Thoughts on Virtual GenCon 2020

GenCon 2020 was my first virtual convention. I attended one seminar (about Tabletopia), the Doubleclicks concert, played the new game from Smirk & Dagger, “The Night Cage”, and browsed through the GenCon Looking Glass (virtual exhibit hall). Although a far cry from the hundreds of gaming hours that I would put in at in-person GenCon, it was a big step for me. I have been wary of jumping into the world of virtual gaming. There are so many platforms and programs. It’s daunting.

I have had very limited virtual gaming experience, but am working my way into it. Gamicon has a staff discord where we have been holding meetings. Discord seems to be the major communication channel for every virtual convention that I have seen (which isn’t many tbh). I have also played a few games on Tabletopia and Tabletop Simulator. I’ll have separate posts with better introductions to these platforms.

GenCon’s lure was the free ticket. How could I go wrong with a free ticket? It was a great motivator to give it a try. This was super smart on their part, because it got people engaged, if only for one or two panels. Their e-mail communication regarding what was happening, when events opened up, etc. came in the form of an email newsletter and was helpful, informative, and really got me interested in joining in the con.

When the events opened up, I didn’t immediately jump in. I really wasn’t sure if or what I wanted to participate in. Then I saw a note that Tabletopia was doing a seminar about their platform. What a great opportunity to learn from the company, showing a hands-on demo about how the platform works. I had already used it, but was excited to see what they had to say. Bonus: it happened during my lunch hour and was free. I signed up.

I follow the Doubleclicks, and got an email from them saying they were doing a GenCon concert. I’m in! Sign me up.

I had Kickstarted “The Night Cage” and saw that they were doing demos at GenCon, so I checked it out. $1 ticket. Great! Saw they were using Tabletop Simulator, which I had struggled with a bit. I thought it would be a good experience and I would get to actually play the game before I got it.

So how was the experience? It was great. The communication on how to find your event, turn in your ticket and attend was really good. I knew the discord was there if I had problems, but I didn’t need it for anything other than “The Night Cage” Demo. I received an email notifying me that my event was coming up with the link to the event for both the Tabletopia seminar and the Doubleclicks concert. They were informative and fun.

Due to personal life happenings, I was unable to attend on Saturday, but had scheduled my game demo for Sunday afternoon. I received a reminder email, went to my ticket page, redeemed my ticket and followed the instructions that were put in the chat linking to the discord channel. Lo and behold, it was none other than Curt Covert himself on the other end (Yay, love that man!). Everyone showed up and we got started. He gave us the code for the Tabletop Simulator (TTS) room, and I got in easily. Everyone already had their TTS accounts all set up, so with very little waiting we were able to get started. Curt did a demo on the TTS controls and the game at the same time, and we got right to playing.  (It’s a great game by the way.) Everyone was polite and friendly. While I would have loved meeting everyone in person, it was still nice to sit down to a game with some new people and try something new.

I sat down after the game to look at the virtual exhibit hall, which they call the looking glass. This is where I was really impressed. It had the feel of the actual exhibit hall, without all the traffic. It is a web page filled with Icons. When you click on an icon, a splash page comes up for that vendor. The splash pages contained an image, the company name, a brief blurb, and links to their website, promotional page and/or their GenCon events. You could sort the icons by artists, authors, charities and exhibtors. Each Icon was the company logo and was searchable, so if you were looking for something specific, you could easily find it. I lost so many hours in there, but it was fun. I’d love to see this continue in the future, and would love to know how they set this up so we could do something similar for our conventions. It’s up until the end of August 2020, so check it out here.

Overall, GenCon was a good experience. I am glad I only did a few things. I am not sure I’d take off work and make it a “staycation” and fill the day with lots of things, like I would do at an in-person convention, but I would certainly do it again. Their end of con survey asked what I would pay for a virtual convention like this in the future. For the right price point, I can see this being an alternative way to attend GenCon for those of us who can’t get the vacation time to attend in-person, and still be a part of the event. I’d still rather attend in-person, but I can see this being a way to include more people in the GenCon experience and expand to people who have barriers to attending in-person. My concern with running the two in tandem is the strain it would put on the game companies. I can’t imagine having the experience I had with Curt from Smirk and Dagger, if he was also running games in-person. I imagine online experiences would be delegated to lackeys, and for smaller game companies, this would be a hardship to try to staff. We’ll just have to see what happens next!

Did you go to Virtual GenCon? What did you do? How was your experience? Please keep comments PG and on topic. Thank you.