Fan events have taken over the calendar for a lot of game publishers, and some smaller studios are experimenting with different kinds of expos. This led a number of independent developers to the Denver Comic Convention last month in search of a way to stand out, and that’s exactly what they found.
The Denver Comic Con is a huge annual event that happens each summer in the heart of Colorado’s largest city. But because Denver is also one of the largest cities for 500 miles in any direction (Oklahoma City is 495 miles away), it attracts comic book lovers from several of the bordering states as well. More than 115,000 people attended this year’s three-day event in the first weekend in July. That’s more than the Electronic Entertainment Expo trade event that opened to the public this year or the Penny Arcade Expo fan shows.
And for the first time, Denver Comic Con attendees had a chance to check out a handful of video games on the show’s main floor.
“For the longest time, you know, comic people feel like comics are educational and games are a waste of time,” Serenity Forge chief executive officer Zhenghua “Z” Yang told GamesBeat. “This year has been great. In fact, they even put us right here by the front entrance.”
Serenity Forge is a local developer. Z started the company in Boulder, and he is one of the people most responsible for bringing games into the event. He secured the space and invited other local developers as well as indie studios from around the world. Ben Hopkins from Colorado is developing a four-player fighter for Steam called Mystic Melee, and he got to show off his game at the edge of Serenity Forge’s space. Raw Fury, meanwhile, was showing off its already released games Kingdom and Tormentor X Punisher.
A different audience
After the show opened, the developers at Denver Comic Con quickly learned that they were reaching a different audience than they would at PAX or E3. Where most gaming expos draw adults, families and kids made up a significant portion of the 115,000 attendees here.
I played Mystic Melee with Hopkins when a pair of kids walked up and joined us. I asked the developer what it was like having younger people approach his game over and over.
“It’s been great so far,” said Hopkins. “I’ve loved to get people’s feedback. They’ve had good suggestions and a lot of excitement. It’s been great to see how much they enjoy playing it.”
Hamza Aziz, who handles events like this for Raw Fury Games, echoed that his publisher’s booth was seeing a lot more kids than he’s used to.
“Oh, yeah, a ton more kids,” he said. “The parents with the kids, too, they’re way more open-minded about this kind of stuff. We’re getting kids and parents, which is not something you usually see at other tradeshows.”
Getting access to that alternative audience is one of the things that could make a company like Raw Fury want to come back to Denver Comic Con. If you are getting hardcore gamers who are in college or are young professionals at PAX, you can get a younger group at a comic book event.
“We’re getting a lot of people coming out to check out the games,” said Aziz. “That’s what we wanted.”
But Denver Comic Con didn’t just prove that developers could find a slightly different demographic, it also gave many of the developers a new source of revenue.
“We actually have a ton of merch,” Heartbound developer and Pirate Games boss Thor Hall told GamesBeat. “We have stickers and pins and posters. We’ll have more. We’re, like, let’s get something out there.”
Hall and the rest didn’t just have merch, they also were selling most of it. Denver Comic Con attendees come planning to spend money. The average fan shows up at the event with $200 to buy products from vendors. The game developers were definitely benefiting from that.
“We also came here to sell stuff and to gauge what selling stuff directly to the consumer would be like,” said Hamza. “It’s our first time doing that, because we’ve never done it at PAX before. So far, in that sense, it’s played out for us as a test. But just looking around here, everyone’s trying to sell something, either their own original product or some spoof of a nerd culture thing.”
Raw Fury was selling T-shirts for Kingdom and Tormentor X Punisher. Hall had his stickers. Everyone was selling game codes, and a lot of fans were buying those.
“I though no one will buy our game here,” said Hall. “But they totally have. It blew me away. In fact, Champions, I think we sold almost 100 copies today. We’re selling it for 2 bucks and we give you a Steam key. Everyone’s all over that, which is crazy. It’s pretty cool, too. About nine or eight out of 10 people who play it end up buying it. That’s awesome. We’re doing something right.”
As games focus more on digital, selling physical products could help smaller studios. In the same way bands have supplemented their income with posters, T-shirts, and vinyl sales in the era of streaming services like Apple Music, game developers are starting to do the same thing.
At the end of Denver Comic Con, all of the developers were feeling good about the event. For Hall, that was a big change from his long drive from Northern California to get to Colorado.
“Oh, it was terrifying,” he said. “When we went through The Badlands, it was 117 degrees. Like, what? I’ve never even seen over 110. It’s ridiculous. I was like, the car is going to melt and we’re going to die. We brought a bunch of posters, and we thought they were going to melt together. They were fine, though, thankfully.
“This con is awesome. We’ll definitely be back next time.”