The start of the month was Gen Con 2020. The pandemic made it an online only convention. I felt the way it was executed was excellent, even if it showed off some of the current limitations of an online convention at this point in time.
Gen Con 2020 got the basics right. To play any game online, you need some way to connect. Roll20 and Zoom require links, Fantasy Grounds has a Host Address, and so on. Gen Con’s ticket system provided a secure area for GM and gamers to share such information well in advance of the game without those not in the game getting access to it. That alone is something more online conventions need and Gen Con did it well. Kudos. It works even better for seminars: you post the link and your attendees to the zoom call or the discord server and boom you’re on.
Virtual TrueDungeon was as close to the real thing as it can get. The online app handled the crunch making the gameplay experience pretty decent. The puzzles were solid and enjoyable.
This isn’t so much a critique of Gen Con so much as all online conventions. You don’t get to walk around and see people in costumes, enjoy random funny T-Shirts, bump into people you haven’t seen in years, see a game designer in the halls, have a meal at one of the local restaurants, and all the other random experiences you do at an in-person convention. Not having those experiences saddens me some.
Another limitation is the dealer’s hall, or more precisely, the lack thereof. Wandering the hall, you’ll see and touch all manner of games and accessories you didn’t know existed until 10 seconds prior. As a publisher, I know some companies depend upon their surge of sales at Gen Con and similar large conventions as a sizable chunk of their sales. I’m not sure how that will impact them but I know it will not be good.
The Bottom Line
As a temporary measure, Gen Con 2020 was a smashing success. With any luck, Gen Con 2021 will be back to an in-person conversation. But if it is not, online gaming conventions may be the way moving forward. Even if we are “back to normal” by next year, having an online conversation component should be an important part of major gaming cons in the future. It lets those that cannot attend still be apart of it.
Having said that, we do need to figure out ways around the shortfalls of an online conversation. I look forward to seeing such innovations in the future.