Monday, November 19, 2012

AetherCon: Post-con Thoughts

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.


  1. As a fellow introvert I'm with you on the usually just wanting to browse in peace. A simple greeting is okay. On the flip side, when I do need some help after I've done my browsing it's not always easy to get.
    (there used to be a store - non-game store - in one place I lived where they had "just browsing" buttons you could wear while you wear browsing and could take off when you were open to being approached and/or helped. As long as you had the button on they left you alone and din't even hover or anything. It was good, but maybe takes the right kind of salespeople to pull off well.)

  2. I use Fantasy Grounds VTT and the community ran an online Con around 6months ago - 28 games of many different rulesets were played. It was done quite well. Scheduling and organisation of resources were the biggest headaches for the organisers but they did have a small team working together and they did allow/encourage DM/GMs to host whatever flavours of game they wanted to. I think the next one will be played early in the new year - no details available just yet... Most of the games required no purchase, they did require you to download/install Fantasy Grounds and TeamSpeak and register on the Fantasy Grounds website. Almost every game ran as scheduled. Hopefully you might come and check it out when the next one is run...

  3. would any of you be interested in *playing* in a session or two of gaming via a virtual table top? what things might make it more interesting or more likely for you?

    1. I'm very interested. The biggest issues for me are scheduling, cost (free is good!) and the rules being run. Mostly, I prefer old school versions of D&D, as well as more modern rules lite systems. It looks like I'll have to install Wine on my netbook (I use a Linux distro for my OS) in order to use Fantasy Grounds but if the scheduling is right and a game I'm interested in playing comes along, then it'd be worth the effort.

    2. I personally will run a session or two of Castles&Crusades which is a good old School D&D ruleset :) I am however in AUS so my session times dont always work so good for other locales...

  4. I keep meaning to reply! I'm not sure. I've never done it and I have no clue how to get started. It would have to be sometime when I have the free time to enjoy it. Other than that, since I'm a total "newb" to this sort of gaming I don't know what it would take to make it more likely for me. Scheduling would certainly be part of it, but also knowing it would be more geared towards everyone having fun rather than overly competitive. There's nothing wrong with competition, but if everyone isn't having fun then I'm less likely to enjoy it myself.

  5. The sessions that would run during the con would mostly be one off intro sessions - no experience would be neccessary but youw ould need to have the software installed and tested prior to game time. We are working on some nice new friendly instll guides and will have people available to help answer your questions. WINE obviously does make it a little more complicated than a simple Windows install but installation should be easy enough for anyone comfortable enough running Linux in the first place. Its the poor old Mac users who struggle with Wine!
    I will certainly post back here as details start firming up and hopefully we can entice you along for a game or three.
    GMs are all in different TZs and have different availability so hopefully we can match you a Genre and a Time :)

  6. Sorry to hear you didn't get into either of your games. I managed two out of five but greatly enjoyed both that went off. I attended two lectures on Friday afternoon but had the same issue of trying to figure out how to get into them! (I think the 10 person limit was due to sound quality/lag if you have more people.)

    As for the vendor hall fears, I can understand them but I did jump into a vendor booth on Sunday looking for a demo game. There was only one other person, the company owner, but since his assistants hadn't shown up (yet?) and I would have been the only player, there was no demo. We had a very brief text conversation and he was fine with long silences - that's the advantage of being at home, everyone has a million other things to do and can do them while waiting on players/GMs/etc.

    My full review is here: AetherCon review. I'm certainly going to give them another try next year and hope to try Fantasy Ground as well.

  7. Hey John (and others),

    I want to let you know that FG Con is running our 4th Fantasy Grounds Online Convention from May 8th May 11th.

    So far we have 43 sessions available and player registrations just opened on Wednesday.

    Everything is free to play – you can download a trial version of Fantasy Grounds from their website and get on TeamSpeak and join in.

    We have a stack of Pathfinder Games along with some Castles & Crusades, Dungeons & Dragons, Basic Role Playing, Star Wars, Fate, Gumshoe, Champions, Extinction Event Alpha and Savage Worlds!

    The FG Con website is here:

    If you wanted to run a short post about the event or if I could post one in your forums we’d really appreciate it and we could post some links back to your site.

    Some quick stats:

    43 Game Sessions
    245 Player Slots
    10 Rulesets being played
    100 hours of gaming from May 8th – May 11th

    There are at least another 5 games likely to get posted in the next week or so.

    We can be contacted via