Sep 072012
 

Earlier this week, BitFlip Games made a blog post saying that their PAX booth cost them $12K. Afterwards, they edited in a preface that says PAX is still one of the cheapest conferences, and they meant it as positive praise for the conferfence… but the rest of the article doesn’t read like that. Choice lines like this:

That’s a hell of a lot of money for a 3 person, self funded team to spend. And that’s just one 3 day show.

Don’t exactly scream confidence and thankfulness. So I wanted to share my story and my costs, as a shoestring Indie Developer.

TL;DR: Your indie game booth will only cost $1,760 at PAX.  That’s less than 15% of the $12K figure being tossed about in headlines these days!

RELATIVE COSTS

Before I jump right into this, I have a pet-peeve.  When I quote costs and expenses, I leave out things that are wildly variable and circumstantial when speaking to the public (obviously I still budget for it privately). When detailing how much it costs my studio to run every day, I don’t tabulate the cost of buying high end sushi for my team every day for lunch, nor do I count driving 3 hours to work in the morning in my hummer. When going to conferences I don’t tell people about my first class flights, five star hotels, and day-to-day “spending money” for trinkets and jewelry. The reason for this should be clear: You don’t have to pay for them, and citing them as intrinsic costs might scare away developers that would have walked to the convention and slept in the hostel (with their free breakfast!) every day.

It’s fine if you want to report back your total receipts and separately mention all these extra expenses, to give people a baseline. But don’t assume what sort of lifestyle your peers have, and for god’s sake stop moaning about not making a profit when the CEO of your one-man company pulls in a $120K salary every year. It’s not fair to say that flights WILL COST YOU $3,000 when you live in Antarctica, if a good chunk of your audience lives next door to the conference center.

I’m not saying BitFlip did all this wild exaggeration (they definitely did not!). They did inflate the budget with things like airfare and hotels, plus day to day incidentals.  BitFlip did put a nice breakdown at the bottom of their article, but the headlines that spun out of this were screaming “$12K!” and that’s the only story that made it out to the blogosphere. So let’s break this down a bit more fairly and clearly:

FIRST UP: THE MEGABOOTH

The Indie MegaBooth is your friend. Entry is open to just about anyone, and it nets you huge discounts in terms of collaborative purchasing power and donations from larger organizations. Here’s a great interview with Kelly, the MegaBooth organizer. I am so serious when I say I COULD NOT GO TO PAX if it were not for the hard work of Kelly organizing and setting up sponsors, donations, and dispensing helpful information out to all the participants.

Here’s a list of all the items I received, without any effort on my part, entirely thanks to the MegaBooth organizers:

  • $1,600: a 10×10 foot booth
  • $160: MegaBooth shared costs. This covered banners, a projector for our trailers, etc.
  • FREE: 4 exhibitor badges
  • FREE: 3 three-day badges (thanks to PAX and my enforcer!)
  • FREE: Carpet color upgrade (thanks, PAX!)
  • FREE: Backdrop color upgrade (thanks, PAX!)
  • FREE: 48″ TV (thanks, Intel!)
  • FREE: 8′ Stand for the TV (thanks, Intel!)
  • FREE: 2 keyboards, 2 mice, 2 headsets, and 2 xbox controllers (thanks, Mad Catz!) [They EVEN LET US KEEP THESE!]
  • FREE: 32″ Monitor (thanks, Intel!)
  • FREE: High end laptop to display a game on (thanks, Intel!) [Also had the option for a big gaming rig]
  • FREE: upgrade from 250W to 500W of power, just enough to power all of the above (thanks, PAX!)
  • FREE: All the cables, power bars, extension cords, and A/V hookups I needed. (Thanks, PAX/Intel!)
  • FREE: A table, two chairs, and a garbage can (standard booth package, included in price)
  • FREE: Booth help for wrangling crowds, running for water, food, etc (Huge thanks to the Enforcers and to the MegaBooth volunteers!)
  • FREE: Trailer editing, website presence, press releases, and marketing efforts for the megabooth in general.

Seriously, all I did to get all of this was sign a single form that said how many square feet I wanted. Everything else was organized by megabooth staff with no input or organization or logistics needed on my behalf.

That right there is some pretty sweet kit for only $1,760. A standard booth at PAX usually runs around $2500 if you want a 10×10 space on the floor, and that doesn’t really include anything. For much less a price, I pretty much had a fully functional booth, with logistics, delivery, cleanup, and even setup/tear-down of big things (like the TV and the Stand) handled by Intel and the Enforcers. No sweat off my brow.

I could have just showed up with a thumbstick with my game and had a great booth, just like that. $1,760 is your bare minimum. This is what it costs to have a decent booth at PAX. YOU CAN STOP READING NOW.

EXTRA PROFESSIONALISM POINTS

A while back I bought a Radial Games stand-up floor banner, that stands about 3 feet wide and 8 feet tall. It cost me about $300 and will be re-usable for years. I also purchased a more expensive Monster Loves You banner for $400; it is a cartridge-load banner and I can swap it out for other games at much reduced expense in the future.  I also had a huge box of previously-purchased business cards, and I splurged for $100 worth of the fancy carpet padding, so my feet wouldn’t get sore standing at the booth all day.

The booth next door to mine (Dejobaan!) printed up a few 8×5 adverts for the game, which I taped to the side of the television. Let’s say the tape, scissors, paper, and ink all amounted to less than $5 and pretend it never happened (there was more than one booth using the supplies, and we hardly used all of it anyway).

None of these things were required, and all but the carpet will be distributed costs over every event I go to. But just for kicks, let’s throw in our luxury expenses:

  • $300: Radial Games banner (reusable)
  • $400: Monster Loves You banner (reusable for other games)
  • $50: A thousand business cards (I only handed out about a hundred, but what the heck, let’s pay for it all today)
  • $100: Carpet underlay

That brings our total up to $2,610.

PLUSHIES

I further decorated my booth with a dozen very large hand-made plush monsters, each made locally by a nice lady out of her home. These cost $300 to purchase, but I sold half of them marked-up the last day of the show. I ended up coming home with 4 monsters and breaking even.

  • FREE: A dozen large plushies for booth decoration.

TRAVEL EXPENSES

Again, I hate when people include travel in their costs, so ignore this bit. But for full disclosure, I’ll just put this here.

I live pretty close to the convention (Victoria, BC), so this wasn’t so bad. It is still a completely different country and I had to bring my passport and all that. Pricey it was not.

  • $100: Return trip tickets on the ferry.
  • $30: Taxi fare.

I probably spent more money on the duty-free liquor on the trip home.

Total is now $2,740.

LODGING AND FOOD

Normally I stay at the hostel for about $20/night, but I decided to splurge and split a hotel room with a friend.

There was a ton of parties, vendors, and publishers/distributors willing to wine-and-dine you. Finding a free bite to eat was easy, but for the sake of argument let’s say $60/day.

  • $400: Hotel lodging for four days (3 for the conference, and an extra for setup the night before)
  • $240: Food.

The hotel threw in free wi-fi (normally it would be $20-40/day), probably because they knew the volume would collapse the system in the evenings and it’d be a tech-support nightmare. I did spend $40 on a roaming cellphone plan, but it didn’t end up working and I got a refund when I got back home.

Total is now $3,380.

BOOTH HELP

Colin and Sarah Northway were showing off Incredipede off to the side of my booth, and needed some tickets to get into the show. I traded them Exhibitor passes for a bunch of labour at the booth, and I gotta say I couldn’t have done it without them! They paid for their own travel and lodging expenses.

A fellow indie developer, Graham of Velvety Couch Games likewise missed out on buying tickets, and offered his services in exchange for an Exhibitor pass. I had a few spares, so no problem! If I thought Colin and Sarah were great helps, Graham was an amazing trooper, sticking it out on the show floor for hours when I could only stand to hide behind my banners.

Remember, these exhibitor badges came with the booth for free.

  • FREE: 3 booth helpers.

This is on top of the food/water runners and generic all-booth volunteers that the MegaBooth provided, and the specific-to-my-booth enforcer that did a ton of work and help (particularly during tear-down and set-up) that was provided by PAX.

And these aren’t “special case” or “only available to me” booth helpers. Asking around the show floor and on Twitter, I have dozens of people volunteering to show off my booth in exchange for Exhibitor badges next year. All you have to do is ask! Remember that Exhibitor badges get to get in early, stay late, and skip all the lines. They’re solid gold!

Of course, I was able to sell my extra free three-day passes and ended up making a bit of money back there, but I won’t cover that here.

TIME INVESTMENT

Monster Loves You, the game itself, is something that has been bouncing around in my head since 2009. Dejobaan and Radial Games started work on it 3 or 4 months before PAX, working sporadically and part time.  I’d estimate it took us 3 weeks of full-time work during that period.

Organizing the booth was pretty much done the day before. Remember that almost all the logistics, planning, sponsorships, and equipment was organized by Kelly of the Indie Megabooth, and I seriously just signed a few forms.

But to be honest, I was still stressing about things, and being unsure how things might pan out. Turns out my fears were unfounded, and things went *way* smoother than I thought they would. Let’s be fair and say it took a week of work out of my system, all in stress-tokens.

That’s a total of 4 weeks of work to make the game and get the booth running.

GRAND TOTALS

Allright, that sums up all my trip receipts.

IF YOU WANT TO HAVE A DECENT INDIE BOOTH AT PAX: $1,760

IF YOU WANT TO HAVE A BIT MORE PROFESSIONAL BOOTH: $2,610

Just add your travel, lodging, and food expenses (if necessary) and you’re done. For me, that came out to a grand total of $3,380. I will grant you it can be cheaper than that, or more expensive depending on your location and dietary requirements (eg: if you can’t survive on free beer alone).

That’s a far cry from the twelve-thousand-dollar headlines making their way across the blogosphere recently. And a much shorter time investment.

EDIT: I’m not bashing BitFlip here, though they did cross one of my pet-peeves. They still detailed all their expenses! What bugs me most is the media response, generating headlines and articles saying “$12K for a booth!” without going into these details.

EDIT 2: I forgot the $160 megabooth shared costs. Adjusted all numbers to match.

EDIT 3: There is obviously no guarantee about what sponsorships and free stuff might become available at the next megabooth (or even if there will be a megabooth!), so these costs and savings could change drastically if the worst were to occur. But I very much think that things will only get *cheaper and better* here on out.

  11 Responses to “So, you want to take your indie game to PAX on a budget”

Comments (7) Pingbacks (4)
  1. I’m not sure how you CANNOT factor in other costs as being part of PAX. Will you magically be teleported to/from the convention center? And all the free stuff sounds like sponsorships. How about people not lucky enough to be able to work the system for all the stuff you mentioned? Seems like you’re running a hobby and not a business.

    • I’m not saying don’t count the travel expenses (which I did sum up at the end anyway), I’m saying quote the expenses BEFORE travel/hotel/etc. so the fine folks at the venue location can make an accurate assesment themselves. Everyone here knows what it’ll take to travel. Baking that into the price is just confusing.

      And the free stuff is indeed sponsorships. Check out the whole paragraph on the Indie Megabooth. I did none of the organizing for that; it was all provided for me for free and zero effort, thanks to Kelly and the MegaBooth. All you have to do to reap the same rewards is *sign up*.

      • As a fellow developer looking to have a booth at PAX East in 2013, I was just wondering how many of the MegaBooth developers get that kind of treatment? Is that pretty common for all the indies that were part of the booth? We are looking at being part of the MegaBooth and I believe my partner has already talked to Kelly and they are great but we didn’t hear of lots of the free things they seemed to have provided. Do you have to work out any deals with any of these sponsors or do they kind of just show up and say here’s some free stuff for your booth?

        • EVERYONE in the IndieMegaBooth was given the same benefits. Some indies decided to build their own booths with fancy constructions and things, so their costs might be different. Some decided to bring their own TVs, though there was some provided by Intel. But if you went to PAX Prime via the IndieMegabooth, everything in this thread applies to you.

          If you already spoke with Kelly for setting up at PAX East, you would have gotten an email that states the bare minimum pricing along with a line saying “We haven’t worked out the sponsors yet so we’ll let you know.”

          Almost all this bonus/free stuff was obtained well before the show, but not this far out. :) The sponsors don’t even know what they want just yet!

  2. Awesome write-up Mr. Moore. I completely agree with how you do the breakdown, as I too am a little more reserved on my trips, as our meetings in California have shown. Travel for me would run roughly $400, and I’m on the opposite side of the US; it’s called buying plane tickets ahead of time. I’d go for hostels myself, and 3 days of eating out / thriving on free food at the conventions won’t hurt anyone standing on their feet all day, so there’s the gist of food costs. I’d say your breakdown is pretty accurate, thanks for the great read!

  3. Thanks so much for sharing your numbers!

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