Ideas to Make the Most of Your Exhibition Game at a Trade Show or Event
We get lots of interest from businesses looking for ideas for using a game at a trade show, so I thought it's about time I write up the main options you have.
I'm not going to go into specifics of possible gameplay concepts. That's very much dependent on your industry, target audience and the products or services your business is promoting at the exhibition. (Please feel free to get in touch if you're looking for ideas for an exhibition stand game).
What I am going to do is give you some options on how you can implement and use an interactive game on your exhibition stand, as well as getting the most out of it. I'm also going to go over some best practices that you should be aware of.
Using a Tablet in Kiosk Mode
It's no longer essential to use PC hardware with an external and potentially expensive touch screen (assuming you want touch screen controls that is). If you're happy with the smaller screen sizes, it might be more cost effective (and easier, in terms of transportation and setup) to use a tablet (or multiple tablets) at a trade show.
A "kiosk mode" is available on most modern mobile devices and tablets. So you can lock the device to the game and stop players exiting out and messing with things they shouldn't at the exhibition. It just requires a bit of configuration in the operating system settings ahead of time and you're good to go.
If you're going to be using a tablet, always make sure you allow for a charging cable on your exhibition stand. You're going to need to preferably have it plugged in throughout the day, for the duration of the event, continuously charging. Otherwise the battery will be dead before the morning is out. So make sure any housing or mount you use on your business's stand allows for this.
Alternatively, if it's not going to be possible to have the tablet plugged in all day, you're going to need some external battery packs that you can rotate throughout the day of the show to keep you up and running.
Using PC Hardware
With PC hardware you're not tied to a fixed screen spec, you can configure it however you wish. With no limits on screen size, you get the option to really make your exhibition game stand out by going big.
You also get more options on input devices for controls. You're probably not going to want to use a mouse and/or keyboard to control a game at a trade show. As well as it being fairly cumbersome as a control method in that environment, it might allow players to navigate out of your game and get access to the PC running it. But that doesn't mean you're tied to using a touch screen at an exhibition either. PC hardware makes controlling with any standard gamepad or joystick an option. This is great for more arcade type games and gives you options right up to building a mock retro arcade machine right on your exhibition stand.
There are downsides to using PC hardware at a trade show though. Transportation and setup is going to be more of an issue, with more bulky hardware needed. It's also likely to be costlier, especially if you want a large touch screen on your stand.
Again, don't overlook power. Even if you're using a laptop, you're going to need it plugged in throughout the day to prevent the battery from running out.
Don't overlook sound as a possible way to attract visitors to your stand at an exhibition. Plus sound effects and background music can really enhance a gaming experience. If you don't have any speakers though it's a wasted opportunity. So if you're going for a big screen, always try to get some external speakers that will project the sound in the immediate area of your trade show booth where possible.
Web Based HTML5
Assuming the device or PC you'll be using at the event will have a live internet connection, an HTML5 game is a valid option.
The web browser's built in fullscreen mode allows your exhibition game to look like an installed software application.
Going web based on PC no longer limits you to keyboard and mouse or touch screen controls either. The HTML5 gamepad API allows you to use any standard gamepad or joystick (provided you're using a compatible web browser).
The big plus side of HTML5 is because it's web based you can get a version of your trade show game to use on your website, to integrate with your other marketing activities outside the exhibition. This usually only requires very minor changes for your website build. So as long as it's built into the original plan, it shouldn't increase the production costs above and beyond just use the game on your exhibition stand. This also means you could potentially give out the web address for visitors to play on their own devices, away from your stand at the exhibition.
Installable Mobile App or PC Game
The other option is to go down the installable software route. This can give you a more polished end product, but development can be more complex because the end product is tied to specific target platforms (requiring a separate build for each). It's also likely you'd be locked out of having a web based version of your exhibition game for your website as well.
If you want to use a tablet on your exhibition stand you'd be limited to Android only, because iOS won't easily let you circumvent Apple's app store to install an app on a device.
Always Plan Well in Advance
I can't stress this enough. The problem we see most often with any type of branded game is thinking about it far too late.
If you're thinking of using a video game at an exhibition or trade show, you need to consider how you're going to present it and plan for the hardware you're going to need (as well as any associated build requirements for your stand).
It's also going to be useful to the game developer you use to know the exact hardware spec you'll be using at the event.
So ideally, I'd recommend you start thinking and planning a game for an exhibition at least 3 months ahead of time. This will not only give you plenty of time to plan the hardware side and test the game on that exact hardware, it'll also mean you have plenty of time nail down ideas for your exhibition stand game. The earlier you can start planning, the easier and less stressful the whole process will be.
Always Test on the Actual Hardware
Don't make the day of the exhibition the first time you set the game up, that's asking for trouble. Always make sure you test on the hardware setup you'll be using on the day, well in advance. The last thing you want is to be tearing your hair out, trying to figure out why you can't get the game to work, as visitors are already coming through the venue doors.
It's also worth mentioning that testing on any tablet or PC isn't good enough. Make sure you test on THE exact setup you'll be using at the exhibition. Otherwise any variation in operating system, hardware spec or installed application software are still unknown variables that could potentially cause issues.
If you get this all done and setup well in advance, it'll make your setup on the day of the event easy and stress free.
Competitions and Data Capture
Because of the way game scores are stored in a scoreboard making it open to cheating, we strongly advise clients not to run competitions based on game outcomes such as player scores.
If you're using your devices on your stand only, then to some degree it's locked down in a controlled environment. Players don't get access to the computer or device outside of the game, so this may somewhat mitigate the risk. But it's best not to risk it.
There are some ways around this, if you want to collect data at the exhibition, such as including a free prize draw entry form.
Visibility and Promotion
I've written about promoting a branded game and how it's never a good idea to just expect people to magically find it before. Although this doesn't technically apply at an exhibition, physical location on your stand and the visibility that provides should be a primary consideration.
As with any piece of content, it's there to increase engagement, get people staying on your stand for longer and hopefully generate buzz at the exhibition. However, most of this relies on getting those initial players to get the ball rolling. So maximising visibility on your stand and doing a bit of creative promotion at the venue is essential, to help get the most out of your game.
It sounds like a no-brainer, but hiding your game round a corner or behind another part of your exhibition stand is obviously going to affect how much interest you get. Designing your stand so that your game gets good visibility to visitors walking by is essential.
Using a PC powered giant screen is going to get you the best visibility and interest from passers by. However, I understand unless you have a big budget for your stand, it's probably not going to be feasible.
If you're using smaller devices such as tablets, or a modestly sized screen attached to a PC, there are still some ideas you can use to maximise visibility at a trade show or event. For instance, why not consider incorporating some prominent signage into your exhibition stand to highlight the game. Something as simple as a "Come and Play" sign could make a massive difference.
An exhibition game can be a great promotional hook as well. So why not make the most of it. If you're speaking to visitors at the show, handing out flyers or even doing pre-exhibition "come see us at stand X" type promotions, why not leverage the game there. "Come play our game on stand X" certainly sounds a lot more inviting.
Unleash Your Creativity
Hopefully this has helped give you some ideas and point you in the right direction. What creative ideas can you think of to get the most out of your exhibition game?