Breaking down the cost of an E3 booth

Breaking down the cost of showing a game at E3

Semiformal Studios secured a 600 square foot space on the E3 show floor this year, and it ended up spending $100,000 on the entire show. That figure may be shocking – because it's so low.

"If we hadn't second-guessed everything, worked really hard, and gotten clever it would have been about $300,000 - $500,000, but the necessity to put on a good show and the lack of funds forced us to think cleverly and work hard to make it happen on the cheap," Semiformal Studios Director Ian Kinsey tells me. "I'm confident we had the cheapest price per square foot (when you factor in all costs) of all the decently interactive booths at E3."

The space itself cost $30,000 – 600 square feet is the smallest space offered – and that doesn't factor in the actual booth itself. For its construction, Kinsey got quotes from dozens of booth and expo designers, even museum exhibit companies, that ranged from $80,000 to $250,000, just for a standard design, no frills.

"Some companies literally told us that the reason for the cost was simply, 'If you want an E3 booth, you have to pay E3 prices,'" Kinsey says. "Even some of the non-E3 expo makers, like the museum designers, gave that as their reason."

One of Semiformal's artists suggested a local prop-maker that ended up charging $30,000, and he built Semiformal's desert-themed booth in two months. Rather than spend up to $10,000 on shipping the booth, Semiformal rented a truck drove it to E3 themselves instead.

Additional costs from E3 itself, including fees to the show's managing company, GES, added up to $15,000. Finishing costs ran up to $7,800, though it could have been closer to $11,000, had Semiformal not kept a close eye on its spending, Kinsey says.

Other options for indies to show their games at E3 include the mobile games pavilion, which Kinsey says costs around $9,000, and it's segregated from the main floor and high-traffic areas. There's always IndieCade, but that's a separate process that doesn't guarantee entry.

"There are really no options for small teams to display their games other than getting into IndieCade," Kinsey says. "That's why we want to continue helping the cause with Indies Crash E3."

Semiformal held a fan-voted contest last year and got 10 indie developers into E3, using passes from Semiformal's booth. These indies set up shop right next to Semiformal and enjoyed an E3 experience that would have otherwise been impossible, financially at least.

Semiformal wants to do this whole thing again next year, and is using proceeds from pre-orders of its MMORTS, Ensemble Online, to help fund Indies Crash E3 and itself.