Welcome to the 42nd Edition of Reloading...
My trip to San Diego for Comic-Con 2011
this past weekend is a bit hard to summarize in just a few hundred words, but for the sake of keeping today’s edition of Reloading…from turning into an epic yarn that would make Geoffrey Chaucer jealous, I’ll give it my best shot. Bear in mind that spending a few days at the ‘con is a bit like hiking uphill through a rave taking place in the middle of Mardi Gras inside an arena tour mosh pit (translation: I’m pretty wiped out from the experience) so if I lapse into seemingly nonsensical rambling, I apologize in advance.
Heading back to my hotel after the DCUO panel discussion that was cosplaying as a catered, open bar party on Saturday night, it occurred to me that the gaming industry may be going about things all wrong when it comes to annual events. The primary goal of a gaming expo and a more generalist pop culture show like SDCC are relatively similar, however, the approaches and outcomes are vastly different.
You see, gaming events - even those catered specifically to fans like next month's PAX Prime - are stuffed full of booths where game developers and publishers attempt to woo you into purchasing their upcoming titles. In a roundabout way, you can pretty safely interchange “fan”with “potential customer”when it comes to the target audience for that type of event.
As a brief aside, it never ceases to crack me up when a developer states that it prefers to attend fan events like PAX instead of a more press oriented affair like E3. I suppose that being a member of the press automatically means that you can’t also be a fan. Never mind the fact that I wouldn’t have gotten into the nutty world of games media in the first place if I weren’t already a massive fan of massively multiplayer gaming, but I digress…
Getting back to the point I’m trying to make here, what's interesting is that even for launched products, the experience of gaming industry fan events is still wholly focused on giving you a chance to experience the game, mingle with some of the devs, and maybe walk away with a bit of swag.
In sharp contrast, Comic-Con is also a very fan-focused event, but it's also a massive flea market for nerd culture. Everywhere you turn there's someone trying to sell you something, and in an age when you can order just about everything online, what makes dealing with hordes of people at the event boils down to three very basic things:
The hope of getting to meet a favorite artist and get their signature, usually on something you'll be buying, or are encouraged to buy at the show
The hope of being able to purchase one of the exclusive items made specifically for the 'con
The hope of getting to meet a celeb on the show floor who will either attempt to deny being who you think they are, or are there in support of a product being sold at the show
That's not to say SDCC is all about sales, sales, sales. But... it kind of is. Well, not counting the Every Day is Halloween crowd, a.k.a. cosplayers who turn up in droves for comic-con each year and dwell in the lobby to pose for pictures for the duration of the event.
But imagine what a different industry it would be if an E3, PAX, gamescom, or similar gaming-centric event followed a different model that's closer to the SDCC flea market approach. Instead of standing in line for an hour to maybe get the chance to play a game for 10 minutes, you could go to the booth of a favorite devco, purchase a preorder box, and have it signed. Hell, they could even sell advance DLC packs or codes and I have absolutely no doubt they'd go like hotcakes.
Then again, SDCC made me realize that I'm kind of thankful we don't have equivalent events wholly focused on gaming. The show has grown so huge that it's slowly overtaking a bigger and bigger chunk of the downtown area surrounding the convention center, and navigating through any of it is an exercise in frustration from sunrise until long after sunset.
The gaming presence at SDCC has also grown, but it’s still relatively slim pickings once you look at what a small percentage of the overall event has to do with games. Some of the MMO highlights this year included the playable demo for Guild Wars 2 (in two separate locations, even), a playable demo for some of the Green Lantern content for DC Universe Online, and of course the infamous pre-order announcement for SWTOR.
Highlights of the non-MMO variety included a new playable scenario for Payday, this time focused on air-lifting the entire vault of some drug dealers out of their stronghold, and the very promising Dead Island. Although now that I think about it, I didn’t realize just how saturated pop culture has become with the whole zombie craze before this weekend, and as much as I dig the whole zombie apocalypse thing, I left the ‘con wondering if Undead Labs’ upcoming titles will be hitting the scene a few years too late.
All in all, SDCC was a very good, but exhausting time. But as the saying goes, there’s no rest for the weary, so I’ll be cranking out some exclusive content from the ‘con that will be coming to a Ten Ton Hammer near you throughout the week!
Until the next event,
Reuben "Sardu" Waters