MerFight @ MagFest
Early this year, I had the opportunity to showcase MerFight at MagFest (Music and Games Festival) as part of the MagFest Indie Videogames Showcase (MIVS.) MagFest is a very fun event, and being able to show the game off was a great experience. The last time I had been to MagFest was 6 years ago to show off my other fighting game, Battle High 2 A+. I wanted to write a few things about my experience as I had a lot of anxiety going into it originally, and had I written good notes when I did it 6 years ago, I probably wouldn't have been so stressed.
Submission & Preparation
Before getting to the actual show, I had to submit MerFight for approval. This was a relatively smooth process, requiring a playable build as well as some screenshots and video, many of which I had since MerFight has been in early access for about 9 months at this point.
I think the only thing that stuck out from my submission was some of the judge's feedback. One comment particularly pointed out that the game is fun, the gameplay is solid, but the presentation needs work, which I think is something that'll plague MerFight (and potentially my future projects) for a long time. This is why I'm a bit behind on MerFight's single player content as I focused on visuals such as stage artwork and VFX once I got accepted.
As for preparation, I had to take some time to create swag and other marketing materials. I created the following:
- Button Cards
- Strategy Guides for Setups
- Monitor Frames
- Banner Stand
- Controller Skins
I also had to buy a decent amount of supplies:
- Floor mats for comfort
- Table cloth
- USB Cables
- Gaffer Tape
- Food & Water
- Hand Sanitizer
- KN-95 Masks
- An extra ticket
Anyway, after getting all of these materials, December 4th arrived, and it was time to travel the event.
Wednesday: Travel, Unpacking, & Registration
I had to make a 5 hour drive from Pittsburgh, PA to Oxen Hill, MD for the event. I was only frustrated because my GPS had originally informed me that it was a 4 hour drive, but when I actually left, with traffic -- especially the slog right before getting into National Harbor -- stops, etc, it was closer to 5 hours. That is something I would plan for next time, especially since when I got there they ran out of proper parking validation, which came to bite me later in the week -- I did at least get a good parking spot in the hotel garage.
First I checked into my room which went smoothly. One benefit of getting into MIVS is that you get a hotel reservation -- you still have to pay for the room, but it's guaranteed, meaning you don't have to deal with the MagFest hotel lottery. I also was able to get late checkout on the final day, which was important since checkout is 11 am, but I had to still show off MerFight until 2 pm that Sunday.
After checking in, I had to unpack my car. When I showed off Battle High, I brought a lot. Each monitor was in its own box; I had an Xbox One and tons of extras as well. This year, however, I shoved as much as I could into my large suitcase. This did stress me out as the last thing I wanted was for my monitors to be broken upon arrival, but with enough padding, everything survived.
One thing I would do next time is invest in one of these folding, utility wagons I saw a lot of people using.
This would have made the 4 trips from my car to the hotel into 2 or even 1 possibly -- and they just seem like a useful thing to have in general, even more so if the weather was as frigid as it was 6 years ago. This year fortunately (depending who you ask,) the weather was nice actually, in the 50s to almost 60s. It actually was almost too warm at times.
So when I got to the venue, I was able to enter Exhibit Hall B to start setting up around 6 pm. Admittedly, it was a bit awkward cause I just walked in as registration wasn't setup yet. There was a discord to ask questions though, which helped. This minor confusion aside, the MIVS volunteers, who did a great job the entire time, helped direct me to my table, allowing me to get setup. I only setup up items that weren't super important like my tablecloth, some of my swag, floor mats, and extra chairs as I wasn't comfortable leaving my monitors and laptop down there overnight.
But THEN registration opened, and I don't know why, but both in 2017 and this year, registration took what felt like hours (maybe it was 90 minutes, I didn't keep track.) After having setup a decent portion of my booth, standing in a long line wasn't really something I wanted to do, but it was better to do that evening than the next morning.
So the first day of MagFest arrived. Now fortunately, I was able to start setting up around noon, giving me about 2 hours before they started to let attendees in. I had tested my setups Wednesday night, so I was done ahead of schedule. This is what my setup initially looked like:
I did end up moving the tall banner as I didn't like how it blocked my one setup. I had two setups, one running on my laptop and the other running on a docked SteamDeck. As a 1v1 fighting game, I felt this was the best setup so multiple people could play at the same time. The only elements missing are these cutout stands I had for the game:
They didn't stand very well and they took up room that I needed for two setups in my 10' x 10' space, which unfortunately, was taken up by a large power unit in the one corner. I contemplated on rotating the entire setup 90 degrees, but I was facing a major walkway so I didn't fuss with that too much.
Overall, the day was good. There were some hiccups -- the game was crashing after 2 hours or so in demo mode, the AI was a bit too difficult, so it didn't leave some players with the best first impressions, and I was just a bit awkward. It had been awhile since I had been on a show floor, and my style is more of a "Leave people alone to play your game and let them know you are there to ask questions," which isn't the most hospitable, so I definitely suspect a few potential players were interested but needed some extra coaxing to actually play, which I wasn't always giving. I'm also very modest and not great at hyping my own game -- modest and humble to a fault in this situation. I still find it funny though that even with a whiteboard that says "Feel free to play!" people ask if they can. I appreciate the manners, but at the same time, it's a bit surprising. I remember feeling the same in 2017. The same with taking swag. Please take it; I have too much because most places don't let you print just a few!
Despite the hiccups, I still felt good, and even though I was showing alone, I felt confident that I could show solo. I only had to work until 7 pm, and once that time arrived, I packed up my monitors and hardware, went to my room, and then went out to get something to eat. Oh, and relieve my ears. This year all attendees were required to wear masks, which I supported, but by the end of my shift, my ears were KILLING me. Fortunately, while exploring the MagFest Marketplace later that night, I found a vendor selling these 3d printed ear savers -- though I didn't figure out how to use it properly until late Friday -- it still did help a lot when having to wear a mask all day.
Friday started off smoothly, like Thursday. There was one mishap where my one monitor and SteamDeck were knocked over, partially my fault due to some poor wiring, partially some admitted carelessness on the other party's part, but everything was fine. Also those monitor frames, though nice, did have a tendency to fall off; something I would try to remedy next time I use them. Anyway, the day was going similarly to Thursday. Decent turn out, some awkwardness -- the combination of masking plus noise at the convention plus my already subpar hearing didn't help -- but overall fine.
In the late afternoon though, MohastGridlock (or Tom,) MerFight's community manager, who I had invited to come help, arrived. There was some registration issues, but it was quickly cleared up by MIVS volunteers. Anyway, it was almost night and day once he showed up. Again, I felt okay running the booth solo, but Tom was a natural at both talking about and hyping the game, getting people to play, and just helping in general. It was invaluable and I think Tom greatly helped the game's reception, and I'm super grateful he came.
One challenge with Friday is that a lot more attendees come, and I like to close once core hours at, but this can be awkward if players are still at your booth. I went a little over, but as soon as one setup was empty I packed up, keeping the other to be open. However, while taking down that setup I accidentally turned off the other setup's monitor creating a VERY awkward situation. Fortunately, I only shut off the monitor and not the SteamDeck, so the players were able to finish their games.
Saturday was probably the busiest day, but with Tom there, it went smoothly. There was a MerFight tournament being held that afternoon, and there was some confusion concerning that, but that got figured out well beforehand, and once again, Tom stepped up, commentating the entire tournament, which had 15/16 players in it, possibly MerFight's largfest local tournament if not largest tournament to date for about 2 hours. I would have liked to have watched more, but people were still coming to my booth, something I consider a good problem.
Overall, Saturday also went smoothly, well during the show anyway. After the show, I tried to get food with some friends, and that was a bit of a nightmare, but the lychee martini was worth it. Regardless, it was fine as MagFest has all the other areas open 24 hours, so I was still able to enjoy those elements of the show once we got back.
Sunday was a bit annoying because I only had to show for 2 hours. At a glance, it feels like a waste of time, especially with hotel checkout being 11 am and MagFest ending at 2 pm, not to mention the already irritating elevator -- go up to go down -- situation being at its worst by this point. However, I still had decent turnout that day, even with just one setup, and people were still coming up, wanting to play MerFight, so it was worth it.
Once the show ended though, I had to pack the car, which was a bit of a hassle. Again, having a wagon would have helped a ton, but fortunately, the elevator situation was a lot smoother by 2 pm. Also, the parking situation came back to bite me as I ended up paying the full hotel price and not the event price -- something I'm trying to remedy. It was a bit shocking at first, but I was so tired and just wanted to get home though and didn't care at the time. Then, I had my drive back to Pittsburgh, which this time, maybe because it was Sunday, took closer to 4 hours than 5 and was uneventful.
Before January, I was getting cold feet and contemplating on canceling actually. The combination of potential weather issues and just general stress had me thinking maybe it wasn't a good idea; however, since I had bought the supplies already, I decided to go through with it. Ultimately, I'm glad I did. I got to meet some people such as Tom, MerFight supports and players such as Coderius, Dragon Charlz, and even some I only knew from Twitter such as tobemorecrazy and Ryyudo and WoolieWoolz, which was cool as well.
I do feel a bit bad cause I like MagFest, but I'm not huge into concerts so I don't feel I utilize the convention as much as others. But I also didn't drink to the point of puking in an elevator, so that's good. Then again, I'd probably just be happy playing DDR till 3 am, so a part of me does want to go to MagFest one year without having to show a game. I do regret not taking the time to network with other indie devs and play their games as much though. I felt very glued to my booth, even with Tom there, as I didn't want to just abandon him and disappear for 2 like I did when showing Battle High. MerFight was also included in MagFest Versus, a sort of gameshow they did, but it started at 7 pm, so I wasn't able to attend due to core hours, which was a bit of a bummer -- hopefully it was recorded and will be uploaded somewhere eventually.
Was It Worth It?
This is a harder question I can't answer right now at least from a business perspective. I'm going to do a more financial breakdown of going to MagFest on my Patreon later this month that will go into more detail about costs.
That being said, I still had a great time and got to meet and hangout with cool people. I also got to see some bugs that only happen in local play and have already addressed many of them. Seeing people play the game and enjoy it, give feedback, and more was also very motivating. The fact attendees took time out of their MagFest, between panels, concerts, other indies, two rooms full of console and arcade games, and more, to take time to play MerFight was cool. Regardless, life is too short to look at everything through a business lens, so even if sales or popularity of the game don't explode, I'm still happy I presented at MagFest and think it was worth it.
What Would I Do Differently?
Wagon and ear guards aside, I'd probably look into having a 24 hour setup. There are ways to do it, but I was still a bit nervous that my monitors or setups would be snagged overnight, but a lot of other setups were fine so I might have been overly cautious. Though this year it wouldn't have mattered cause of the aforementioned memory leak and crash, so even if I had a 24 hour setup, I would have had to go down and restart the games every 2 hours or so.
Speakers were something else I lamented not bringing since players could probably not hear MerFight's music or voiceover work. I didn't bring my computer speakers cause they are sort of cumbersome to pack; they are also cumbersome to plug in due to size of said plug. I saw another team had a small, single speaker that could have worked on max volume. Overall, I'd want something that can be easily charged, lightweight, and can work with just an audio in/out plug as to not require a Bluetooth connection. Something like that has to exist, right? I'll keep that in mind for next time.
I'd probably add stickers in addition to buttons to my swag inventory. Some people prefer stickers over buttons, so that variety would have been nice. I'd also make sure to tape down my monitor frames more so they don't fall while people are playing -- it only happened twice, but it was still embarrassing.
Another thing I'd do differently -- and this would maybe apply regardless if I'm showing a game or not -- is probably bring an air fryer or something to cook food in my room or some sandwiches or salads I could keep in the hotel mini fridge. The restaurants in the area get super crowded at night, and they are all like the same but with different names, serving some form of slightly southern Americana. I lamented going out cause the places were expensive, and I ended up not being able to hangout with some people cause I was dealing with food.
What Would I Do Again?
People really liked the monitor frames I had, so even if for a different game, I would try to make something like that again, though I would measure more carefully as they were a little big and that caused the aforementioned issues with them. Some players also appreciated the sort of strategy guides I had that helped explain how to play in more details and demonstrated I knew what I was talking about when it came to fighting games. I actually had a player request one, which I happily gave away. People also liked the temporary, MagFest-themed changes I made for the game such as having the "MagFest" logo shown on Octonia's stage.
If he's available, I'd definitely invite Tom again. And if not, I'd try to get someone to help, cause having a second person helped a lot. I did have a friend help when I showed Battle High, but I didn't really teach them about the game, so when I did leave them alone at the booth, they didn't really know what to do or say unlike Tom who I think sometimes knows MerFight better than I do -- or at least can talk about it better.
I'd also try to pack light again. Though risky, having the monitors in a suitcase instead of boxes made things a lot easier.
Will I Return to MagFest?
I say yes now, but who knows where I'll be a year from now. I'm also not sure MerFight would get accepted two years in a row. Now I've shown at MagFest twice, and I would like to try showing at a different show such as ComboBreaker or Eastcoast Throwdown or even EVO. I feel I'll get a lot of good feedback at a more fighting game-centric event, but it's also good getting feedback from those who don't play that genre as extensively. However, different events will have different rules and setup procedures and more, so some of my learning from MagFest won't apply.
Anyway, if you took the time to read, I appreciate it, and if you are curious about a more financial breakdown of everything, join my Patreon and lookout for that post soon.