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Station Stop PAX AUS 2015 Pins: Post-Mortem

by Justine Colla on 11/04/15 02:45:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

The number one question I received at this year’s PAX was: “How did you make your pins?!” Well, dear reader, pull up a chair because I am going to tell you. All of it. Including the mistakes.

I had been to one PAX before (2013) but this was my first time exhibiting. It was as a lover of gaming culture that helped me understand the importance of badges and pins at the convention. I knew we needed to set ourselves apart as our game was unknown to the masses, had very little marketing and next to no social media presence. It was an opportunity to get our names out.

The team was on board as soon as I suggested it. We did some research on the cost but I really didn’t want to do the round metal pins you always see from indies at conventions. A badge that made a lasting impression on me were the wooden Swordy pins. I wanted our pins to have the same memorability.
 

CONCEPT AND PROTOTYPING

I saw a post on tumblr with a tutorial on making shrink plastic keychains. It seemed like a relatively affordable way to do a short run of badges if we bought the pins and glued them to the back of the design. I put this idea in front of Dean and a couple weeks later we congregated at the office with a printer and five sheets of Inkjet Shrink Paper to experiment. The paper we bought that day was $5 a sheet and I wondered whether my ‘relatively affordable’ idea would get scrapped.

I made a sheet with about ten different bud sizes and followed the tutorial carefully. Unbelievably, it worked on our first try and the results were promising. The plastic is strong once baked and the image has little to no warping. We decided we wanted to go with the type that cuts a pixel around the edge as a border.

I suggested we do a run of around 300 as limited badges as well as the round metal ones but Dean wanted to do 1500 badges as the Swordy post-mortem suggested for PAX. I said he was insane but he was adamant on it. We found a solution to avoid the most time-consuming part, the cutting, by contacting a local laser cutter.

At the same time we were also in the concept phase of our business cards and we realised we could leave a space to pin the badge directly onto it. Since we had no branding on the pins themselves, we needed to make sure we were giving people something to remember our name by. We got a run of 1500 by a local printer.

Once everything was cleared with all parties we were ready to start the huge undertaking of making one and a half thousand of these badges.
 

LASER CUTTING

I was in emails back and forth with The Laser Co. preparing the Illustrator file for cutting and printing. It was a frustrating ordeal and it took me about six tries to get it right. The cutting line needs to be drawn with a pen by hand, there’s no way to add a stroke on the image itself as the laser cutter program wont recognise it. Rob suggested upping the grid size of the document and snapping the pen to grid which worked perfectly for our pixel art and after that it only took me a few hours to manually draw the pen lines around the characters. We had five different page designs and a total of fifty-four unique buds.

We bulk bought 150 sheets of shrink paper and Dean printed everything with his own printer. This was nerve-wracking since we had only planned all this over the internet and had no idea if everything was going to line up once sent to the laser cutter. Losing 150 sheets of the shrink paper would be a costly mistake. We actually didn’t get this part completely right due to a file discrepancy between my Illustrator file to Dean’s print settings. We lost a bottom row of Hotdogs from a few pages but they ended up being great for testing.

Thankfully, the planets aligned for us and the characters were laser cut near perfectly. Some were a little off center but none were cut outside the white border I included. It was a miracle.
 

BAKING AND SPRAYING

We dedicated an entire weekend to the actual production of the pins. After a month and a half of planning and preparation we were ready to go on with the actual manual labour. Dean baked all the pins in a day out of his own oven. We found that anything between 60 and 90 seconds was the sweet spot with 30 seconds cooling time under a heavy flat surface. If the baking tray is already heated from a previous batch then it helps for an even cooking. The shrink plastic tends to continue cooking if it’s not flattened with something and will curl slightly.

While he was doing that, I laid them outside on cardboard and sprayed them down with a cheap spray sealant. We discovered that this didn’t actually work or that I didn’t spray enough because the buds are unfortunately not waterproof. The ink will bleed if it comes in contact with liquid so that’s something we will definitely rectify if we make another run of badges.
 

GLUING

We ordered the pins themselves in bulk from overseas and they were already separated into the pin part and the backing. We laid out the pins face down and started putting a dot of glue in the upper middle area of the badge. After lightly pressing in the pins, we waited about five minutes before attaching the backs and leaving them to dry. Fifteen minutes later I assumed the glue was dry and started sorting types of buds into bags. Thankfully we discovered some of the glue was running and saved all the badges before they stuck to each other. They really need to be left out for several hours or overnight to ensure they’re completely dry.

This is where we made our biggest mistake. We didn’t do any research into the type of glue to use and later discovered the pin part would pop right out of the glue. The pin is a very smooth metal and doesn’t have a lot of grip on the glue. We used about four or five sticks of super glue and one of the brands in that pile worked extremely well, it would dry with a rough texture and hold onto the pin. Any where the glue overlapped and encased the bottom of the pin was also extremely durable but for the most part, our pins were extremely fragile.


 

TRANSPORT AND PAX PREPARATION

We decided we wouldn’t attach the pins to the business cards until we arrived in Melbourne, due to them taking up a lot of room in large amounts. We all sat on the balcony at our Airbnb the night before PAX attaching them ourselves. Dean wrote up a script to help explain and sell the game to attendees. We completely based our pitch around the assumption that they would be checking out the game to get a pin.

We divided up our ‘common’ and ‘rare’ buds and came up with a ballpark figure at a score in the game an attendee would need to get in the game to receive one of the limited pins. Thankfully, the game was already out on the App Store, so attendees could play the game away from the booth, work on their score and still come back to receive one of the rare pins. It was a way to get people coming back more than once over the weekend.

We had no prior plans with the PAX booth other than a scrapped concept from months back. We kept it simple, hiding the table with blue fabric and attaching a cork/whiteboard to the inside of the booth. The whiteboard gave us an opportunity to write whatever we liked and change it on the fly while the corkboard displayed the rare pins. We also purchased fairylights to border the outside of the booth. Anything to grab the attention of the attendees.
 

PAX ROUND-UP

We didn’t expect the success we had at PAX. It was three crazy days. The attendees loved the pins and we had a lot of people staying at the booth from five minutes to over an hour desperately trying to get a high score for a rare pin. We added a ‘weekly high’ and spruiked that anyone who got their name there by the end of PAX would receive an ultra rare pin of the conductor bud in the Station Stop logo. Some enjoyable moments were having people come back to the booth, check the high scores and cry out in frustration before vowing to beat whoever best them.

An additional incentive we offered was that anyone who set a high score daily or weekly would have themselves recreated as a bud ingame for the next update. We made sure to get their name, twitter or email, a photo of them and uploaded it to our own twitter. This created a good archive of our high score winners and also gave us more social media presence.

The downside was the glue on the pins. If someone tried to take the badge directly off, the pin would snag on the business card and pop off. We had so many people coming back to the booth with broken pins that we just decided to put it on the attendee’s lanyards ourselves. As I was extremely protective over the pins, this became my job. It ended up being a good opportunity to spruik our twitter details on the back of the business card and tell the attendee that the game was already out.

I think we only got about ten people who came back to the booth to get replacements. I assume many more broke from rough-handling but may have been too embarrassed to come back to get another.

The bud designs stood out on the lanyards and by Sunday we were having people come to the booth asking where and how to get the “cute character pins”. We received a lot of praise which was reaffirming for all the hard work we put into it. We got asked a lot if they were 3D printed.

We ran out of common buds by around 1pm on Sunday. We lowered the score on how to get the first tier of rare pins and a lot of attendees stayed at the booth for ten to twenty minutes to get their score and pin. We actually ran out of the Hotdog design so I had to retreat back to the apartment for an hour to repair 12 badges. Putting them in the freezer for around twenty-five minutes sped up the setting process.

Overall, it was a huge success. An exhausting, time-consuming success. It was a little pricey in the end but I believe it was worth it to put Station Stop on the map. The pins were about 80c each to make, including the business card (not including manual labour).

We’re already getting tweets and messages asking how and if people can buy them. Once we’re confident they’re completely waterproof and durable, selling them in an online store is an attractive option.
 

THINGS WE WILL DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME

- Somehow include our branding on the pin itself.
- Better sealant.
- Better glue (or overlap the glue around the back of the pin).
 

THINGS WE DID RIGHT

- Make 1500 of them.
- Get the shrink paper laser cut.
- Have several designs and separate the ‘common’ designs from the ‘rare’ ones.
 

I’m glad it paid off and I can’t wait to do it all over again for the next con.

Your bud,
Justine, CEO of 2D and Godmother of Buds

Website | Twitter | App Store | Dean’s Twitter | Tima’s Twitter | Justine’s Twitter | Rob’s Twitter


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