Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Things Devs Learn from Gaming Expos

 Showcasing a game, whether it's video or tabletop, is an overwhelming experience. Designing and creating a booth that highlights the fun of your product. Promoting it before, during, and after the event. And interacting with gamers, journalists, and other developers. It's an experience that can be exhausting as well as enlightening. Vice interviewed several developers at Birmingham's EGX in September to gain a better perspective on what's in this for gaming studios - other then marketing their games.

Having attended dozens of gaming expos and events over the years, the most common thing I hear from staff is that the large scale crowds give them a chance to see how well their games play. Are people able to pick up the controls without needing to read the menus for 10 minutes? Can people complete level objectives without an insane amount of difficulty? Are there any bugs or glitches that would inhibit the gamers? Or do they find new glitches entirely that they QA team didn't run into?

I remember when Capcom brought Street Fighter V to the floor at PAX and used linked systems for people to play together. And it failed. Badly. Techs were at the stations constantly trying to get the connections to work. You'd think that would have been a good sign that they should have been better prepared for the servers at launch. But that's the beauty of gaming expos. Better to have the game crash on the show floor then to bust at launch. It also gives developers a chance to see how gamers play, and if they should make changes. Overcooked, a quirky team-puzzle game by Phil Duncan and
Ghost Town Games, presented them with a challenge of changing the games rules. At their first showing of the game, there was an odd glitch that allowed a person to trash the fire extinguisher which is the only means of stopping a kitchen from burning down. Duncan considered leaving that in, and letting the gamers learn from their mistake.

Or you have games like InnerSpace that look almost complete. Picture-perfect and nearly ready. And then you have a gamer like me come in, ignore all of the stage objectives, and try to break things. Not intentionally, of course! I was so enraptured by how lovely the control mechanics were and the ease of flying around, I was more interested in cruising. In the process, I found some new bugs, crashed into things that shouldn't have been possible, and asked where I live because they could use me on their QA team.

But I think the most valuable thing developers see at gaming expos is the initial impressions of gamers before they touch a controller. Visuals, music, art-style, dialogue - all of these capture our attention first and foremost. Getting that reaction helps steer developers into the right direction for future content.

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