An RVA Makerfest 2017 Retrospective
Up until recently the only people that have played my current game “UFO Rodeo” are friends and family that I was able to convince (read force) to try it. The grand total number of people probably being under 10. Recently though I had an opportunity to demo my game for the first time ever in front of the public at RVA Makerfest, an annual event put on by the Science Museum of Virginia for local artists and creatives to show off their work. Having never shown off anything, no less a VR game, I thought I’d share what I had learned from the experience.
What I learned
Turns out adolescent boys really like virtual reality. From the time I set up my booth ( around 9) to when I took everything down ( around 5) I had a constant stream of young adolescent males willing to wait in line to try my game. Well at least I’d like to say they were there to try my game, but there’s a good chance that a lot of them were just there to play anything VR. While on the whole, there was a diverse group of people who got to try, I’d definitely say the overwhelming majority of participants were boys between the ages of 9 and 15.
The good stuff
First lets start with what did work. Before going to the event I talked to a couple of friends that routinely show off VR games for large groups of people and got a decent shopping list of things that helped demo VR games.
- Vive Deluxe Audio Strap – This isn’t mandatory but it really helped. Being able to quickly take the headset on and off made my life a lot easier. It also took care of my audio needs and gave a better impression to the person in the headset due to the fact that it’s way more comfortable than the default head strap. Even though I bought this for demoing purposes I’ve really enjoyed having it for my own VR uses.
- Portable Lighthouse Stands – This one is pretty necessary. You can’t really set up a temporary VR space without them.
- Leather Foam Face Mask Replacements – People get super sweaty playing the Vive. These were pretty cheap and it meant I could wipe them down with a baby wipe in between uses so people didn’t spread germs from one to the next.
- A Large TV – My girlfriend’s work happened to be getting rid of one of their old TV’s which turned out to be perfect for putting on my booth table and showing a spectator camera from inside the game on.
I also made a specific build of the game just for Makerfest including the following changes:
- I picked one specific section of the game and put it on loop – The game has a bunch of unfinished content that I just cut out for the maker-fest build. I just picked my most finished ship and my most finished map and cut everything else. Putting the game on loop meant I didn’t have to worry about any menu navigation or anything like that. I could just take the headset off one kid and put it on the next.
- I made a pilot-able spectator camera for the kids watching – Having a long line meant that I needed to keep the kids in line at least somewhat entertained while they were waiting their turn. Allowing kids who were waiting for a turn to pilot a spectator camera in the game kept them entertained at least momentarily and wasn’t hard to pull off. Plus it meant that people who were walking by didn’t have to see the game from the janky perspective of the VR camera. If you are interested in how I pulled this off you can read about it here.
- I created a trigger-able tutorial – What I mean by this is I created a tutorial map t could be fired off from a keyboard event. I had fought with whether or not I wanted to include the tutorial for a while before the show, and this turned out to be a good middle ground. It turns out most kids had waited in line for a while watching other kids play before they got their turn, had learned most of the games rules by then and didn’t really need a tutorial. tutorial A mandatory would have just wasted a bunch of valuable play time. By being able to fire off the tutorial at any time from a key stroke though I was able to play it for the youngest players or anyone who didn’t quite get it.
Other stuff that I wound up doing the day of that really helped included:
- I kept a high score sheet – If I had thought about it in time I would have built this into the game itself, but I only got the idea the day of. I got a piece of paper and pencil and updated the games high score every time someone beat the old one. Some kids returned to see if anyone had beaten their score and got back in line if someone had. It managed to foster some competitiveness among the players.
- I used a lot of tape – Tape wound up being one of the things I used a lot. I brought a couple different colors and found a bunch of uses., from taping down cables, to taping off the play area so people didn’t wander in, to taping off the line so people couldn’t cut. Bringing a whole mess of tape turned out to be super useful.
- I brought good people to help – As a solo dev this probably won’t always be possible for me, but I was able to convince some really helpful people to assist with my booth. Having an extra person there to run for HDMI cables, or tape or to help get kids in and out of the headset turned out to be really helpful. A major thank you to Joseph Ciszek and Melody Lutz for helping me through that day.
Images courtesy of the Science Museum of Virginia
The Bad Stuff
Honestly the day wound up going really well. Nothing went absolutely bad, but there were a couple hiccups and a couple of things I didn’t think about until it was too late.
- Hardware issues – I somehow made it all the way to the event and had started setting up before I realized I had forgotten my computer tower at home. Luckily I didn’t live too far away from the venue and managed to get it there. I also had an issue with the HDMI cable I had brought. It turned out to be faulty but I didn’t know that until I started setting up. Both of these issues could have been fixed had I been a little more thorough with my packing and planning.
- Email list – Events like this are a great way to build up an email list of potential customers. Unfortunately I didn’t think about that till too late and didn’t actually collect any emails. This event probably wouldn’t have produced a ton of leads but definitely more than not taking any emails to begin with.
- Kids don’t really care about stickers – I brought a bunch of business cards and a bunch of stickers to hand out to people. I knew that the event would have a lot of kids and I figured stickers with my logo might be a cool thing to be able to give them. Unfortunately no one really wanted them. I got a lot of half-hearted “uh thanks?” responses from kids as I tried to hand them out.
I hope this post helps anyone planning on demoing a VR app. If anyone has an questions, as always feel free to drop me a question in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!