It has been the first time for me having a booth in a so distant and different country like China, and I have learned lots of lessons in the process. As I always do, I would like to share these lessons with you, so that if you will ever have to go to exhibit in China, you will be prepared. Most of these lessons can be adapted to many countries you can travel to showcase your game to, so I think that if you are a VR indie game developer, you may find this article interesting in any case!
Let’s start: what are my pieces of advice if you have to showcase your game in China?
1. Translate your game to Chinese
This may seem an obvious piece of advice, but it is not. We are so used to using English, that we think that this language may be enough to make all gamers of the world play our game. While this may hold true for the Western world, where all people more or less can understand English, this is not true for China.
Chinese people study English in high school, but then they have little occasion to use it, so most of the time they lose the ability to understand it clearly. This means that your game must be localized in Chinese.
The best is asking a professional translator, but if you have not, you can ask a Chinese friend of yours… or find someone on services like Upwork or Fiverr. At worst, use Google Translate. Everything is better than using English.
Personally, I have made the first translation with Google Translate, then I asked my assistant Miss S to check and correct the translation.
2. Prepare in advance
You had better going to your booth with already all the devices and accessories you need to demo your game to people. Since when you are in China it is more difficult to buy stuff (language barrier, Google services blocked, etc…), try to buy the most while you are at home. Compile a list of all the things that you need to make the demos and then buy them. Imagine the journey of your visitors from when they arrive to when they go away and write down every object that you use during this journey. Imagine also some extras that you may need in case there are some troubles.
These are the things that I took to my booth:
- Virtual Reality headsets (Vive Focus Plus, in my case). You must have enough headsets so that when one is in use, the others are charging… and you must guarantee that one is always charged. Of course, you must also pre-install the game on all the devices;
- Batteries and chargers. Don’t forget that your headsets need chargers and your controllers need batteries;
- Elements to guarantee the hygiene of your users. Many people will try your VR headset and you have to clean it between different sessions. If you can, buy waterproof covers for your headsets. Buy also some disposable face masks that every user should wear. Use anti-bacterial sanitary wipes to clean the device between sessions;
- Power strips (with a long cable) and power adapters. You must have enough plugs to charge all your headsets and to power your laptop;
- Cables that you may need in case of necessity: USB, HDMI, Ethernet, etc..;
- A monitor, a laptop, a Chromecast… whatever you may need to perform the streaming of your VR application so that passers-by can see what the game is about. If you can’t perform streaming, plan B is having a gameplay video;
- Measuring tape to measure the play area of each user;
- Duct tape (it is always useful);
- Pens, markers, scissors, and paper, just in case. I used them to cover the light sensors of the headsets, for instance;
- Business Cards. Chinese people love business cards, so take with you many of them.
- Food and water. These, of course, are to be bought in China and not to be taken from home. But don’t forget that in some exhibitions the organizers don’t provide you food, so you have to think about it yourself. Some bottles of water and some snacks will help you to survive;
- A trash bin (thanks Fede for this suggestion). Your visitors will need a place where to trash the disposable masks. A trash bin at your booth is always useful. I have been able to find one in the local supermarket for the equivalent of 1.5€.
Regarding how many disposable face masks to buy, try imagining how much time you plan giving to each user and thenthink at maximum how many users you can serve. For the batteries of the controllers, think about the discharging time that you have experimented in the office for a new set of batteries, and calculate how many sets do you need. For the Focus+, I imagined 3 hours of playtime for each set of batteries, but actually, each set lasted at least 10 hours, so now I am full of batteries I have not used! Anyway, better more than less… batteries are always useful.
Batteries, masks, and wipes are far cheaper to buy in China, if you are able to do that. If you can not, buy them in your country, with Amazon or eBay.
Some other things to set in advance:
- Wechat. In China, all communications happen via Wechat. If you don’t have Wechat, please download it and create an account. If someone wants to make business with you, you can add him/her on Wechat and discuss later on;
- Alipay/Wechat Pay. No one in China uses cash, not even credit cards. If you can, set up an Alipay account. This time I managed to have Alipay and it was so easy to pay in every shop… when you pay with cash, people look at you as if you were a martian;
- VPN. In China, all Western services (Google, Facebook, etc…) are blocked, so you had better set up a VPN like ExpressVPN before leaving. Having a VPN will also help you in using Google Translate when you will need it.
3. Learn some Chinese
If you can, learn some survival Mandarin. As I said, most Chinese people are not fluent in English, and this is especially true in cities like Nanchang where there are not many relations with Westerners.
Speaking some Chinese will help you in surviving in most contexts, from buying things at the supermarket to talking with the organizers of the event. As you know, I speak a bit of Chinese, and during this trip, my knowledge has been super-useful.
Saying some words in Mandarin is also good for your business: everyone loves when a foreigner can speak a bit the local language, and Chinese people are not an exception to this rule. People will like you more if you say some words in Mandarin… this is also good if you want to know some girls (or boys)
At a certain point, our translator at the booth went away to eat, so I started explaining the game in Chinese to the current visitor. All passers-by found interesting to hear a weird Italian guy speaking in Mandarin, so a good group of people stopped at our booth just to hear me speaking in Chinese. Your Chinese skills can be useful to attract more people!
4. Find a local translator
You may speak a bit of Mandarin, but it will never be good enough to speak with all the visitors. At your booth, you MUST have someone fluent in Mandarin. Ask for help to the event organizers or some local partners to have one.
You don’t necessarily need a professional translator: someone that can just help you is enough. We asked for help to our technical partner HTC Vive, that provided us a girl, Starry, that did this as a part-time job to earn some money while she studied at University.
She was not a professional translator, and her English was very mediocre, but she learned the rules of HitMotion and explained them to every user very well. She has been super helpful and I don’t know how we could manage to demo the game without her.
5. Mind your booth position
We had a great booth, with a fantastic wall poster designed by Mid Studio. But it was difficult to find us because we had another booth in front of us that prevented people walking on the main corridor of the exhibition from seeing us. So, be careful to get a booth that is clearly visible from the main corridors of the expo.
6. Care about hygiene
I can’t stress this enough: care about the hygiene of your visitors. HitMotion is a fitness game, so people sweat while playing it… and let people play with a headset that is dirty of the sweat of all other people that have used it before is pretty disgusting.
You must have something to clean the headset between different usages: you must clean at least the lenses and the facemask. To do this, you can use antibacterial sanitary wipes, or an antibacterial cleaning spray and lenses cleaning cloths.
If you can, make every user wear disposable facemasks. This won’t only increase their hygiene, but it will also be a clear signal to them that you care about their hygiene. I have anyway to warn you that these maks are a true nuisance because they tend to move and finish in front of the eyes of the users. Some users had to remove them because they couldn’t play with them on.
I made my buddy Max buy a lot of cleaning spray, and we used only 10% of what we bought. So I warn you that probably you won’t need a big amount of cleaning stuff (e.g. you don’t need a sanitary wipe for each user unless he/she has really sweat that much).
7. Organize the users’ journey
As soon as you arrive to the booth location, imagine how the users’ journey will be:
- How many users can play at the same time;
- Where the users enter the play area;
- Where the users exit your booth;
- Where to put the display, the business cards, etc… so that people can exploit them;
- Where to put your bags, your VR headsets, the things that must be charged;
After everything has been set up, inform all the people at your booth about how the users’ journey will be.
8. Be ready to solve problems
Every exhibition has its own rules you must respect. In Nanchang, we had some absurd ones, like the fact that the first day, the exhibitors had to enter together with the public, having so no time to set up the booth (what???).
There will be also other problems you will have to face: in every booth I have ever had in my life, there has always been something that was different from what I expected. In this case, for instance, the power outlet was in a completely unusable position for our needs and we had no TV to showcase the mirroring of our game.
To cope with all of this, my first piece of advice is: arrive at the location as soon as possible. I’m glad I arrived two days before the exhibition started so that the first day I could notice all the possible problems and solve it the day after with Max, before the expo opened to the general public.
I arrived so early that the booths were not completed yet
The second piece of advice is: never lose your temper and find a way to solve the problems. There is always a solution for your problems: it may be a hack, it may be something that is sub-optimal, it may just need some creativity, but I’m sure you can find it. Just keep calm and think. In our case, we had to solve many problems. There was no way of showing the streaming of our game, so we just showed a gameplay video on a laptop. There was no Internet, so we made sure the game worked also without internet connection and we used tethering when needed. We had problems with our power strip, so I went to the supermarket and I bought one. Since the first day we could enter only together with the audience, I and Max organized everything so that in 20 minutes the booth was set up and we were already ready to showcase the game to visitors.
The third piece of advice is: ask for help. It may be difficult to communicate with Chinese people, but I have found that they are always willing to help you. The first day I complained because of the power outlet was in a bad position, and when I arrived the second day, I found that they had already fixed everything, giving me a power strip exactly where I needed it. If you are in need, just ask.
9. Manage your team
If you have some local people helping you at the booth, be sure to make them understand what they have to do. The language barrier is big, so misunderstandings are pretty frequent, so you had better explain things multiple times.
It took me a while to make our helper Starry understand how people should play the game and how she should have handled the Vive Focus Plus. With the first visitors, she made various errors, and I corrected her every time. It is important being patient and positive… probably the people helping you have never used a VR headset before, so they must learn a lot of new concepts.
I was very happy to see that after having served the first people, she had learned how to handle every visitor very well: she could fit the Focus Plus, she could answer the various questions, she could help people in using the controllers to select the menus. We could have slept at the booth, and she could have managed every possible user. She was fantastic, and I would really recommend Starry to whoever has to do VR demos in Nanchang
10. Deal with wrong assumptions
Be sure that you will make some wrong assumptions and you will have to fix your game. At least, this is what has happened to us: every day we went to the expo with a different build from the one of the day before, because we improved it day by day to take in count the feedback from people that played it.
Some lessons learned:
- Chinese people don’t like tutorials. The first day we went there with a tutorial that explained HitMotion: Reloaded very well: it explained the enemies, the punch types, etc… We were very proud of it, because it could teach people how to play the game without us explaining anything. The problem has been that the first two people trying the game have decided to stop playing it after 30 seconds in the tutorial. They had no interest in going on, even if we told them that that was not the game. We made the third person try directly the game, skipping all the tutorial and explaining the rules by voice. He liked it, and played all the levels. So, we scrapped away the tutorial and no one has ever played it;
- Adapt your game to how people expect to play it. A fun fact is that Chinese visitors of our booth didn’t know how to punch stuff. Chinese people are too kind, so they don’t like to punch stuff. Apart from some people that studied martial arts, the other visitors punched the enemies of HitMotion without strength, as if they had to just touch them. Most of the girls played the game as if they were playing the xylophone. So, we lowered the strength threshold required to destroy the enemies;
Some users played our game as if they had hammers in their hands…
- KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). Our game seemed simple to us, but for someone that has never played a VR game, it has too many mechanics to keep in mind: you have to find enemies, punch objects with the correct hand, using the right punch type (jab, uppercut, hook), and you have to be in the right position in space. And then at the end of each level, you have to interact with the main menu to launch new levels. Since we had to skip the tutorial, teaching all of this was complicated and people remained confused sometimes. In the end, we simplified the game a lot. We resorted to using only one level, with the first enemies being straight in front of the face of the user, and with all difficulty settings at minimum, so even punches that were not correct were taken for good. Remember that in an exhibition you may find every kind of person, so make the game as simple to understand and play as possible. Keep the complicated things for the VR people that will buy your game.
11. Ask for feedback
If you demo your game to someone that has some technical expertise (in the case of HitMotion: Reloaded, anyone that had some experience with VR or boxing), ask for feedback on how the game can be improved.
We got a lot of interesting ideas for instance from Fabio Mosca or Alvin Graylin, who gave us a long list of things to improve on to make the game better for our final release.
Mister President Alvin Wang Graylin playing at our booth. Every punch of that ones can kill two people. Better not telling him that I have a Quest
12. Be patient
Never lose your temper. Be patient. Some people won’t like your game. Some others won’t understand it. Some people will come to your booth with weird requests like letting their little children try the VR headset. Whatever happens, just smile.
Not everyone will like your game… it is normal. Minecraft is one of the most successful games in this world, but honestly, I don’t like it. I don’t think that people at Microsoft are crying because of this.
If someone asks to make their children try the game, maybe just put the VR headset on the head of the kid of some seconds to satisfy his/her curiosity.
Some people came to our booth and asked “What is this?” and we said “A game” and then they went away. Some others made lots of questions in front of the video, but after that, they went away without trying it. This is part of the game, we just smiled and went on.
13. Make some noise
The best way to attract people to your booth is making some noise. People like weird things happening, and so will gather at your booth to see what’s happening.
Max saw a Chinese guy playing Manny VR with a lot of passion at the HTC booth, so he stole him from there and took him to our booth. The “Red Bolt”, as Max called him, started playing our game as if he was fighting for his own life, and all people came to see him. After that, he sat down and commented on his performance and everyone asked him questions. He seemed like watching the moments after a true boxing match.
When my friend Nikk Mitchell (from FXG) came to our booth, we started having fun and screaming like crazy while he was playing, and again all people gathered to see what those foolish Westerners were doing
The more noise you do, the more people you attract.
14. Invite people from other booths
In the same exhibition, there are for sure many other interesting companies. Ask people of these companies to come and try your product, who knows that they may be interested. We made this with some companies and now some business opportunities may arise in the future.
15. Smile and have fun
Exhibitions are tiresome, but they are a great occasion to have fun and meet lots of new people. In the end, they are like big parties. And if you are showcasing a game, you are there to make people have fun… what is better than this?
Try having fun in the process, making people be happy, joking with all people of your team, and smiling a lot.
I have great memories of my time in Nanchang: I had lots of fun, I have played with some friends of mine (Noah, Gian, Simon, Alvin, Nikk, Fabio, etc…) and I have now some new friends (like our helper Starry). More than 150 people liked our game, and we loved the fact that some people, after having tried it, took their friends at our booth to make them have fun with our game.
When the expo has finished, I was so sad that all this fun was going to end… but I’m sure that there will be other cool occasions for us of NTW and for HitMotion: Reloaded!
Foto: Max poses in front of our booth