Packing a Booth at the Game Developers Conference [CASE STUDY]

Packing a Booth at the Game Developers Conference [CASE STUDY]

If you’re paying for a 20′ x 30′ booth at the Game Developers Conference, you better make sure that baby is packed during all show hours. If you don’t, you might as well throw the tens of thousands of dollars it cost to rent the space down the drain! A packed booth not only helps with brand building, generating consumer interest, etc., it piques the interest of the press walking the show floor.

When I worked at Dassault Systèmes, a $2 billion leader in 3D software, packing our 20′ x 30′ booth at the Game Developers Conference was one of my jobs as a marketing manager…and it wasn’t easy. Attracting people to your booth, keeping them there and getting them to come back, requires a solid strategy and a whole lot of work. Fortunately for Indie Game Girl readers, my colleagues and I were able to improve this strategy over the course of multiple Game Developers Conference events so you all can benefit from what worked best. And while this case study relates to our 20′ x 30′ booth at the Game Developers Conference, the concepts I cover can apply to many booth sizes, products and shows.

Running the Billions Contest
Keeping the booth full by running an in-booth contest at the Game Developers Conference.

First, Some Background
The product I was marketing at the Game Developers Conference was 3DVIA Studio, a game engine (that has since been made a professional only product without a free download). While I think game engines are thrilling, they don’t come across that way to most. I.e., it’s hard to get people excited over a piece of software that opens into a gray work space. What DOES get people excited about game engines are the awesome games built on them. Why? Because awesome games demonstrate awesome development capabilities. And, to show off our engine’s capabilities, we did exactly that: build a game.

We contracted Zoink Games, an indie developer in Sweden, to build Billions, Save Them All, a fully 3D, action/adventure game built on 3DVIA Studio and published to Facebook (well…it was 2010). In Billions, players control Glow Agents and must save Mogaloos, a race of cuddly, cube-like creatures, from extinction by finding and capturing as many as possible. To save the Mogaloos, players navigate through increasingly difficult levels where they must reach checkpoints quickly, capturing as many Mogaloos as possible while building bridges of cubes.

Billions screen shot
A Glow Agent rescues Mogaloos in Billions.

Game Developers Conference Case Study:
How to Pack a Booth

Keep a steady flow of consumer foot traffic in the booth during show hours.

Create and execute an engaging and relevant in-booth contest.

GDC Booth-Packing Strategy

  1. Build an Engaging and Relevant Contest
    In-booth contests are all well and good, but if they have nothing to do with your product, they can be a complete waste. So, we built ours to show off 3DVIA Studio’s capabilities via Billions.

    To do this, Zoink created a version of the game that could be used for a contest, allowing participants to play for 60 seconds and recording their score on a leaderboard. Using this version of the game, we held a contest at the top of every hour, challenging attendees to compete for the highest score. The winner of the hour was entered into a drawing at the end of the day to win an Xbox.

  2. Spread the Word About the Contest to Get People into the Booth
    Even with the most amazing in-booth contest, if no one’s heard of it, no one will participate. That said, our first order of business was to spread the word. We did this before the show through our social media channels, blog, newsletter, etc. And during the show by posting a schedule of events just in front of our booth, as well as in official GDC literature (pamphlets, trade show schedule, etc.). As staff, we also drew people in by telling passers by about upcoming contests, as well as hand out swag. (People LOVED the glowing, bouncy balls we handed out that had our logo and URL printed on them).

    Glow balls
    Me trying to bring people into the booth with fun glow balls at the Game Developers Conference.

  3. Structure the Contest to Keep People in the Booth
    Projecting the contest onto a large TV in the center of the booth, made it easy for participants who had already played or were waiting to play to watch the current challenger. This created a sense of competition that kept all participants in the booth until the end of the contest (the comfy chairs provided also helped).

    Waiting in booth
    Game Developers Conference attendees wait in the center of our booth for the contest to start.

    Once the contested ended, the booth staff was ready to further engage participants with more engine demos at the individual kiosks surrounding the contest area. This worked out well as participants had been introduced to 3DVIA Studio via the contest and were interested to learn more. Participants usually stayed talking to the staff until the next contest started (a full 1.5 hours from when they first arrived).

  4. Structure the Contest to Keep People Returning to the Booth
    To keep attendees returning, we allowed all participants who didn’t win the hour’s high score to try again in subsequent contests. This was very effective in brining attendees back to the booth. We also required that contest winners be present for the Xbox drawing–another effective method for bringing attendees back, as well as their friends and impromptu crowds that wanted to see who won the Xbox. These new attendees gave us further opportunity to generate awareness around our product and upcoming contests.

Key Take-a-Ways and Lessons Learned

  1. Keep in Mind Your Goal
    It’s really easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of a trade show and lose focus of your goal: promoting your product. With any in-booth contest, it’s important to tie everything back to your product frequently, but naturally. Otherwise, your audience could leave without knowing anything about your product. As people played Billions, we pointed out several facts about the engine it was built on and always ended each contest with where players could go online to learn more.

    GDC Conversation
    Having a conversation with a Game Developers Conference attendee about the product.

  2. Use Swag to Say Hello and Goodbye
    Everyone loves swag. Getting something for free (even if it’s junk) really excites people…especially at trade shows. However, swag can get very expensive and wasteful if it isn’t viewed as a strategic marketing vehicle. To make the best out of our swag, we intentionally ordered things that would: (1) entice people to come to our booth and (2) leave them with next steps. The glow balls we gave out did just this. Their flashiness attracted people to our booth so we could start a conversation and the information printed on them directed people where they could learn more about our product. Perfect!
  3. A Packed Booth is Great, but Some People Like Quick Info
    A packed booth is ALWAYS a good thing. However, some people don’t have the time, nor do they want to participate in contests and conversations. Yet, they are still consumers who would enjoy your product. For these attendees, it’s important to have handouts that can communicate your product’s benefits and where to go to learn more. We printed one sheets for the Game Developers Conference and stacked them around our booth to be taken at will. Simple but effective.
  4. Continue the Conversation After the Show
    Don’t let all the work you did to bring someone into your booth go to waste after they leave. If you’ve had a conversation with someone, ask for their contact information so you can follow up with more information. In my experience, you’ll rarely have someone say no. At the Game Developers Conference, we collected emails from attendees after they participated in a contest or after a conversation. We sent all contacts made at the show thank you notes and updates regarding the engine.

The booth was consistently crowded and we secured thousands of contacts.


Emmy Jonassen is a marketing pro who helps indie developers build adoring fanbases. Marketing people who love buzz words call this "lead generation."



about 10 years ago

Thank you Emmy for another great article, you always keep them neat and usefull. Looking forward to read the next one.


joe chang

about 10 years ago

Great tips! I will definitely look at using relevant prizes as a way of engaging people at the next expos before the end of the year!


Bjarne Rene

about 10 years ago

Hi Emmy! Thanks for an informative article. From your followup after the show, did you take note of which kind of visitor was the most likely to go on and buy your product?



about 10 years ago

Hello Bjarne. Glad you enjoyed the article and great question. Because our product was free to use (you had to license it once you published), we got a mix of people. I don't have the actual numbers that I can share, but I can tell you that the majority was shared between students/professors and professional developers


Juan Ventura

about 8 years ago

Great article Emmy! At the South-American company that I'm currently working for (Mantaray) we are preparing to attend on february to the Game Connection expo in San Francisco. I will definitely take into accounts all of theses valuable tips! Thanks for sharing your knowledge!


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