The first RunJumpDev art exhibition has come and gone. While I believe everyone agrees that Rules & Play was a success, there were many struggles, as well as triumphs, along the way.
Discussing all of the positives and negatives of Rules & Play could reach 5,000 words easy. For this reason, as well as to stay true to my game development roots, this article will use the traditional structure of game post mortems. I will look at the most significant successes and failures of the show, focusing on three aspects that went right and three that went wrong.
Perhaps in the future a more nitty gritty series of articles will be written. However, for now, an in depth look at a few key choices, events, and lessons learned should suffice.
What went right
Location, Location, Location
Hands down, this one comes in first. The primary goal of Rules & Play was exposure. Exposure for games as an art form, exposure for games being more than shooting games and candy crush, exposure for the intriguing tech/art/research/expression coming out of Lexington, and exposure for the individual artists as well as RunJumpDev. This exposure can only happen with physical bodies at the event, and press coverage about the event. Despite difficulty getting interest from press, there was an overwhelmingly positive turnout in the physical space, which should make up for the lack of press and bear fruit for RunJumpDev moving forward.
While all of us working on the show did what we could to drum up interest beforehand, the single biggest factor in overall attendance seemed to be the location of the exhibit. Situated on Main Street, right next to some of the larger Gallery Hop spots, hosts of foot traffic came in. Since RunJumpDev has little presence in the Lexington art scene, people coming in off the street is an excellent way to build presence and bring in the art community.
Aside from the benefits of the position of the Livery relative to the rest of the hop, the interior space was a solid venue for the exhibition* The large open space meant lots of options for layout, installation space, and traffic flow; ultimately allowing each installation to fully realize its own presence.
Lastly, the Livery was booked as early as possible. This is not so much a solid decision as a necessity. Without knowing the space, it would have been tremendously difficult to decide on a strategy for PR, design a layout for installations, or even estimate how many installations to show.
This one is going to pay dividends for quite awhile. A show such and Rules & Play is only truly realized when on display in physical space. With documentation RunJumpDev–this holds true for the individual artists as well—now has a place to point to when applying for a grant or looking for exhibition space and say
“See! Check out what we do!”
Without proper documentation, all the hard work and achievement has no permanent place to reside.
Due to a very unfortunate emergency, the photographer lined up for Rules & Play had to drop out days before the show. Fortunately, the artists and RJD members stepped up and took some wonderful stills and video of the exhibit. These stills and video are a permanent** artifact of the exhibit, something tangible to show, share, leverage with, and celebrate.
The next step for RunJumpDev is using this documentation for grants, exposure, interesting content online, perhaps even helping to serve others looking for inspiration or guidance for an installation or exhibition. The true significance is that these options are present.
Dry Runs before the show
This is the tricky one. People may not even consider the pre show dry runs to be in the top three. Yet that is precisely why it should be in the top three. When dry runs happen, their impact should not be that noticeable. Dry runs act to negate problems of technology, setup, user interface/experience, and the multitude of other factors that are only apparent when interactive installations become realized in physical space and interacted with by users.
The other benefit of the dry runs was to subtly remind everyone of the nearness of the show. Things have a way of sneaking up, and all of the installations were being developed specifically for Rules & Play, so a few kind reminders–requiring physical actions by the artists–are a nice way to keep everyone aware of impending deadlines and realities.
Well these are the top three things that I believe went right with Rules & Play. Of course, no proper game post mortem–or in this case gallery show post mortem structured like a game post mortem– is complete without what went wrong, so alas in keeping with tradition we shall delve into the errors of #RnP15
What went wrong
Timing Of Press
There was a decent amount of success with PR leading up to Rules & Play. Amanda and I got to promote Rules & Play on the Channel 36 morning show Good Day Kentucky, Rules and Play info was sent out the the UK art student list-serv, and Smiley Pete added Rules & Play to the Tadoo Calendar. Unfortunately, these successes were overshadowed by emails never responded to and opportunities that never materialized. While sending cold press emails has a low response rate in general, other factors contributed to the difficulties. The most of significant of which was timing.
Due to a late start contacting press, the majority of emails were sent in the 10 or so days before Christmas, and people are not that invested in work right before the holidays. This makes perfect sense, but in the moment, thinking can be near sighted, focusing more on something like getting a press release just right than getting emails out ASAP. Due to the timing of the initial round of emails, there was little interest or response from press.
Correspondence with Smiley Pete is an excellent example of how timing led to reduced press coverage. The first email to Smiley Pete went out around the 17th – 20th of December. I waited to do a follow up because of the holidays, which meant the follow up occurred on the 5th of January. Smiley Pete got back immediately upon receiving the follow up email, and were very interested in the event. Unfortunately, their January publication had already been printed. Turns out the initial email, the one which would have made it into publication, had not been seen due to the number of emails they were receiving coupled with the holiday craziness. This missed email could have been rectified in time to make it to print, if the follow up email had been sooner. However, with the timing of Christmas, New Years, and other seasonal holidays, the follow up may have been missed as well.
While several spots ended up sharing information about Rules & Play, exposure would have increased with better timing. This is tremendously important, as many outlets are not interested in writing about an event. When they are interested, the opportunity needs to be capitalized on.
Still not enough time
Touched on in the paragraphs above, one of the errors made in preparation for Rules & Play was not starting early enough.
There are a multitude of reasons why planning for Rules & Play started when it did (around September/October). Some are not necessarily avoidable. A location had to be finalized before any real planning or progress could begin, and it took time to set up meetings and tour different facilities. The initial talks over coffee that led to Rules & Play did not occur until September/October, which meant that starting immediately still left only around 3 months to showtime. Other reasons were entirely avoidable, such as not understanding how long it would take to get a press release and other copy written to begin sending emails, and how the end of December is essentially a black hole of time and should not count towards time remaining before an event.
Aside from issues with timing and press discussed above, another consequence of too little time was significant crunch the week of the show. While some late nights may never be avoided, crunch certainly increases potential for error and poor judgement. I rushed to print show cards two nights before the show, which resulted in cards to small and near invisible in the lighting and layout of the show. The fliers for Rules & Play were also done last minute, which hurt the effectiveness of the information and message. Fortunately the last week crunching did not cause any major problems, but rushing is a dangerous game to play*** and reduces the quality of design and aesthetics. So starting early frees up time, which means opportunity.
No follow up news or coverage
To be honest I did not even think about this one much until the show was over. All of my energy, and I imagine this is true for everyone else, was devoted to making the show a success by raising awareness, finishing installations, etc. I wasn’t thinking about the days and weeks after the show.
It was a lost opportunity to not get at least one or two folks from media outlets present at the exhibition(ideally writing a story). We certainly tried, reaching out to 5 different people at the Herald Leader, as well as folks at WRFL and a few other outlets. Of course bad timing contributed greatly to difficulties getting press to the event
While documentation will help significantly to archive the show, part of the RunJumpDev mission was to raise our credibility, as well as the credibility of games, in the art community. With credibility comes opportunity, meaning more open doors in the future. Post exhibition press would have been a fantastic addition to the photo and video documentation recorded. It is simply a missed opportunity, one that next time we can remedy.
More to say, but not now…
Rules & Play was a significant success. All of the installations were intriguing, thematically appropriate, and did not explode at any point during the show****. The artists did an amazing job, not just with their installations, but behind the scenes with work leading up to, and even now after, Rules & Play. The show could not have been realized without the help of numerous people, and only because of the volunteer hours and motivation of everyone did the show go off as smooth as it did.
Looking forward, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I believe gallery hops and art exhibits are in the future for RunJumpDev. Several of us are looking for grants to help fund future events, as well as some of the operational costs of RJD that are currently assumed by individuals in terms of volunteer hours.
Lastly, we made some really cool stuff. And if I understand anything about procreation, more really cool stuff is to follow.
*There are issues with the acoustics, but we did not have too much of a problem
**Ha, permanent? well kind of…. digital documentation’s permanence is a subject for another day
***See what I did there?
****Although there was a soda explosion
All images in this article were pulled from the RunJumpDev Facebook page and used with permission.