On April 12 I sent out a message on the IGDA Chicago Facebook group: “Wouldn’t it be neat if we held the 2nd annual IGDA/ICG ‘Chicago Games Showcase’ at Chicago Tech Week? Can anyone help get us in the door?” Three weeks later we were in, and thus began two months of non-stop Techweek work during most of my free waking hours.
This writeup isn’t just a post-mortem of the IGDA Chicago’s Techweek Gaming Lounge, but of everything leading up to it. That includes analysis of our communication with our studios, organization of the event, press we did for the event, execution of the Gaming Lounge, and much more. But before I continue, I want to emphasize two things:
Overall, I consider the IGDA Chicago Gaming Lounge at Techweek a great achievement of the new IGDA Chicago Board. Bringing together 15 studios at a major Chicago tech convention at a minimal cost, and all in two months, is the result of some very hard work executed by incredibly talented people. The press we got, and connections made, have already been showing results for our organization. I expect we’ll see even more positive results in the coming months.
The IGDA Chicago could not have done this event alone. Special thanks need to be given to: Dan Margalus, Brian Kung, Andy Saia, Lindsey from the Merchandise Mart, Meredith Lawson, Chicago Micro (for the internet hookup), Arabella Santiago, Sean Lyons, Josh Tsui, Tap.Me, Toy Studio (BIG THANKS), and all of the studios that participated. The local games press who came out and visited us were much welcome (I’m looking at you Erik Hanson and Scott Nichols), as were the Tastytrade folks, ABC 7, and NBC Chicago who interviewed us or some of our studios. On the IGDA Chicago Board’s side, everyone did an excellent job (as is to be expected). In particular, Jared Steffes was absolutely key in getting the event running, and Heather Decker-Davis should be thanked for donating a lot of her time during the event. I should also thank our panel speakers, including Sheri Rubin (also one of our board members), and the Young Horses guys (Phil Tibitoski, Devon Scott-Tunkin, and Kevin Geisler). And finally, everyone else I’ve forgotten: thank you.
What Could’ve Been Done Better
Organizing 15 game companies into a four day show isn’t as easy as it seems, but maybe it’s as hard as it seems. Aside from obvious challenges like time constraints, budget, and logistics, the IGDA Chicago’s biggest challenge with running a smooth Gaming Lounge at Techweek had to do with the nature of our business: digital games. This ranges from obvious things like internet, power, and equipment to other, non-obvious things like physical space issues — especially with Kinect games, furniture, and noise concerns.
I came into this event without thinking about any of these challenges.
Here are some of the problems we ran into as a result:
Communicating with studios/event logistics
Logistics – Logistics for Techweek were run completely by email, which was a huge mistake. Email is meant for conversations, not as a repository for critical information. I found myself repeating information that I’d already sent out multiple times. This could’ve been solved simply by putting up a website for exhibitors where they could check for information, rather than have to look through a long list of emails to get the answer to.
Inexperience – I’ve never had to deal with coordinating move-ins in a place like the Merchandise Mart, which has many regulations and rules for how to handle these sorts of things. A few of our studios also required things like an internet connection, or had extra power requirements that we tried to work with the Techweek folks to accommodate, but could’ve solved a lot better if we’d handled them ourselves (for instance, we should’ve run our own personal WiFi hotspot, thus short-circuiting the inevitable convention internet slowness issues).
Procuring equipment/furniture – We didn’t ask for money from studios, and so were running the event on a shoestring budget. As such, wrangling equipment and furniture was a huge time investment instead of being a monetary one (I recall several car trips downtown with Jared Steffes where we had bean bags strapped on top of a car). For an event we weren’t getting paid to run, this was simply too much, and could’ve been solved if we’d had a little cash to pay to have furniture shipped in, or asked studios to bring their own furniture.
Press/Promotion – For the sheer amount of talent we brought into Techweek, we didn’t have as much publicity as I would’ve liked to see. The problem is that I was viewing our event as more of a continuation of last year’s “Games Showcase” — which appealed to a captive audience that we were familiar with — than a showcase at a huge convention that appealed to an audience we were altogether unfamiliar with. Press should’ve been distributed more widely, and we could have utilized our network of studios to help distribute it.
A Different Audience – The audience at Techweek wasn’t one that we were familiar with, and our objective at Techweek was more focused on building local community awareness and partnerships; I should’ve explained this better to studios. As an organization, IGDA Chicago met its objectives (which I’ll go over in “What Went Right”) at Techweek, but these objectives could’ve been better articulated to our membership.
What Went Right
We achieved our main objectives as an organization
Objective 1 – Tech companies, investors, and media in Chicago had no idea there was such a growing industry surrounding games. We’ve now put ourselves on track to generate that awareness. We’ve also extended the reach of our mailing list and contacts to include people in the Chicago tech industry who would’ve never known about us before. Unknown future benefits, as well.
Objective 2 – This is an obvious achievement, but it’s worth noting: we provided studios with another opportunity to showcase their work to the public. We were looking to bring people to our booths, and we did. Judging by the comments of others who’d been wandering around Techweek, we had one of the biggest draws there. People came out to see us!
Provided Experience to Studios – Techweek gave some of our smaller studios excellent convention experience in a comfortable setting that they’ll hopefully be able to carry over to other conventions.
Bolstered Chicago’s Game Developer Community – The most interesting thing that I saw happen actually had little to do with the convention setting. I noticed that during lulls at the Lounge, people from the various studios exhibiting would wander around to the other booths and play games by companies that they were only passingly familiar with from online interactions. It was basically the difference between speaking to someone online and then meeting them in the real world for the first time; even our member studios were shocked by the amount of talent and games that were being made in Chicago.
The IGDA Chicago + Techweek Gaming Lounge was an excellent learning experience for our chapter and our membership. We were able to execute on a very large event that I believe provided a lot of value to everyone involved, while keeping the risk of running an event with an unknown outcome to a minimum. Most importantly, we were able to fulfill our duties as an organization that helps connect the game developer community not only with each other, but with the world outside our bubble.
With some tweaks, and the added experience that our entire organization has received from this year’s IGDA Chicago + Techweek Gaming Lounge, I believe we will be able to run better, more efficient (and effective) events in the future.