Reserving 600 square feet of space on the show floor of E3 costs $30,000. That's $50 per square foot for the smallest offered space, and it doesn't include other necessary costs – fees for the E3 management company GES, union labor and various red tape – which can add up to $15,000. More still, these prices don't include actual booth construction, game-demo tech, man-hours or convention swag.
Semiformal Studios bought one of the 600 square foot spots to show off its game, Ensemble Online, at E3 this year, and the team ended up spending $100,000 in total. This was cheap – Semiformal could have easily spent $500,000, Director Ian Kinsey tells me.
After dealing with the finances of E3 firsthand, Kinsey and Semiformal saw why more indies were unable to show their games at the event – and they decided to help. Semiformal established Indies Crash E3, a fan-voted contest to allow 10 indies into E3, using passes Semiformal was granted as a show-floor developer. The developers would demo their games in the Semiformal booth, share in its marketing campaign and have access to the most concentrated batch of networking opportunities of the year.
After a hectic round of public voting that garnered 121,000 votes early this year, Semiformal offered 10 indie developers two passes to the show, and two for the fans that nominated those people. The winners then took up residence directly alongside Semiformal's booth, in a convenient common area with couches, chairs and tables. The winners included Man Fight Dragon's Black Annex, Behold Studios with Knights of Pen and Paper, GameWarp's Project Neumann and Saibot Studios with survival-horror Doorways.
Saibot, which ended up in the No. 1 spot for Indies Crash E3, wouldn't have otherwise been able to attend the show. The team is based in Argentina, and traveling would have broken the bank alone, Game Director Tobias Rusjan told me at E3 – Semiformal covered airfare and hotel for the top studio, as well as entrance to E3. Rusjan showed me a video of Doorways and, as a fan of horror games, it was clear to me why that game received the most votes. It's live on Steam Greenlight now.
It sounds like an indie dream, but it's all legit – Semiformal posts in its FAQ a message from ESA Media Relations Vice President Dan Hewitt that says he was involved from the start and everything is legal by E3 rules. Indies Crash E3 2013 went off without interference from the ESA, and next year Semiformal wants it to be bigger and better.
Ensemble Online, Semiformal's open-world, sandbox MMORTS, is set to launch publicly this year, and the studio is using pre-order sales to help fund the game's polishing stages and to support Indies Crash E3 2014. Ensemble Online is a free-to-play, browser-based game with RPG elements in a real-time, persistent map. All pre-order tiers, starting at $5, get early access to the beta starting on July 19.
After a successful premiere of Indies Crash E3, and with a $100,000 mountain staring them down for E3 2014, Semiformal has another chance to spread the indie love and save even more money, Semiformal spokesperson Jackie Gibson says.
"Indie games were huge at E3 this year," Gibson says. "We think if we can garner enough support, they'll steal the show in an even bigger way next year, and that's a good thing."