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Life and Games (but mostly games) from Tony Boydell: Dad, Husband and Independent UK Game Designer.
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A Virtual Con

Anthony Boydell
United Kingdom
Newent. Glos
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Well, I managed dip in to the UKGE this weekend but ONLY via the Discord environment. Every time I wandered to the UKGE's 'Main Stages' page, there was either nothing on (with nothing showing in the schedule) OR it was some tedious marketing wank in which I had no interest. Or I got an Error 500.

No, indeed; it was a bizarre experience using 'Find' in Chrome to locate the virtual stands of peeps in whom I was interested rather than scrolling up and down the randomly-shifting presentation. Unless, of course, you were a major sponsor in which case your 'feed' was anchored to the top of the page.

With Essen Spiel coming up (so) fast, it was apparent by mid-Saturday that UKGE weren't doing anything new or - indeed - interesting; as Chris B (Cardboard Edison) remarked during a fascinating Sunday PM chat, they've just added company website links to a version of their Hall maps, pointed everyone to Discord and told us to get on with it. And then asked for payment at the end (one of those "Pay what you like" things: I 'like' zero, thanks).

I've no real idea how Essen will be different but with 1000+ exhibitors and however many thousand new games, this 'special friends get all the perks' shite just won't wash for a worldwide audience. UKGE had 'three' stage feeds but the real action was on the Twitches and the Discords the companies set up themselves: by-passing the imaginary NEC altogether!

Several things became apparent:

Sitting around 'live' and waiting for folks to ask for a demo is a massive waste of time - smaller Co.s would be better served pre-recording run-thrus and just making them available for ad hoc viewing. With no way to see if anyone is 'waiting' online - unless they make themselves known - the inactivity on a page will just move people along.

Sales - if you expected to get the same throughput as a real Con then you won't have been running a company for long; oh, I am SURE plenty of folks will swear blind that 'It was really good for us!" and "We sold loads!" but they're lying. Watching someone struggle through a 15 minute filler on Tabletopia for over an hour will NOT result in a ker-ching moment...which leads me to:

Online gaming at a virtual con is shit: Tabletopia and TS are utterly-terrible windows for demoing and should be stopped immediately. Prototypes? Yes! Actual demos? No - fuck off with the cumbersome shite: folks absolutely MUST see real limbs doing real things with real components.

Trying to digitize the physical geography of a Con is so wrong it's wrongetty-wrong.

Thus did the chat with Chris B continue and one thing I noted made the most sense: it's about the LIVE ACTION, people. Demos are time-consuming and procedural so can be pre-built for those who want a taste; where things really begin to shine is with the conversations, the arguments, the teasers and prototypes, the jokes and the friendships (old and newly-forged) - this is where an online Con needs to focus: the LIVE content.

Where UKGE had three 'special', pre-populated ('pre-sold') stages, Essen Spiel needs one virtual stage per exhibitor.

Exhibitors should be encouraged to provide regular - possibly constant for some - content, streamed from their 'Stand' with a previously-published (and indexed) central itinerary for the entire show - a fantastic example of how this might look can be found here:
. We've all got phones, so what we need is a means of linking them to a dedicated company stream and letting us all get on with it!

The tabletop events site does it all beautifully: searchable, linked to ticketing where needed and maintains a personal calendar on your behalf!

Of course, who would spend the money needed to set this up just for 2020? No-one in their right mind BUT...isn't this the perfect way to make Essen Spiel permanently available to the non-200,000 who make it to the actual Halls in future? Imagine we're on our stands with cameras and phones streaming our 'face-to-face's to anyone who wants to drop-by from home?

Imagine being able to add a company's game to your cart - from Oz or Brazil or Iceland - knowing that a shopper will be circling the Halls all-day and picking stuff up as they pass, drops it off at a parcel despatch Hall and come the Sunday the whole lot is taped and posted?! Payments could be handled as electronic payments-back to us at an end-of-show reconciliation. Jesus, this all sounds do-able and up-to-date.

We, at SSG, could stream interviews, play-thrus of prototypes, offer a Big Brother-style snoop option (rolling all the time), dances, us showing off our hauls and so on and so forth. All of it accessible from a Netflix/Amazon Prime-style wall of scrolling rows for 'Wargames...', 'Miniatures...', 'Small but perfectly formed Independents...' and so.

While we may never have to do the wholly-remote thing again (fingers-crossed), there's no reason to take the lessons learned forward and just raise the whole Convention concept to the next level!

(c) Tony Boydell and Chris B, 2020.
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