Piroot Devlog – MAGFest 2019

I love MAGFest, there’s nothing else like it. It’s not like a regular convention, and I don’t know how best to describe it to those who haven’t been there. Something like a giant all-hours party for gamers, but that doesn’t really do it justice. It’s more like a community of very cool and weird people that live, game, and party together for 4 days straight once a year. My game Piroot was chosen to be in the MAGFest Indie Showcase. In this post I will recap my MAGFest experience, what I learned, and analyze the data I collected. 

My MAGFest Booth

The Road To MAGFest

I’ve been going to MAGFest for a few years, ran many panels, and even showed my game Squaresville there before so I had a feeling I’d be able to get into the showcase. One small problem was the submission deadline was only about a month after I had been working on the game! That is not a lot of time at all, but I crunched to create a short demo and video. I would not be ready to publicly announce for over 2 months. This is the short trailer I created to send with my submission, it shows pretty much the entire game at that point and is not publicly listed.

Around two months after I submitted the video and demo, I received an email saying that my game was accepted. I continued working extremely hard to polish my demo as much as possible. Showing my game at MAGFest has been my top goal for the past few months.

Over the holidays I showed the demo to a few friends and family. That was a big help and I made many more changes in the week leading up to MAGFest based on their playtests. One major feature, the Spin Dash, was added less then a week before the show, but I knew it made the game better so I crammed it in. I also polish some things that seemed less risky to change.

A few days before the convention I received an email with some very positive anonymous feedback about my game from the judges, which helped build my resolve. Still, going into MAGFest very few people had played my game, and I really didn’t know what to expect. I have to admit, if the demo did not show well, I would have needed to scrap the whole thing.

MAGFest Indie Showcase

I flew from Austin to my home town of Philadelphia where I borrowed 2 monitors, a laptop and some other stuff from my family before we drove down to MAGFest.

This was my first year arriving the night before MAGFest and I would recommend it. We were able to pick up our badges around midnight and check out the space reserved for my booth. 

Around 11 on Thursday morning I set up my booth. It was pretty bare bones, but it didn’t seem to matter. Most other booths had large signs, lights, rugs, comfy chairs, balloons, etc. One of my monitors was pretty big, so that helped attract some attention. I’d like to improve my setup for next time when marketing becomes more of a focus.

Here’s everything I had at my booth..

  • Table & 2 chairs (provided by MAGFest)
  • Black table cloth
  • 2 monitors with 2 laptops
  • 2 Xbox 360 controllers
  • Over-ear headphones
  • 1 pair of speakers (connected to larger monitor)
  • 50 business cards
  • Mailing list signup sheet

My Business Card

I waited a bit too long to get business cards together so I payed extra to have a rush order delivered directly to the hotel. I decided to go with MOO which is a little expensive but high quality and at no cost every card can have a different image back. I designed a simple logo with a web address on one side and 5 different screenshots on the other.

I ordered only 50 cards which turned out to be not nearly enough, 100 would have been better. I liked having different backs which I used to help decorate the otherwise barren table. The cards turned out well, but after seeing them I would increase the brightness and contrast on the screenshots.

How it Went

The best way to find out what is wrong with a game is simply by watching people play, and that is what I did for many hours at MAGFest. I stood and watched until my feet hurt, then I watched for a while longer. I learned all about where players are struggling, what they aren’t understanding, and what they have no problem with. After each player quit I would thank them for playing and ask what they thought. I took several pages of notes and even made a few small changes on the show floor to immediately address feedback.

Players had mostly positive things to say about my game. The number one complaint was difficult controls, and there were a few specific areas early on that many players struggled with. Sometimes I quickly explained how to play, and that always helped. This means the game needs to do a better job teaching because the controls are different from what players are expecting. Thankfully only a few very minor bugs showed up and it never crashed!

The best thing I learned is that people want to play my game. Someone was playing on at least one of the screens for almost the entire convention. To my great surprise, 30 brave souls beat the entire demo. I watched one player for an hour and a half before she finally beat the game, it was amazing. Most players quit before the end, and that’s ok. Players seemed surprisingly more tolerant then I was to their frustration and continued even after dying many times. After watching all these players, I understand that the game needs to do a better job teaching while also being more forgiving.

Analyzing the Results

Behind the scenes I have a simple telemetry system that tracks data for each player. Every start, quit, death, and win was recorded for later analysis. Here’s what I found from the raw data…

Over the 4 days of MAGFest, 146 people played my game for 14.5 minutes on average. Out of those, 30 players beat the game taking 31.5 minutes on average. In total players spent over 35 hours playing my game at MAGFest and died 955 times. I also got 34 emails added to my mailing list signup sheet.

Death Heat Map for Every Player at MAGFest

I tracked every location where players died and superimposed it onto the game to see where the worst areas were. What we can easily tell from this is the beginning of the game is way too difficult. From watching people play I know the underlying problem is that they weren’t taught how to use their movement abilities very well and struggled with the mechanics as a result. The spin dash move was added to the game only days earlier so I knew there would be problems. There are some specific pain points you can see on the heat map, but what you can’t see is the areas where players struggled but didn’t die.

Quit Heat Map for Every Player at MAGFest

This image also shows where each player stopped playing in yellow. The hottest spots are respawn points before difficult areas, though some gave up in between. It also looks like the players that stuck around for the second half of the game tended to quit less often. It’s hard to get much from data like this though, I’ve always believed more in direct observation and took several pages of notes while watching.

Conclusion

MAGFest went even better then I could have hoped for. All of the problems I found with my game are fixable and reworking the demo will now be my main goal. The demo is a bit long, maybe it is possible to shorten. I hope that maybe by teaching players better, they will die less and get through it faster.

To any developers out there I highly suggest showing your game at at least one convention. It is a lot of work, but well worth it. Anyway, I need to go order some more business cards, thanks for reading!

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