2 extra chairs and an extra 6 foot table)
Now, we remembered very well the loading situation at GDC this past year, and were not looking forward to that happening again. At GDC, we couldn't unload in the loading area next to the center unless we were willing to pay hundreds to the union workers to bring the stuff in for us. On that trip, we just parked a block away in a complex, and ferried everything back and forth ourselves - including tables and computer towers.

In Seattle it was quite a different scenario. We told the people at the MEGABOOTH that we had a car full of stuff to unload, and they immediately showed us the way to the loading dock where all the big trucks went. We were cleared to be there for 30 minutes, and we rushed to start unpacking the car. They even gave us carts to wheel everything away on, and we were done unpacking before we knew it!
John and Speedo starting on the top bag
Almost everything was out of the car in less than 25 minutes!
Next, I re-parked the car under the center while the guys made sure everything got to the booth. Now the real fun was about to begin!

The first things I wanted to set up were the banners that lined the back curtain, as well as the fake vines and plants that would weave their way in and out of the top pole. That area would be harder to get to once we had the TVs up in place. James and John started setting up the Oculus Rift demos, while Speedo started unpacking our cases. I had packed many of our things in shoulder bags, so that they would be easier to carry around and pack into the top roof bag.

Setting up
Tools: One of the boxes in those bags was full of tools and supplies, which ended up being helpful to many of the other exhibitors setting up too :) Some of the helpful tools we brought included: scissors, epoxy, superglue, duct tape, museum putty, wrenches, screws, wire, wire cutters, an Allan wrench set, a hammer, flat head and Philips head screwdrivers, scotch tape and more!

Trying out different screens mirroring eachother
Picture Time
Goodies and Sponsors: With our MEGABOOTH package, we ended up getting an Alienware desktop computer, mouse and keyboard set to use on the show floor. We also recieved a 24" monitor (pictured in front), which we ended up not needing (and gave it to our booth mates doing Gemini). We were then surprised with recieving brand new free Logitech Keyboards, Mice, Gamepads and Mousepads that we could keep! Score!

Who gets the fancy new keyboard?!
The Booth is almost done!
The front table (folding 4' x 2' table, $25 on eBay)
James' Nexus 7 was used for the email sign ups, along with John's bluetooth keyboard for ease of use.
(I bought the tablet stand for $5 on Amazon, and the green marble Lazy Susan at a thrift store for $3)
Black velvet everywhere! Thanks Mom for always buying so much nice material at the LA Fabric District!
The setup in front of each Rift demo (though most people used the xBox controller)
The Dev Kit 2 camera, perfectly camouflaged in the dragon lamp
After 6 hours of setting up, we walked around the city and had a great fish and chips meal a few blocks from the center. Parking isn't convenient around most of the areas, so it was nicer just to walk. Which reminds me, each day, parking cost us around $20-$25 under the center. Things to keep in mind when you are planning a travel budget!

That night we went back to Trevor and Denises' house, and signed and numbered the backs of all 300 posters (which we were planning to sell during the expo). It took us about 2 hours, then it was bed time. Since that was our last night staying there, we got them a thank you card and left a couple XING goodies on the table to show our gratitude :)


Friday: PAX Day 1 

We woke up on Friday morning, wondering what the day had in store for us! It was another 25 minuite drive to the center, and we were anxious to start setting up once again. We got there around 8:30am, knowing that the doors would open to the public around 10am. During setup, we ended up testing out the demos again, and found that our Rift demos had a major flaw we somehow missed completely in the last couple days. We rushed to figure out a quick fix to the demo, and decided we would deal with the rest of it later. Luckily, our solution worked, and the day began smoothly.

The front table set-up. We decided to put the company sign on the front of this table, instead of hidden away behind the TV which was looping an Oculus Rift gameplay video.
The 2 Rift stations ready for some action
Speedo running through the protocol for setting people up in the Rift Demo, and practicing on James.
The speakers over the hall repeated "10 minutes until doors open". We honestly didn't know what to expect: something between our GDC experience, and pictures and videos we had researched on past PAX shows. The response we got was far more that what we had hoped for...

The first people at the booth! Also, note the chair I'm currently sitting in. We made sure that we had at least one chair for ourselves where we could take sitting breaks throughout the day :)
I quickly added star sticky notes with sharpies as helpful signage and labels
As soon as I put up the "line" sign for the Oculus Rift Demos...that's exactly what we got :)
The first people in line to play XING! It was marvelous!!
Within the first 15 minutes, John and Speedo decided to run around the hall floor to see the other exhibits. Little did they know that at the same time a huge line would be forming to play XING, and we would need more people at the booth to manage everything! As soon as I saw this, I called John and asked him to get back immediately and see this for himself. We were ecstatic!

A LINE! A MAGNIFICENT LINE! 
Within the first half-hour of the doors opening, there was a 45 minute line just to play XING in the Rift ><
Of course, we realized that the line was for the Oculus Rift demos of the game, and not for the regular PC demo (which was on the other side of the booth and being mirrored onto the 40" TV I brought from home), but it was still a line and people would still be experiencing our game :) The PC demo also got a lot of attention, and was pretty much self managed. Someone would play all the way through a demo (there were 2), finish, and then the next person watching would take their seat and start over.

The PC demo happening on the right side of the booth.
That big TV was extremely worth it! It drew a lot of attention to the booth as people cycled through the demos. It was also not a problem for the people sitting in front of it in the Rifts, since all they could see was the VR world inside the headset anyway!

Rift users experiencing the land of XING. 
For most people who came to our booth, it was their first time trying out the Oculus Rift. Then many would tell us that ours was the best demo they could have chosen for being introduced to Virtual Reality...it was very flattering :)

James and Speedo switching people out. We tapped players on the shoulder after playing for 5 minutes, just to make sure as many people could play as possible. 
Portal 2 Cosplayer enjoying XING: the Land Beyond
If we weren't on Rift duty, we were usually talking to the people who would come up to our booth.

More glorious line!
We decided that we would have the lineup area taped in a way that made it curve back around for the next 3 days of the convention. 

Our awesome Enforcer Hex was just the guy to do it!

I decided to tape the 2 laminated versions of the posters on the front of the table instead of covering the loose posters, since they were actually confusing to people. I noticed people picking them up, and being a little upset that the posters for sale were not also laminated...
The people up next to play XING in the Rift got to sit down on our extra chairs :) Thank goodness we brought stools!
The view looking out from our booth (when it wasn't crowded)
We didn't actually realize kids would be at PAX, since we had only experienced GDC and E3 - but we were glad they were here! They were some of our favorite players to watch and observe what they would do.
The end of the first day! Time to celebrate!
How we "closed down" the booth every evening. The chairs were just deterrents...
On the first night after the convention we had several options for what to do. There were mixers and parties to attend, so for the first 2 hours we split up.

James, John and Speedo went to the exhibitor mixer happening on the expo floor, while I ran off to a dinner hosted by Valve (we might have all gone to this, but we only had one invite - and I was left out on Steam Dev Days last Winter, so it was my turn to be treated.)

The dinner was lovely, and very fancy! I met some great developers and invited them to come by the booth the following day. From what I got, the Mixer that the guys attended was also pretty fun, and came with free drinks! Everyone wins.

On my walk back from the Valve dinner, this guy was parked right outside the Convention center.
 Next up was the Sony party, which we all had invites to. We found out it was right under the Space Needle at a place called the Chihuli Gardens. Unfortunately the group was pretty tried by then. We didn't want to stay out too late (it was already 10) - but we decided to give it a try anyway, and we were glad we went! The location was beautiful!

Speedo, James and John pose under a glass sculpture ceiling
Spectacular glass sculptures!
As I took pictures of the artwork, it occurred to me that this place would be a nightmare to clean and maintain.
Aha! The main hall where all the developers congregated.
The gardens were lit up outside too, and many of the glass sculptures resembled the surrounding plants
Right under the Space Needle. This was all of our first times seeing it up close.

We left the Sony party around 11:30 to make sure we'd get to our new location before 12. It was a house 30 minutes away in Kirkland, which I had found on Airbnb. When we got there, the owner gave us the keys to our private entrance, where we had a King size bed, bunk beds, a bathroom, a kitchen with microwave, and a living room with a TV and Blue-ray Player for streaming Netflix/Hulu etc.

We scored this place about 2 weeks before we got there, as it must have just opened up in availability (because I was scouring the internet for great deals on comfortable places in the area for weeks). The best part was it was only $70 a night for the 4 of us! That was $30 less than the cheap hotel we had booked just in case. This place was easily 10x better than a that hotel would have been, and was a great first experience with Airbnb.

Planning certainly does go a long way!

Saturday: PAX Day 2

By the 2nd day for the expo we were already sleep-deprived and exhausted. Still, we didn't regret going out the night before. 

Epic Games sponsored the exhibitor lounge where we were able to pick up some free doughnuts in the mornings for breakfast, and whole sandwich meals during lunch time. We definitely took advantage of the free food! We also had a large shopping bag of snacks we brought each day, to keep us going. Oh, and lozenges. LOTS OF THROAT LOZENGES. This was how we were able to continue to talk with people throughout the entire show. Seriously.

Before the show floor opened, exhibitors would run around themselves and try out games before the mobs :)
"It's so Bad"
The Fountain got turned on for day 2, after i found the extension cord that had been misplaced the day before. Hooray!
James looks happy
Father and Son
Playing the PC Demo of XING
The line has once again been reformed, and this time, with better arrows marking on the floor!
James and John
This little guy was 3-D printed from our game, and lived in this pot for the duration of the expo.
I think the smiley face made it more friendly :)

James and John on Rift Duty
The scene of the booth from the direction that people were lined up in
Princess Ida from Monument Valley! We are definitely fans of that game :)


Speedo and his Dr. Pepper product placement
John getting them started

We gave out these cards to people who came to the booth, and these ones were laid out in front of the Rift Demos.
James' Phone was used for taking credit cards with Square
By the 2nd day, people had decided that sitting in line was preferable to standing in line.
So far so good!
Looks like another Father and Son. They waited almost an hour to play!
The PC Demo, sporting the brand new Logitech keyboard that was gifted to us.
Speedo had a good time strapping this Red Dead cosplayer in, and took on a character of his own!
The Witcher came to play XING!
James giving me a funny look while John talks to a group about the game.
James and John in the booth
People would watch the screens before playing, which is why we had the screen on top of the Dragon table showing the Oculus game play turned diagonally
Towards the end of the 2nd day
We all got 15 minute breaks here and there during the show :)
"Stealth is an option"
Closing up the booth Day 2
After the convention ended at 6, we had the option of going out again. Instead, however, it was a unanimous team vote of: Go to the grocery store and get sandwich and burrito supplies, make dinner, and get a decent nights sleep.

So we did just that.

Since we basically had our own house, we had some fun in the kitchen making burritos and more.

Check out 'dem beans.
John pan frying hamburger while Speedo stares at the can-shaped beans.
We finally had some time to enjoy this place, and turned on a few TV shows while we ate.
The dining table (not used) and the couch (very much used)
James joins in the fun and adds cheese
That night, we had delicious burritos and fruit, and even got to watch TV on a couch. The break was well needed. The next day, we all agreed that it was the best decision we could had made. Finally, a decent nights sleep.

Sunday: PAX Day 3

Well rested thanks to our great decision making skills from the night before, we were energized and ready for Day 3!

New Builds on the Show Floor: Unfortunately, when we got there we still had some bugs in the demos that weren't entirely fixed the days before  - but rather avoided. There was a graphical problem with our lake demo, and the last two days we had "solved" the issue by telling people to just "go towards the Rainforest" (since there was a split in the path). But it was sometimes difficult to remember if we had said that to each player...

So James whipped out a brand new build with a deleted bridge - and Voila! Sorry, no lake for Rift users :( But no weird graphical bugs either! It was a major bummer to us, but nobody said anything about it. At least people were playing through both the Rainforest and Lake demos on the big screen. It was worth all the time spent on that portion of the lake after all!

James making a new build (something that happened almost every morning), while our Enforcer Hex tries of the XING Rift demo before the doors open. 
The lobby from the 4th floor
It was still exciting to see that line start to form in the morning each day

Speedo talking to one of the Rift players
You can look up, down, all around! And people really enjoyed the positional tracking too :)
John looks happy about the great reception we were getting all weekend!
I gathered our info pamphlets each day and handed them out to people in line. It was the perfect way for them to learn about the game they would be playing! (See pamphlets in the previous post)
James fixing the tape on the laminated posters on the front of the table.
In the zone
We got a line entertainer! This guy helped people pass the time in line by playing a game of "Guess that Pokemon!"
We had a bag full of water bottles every day!
John in the booth


Everyone with freshly passed-out info pamphlets! They seriously work!
The info pamphlets might have been one of out best investments for this show. For just $15 we were able to inform people all about the game, without having to use our voices to explain the same things over and over again...even more times than we were already doing.

These also helped to guide people in asking questions too.

Another great benefit from the brochures was that quite a few people would come up to the booth and watch for a while without saying a word. We would usually wait a minute, and then one of us would ask "Do you have any questions?", to which most people would say "Yes". However, quite a few would say "No, I'm just looking." That was our cue to point out the info pamphlets on the table in front of them. They all picked them up and read them cover to cover.

Then, many of those people would have questions and we could start a dialogue.
Info Pamplets. Great Stuff.


A little Princess Peach and Mario playing XING: The Land Beyond.
Speedo have a good laugh while resting on the chair.
I dropped by the Unreal booth a couple times while on breaks, to say hi to our friends at Epic!
You may have noticed that the email sign up stand moved several times during the show. We were playing around the the optimal placement of it almost until the last day.

People checking out the posters in the front, and watching the 3 trailers on the screen. We sold quite a few posters...but only enough to make back the $ we had originally spend on having them printed.
We will be bringing them to more shows in the future!
Loki was really enjoying the game.

I still need to finish Borderlands 2! :)
That night we split off for dinner, and met back up at 9 to go to the Pillars of Eternity party. It was a great party, and we all had a fun time dancing the night away! There were even some fun entertainers there, like a sword swallower! We ended up not taking many photos, but luckily I found some on the Obsidian Facebook page. Woohoo!

John and Speedo cheering on the Sword Swallower!
Speedo and I belting out "Under Pressure" by Queen. They played some great music
John and Speedo taking advantage of the free drinks
John and Speedo High Five! We are almost done, but not quite yet...

It was a great night for us, and we deserved a little fun! We got back to our place around 1am, and fell almost immediately asleep. One day to go!

Monday: PAX Day 4

It was the last day, and we were grateful! Not because we weren't having a great time, but because it was all pretty exhausting. In the morning we set up everything for the last time, as other exhibitors tried out our demos.


Those pamphlets really did work!

James grabbing a bite to eat. I think we all snacked throughout the day to keep our energy levels high.
Entering the land of XING!
On Monday, the line pretty much started out sitting down. I think everyone was feeling the length of the weekend.
James helping secure the Dev Kit 2 onto a player 
These 2 kids looked all over with the headset. They weren't afraid so spin all the way around!
This person ended up asking for our 3 names in Runes, instead of his own. 
I think one of my favorite things to do through the expo was write the personalized XING Rune inscriptions on the posters people purchased. People would ask for different names and phrases, and I would write it in Runes, in either gold, silver or bronze sharpie. I think people really ejoyed the personalized touch :)

Last photo of the booth in it's glory!
At the end, we had 3 people still waiting in line at 6pm - even though we had capped the line at 5:15. We weren't about to let them leave disappointed, so fortunately we were able to get them their turns by saying they were with us and part of our group... (because they were kicking people who weren't exhibitors out). Then we had them sneak out :) It was a great end to an amazing weekend.

Group Selfie before teardown!
The Team from the Left: Speedo, John, Koriel and James
It took us about an hour to pack everything up. We moved the TV 's into the car that was parked under the center first, and one of the enforcers found us this large cart for most of the rest of our cargo. 
James is ready to go
On our drive back to the house, we took a detour to Taco Bell. After buying the 12 taco pack and a few burrito Supremes, we were ready to relax on the couches. When we got back, the owners of the house had left us these freshly baked cookies and a nice note! We devoured them all.

Then it was time for some sleep. We all remembered that John and Speedo had to be at the airport (about an hour away from our place) at 10am, and then James and I would be driving the 850 miles back to Saratoga, CA. 
The family left us backed cookies! Yum yum!
Tuesday: The Drive Back

On Tuesday morning we packed up our clothes and personal items into the car, then set off for the airport. We all said goodbye at the terminal, as John and Speedo grabbed their things. Then it was time for the long drive....

It was time to get back to the wizarding world of Harry Potter.

This was a nice detour we ended up taking to avoid traffic thanks to Google Maps
Poor little guy got stuck in my grill :(
The open road.
We got back to Saratoga around 12am, where James' mom was waiting for us to arrive safely. The trip was almost over, just another 350 miles the next day and we would have some time to rest...

The thought made me smile as I drifted off to sleep.