My First Public Showcase! (Part 1)

Last weekend, I showcased Ambience publicly for the first time at a big LAN-gaming event at my university! They even live-streamed some gameplay on Twitch!

While the main focus of the event was on Overwatch and DoTA tournaments, they also allocated time for our uni’s game development society to showcase a couple of games currently in development. You know what that means… one awesome opportunity to get some publicity and feedback!

Since so much happened at the event, I’m dividing this post into two parts so I can cover everything in enough detail without making a mega-long post. This first post will be mostly about the event itself – what happened, what I did, and most importantly what I learned from the whole experience. Part 2 will dig a little deeper into the feedback I received and where I’m going to go from here.

The Arrival

The event itself was a big LAN-gaming event, and as such the schedule was filled with tournaments for many high-profile games including Overwatch, Hearthstone, LoL and DoTA. Being an Age of Empires II fan (of all things) who hasn’t played any of the games on offer, it’s fair to say that I felt a little bit out of my depth.

When I arrived, things were already running a little behind schedule. Tournaments were being set up, teams were being formed, and techies were still setting up the projector and live-streaming. I had originally intended to showcase Ambience in the morning between tournaments and stay around until about lunchtime, but the delays meant I had to wait.

Actually, I was glad for that. Throughout the morning I chatted to a few of the other attendees, both tournament competitors and laypeople who were just there to enjoy the LAN party. That in turn led to some conversations about the game I was developing. Since this was an event with mostly like-minded people, the conversations didn’t turn out too awkwardly – unlike some other occasions – and I was even able to convince some people to try out my game and give feedback. (More on what they had to say next week.)

The Waiting Game

As we all waited for lunch (pizza), there were more competitions and more play-testing. I managed to have a brief chat with the event’s organizer, and finally managed to pin down a time when I had the chance to showcase Ambience: 3pm, after a DoTA 1v1 tournament. At that point it was about 12:30pm, so that gave me roughly two and a half hours to make sure everything was in working order.

Except… I found a bug. Some weapons with a two-tile range, such as the Heavy Battleaxe, refused to hit enemies at the intended two-tile range. Thankfully I had a fairly good idea of what the cause might be, since I had seen something like it during previous play-testing. So after some frantic tinkering, I finally managed to find a solution in time for lunch. Phew! Always a reminder to play-test your games thoroughly before the day you showcase them.

Crunch Time

Lunch came and went, followed by more play-testing. I ran into a friend from our game development society and he agreed to play through the game’s story for a bit before the showcase. Over the next 45 minutes or so, he played through the game and we had a great discussion about several points which we agreed might need changing.

We had barely finished our discussion before the organizer approached me again. It was time. I thanked my friend gratefully, grabbed my USB stick and made my way to the computer at the front, where the game would be projected onto the big screens at both ends of the room – and streamed live on Twitch.

It’s a weird feeling, having your game tested live in front of fifty-odd people – probably a bit like sending your kid off to school on the first day. You’re excited about the new opportunity, but you’re also anxious about how (or if!) everything will hold together. And then there’s always the question: what will other people think? Will my project get torn apart in a wave of criticism?

The Showcase

As it turns out… the playtest went really well!

I was joined by a couple of people from the uni’s gaming societies who played through the first dungeon in the story. We also talked a bit about my gamedev experience, how long I had been developing Ambience for, and some of the game’s mechanics.

One thing I learned was that I’m not the most eloquent person in the world when I’m put on the spot (as you can see from the livestream above, haha). But overall the game was quite well-received. Watching other people play the game, try different things, and make mistakes also gave me a lot of great feedback.

We did receive some feedback from one of the Twitch viewers, too, while we were play-testing the game on-stream.

To be honest, I still don’t know whether this is meant to be a good or bad thing…

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Big events are always scary at first! But once you settle into the event and start talking to people, it gets easier. Don’t be afraid to talk to people about what you love, even if you feel like you’re a fish out of water (and believe me, DoTA really puts me in that position!) Also, be sure to actually go to these events if you’re an indie game developer – it’s a great way to get some publicity and feedback for your game.
  2. Don’t be afraid of criticism. Remember, gamedev is subjective. There will always be someone out there who will hate your game. And yes, it always hurts when your game gets criticised. But really, that’s all part of the game. Criticism is best thought of as a friend rather than an enemy – because without it, it’s almost impossible for you to know how to make your game better.
  3. Make friends! Events like these are a great way to get to know people who might be interested in playing or promoting your game. Even the short, 25-minute segment on the big screens between competitions was worth my five hour wait.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this post next week!

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