I'll start off by saying the idea of a virtual role-playing conference is a cool idea. Executing it effectively may be a lot more difficult than it sounds.
In case you've forgotten, AetherCon was this past weekend. What follows is merely my opinion based on my experience.
On Friday, the convention kicked off - but as I was working, I wasn't able to join any of the games scheduled. I did stop by the Fest Hall, thinking that I'd listen in on the presentations. What I found was that the links to The Philosopher's Conundrum and The Wandering Toad took to me to IRC-type chat rooms which were most definitely not the presentations listed - just other confused attendees.
Finally, someone popped into one room to note that the presentation was over on Google+ hangouts. But by that time, they were full (hangouts are limited to 9 people I believe). I was irked. Why did the link take us to an IRC chat room? Why didn't the web master update the site to point us to the AetherCon Google+ page for updates on presentations?
I also tried to check out some of the vendor booths ,but I couldn't bring myself to "join the game." This is no fault of the vendors, but a problem with using a virtual gaming table as the vendor hall I think.
See, when I walk into a store that has a greeter or a salesperson comes up to me right away to say hello, I go on the defensive. What do they want from me? Can't I just browse in peace? Look, if I need help I'll ask for it. I know they're doing their job and following company protocol, but I'm kind of shy and an introvert: Stay out of my space. I don't mind a simple greeting or "how are you enjoying the con?" but using a virtual gaming table as a vendor booth took away the option to browse anonymously.
At AetherCon, signing into the game (to view the vendor's booth) would have put me in a chat room with the vendor, who, given the low traffic of the day, was probably bored to tears. It's probably just me, but being in a chat room with probably one other person and then not talking is the height of virtual awkwardness.
Knowing little about most of the vendors meant I'd have little to talk about (a shy person's worst nightmare) other than pleasantries and undoubtedly, how poorly the con seemed to be going.
That would have been fine, but then there would be that unavoidable silence - which, at an in-person show, is mitigated more often than not by other attendees at the table. A virtual option to let attendees browse first would have worked better for me, but again, that may just be me. In fact, that option exists already: the company websites and drivethrurpg pages. If the con's vendor hall isn't providing something beyond that, then it's not worth it either from an attendee perspective or I imagine, the vendor's perspective.
Friday, I received a generic email reminding me about the gaming at AetherCon from, I think, someone affiliated with the con. Nothing in it told me what I had signed up for.. Up to that point, I was tempted to call the whole thing a wash, but than an email from Eric from Wampus Country, who was GMing the Saturday game, along with the attendant documents for the game background and pre-gens, got me really excited to play.
As it turned out, we didn't have enough players - something I suspected would happen, given the low numbers of pre-registered players for most games. This wasn't a big deal though, and in fact, we talked about him running this some other time via Hangouts. This was the highlight of the convention for me: it reminded me once again how cool gamers can be, plus I dipped my toe into the virtual table waters even if I didn't actually play.
I tried, again, to attend some of the presentations in the Fest Hall with the same experiences as Friday. This time I even went to the Google+ page. The last update had been posted on Friday. That was it. I was done. AetherCon was built on good intentions, but so is the road to Hell after all.
I have apologized to the GM who ran the Sunday game I was to attend - I checked my email but had not received a link to the game, and so I took a nap while the Young Lord Shadowmoss took his morning nap. When I woke up, I had received an email from the GM (the original, with a link to the game had gone to the spam folder), but by then, it was too late: the game had been cancelled due to lack of players.
While I can't defend missing the game, I can say that if a link to the games I had signed up for had been included in the one email I received from AetherCon to remind me about gaming, there would have been a greater chance that I would have known where to go for the game when I sat down at my computer.
The GMs had been provided with player information, so, it strikes me that the con organizers had the info necessary to do this as a service to both players and the GMs who had taken time out of their lives to prepare for this.
I still think this idea has potential, but I think it needs to be rethought. Something better for vendors, GMs and players alike needs to be created. I know of at least one professional group that does virtual conventions - I'd like to think that the combined nerd-power of the gaming world could make one work too.