Salt Lake Gaming Con: Awkward Starts & Lessons Learned | Buzz Blog

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Salt Lake Gaming Con: Awkward Starts & Lessons Learned

A look back on the Gaming Con after some thought

Posted By on August 16, 2015, 3:25 PM

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About 10 days ago, we saw the first ever Salt Lake Gaming Con come and go in the heart of Sandy, and with it a horde of people had to weigh in on how great or terrible it was. So rather than rush to recap and be swept away with the dozens of recaps everyone and their sister did on their blog and podcast, I decided to kick back for a week and let the convention sink in. Much in the same vein of Fantasy Con, sometimes you have to kick back and realize that it was their inaugural year and there was bound to be issues. So with that said, here's the Hits, Misses and Ricochets from the con we had the second weekend of August.

Game Demos
Roaming around with a friend of mine, we got to try out a couple of demos for games, as well as explore products and items for sale from different companies. While not completely perfect, we came across a mech-based card game called Outchasers that looked like it was going in the right direction. We also came across a very in-depth and complicated card game called Wondom that required a folded pamphlet to play. But that's OK because that's part of the fun! Testing new games out! I was also happy to see some detailed maps for D&D and Pathfinder players that looked magnificent.

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Open Play
Across a major section of the convention floor was the gaming floor, where people could just bring games and play them with whomever decided to drop in. This was actually super-cool to see as a lot of people who normally wouldn't compete in tournaments could step up and have some fun without feeling obligated to sign up for various things or wait for hours until gameplay started elsewhere. They could just have fun with strangers, and that's something that is seriously lacking in a lot of conventions.

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Speaking of tournaments, holy crap were these fun to watch. Now granted, these weren't your MLG tournament fighters running around fighting to triple draw games, but how many times can you stand to watch ZeRo win Smash Bros. tournaments while wearing a scarf in 110 degree weather? These were Utah gamers looking to show local dominance, which they did across dozens of titles. The most entertaining of them was watching a World Of Warcraft raid with over 40 gamers attempting the same dungeon at the same time.

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Yes, you read that right, the Live Action Role Playing areas were awesome. They did a lot of fighting throughout the day, both with people who came in full costume and armor, all the way down to schmoes like me who showed up in jeans and a t-shirt. They give you a designated weapon, a short set of rules, and let you have at it! Kids too! And nearby all the action, custom-made items for players looking to add a little more realism to their fights. One of the few times I thought to myself “I wish I had $60 on me to get this sword made of fire.”

The Venue
Now let me start off by saying that I really have nothing against the city of Sandy. Yes, I make fun of the fact that it doesn't matter what road you travel down, you'll be headed in the opposite direction in about 10 seconds. For the most part, Sandy is fine. Then there's the South Towne Exposition Center. I don't know how best to describe it other than to say that I don't feel like I'm anywhere special. If I go to any event center in Layton, Ogden, Provo, even West Valley, I feel like I'm at least somewhere semi-relevant. Despite the fact that it sits near a Trax Station, an entertainment hub, and an MLS soccer stadium, I feel like I'm in the middle of nowhere, headed to nothing particular inside. Nothing about this building makes me feel excited to be here, just the outside feels like a high school during summer. I'm sure for the size and the price it was great for the event, but as far as atmosphere goes, this is a terrible location for anything geek related. A new home needs to be found.

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Sony & Microsoft

While it was a shock to see two of the big three gaming companies drop by (what the hell, Nintendo?), it wasn't cool to be given sub-par gaming and an attitude. What few photos I have of the area are from me standing at a distance, because despite the fact that ALL these games have been photographed and previewed heavily from E3 back in June, both companies were super paranoid of anyone getting footage of Halo 5 or Guitar Hero Live. Seriously?! Paranoia over Guitar Hero Live!!! The playing time limits were a joke, the staffers sent from both companies were kind of jerks and I didn't feel welcome. If anything, I felt like I was just punching a ticket to a kiddie ride, managed by the one teenage douchebag with a smallest amount of power possible.

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VIP/Press Lounge
Much like other cons held in Utah, the press room was lacking wi-fi, water and even places to plug gear into. Which had to suck even more for the VIPs, who shared the room with us and received nonchalant bags of goodies. Just a bad room to work in and a boring room to hang out in.

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The Map
There isn't much to say, so I'll just say what needs to be said. It took me an hour to figure out where everything was because they DIDN'T MAKE OR PRINT A DETAILED MAP! Convention 101: Make A Map! If I can't find it, how the hell am I gonna know where it is?

Now don't get me wrong, I LOVE our cosplay community. They're creative, their fun, they're happy to pose for photos if asked properly, and often times you'll find things you never expected. For some reason, while the turnout was OK, it wasn't what I expected it to be. Even with a cosplay competition on Saturday, the turnout of costumed heroes and gaming gals was lackluster. The hardcore people showed up, the mild and fairweather fans saved to go to Salt Lake Comic Con and Anime Banzai.

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Open Space
Roaming the floor, I could tell they were expecting many, many people. But like most conventions in their first year, the turnout isn't always what you expect. Sometimes the floor was flooded, other times it was barren. Chalk this one up to the venue, a lot of space for not a grand turnout. Next year, shrink the floor and prepare for a contingency if it doesn't work.

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Guest Selection
I'm not going to claim to be a hardcore gamer who memorizes everything there is to know about all the elements that go into my favorite game, but I'm knowledgeable enough to get by and have a conversation about certain topics. That being said, nothing about any of the celebrities wanted me to go buy a ticket. I'm sure to fans of GTA5 and Assassins Creed, that weekend was a dream come true. But to the average gamer who doesn't care who voices what character, just as long as I get to vanquish an enemy of some kind, these names mean nothing. And yet, they were marketed as a major feature for the convention. If celebrities are going to be a big part of next year's con, they gotta aim higher with names that resonate higher than a select fanbase.

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Murder Mystery
I took part in the big Murder Mystery game on Day 3, which had some cool hype behind it and a big space to perform in. Sadly, this was about as bad as it could get without being a total miss. The actors didn't seem like they were having fun, the crowd seemed skeptical once it was revealed it was being held in the big ballroom, and the game (which incorporated players as characters), didn't have all the kinks worked out as those players kept revealing a little too much. I'm sure it's fine in a group of 20 people, but it didn't come off in such a grand space.

For their first convention, they did alright. Was it the greatest? No. Was it the worst? Not at all. There's great potential there and this is one of the few big effort cons that didn't feel like a waste of time or money, but they've got a big learning curve ahead of them for next year. If you didn't spend money to go to this one, I can't say I blame you, especially with the next two cons coming up. However, provided that they do return for 2016, I'd keep your eyes open to see what they may have in store.

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