Indie games at Comic Con Bangalore – On the ground

At the outset, we printed A3 posters of each game on display. We also had A4 posters printed of each, intended for people to shuffle through – like a menu of sorts. We had a dartboard, for contests. It was meant to be a crowd puller, and the winner could get any one of the games for free. Over the next two days, we even had a large scoreboard that made use of one of Moonfrog’s games in development. Scores that crossed a threshold had the same deal, winner gets a game being demoed for free.

We hadn’t installed all of the games on every device we had, just on a couple of devices meant to demo games.  This was fine earlier in the day, but eventually when showing games to four-five people, it led to a fair amount of frustration. This was sorted by day 2, but it goes to show that there will be certain spikes in audience at times, and you will need all devices on deck. You will not have time to do “set up”, while at the comic con.

At any given point of time, there were at least three people manning the stall. Three bright eyed game developers waiting to meet and sell freshly baked content, made in India, to Indians. We’d eagerly greet the people coming to the stall, and ask if they wanted to play a game. Sometimes, people would get shy and say “No, thank you”, but they’d still look at the posters quickly before moving on. Often, people would be like “Yeah, sure!” and we’d say “Pick any game!” waving with a flourish towards the wall of posters behind us. Once they chose a game, we’d launch and watch them play it for a while. Eventually, we’d tell them that the game was available for Rs. 50, right there at the stall. That’s when most of them would say, “Oh, all right.. thank you, nice game!” and walk off.

Many times, people had trouble choosing – so we’d offer to describe each game, and once we finished, we’d ask them to pick a game. Interestingly, most of the time – the response was “Anything”. Otherwise, the prettier or more intriguing posters were likely to get picked.

There was also quite a bit of demand for the dartboard. In hind sight we should have charged money to play that game. But we wanted to collect contact information, so that’s the way we went. That dartboard drew a lot of attention to the stall, and helped us get information of people from namma Bengaluru.

Just before we closed the stall for the day, we had one person come by asking about one of the t-shirts we had draped in the front of the stall. It had Mario on it, and this guy REALLY wanted a Mario t-shirt. So that was our sale.

That’s it. We sold one t-shirt on day 1. Nothing else. Honest.
We had no idea what we were doing that could possibly be wrong. We met a lot of people that day, many of whom saw one or two games that we had on display. Why were we not able to sell any games?

Day 2
Day 2 started off a bit different. I was late to arrive at the stall, but the rest of the crew were ready for battle. Since I was missing with the darts for the dartboard, they invited people to play the cricket game that was under development, and posted the highest scores on a huge cricket leaderboard poster. As mentioned, anybody who crossed a high threshold could get any game for free. Apparently, Orions Gold and Rewind were amongst the highest demanded “free” games. Catcher In the Sky, and Hues got some love too. I can only imagine that the posters had a lot to do with it, because people hadn’t played any of the games before choosing it. Which reiterates the important of good-looking promotional material.

I got there a couple of hours late, and went on to set the dartboard up – apparently quite a few people had been asking about the dartboard. Within a few minutes, we had a throng of people vying with each other to play darts.

Let’s talk about the number of people we had manning the stall that day. There were a total of seven people. That’s right – seven. Three people behind the counter, either making a sale, installing a game on a player’s device, or handling the dartboard games. Four people were out in front, handing devices to people and watching them play.

We had the same strategy as before, demo games to people, and if they like something – we tell them it’s available right there for Rs. 50. A few games were sold, and I attributed it to the Saturday rush – usually that’s the best day at Comic Con.

In the second half, it dawned on us that the dart board did bring a lot of people to the stall, but FOR THE WRONG REASON! People would play darts, and leave. They wouldn’t even see or sample any of our games. We realized that the crowd which we were initially pulling with the Cricket challenge, had shifted over to the dartboard. With the former, one of our own games was getting some feedback and attention. That’s when we shut down the dartboard activity. We ended up saying no to a lot of people who brought their friends to play darts (which kept reminding us of its power as a crowd puller) but hey, it was the right decision to make. We weren’t there to do darts contests, or sell t-shirts or posters. We were there to sell OUR games, games made here in India. We would rather have 5 people playing our games, than 50 playing darts.

Towards the evening, when our energy levels was predictably getting lower, our “silent partner” drops by. We show him the number of sales, and updated him about what was happening. Within ten minutes, he tells us what we were missing.

He pulls Oliver and me to the side, and shows us our own stall from a little further away. We see Rishi darting around the crowd in front, targeting couples and showing them Circulets. Once they played a game, and obviously had fun beating each other – he’d point them to the stall, saying we could buy a copy there. There were a few times when people walked away, but atleast with a smile on their face. More often than not though, they’d come to the stall – and ask about Circulets with the intention to buy.

That was a pretty important lesson for me – we needed people who could sell, I mean REALLY sell. It’s not that Rishi was your typical salesman, but he brought a lot more exuberance and extroversion to the act. The rest of us were more accommodating, and helping people with choices rather than pushing various games in people’s hands. Which is usually a good thing, but we were at war – we weren’t getting enough sales, our products couldn’t be valued by people just by looking at posters, they NEEDED to be played. Providing people with choice was not effective. People want to do the right thing, whatever they do. When you ask them to choose from among ten posters, they don’t have enough information on which to make a choice. Better that we choose for them, after asking them about the kind of games they play.

Day 3
And that’s what we started doing different, from day 3. First, we knew that there were only two games in the stall that could be explained in less than ten seconds and where the players immediately started having fun. The other games needed some time to really get into the fun bits, and a few people did go for that experience. If they didn’t know what game to choose, we’d find out what games they usually played, and suggest appropriate options for them. But the majority were more likely to sink into the cricket game and Circulets. And that’s what we pushed heavily to people.

We also had a couple of women volunteers who wanted to be a part of the first ever indie games sale in India. Students from a prominent women’s college in Bangalore (MCC, anyone?) and pretty enthu cutlets at that. We told them that their job was to approach people and tell them about the games stall or show them Circulets. If people liked the game – the girls would point them in the direction of the table so we could make the sale.

It wasn’t just the volunteers. On day 3 – we had four of us on the outside doing the exact same thing. Standing outside the stall, and telling people about the games stall or showing Cricket or Circulets. Two of them were even wearing t-shirts that we were selling, so that was an extra bit of promotion (and moaaarr sales, woohoo). There was just one person at the stall making the sale. The dartboard was taken off, and the Cricket leaderboard was the only one on prominent display, apart from the games posters and the hanging T-shirts.

So, why did we remove almost everyone from behind the stall? Because we asked a few people on the previous days, as to what they thought the stall was about (without telling them what we were doing). Almost everyone thought we were a t-shirt stall, or in some cases a mobile device sales outlet. And then we’d incredulously point at the big banner above saying “Games made in Bangalore”, and they’d be like “Oh, you’re selling games?”. We thought we had it fixed on day 2, by putting a big “Games Made in Bangalore” poster at the back of the stall where people could see it. But a lot of people who were casually passing by still didn’t realize what we had on display.

Not that it would have made too much of a difference, our stall had quite a bit of an audience – more than we could handle. But still, it would have been nice if the people walking by knew what the stall was about, before choosing to move ahead anyway.

Back to the story – so we now have six people outside the stall telling people about what we did, or showing them the two games we had shortlisted to attract people to the stall. First of all, that’s actually not allowed by Comic Con rules – you cannot have people do some activity outside the stall limit, blocking the walking arena. But we thought we had some mercy from the organizers, and that everyone really wanted to see if games could be sold at Comic Con India. It had never been done before, and the last two days hadn’t really gone so well. We’d sold less than Rs. 1000 worth of products, and that included t-shirts. For god’s sakes, some of the other stalls were making that much money with ONE sale. And we hadn’t done diddly squat in two whole days! Well, to be fair, a lot of people got to know that we make games of good quality in Bangalore, but hey, NO SALES!

This change in strategy turned the tide. We sold a lot more copies of games, and a few t-shirts. There were quite a few times, when our sales folks would retreat and fall face-first on the bean bag we had at the stall, before going back to make more sales out there. Our third day was more energetic, our volunteers and sales guys waylaying anybody who was either a kid or looked like a couple or was part of a small group of friends, and thrust Circulets in their hands. They did a fantastic job, without any sales background whatsoever – students and game designers, shoulder to shoulder, just pulling people and talking to them.

By the end of the day, we tallied our total. We had made over Rs. 2500 in sales on the last day. We’d sold twice the number of games from the last two days, and an equivalent value in t-shirts too. We were all quite exhausted by the end of the day, and just barely managed to wrap things up at the stall and head home. Sales can be quite exhausting, but we’d tried it… and we’d given it our best shot.

Let’s look at our expectations and assumptions from the event, and how it panned out:

1. Comic Con is the closest we have to a consumer fair in India where visitors were more likely to be gamers, and more likely to buy indie games.
True, we did see some gamers – but most were into Counter Strike, DoTA 2 or Need for Speed. Indie gamers, not enough. Or atleast indie gamers that wanted to see what was made in India, not enough.

2. Ours would be amongst the most inexpensive items on display – every game for Rs. 50. We’d obviously sell a lot of games, especially in a venue where even the cheapest food item was costlier than our games.
We sold a sum total of 28 copies from all games combined. Our most expensive item – tshirts, though much lesser in number, added more to revenue than our games did. This is an event where physical merch is valued more.

3. Ours was the only stall at Comic Con that had mobile games for play. Every other stall was either selling t-shirts, posters, comics, graphic novels, or pop culture merch.
There was one other stall that was showing one game – and they were giving it away for free. Even that apparently didn’t guarantee many installs. There was also the Xbox lounge where people stood in large queues to play on Xbox ones. They weren’t selling anything though. None of that seemed to have helped our cause, that we were the only stall SELLING mobile games. It just didn’t seem to have that much value in people’s eyes.

4. Most people would have Android phones.
This was true – almost all of the people who came to our stall had an Android phone. Most were decently powered Samsung phones, there were a few Micromax phones too. Installing games on devices was a fair amount of work though. A few didn’t have file explorers, which meant we couldn’t browse and install the games from the apk file. Quite a few were incredibly slow, what we thought should take 5 minutes would take 15 minutes, and waiting for that always felt like it was an hour. Batteries die out, phones heat up, the screen suddenly goes blank during installation. Just some of the wonderful things to watch out for. There was the very rare Windows Phone user, we even got a couple of iPhone users. We just took their contact details, telling them that we’d send links to our games so they could download it. I think we COULD have gone ahead with the Apple Gifting funda. We wouldn’t have crossed that threshold anyway.

5. Indian consumers probably don’t buy games because they don’t have debit/credit cards synced with their phones.
No, it’s now become a habit that games are free – just like our music downloads. We might groan about the ads, but we’d rather skip ads then pay Rs. 50 for them.

6. Indian consumers would like to see and play with a game, before actually putting their money down for it.
They all liked playing the game, many were willing to get the games installed on their devices too – but when they found out it was Rs. 50, they said “No, thank you”. It didn’t matter that we had the lowest priced items on sale at Comic Con, most of them usually never bought any games at all.

7. Even if we had 1% of a proposed 75000 audience visit our stall and buy atleast one game – we’d make 750*50 = Rs. 37500. Which would sort of get us to break even, but more importantly – it’d test if this model of offline sales had potential.
We totally sold approximately four thousand worth of products. Half of that was the t-shirts on sale, the other half mostly comprised of Circulets – which was clearly the most sellable game given the high energy atmosphere all around us.

8. The location was changed from the year before – but interestingly, it was right near an IT park. Which meant there should be a lot of people coming around lunch time, or in the evening – young adults with money! People with Android phones, who probably spent a lot of time playing games! At work! What more could we ask?
Office going folk did come to the stall, but just out of curiosity. They just wanted to see what the Comic Con was all about, and maybe buy a t-shirt or party hat. So MANY t-shirts proclaiming Valar Morghulis, and more batman masks than I’d be comfortable seeing in a lifetime.

9. People would finally be aware that there were games of good quality being made in India.
This was the coolest part. People would look at the games, and invariably exclaim “This was all made in India??”, and we’d proudly say “Yes!”. Then they’d say “Awesome man!” before moving on to the next stall.

So, what did we learn from our time at Comic Con? Here it comes!