CONVENTIONS ARE A WONDERFUL THING AND MOST OF THEM WON’T BE HAPPENING THIS YEAR.
It’s been a rough year and most of the events we’ve all been looking forward to have been canceled. I personally am always watching the news from the summer con season to see what’s going on and to learn about all the new things that will be coming over the next few months. Beyond that, I love the crowds, playing games with people I’ve not seen in years, and the energy that fills every space. In short, conventions are a wonderful thing and most of them won’t be happening this year. At least, not in the way we’re used to.
Enter the virtual con. Several groups have already announced that they will be trying to hold a version of their show on the interwebs. A few have already happened. Heck, some have been quietly been going on for years and we just never really thought about it.
This list is my attempt to organize my thoughts on virtual cons, what they mean, and what they can bring to the table… metaphorically. I’m not saying everything on this list needs to be at every con, but this is more of an, “if you have these, here are some examples of when it was done very well,” style of list. These are my personal thoughts as someone who has never undergone the stress of hosting even a small con virtual or otherwise.
With all of that said, here’s my list in no particular order.
Maybe you have a best in show award or possibly an award that is revered by the industry. Let’s just say it, maybe you’re the Spiel. Though the Dice Tower has announced they’ll do something for their awards this summer as well. Hosting an awards ceremony to hand out your trophies and honor all the nominees and recipients is not necessarily a thing that gets a lot of attention. It would be easy and understandable to simply release a list of the winners. However, I think that can be something done a bit differently.
Earlier this year I watched the British Academy of Film, Television and Art host their annual Video Game Awards online. What is typically a red carpet event similar to the Oscars was dialed back to a smaller affair. Host Dara O’Briain was streamed from his home, standing proud and dignified in his tuxedo, he would announce the awards, a cut to a prerecorded segment showing off all the nominees, O’Briain would announce the winner, and cut to a prerecorded acceptance speech.
This accomplished several things. The awards still felt special, O’Briain could interact with the audience by referring to their chat comments (though I don’t recall if he did), social distancing was respected, and the acceptance speeches were all well-rehearsed, appropriately timed, and showed the recipient in a more comfortable position making the speeches more pleasant. Additionally, the number of people who accepted the award while accompanied by family pets or other animals was just charming beyond measure. You can watch the ceremony on YouTube and I recommend it. I’ll post a link below.
Future Access to Content
Since I’ve broached the topic of live streams and videos let’s talk about future access to content. Make it easy for a lot of us sitting at home to view the content at a later date. Set up channels, playlists, and easy to find libraries of videos, articles, and pdf files. It’s great to watch live, but a virtual con is a global event. It means that some people simply won’t be able to watch a stream live and it would help if we could see it later.
If you’ve set up a video, make it easy to find later. There are some streaming platforms that don’t make finding the content later particularly easy. While this may change in the future, it’s nice if we can locate this information more easily as we move farther from the date. It’s also nice to remember to include links in the description to any content that might be connected to that media. Or at the very least pin the comments from people who link it for you.
Part of the fun of these events is finding, re-watching, and sharing these events later. This doesn’t mean you can’t have timed or limited-access content. If you only want a piece up for a limited time by all means set that up, but do make it clear ahead of time so we all know.
Let’s talk about panels. It’s always great to see folks take part in a grand panel. I personally love seeing everything from Acquisitions Incorporated at Pax, the Fantasy Flight Games in Flight Report from GenCon, to the Dice Tower Top 10’s at pretty much everything. Panels are tons of fun to watch and are a huge part of the con experience. Fortunately, a lot of these are already broadcast over Twitch, YouTube, and Mixer.
There is now the added complication of having each participant needing to use their own internet. This means that everyone will need to make sure they log in advance to have worked through any tech issues that crop up at the start of a stream. It’s also important to remember that while we’ve been watching a lot of people take part in these every day, there are still folks who have never done this and will need help to set up to be a part of such an event.
It’s always nice to see the publishers and what they have to offer over the coming year. Let’s give them a place and an opportunity to shine. Board Game Geek is currently running a remote stream for board game publishers that lets them show off their games and talk about the upcoming year. They don’t have to be the only ones.
If you’re running a virtual con and usually have publishers who have the ability to show off new games, then try to give them a platform. Also, try not to limit it to just the big guns. Sure I want to know what CMoN, FFG, and Days of Wonder have coming but I also want to see smaller indy publishers, new designers, and all the other little guys that are out there. Don’t forget to give them a chance to shine.
It’s also worth thinking of Publishers doing it themselves. Last year’s FFG’s In Flight Report from GenCon was live streamed. Watching the coverage at home, I was struck by how similar it was to an Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3) press conference. If they have the ability to do it then publishers should put together a small presentation. If they don’t want to do it live, then I’d recommend using the Nintendo Direct or Playstation’s State of Play as a template. Short concise videos, talking about each game, a couple of images of the components and art of the game, and some information on the different mechanics in the game. These could be extremely popular and let people find them later.
I’d love to see some streamed games. Throw some gameplay up from Tabletop Simulator, Tabletopia, Board Game Arena, or similar. There are tons of examples of this in different locations all over the net. I’ve seen Man vs Meeple, Geek & Sundry, and so many other channels and groups adjust to the current situation to bring us gameplay at home.
This is even more prevelant to the nature of streaming that we’ve gotten so many other groups. I’ve seen that Dungeons & Dragons will be streaming their annual DnD Live event in July and have already listed a number of guests and sessions.
Also, if you’re going to do this, please continue to invite the bigger people to the table, but it would be nice to see smaller groups invited to the table as well. There are smaller podcasts I’ve found specifically because of DnD Live, groups like the Dragon Friends, Queens of Adventure, and Rivals of Waterdeep. I hope that they and others continue this practice and bring smaller voices to our attention along with the juggernauts we already know. For every Matt Mercer on Critical Role there’s a dozen Judge James on Live 4 Crits, for every Watch it Played there’s a dozen Our Family Plays Games. This summer, I’d love to see them all at the table together.
Let’s be honest, some of the most fun we have at Cons are playing all the newest and upcoming games. We’re not going to be able to do this over the coming months. However, we might still be able to pull something off. While it’s going to be impossible for most of us to play a demo game barring print and play, Table Top Simulator, Tabletopia, or similar service we could see some gameplay. Several companies already go to YouTube channels like Geek & Sundry, Rhado, and Watch it Played to get some rules and gameplay in front of us.
It would be possible to have that sort of thing ready for everyone to watch at home. If you stream them live, using any of the above remote play options, you could easily teach us how to play a game and show it off. Utilizing chat on YouTube, Twitch, Mixer, and Facebook you could also have people offer paly suggestions in a limited fashion.
Using this method we could have some fun interactions with those of us stuck at home but still letting us watch the event and see how the game works.
We all love to play games and going to a con to hit the tables is always fun. I’ve met people I’m still friends with at cons, some of whom live in different states and countries from me. It’s always great to get to meet new people. To that end, we’d all love to see some gaming.
GenCon is already starting to schedule volunteers for gaming for their upcoming virtual con, or a more robust GenCan’t than has been held in previous years. This will be great for everyone and I can’t wait to see it in practice. However, if you’re going to host, sign up for, or run a remote event like this, you’ll need to make sure that certain information is readily available.
Is the event to be held over Skype, Hangouts, or Discord? Are you using Table Top Simulator, Board Game Arena, or Roll20? Not only do you need to let player know so they can have set up accounts for those particular services, but will need to have any programs installed that they’ll need.
Heck, if you’re relying on these remote platforms, consider having specific slots set up to teach their use. Even though many of these programs have built in tutorials not everyone learns that way and having someone to walk them through the programs use might be a helpful thing to have. Especially if you consider, it won’t just help them take part in your event, but will also set them up to continue using it over the coming years.
These things are always more fun with a crowd. True, we’re not going to be there in person, but it might be nice to have some things set up to use us in the future. As much fun as the audience is going to have watching from home, we’d like to participate as well.
CMoN did a wonderful job with their virtual expo this year of asking questions and encouraging the folks at home to take part. Some of it was done as contests, but that isn’t necessarily a thing that has to happen. Sure, they’re always nice and you’ll probably get a bit more people chiming in if you do, but it shouldn’t be required.
To that end, be ready to have somewhere folks can set up to share their thoughts. Put a post on Facebook asking for our favorite games, start a discord for pictures of our painted mins. Ask to see our gaming tables, what we’re playing now, and game collections. Put together a roleplay only chatroom where we can be all of our favorite characters hanging out in a bar. Ask our opinions about things, start some polls, and let us take part. Hell, I’d love to see a gallery of cos-play from home if anyone wanted to get something like that moving. Of course, you’ll need visible, acceptable content guidelines and a mod or two, but it would be nice to have these things available.
Q & A
I think Question and Answer sessions are a wonderful way for designers, publishers, artists, and media folks to interact with the public. The Reddit Ask Me Anything’s have shown that. CMoN Expo held several Q&A sessions over the weekend. You don’t even really need a lot of people for one of these. A guest to question, a host to ask the questions and give the guest a sounding board, one or to chat moderators to look for questions to feed the host, and a couple of tech staff to make sure the stream is working. And I say this as someone who has a fairly failed YouTube channel and really isn’t sure everything involved with one of these. Which means I’m practically an expert. (Actually, if I’m way off on this, let me know in the comments.)
That said, Q&A’s are a chance to give the audience home or otherwise, the ability to get closer interaction with the people whose work they admire. It’s a short amount of time where we can interact with one another in a positive manner. Q&A’s are fun, engaging, and help fill a nice chunk of time with a pleasant conversation.
Of all the things on my list, I honestly think this will be the easiest to accomplish. (Seriously, let me know if I’ve completely misjudged this.) Hopefully, we’ll get to see some of these as the summer continues.
A Forgiving Audience
Finally, I want to talk about me and the other poor schmucks who are stuck at home watching from afar what we would rather be attending in person. This season is going to be rough and a lot of people are going to be doing things they’ve never thought of, much less tried. Is it going to work? Hopefully, more often than not. However, we all know that it’s going to break down more than once.
In those times it will be easy to get mad, start drafting angry tweets, emails, and social media posts. I know I am going to be disappointed at least once, and I may lose my temper at something not going the way I hope. When that inevitably happens to each and every one of us, I hope you’ll join me in taking a deep breath, counting to 10 and remembering that the people doing this are trying their best to bring us something that no one knew we’d need.
For there to work, I think we’ll all need to be a little bit patient and understanding. I’m hoping we can get this to work for the best.
That’s it for me. As I said before, this isn’t a list of what we must have to get a successful event, but they are things I hope we get to see.
Are you going to be taking part in any of the Virtual cons? Have you already? I hope I haven’t missed anything and want to hear what you all have to say in the comments or over on our Discord where we talk about these things and other board game stuff.
Until next time, stay safe and be well.