If I delay posting this any longer, I’ll risk having attended yet another PAX first!
The short version: I ran a booth at PAX South for Social Justice Warriors which was an amazing success that has kept me insanely busy and sleep deprived ever since.
Now the really long version:
Due to my limited vacation days from my day job, I had to fly to San Antonio the same day we had to set up our booth with only 2 hours to spare. This journey began with me finishing my last minute code to enable full-screen resolution and scaling up all the UI elements (in a game that was only ever intended to be run at a single, bizarre windowed resolution of 1024×576) at 3:00 am and going to sleep. At 4:00 am I had to wake up, pack, and catch a 2 hour bus through rush hour traffic to get to the airport minutes before my flight left.
As near as I can tell, half the passengers on the plane from LAX were attending PAX and there were videogame conversations uniting multiple rows. I sat between two aspiring devs who had nothing but questions for me. This was a strange moment for me, as I’ve always felt like I was the new guy in gamedev and it made me take a look at myself to realize: not only had I released a game that was the #6 title on Greenlight, but I was about to feature it at PAX! Somehow I had become a real gamedev without noticing!
Waiting for @BlackIceTheGame‘s delayed flight to land, I grabbed the best airport burger and onion rings imaginable and ended up in a conversation with a talkative traveling salesman. In my sleep deprived state I forgot everything he told me about his industry, but it had something to do with a revolutionary new truck engine for their shipping fleet. He took my card and told me he’d buy my game for his son. I’m sure his son really appreciated that SJW-y gift…
We made it to the booth in time and everything was all set. I had met Garrett, the Black Ice dev, before at GDC but it was my first time meeting his awesomely supportive wife, Chris. I’d been friends with the Earthtongue dev Eric Hornby online but never met in person. And it was more or less my first time interacting with Wrack dev Brad Carney. They were a great bunch and we had a lot of fun together at PAX. Gonna miss those guys… *wipes tear*
Then while trying to navigate to dinner on my phone, the first bombshell hit. YOUR GAME SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIORS HAS BEEN GREENLIT BY THE COMMUNITY. After spending almost 9 months on Greenlight with 4 of those in the Top 30 games, I’d given up hope on it ever being approved for Steam. I still have no idea why it was withheld or ultimately approved but the timing could not have been better.
And there was much rejoicing!
— Black Ice (@BlackIceTheGame) January 23, 2015
I had never attended an event like PAX before so I was very unprepared for what began immediately Friday morning. Fresh off the success of being greenlit for Steam, there was a camera waiting to interview me for IGN! I had been so busy getting fullscreen mode into the game that I hadn’t even sent any press emails telling anyone I’d be at PAX so I consider myself extremely fortunate that they were waiting to feature me on Day 1. I had been doing so much talking with no water that I was already losing my voice so I asked them if they could delay while I ran to buy some at the concession stand, only to discover a huge line. What I didn’t realize is that I’d run off with their mic, so back at the booth they were laughing as they heard me say “I’m supposed to do an IGN interview right now, can I please cut you in line?” over and over. Check out the fully hydrated interview and their high praise for Social Justice Warriors on IGN.
Within seconds of that interview, I was grabbed by Polaris for another interview. Then APGNation. Social Justice Warriors was far more popular than I’d imagined. I’d only brought 500 SJW pins with me to give away and by the end of Day 1 they were almost all gone. The day ended with a surprise dinner invite from Rami Ismail, which of course turned into pre-dinner ice cream because we’re masters of our own destiny! My voice was so far gone by this point that I skipped all the PAX parties I’d been looking forward to and went straight back to the hotel, only to discover the IGN interview was already up.
Now all day I’d been getting nothing but kind words and supportive feedback from the 500+ people who stopped by the booth to watch and play the game. Not a single person was rude to me, as I had initially feared (after getting 9 months of that from anonymous internet folks since the game released in May 2014). But back in the hotel room, reconnected to the internet, I was suddenly snapped back into the vitriol as the IGN comments piled higher (one using the “Why don’t you care this much about world hunger?” fallacy that was already featured in the game), along with two fresh 4chan threads and one new r/KotakuInAction thread. I had spent all day having reasonable and earnest discussions with people about the game’s mechanics, its message, its art, and its music that these internet comments were a colossal disconnect.
I started the Saturday of PAX with the impression that I had already achieved everything there was to achieve by attending PAX and that the rest of the weekend I could just have fun and look at the other games. Fortunately, I was wrong again! I drew even larger crowds who had heard about the game on IGN. People from Day 1 came back to play the game more because they enjoyed it so much. They brought friends. The Humble Bundle invited me to add the game to their store. A Borderlands dev said they would put a social justice joke in Borderlands 3.
Then another huge opportunity. A rep from Cooler Master approached me, remarking that Social Justice Warriors was an important game for the community, and offered me a sponsored booth deal at PAX East in Boston. With how successful PAX South had been and the potential to promote the game’s Steam release, it was an impossible offer to refuse.
Day 2 ended with a relaxing trip to the SoundSelf guided meditation booth where I wore an Oculus Rift for the first time and plunged into a psychedelic state of relaxation. Having benefited from my own practice of meditation (how I never sleep) for decades, I really recommend this product. I got back to my booth to find a solitary dev playing SJW after hours. He seemed to be moved by the game’s pixelated characters sparring on keyboards so I sat down for awhile and we talked about the state of society and the impact making the game had on my own life. Then the rest of his party showed up to whisk him away and I never found out who he was. Such is PAX.
After finding the goldilocks zone of bars (“too crowded”, “too noisy”) my unlikely icebreaker SJW pin caught the attention of a dev at the bar who turned out to be working on Star Citizen. I learned a lot about the trials of making such a huge and hugely hyped game and have a new respect for the giants among the indie community.
At this point I was absolutely certain that nothing bigger could happen to top day 1 and 2. My ambition of wandering the expo and seeing other games was largely exhausted though. I did use my pizza break to stop by the Vlambeer booth and say hi to Rami.
Funny story there: he hadn’t been planning to exhibit at PAX South but when he saw an empty double-sized booth that Wacom had abandoned, he seized the opportunity. I regret not taking any photos of his impromptu 20’x10′ booth but it consisted of a single table with 2 flatscreen TVs running Nuclear Throne and a simple hand-written sign in black marker that said “WIN A TV”. Rami of course had no way to transport them home on the plane. I wonder if the two lucky people who won them hoisted them over their heads and carried them, victorious, out of the convention center at the end of the day.
On the final day I had some great talks with people from academic circles who were interested in the educational potential of the game. This actually meant a lot to me — as much as the monumental events of the first two days — because the reason I developed an interest in gamedev in the first place instead of pursuing a career in the sciences was because I felt like I could do more for society as an individual through videogames. You can see some of my vague education-oriented ambitions on the site too.
But most importantly, PAX as a whole validated the reason I made the game. It wasn’t meant to change the world or fix the problems that grew to plague the videogame community since its release. It wasn’t even meant to tell people to be nice to one another. Social Justice Warriors is nothing more than a question. You bring your background and preconceptions into it and it asks you the why and the how but it’s still up to you to answer those questions and think about your role in online communities yourself.
Online, the loudest voices I hear are usually the angriest and there are thousands upon thousands of comments out there insisting the game is terrible and contributing to the ongoing downfall of civilization. But after listening to those thousands of people at PAX tell me their personal stories and what they saw when they looked in the game’s reflection, it felt like it really was making a difference on some level. At the very least a small nudge to get the ball rolling.
Of course the trip ended the same way it began. I left the expo Sunday evening and spent the entire night in the airport working to fix the bugs I’d seen during what was essentially a 20 hour playtesting session. Then because I’d already been awake for two days, I stupidly overwrote all instances of the game’s code with the code from the v2 update two months earlier! I am a walking PSA for why you should always use source control. But since SJW was a “simple 5 week project that I’d never work on again,” I’d never set up any versioning history. Lesson learned. And that is the story of how I ended up staying up a third night in a row learning how to pirate my own game.
A few weeks later and I am still dealing with weird spaghettified pirate code and sleeping 3 hours/night as I grapple to get the Steam release ready before PAX East. If you’re in Boston, stop by Booth 9164 to play Social Justice Warriors and share your story. Also grab one of the 1100 pins I’m bringing (lesson learned!).
You can grab Social Justice Warriors on Steam starting February 27!!
P.S. You’ll be happy to know I have a git repository now. 😉