What It’s Like to Show at PAX 10 and Get Greenlit In The Same Week

The last few weeks have been surreal for me. EMO ALERT: This is one of the most personal posts I’ve written here, not to mention rather disorganized and stream-of-consciousness, but it’s a story worth telling. I hope you find it interesting. Not many people get to experience what I have over the past few months, so I’d like to describe what the ride has been like.  

Let’s start with a quick overview of my PAX experience:

  • Selected for PAX10 along with 9 other talented, friendly dev teams
  • Escape Goat 1 Greenlit
  • Valve directly offered to distribute Escape Goat 2
  • Demoed the game to estimated 500 PAX attendees (and thousands more watched)
  • Sold over 100 preorders on the show floor
  • Made some invaluable media contacts

What does getting selected for PAX10 mean? I got to demo the game in a spacious booth, for free, all four convention days.  Beyond this, it is a badge of honor in the indie game world, a mark of achievement that is probably unmatched for me so far in this career.  I remember getting the news via email that Escape Goat 2 had been selected. It was on July 4, at a party at my place, and Randy happened to be chilling out on the balcony. So he was the first person I shared the news with, followed by everyone else at the party.  After getting shot down for two IndieCade submissions, I didn’t put much stock in my ability to get selected for conferences and prizes, but Escape Goat 2 had come through.

pax10 eg2 2

Did I mention that I also got selected to be in the Indie Megabooth at PAX?  I had the option to show all four days, but since I had the PAX10 booth to cover, I dropped it down to two, and recruited some extra help from friends to run both stations.  To get the most out of my PAX10 booth, I also decided to drive 800 miles to bring my trusty 40″ TV, enabling me to run two demo stations at the same booth.  Here’s what it looked like in action.

Let’s back up to right before the conference, though.  Wednesday morning, I wake up to find my inbox contains a flurry of Twitter mentions, so I check and sure enough, Escape Goat 1 had been pushed through Greenlight and was ready to be on Steam!  At first I thought I was delirious from the 14-hour drive to Seattle, but it was for real.  I had two full days to recover from the drive and get situated at the show (not to mention spruce up the build with last minute fixes), and this was a great way to kick off the week.

Our PAX10 booth was packed, and with just the right amount of breathing room to keep steady traffic going. Really, conditions could not have been more ideal. We got a lot of questions about EG2 and Steam–we simply explained that Escape Goat 1 was just Greenlit, and we’re hoping to get the sequel up there as well.  I had been told that getting your second game on Steam is way easier, and that you may not have to go through Greenlight for it.  But I wasn’t sure what was going to happen… EG2 was stalled on Greenlight at around 30%, easily 10,000 votes short of the top 100.  Clearly, the only way it would make it to Steam is if it were hand-picked by Valve.  And on the final hour of the final day, that’s exactly what happened: a Valve employee (whom I met earlier in the year at GDC when I showed him an early EG2 build) found me at the PAX10 booth and offered to put both games on Steam. Right there on the show floor. Again, surreal.

I told Randy the news, we shared another tender bro hug, then went right back into demo mode.  For some reason, the show was even more packed at the end of the final day than it was most of the other days.  I kept the EG2 news mostly to myself, though, because I wasn’t sure if Valve wanted this to be kept secret for the time being.

So there I was, with a PAX 10 selection and two games headed to Steam… way beyond what I had considered possible a year ago.  I kept waiting for a feeling of elation and relief from it all…  This was where I wanted to be, this was my goal for the last 18 months.  Nearly every business decision and design decision I made was in some way serving to get a Steam contract.  And it had paid off, rather suddenly.

pax10 eg2 1

The feeling of elation didn’t arrive. There was a 20 minute feeling of exhilaration, but after that, there was simply the void left by a completed goal. It spawned a whole new set of goals: “Gotta get EG1 on Steam, gotta finish EG2, gotta make a trailer, gotta do this…”  And in the week that followed PAX, once I arrived home, I collapsed. I knew I would be physically drained from the four days of being on my feet 12 hours straight, but on top of that, there was also a psychological exhaustion I wasn’t expecting.  Here I was with everything I had been hoping for, and instead of high fiving everyone and toasting Champagne, I just wanted to go off the radar for a bit.  I got some basic work done to follow up with contacts from the show, but aside from that I didn’t do much–the motivation wasn’t there.  After a few days of this, I took it as an opportunity for some reflection.

At the root of it, I think I spent too much time in the last two years focusing on the goals related to making games. Beta, demo, trailer, launch, prototype. When this next thing is done, things will be okay!  I have a career where I get to make games for a living, something a lot of people dream about doing… and even when handed my entire wishlist–the ingredients for turning this into a profitable venture–I was only focusing on the things I didn’t have yet.  The things still left to do.

pax10 eg2 pwyw

Moving forward, I’ve got to pay more attention to the process along the way. This is not my usual style and it’s something I’m going to have to learn, practice, and improve on gradually.  The paradox is also balancing being goal-oriented with enjoying the day-to-day processes of making games. I think that shifting from a constant fixation on goals, to a more balanced approach where I do the work attentively, will serve me well.  I’d like to get back the enjoyment I had while making the first Soulcaster–which incidentally was made in just five months. There’s gotta be some correlation there…

It will probably take me a while to fully understand the experience I just went through, so this post is more or less my first impression.  I hope it’s at least enjoyable reading to anyone considering going into indie games as a career, or to anyone who wants to see a bit of the inner struggle that goes on, even when it seems like everything’s going great on the outside.

Hey, you read to the end!  I’m flattered.  Now to continue this whole game creating thing, with a slightly adjusted outlook.



3 thoughts on “What It’s Like to Show at PAX 10 and Get Greenlit In The Same Week”

  1. I remember playing the demo for Soulcaster the day it hit the XBLIG Marketplace. You ended up throwing me a code for it to see if I’d write a review, which I thought was a perfectly good waste of a code since all I had was a two-month old personal review blog (on blogspot, no less!) and the extra few minutes to post my reviews on xblaratings. But I happily accepted said code, played Soulcaster, played it again on Hard mode right after, and realized I’d just stumbled upon a game I’d chalk up as one of my favorites of all-time and a developer I’d be sure to follow from then on out.

    Since then, you’ve earned a devoted fan in me, and one that personally believes there isn’t an indie dev out there that deserves this success more than you. Your first game got me into speedrunning, wakes me up in the morning via using the 8-Bit version of its theme as my alarm, and is still fun even after the 100+ times I’ve beaten the game in an effort to get my speedrun time down to where it is now. And though I don’t go a week without wondering “WHEN’S SOULCASTER 3”, even if that game never happens I’ll still buy each and every one of your games from here on out because, three games in, I haven’t seen one that’s anything less than amazing.

    In short, congrats on everything you’ve achieved Ian. You deserve every last bit and then some.

    Michael (Hogosha)

  2. Well said Hogosha.

    Talk about when a plan comes together! Sounds like you could use a week of vacation and then some.

    Great to see your friends helping out. Not many people would step up like that and I am sure there were obstacles galore through the process.

    Just finished playing the first play through of the Alpha. The graphics are edgy and crisp. Surprisingly with all the effects, I don’t find events on the screen hard to follow. So far I am quite impressed, however even more addicted!! Music is as good as ever, but I have the feeling you are holding out on some quality tunes. I guess I will have to wait for release.

    You are right about goals. They are critical as a focal point, but that is about it. There are too many variables to consider before reaching a goal and it is no fun to just pressure yourself to rush through them. That cliche saying, ‘it is about the journey and not the destination’. You are passionate about games, so keep the passion going! Don’t let goals bog down creativity!

    I had faith in your games and talent before Greenlight existed. I knew you would go places Ian. Pat yourself on the back cause you have earned it.

  3. Thanks for the encouraging and very kind words, guys. In the last week I’ve focused on getting EG1 on Steam, and it’s been a lot more manageable to compartmentalize things. It sucks that it comes at the expense of EG2 getting pushed back a bit more, but in the end it will serve EG2 to have the first game blaze a marketing trail for it.

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