One of my biggest gaming regrets was that I never got to attend the yearly City of Heroes meet & greet in California. City of Heroes and conventions have been on my mind recently, and I started considering the other games I’ve played and how few of them have conventions or meet & greets of their own. This is something I think is sorely missing from the industry.
What We Have
BlizzCon is without a doubt the biggest of all the smaller, single-focused gaming conventions. In fact, it wouldn’t be difficult to argue that it’s too big. QuakeCon is also a pretty big convention held every year for ZeniMax games. Star Citizen has a convention, as does Elite Dangerous’ developer Frontier Developments. Warframe also has TennoCon, and then there’s the Final Fantasy and EVE Online fan festivals. At the moment these are the only ones that come to mind, though I know there are other games that do it. The point is that despite there being a lot of MMOs and online games, there are comparatively few conventions.
What They Bring to the Industry
These small conventions play an important role in a game’s community. They bring players together and give them the opportunity to interact with developers on a more intimate basis. Many games will try to get around this by holding small gatherings at larger conventions but they don’t have the same sort of impact. That’s not to say that fan dinners are a bad thing, but they just aren’t a good replacement for having full, multiple day events for one specific game or developer. They don’t foster a sense of community in quite the same way. The ratio of developer to fans is also usually quite poor for these events. That means there’s less of a chance to get to talk to developers. It’s also easy for these events to get lost in all the excitement of the bigger event. When players go home they’re thinking about the event as a whole and that one night with the developers of a single game might get forgotten on the grand scale. But an event that is on its own, at a completely different time is something that will be remembered for a very long time.
Smaller conventions aren’t just important for players, they are also a great opportunity for developers to interact with players and find out what they’re interested in. In this way, developers can get instant feedback on what they’ve been doing. Developers can even hold workshops where the group designs armor, weapons, and even classes. Then when they get released a few months later there’s a new sense of ownership over those items because the players helped make that. This fosters an even stronger bond between the players and the developers.
Who Should Do Them
Small conventions may not be possible for all games, that’s a simple fact of life. Games with very small indie teams aren’t a good fit, however, massively popular games are a great fit. For this, I’m thinking about games like World of Warcraft. Yes, WoW is already included in BlizzCon, but that event is so big that there’s not as much opportunity for developers and players to interact. For a game as popular as WoW, you could potentially have several events spread out all over the world throughout the year. A fantastic example of a game that does this is EVE Online. They have their big event every year in Iceland but they also send out developers to smaller events throughout the world.
Guild Wars 2 could massively benefit from this kind of event. The game is starting to get a bit older now, which means that keeping the community together is more of a struggle for ArenaNet. They could host an event similar to the one that City of Heroes held. Players would come for the day, get time to chat with devs, but also participate in workshops, attend panels, and perhaps most importantly get them involved in the development process.
Cryptic would be another great studio to have an event. They have three games; Champions Online, Star Trek Online, and Neverwinter that are all very loosely connected and they heavily encourage you to play them all. They’re also working on a Magic: The Gathering MMORPG and while we don’t really know anything about the game right now it isn’t too much of a stretch to assume it will be equally as connected as the other three. Though I can only imagine that decorating for a Cryptic event would be a nightmare. How does one fit a Galaxy-class spaceship next to a dragon?
Smaller conventions can also be great for games that aren’t MMOs. I’m specifically thinking about MOBAs and Battle Royale games at the moment. These kinds of games don’t really do a whole lot to promote a sense of community amongs players. In the short term this doesn’t really matter, but as the games age and content starts getting a bit stale…what is going to keep players from moving on to the next big trend in gaming? For MMOs the answer to that is community. It could work for competitive games as well.
Dota 2 players have been talking about a decline in players for some time now. While the big esports events do a great job with community building they aren’t the same thing as a convention. They are in many ways a solitary event. They don’t really encourage you to talk to other players or give you the chance to see developers at all.
For a game to succeed long term it needs a strong and loyal player base and having small conventions is a fantastic way to get that. As we head into Gamescom, the largest Video Game convention in the world, it’s good to consider how things could be different. Do you think your favorite game should have its own convention? What sort of things would you like to see in one? Let me know in the comments below.
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