Well, where to start? Dreamhack Winter 18 was Antler's first international expo, and boy what a great one to start at! It's quite hard to describe Dreamhack, because it's not like other traditional expos, but we'll give it a go.
Dreamhack isn't like other expos, which tends to focus on the industry (think EGX, E, GDC, PG London, Gamescon, etc etc), whereas Dreamhack is all about the gamers - it's all about gaming culture and the celebration of it.
This is one key reason we went for Dreamhack when we got contacted by them, because we were going to get a new perspective from a new context - it's safe to say everything we learnt from our players at Dreamhack was invaluable.
Firstly, man Sweden is pretty cool no? Anyone who hasn't gone, go! When you do go, my God eat a Kex bar, they're delicious. Why do Europeans always nail wafer chocolate bars? Anyway. I'm getting side-tracked and hungry.
So yes, Sweden is cool and it's a country which seems to embrace gaming as a past time, whereas in other countries (including the UK) it still has negative connotations and a bit of a stinky stigma - unfairly so. For this reason, it was really good to get a wide demographic playing and enjoying our game.
Previously at EGX, we had a few bugs, design flaws and a disjointed art style that no one seemed to really enjoy or get excited by Grove (sad times). However, everyone seemed pumped by our concept, so we collectively said fuck it, and carried on and improved.
With the new art style in, Dreamhack was our first proper reception to it. Genuinely, we didn't have one negative comment from anyone about our style (nice work Charis and Math!). I quote one player: "Wow this is like a blue Firewatch" YES GURL 5 KEYRINGS FOR YOU was our reaction...
Getting the new art style in was such an accomplishment because we had 20 days to do it (including building the level). Financially it was a risk too, we were running low on the grant we received from UKTGF, if it fell through then that would have been a real stinker for us.
So, tick, Swedes loved our art. Next was our design improvements, including the new control system. This was really well received, as our controls went from 4 steps to achieve the main mechanic to 2. I look back and think why on earth did we ever have the old way of it, but hey you live and learn.
However, some players still struggled to know what to do when learning new 'things', Tom was scratching his head and we felt sad because surely this means our puzzle game has fundamental design flaws? Or maybe we're just rubbish designers?
No! It was all about our UI, which critically harmed our UX when it came to onboarding the player. We had this terrible font (a little bit like this) in this thin writing, which stayed on the bottom of the screen. Emily has some issues with this font originally because it looked like font for narrative, not instructional. Which may sound odd, but stuff like this is always subconscious to people.
It came to the end of the first day of Dreamhack, where one guy was stuck at using the lock and key. Emily asked him why he was stuck, he just said he was stupid (no he wasn't), then she asked if he had read the text on the screen.. he had not. We all laughed, but this was a key learning curve. Our instruction UI was crap!
Players don't really like reading instructions, so sometimes you have to force it.. kind of like a billlboard. You see them when you drive past somewhere and you just naturally read it. Cus' it's big, bold and out there right in front of your face so you can't help by process it.
So we took this and created 'billboard instructions'. The next day, we never had a player who had to ask us what to do (apart from a small bug in one place so that doesn't count). Tom was hysterical, because finally people were getting our game, we weren't all terrible game designers!
This UX rant was quite lengthy (soz) but it's valuable for any game designer to consider these things and make it a high priority - because it's the difference of someone understanding and absorbing what you teach them, to not having a clue and keep ignoring your learning tools.
Our remaining time at Dreamhack was literally a dream for us (besides the power cut on the last day..), because people were coming back to play the small 20mins of gameplay over and over again. Kids were forcing their parents to play and come back rather than dragging them away and asking to go (true story #EGX). We still had some level design changes to implement later on, but hell we finally got something at that standard. We had people sign up to Betas, we had gamers who loved our game and wanted to know more (shout out to the guardians of Patrick the Plant, yes he's still going to be in the game).
So we'll leave you at this:
1. Go to Sweden
2. Go to Dreamhack if you get a chance, it's mental (in a good way)
3. Read about UI->UX, Emily went crazy and read about 20 articles on it after this to fuel the thirst for good UX
4. Eat a Kex bar
5. Don't steal hotel chairs by mistake, looking at you Tom!
6. Don't fly Ryanair (I’m sure we don't have to tell you that)