I recently had an opportunity to showcase my game Colonial Sea Trader at the IGDA-DC District Arcade. I learned a lot from that, and want to pass on some tips to you to help you in similar events.

The first question is, how can you find places to show off your game? There are a lot of opportunities out there, if you keep your eyes opened. I learned about the District Arcade from the IGDA-DC Meetup Page. Look for game developer, indie game developer, or other such meetups for your area. You can also check Facebook for related groups. Find one, find out the cost and submission requirements, ensure you can in fact support the event, and register! I suggest looking for something for your first showing that is at most a part of a day, between 2-5 hours is probably good, although it depends somewhat on the type of game you have.

I was informed about a month before that I was in, and was going to be able to present my game. I was excited, but then I started thinking, I wasn’t ready. Colonial Sea Trader at that time could only be played for maybe a minute before death would overtake you. I spent that last month working only on the playability and UX, not on adding any new features. By the end of this time period, I could play for 5 minutes and keep going, which helped me quite a bit!

Next is what do you bring? At a minimum, you need something to play your game, something to keep notes on, and optionally something to attract attention. You also need something to let those who are interested in your game to find out more information. I opted for a super simple setup, seen below. In addition, I have a notebook and a few pens.

My setup for the District Arcade

I had about an hour to set up my station. I spent a few minutes recording a simple version of the game running, to show off and attract attention if no one was playing the game at the moment. In setting this up, I noticed quite a few things that I hadn’t noticed before. The game took a huge amount of time to load the first time, wouldn’t re-load, and a number of minor annoyances that I had seen were quite a bit more serious otherwise. All in all, I learned much before the event event started! See the video I recorded below, although I played a local version of it.

During the event, especially at first I tried to tell the users the least possible before they started playing. I told them it was a sea trading game, set in colonial times, and kept things to that if I could. Inevitably I found a few issues, where people commonly had the same comments. After a few people playing it, I realized that I needed to address those issues, and made a note of it. I would then start telling people enough information to overcome the issues that I had identified.

All in all, I took 2 pages of careful notes. I looked for instances where the users were confused, for bugs they did or didn’t notice, for what they enjoyed that was different than I expected. I also took a few notes from suggestions that were offered, some of which I may or may not use. Some of them were items such as people clicked on city labels, tried to close dialogs by clicking on the black background, and others.

When I got home, I took a careful look at these notes. Before I did anything, I scanned them and backed them up to my repository, that information was very precious! I then went through each item, and put it in to a category on my Trello board. Many of them are in the “UX Concerns” category, which is where I put anything UX related, or unusual behaviors that people had. I don’t know if I will address them, but frequently going over them has helped me to think more about the user.

I found the source of the slowness bug. Within a few hours of time after, I was able to make Colonial Sea Trader run much faster, and not crash upon reloaded. If I had taken the time to test out the game on the laptop I brought in the compiled version, I would have learned about this much sooner!

Right now I have taken quite a bit of the advice, and made a number of tweaks. You can take a look at my blog for some of the updates that I’ve done recently. All in all, it was a fantastic experience. I saw people play Colonial Sea Trader for longer then I have every played it. There was at one point in time a line of 3 people waiting to play it, although that was brief. Someone asked where they could buy my game. Colonial Sea Trader isn’t really available for purchase yet, it is still too early for that. I asked, how much would you pay for this game? He told me $20. I was thinking that if I could sell it now, it would be at most $1, so I was ecstatic that someone would pay so much for the early version of my game!

All in all, I suggest that you find such events to playtest your game. Make sure you have tested your game on your playtest target in the configuration you intend to test several times before you bring it to the event. Take lots of notes, and you will find that your game will improve more the next month after it then the previous 3 months before that!

Ben Pearson is the developer of Colonial Sea Trader, a Unity game that he is producing under the company name Old Ham Media. Ben learned Unity development with much assistance with gamedev.tv. You can subscribe to updates at his Google Group, like him on Facebook, check his videos out on YouTube or watch him stream game development on Twitch. He has been a programmer since a young age, although only recently is learning programming with game engines. He has completed the the Complete Unity Developer Course and Pass the Unity Certification courses, and is working through the Complete Blender Developer Course, RPG Core Combat Creator, and Unity Game Physics courses. He is hoping to soon start Unreal Courses soon. Follow him on Twitter @KD7UIY.