Category Archives: Conventions

The Future of Conventions: Modular

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Conventions have been part of my life for nearly 40 years. For many people, much like me, the story is the same – a majority of our life has involved attending, hosting, and even being guests at conventions. Now that they are threatened by COVID-19, we rightfully wonder what will happen to them.

Since COVID-19 has struck, I have wondered how conventions can survive. This is really a two-part goal: how do we preserve what makes conventions wonderful and how to we maintain having events. Vaccine-wise I don’t expect cons until late 2021 at best, and wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see the first until 2022.

So how do we help them survive? One piece of the puzzle came to me recently when Dianna Gunn held an online Writer’s Conference.

This was a tight, focused, effective event. It focused only on writers. Each panel focused on a given subject, such as worldbuilding, and each had a monitor. There were rules, Zoom meetings, an discord, and in short a plan. I obviously enjoyed it – and as a Project/Program Manager enjoyed how well run it was.

Now this small event had all the elements we’d want from a convention. It was social, it was friendly, and of course it was an event. Smaller than even a mini-con, but it had the elements we’d want at larger cons.

What struck me then is that this may be the future of conventions – in part. Literally.

Imagine this as a blueprint for the future:

Small groups like Dianna’s evolve to hold “mini-events” that are tight, focused, and polished. They should focus on a given audience and themes, with a team just the right size to pull them off. They shouldn’t necessarily hold these events as part of cons – they should develop independently but form alliances.

Conventions should also work to create small groups like the above that to tight, focused events that are like the events they used to hold in person. They should not feel they have to hold them as part of a convention – though they may. But any set of events should be considered independent.

And then conventions can use these “modular events” to assemble online conventions as needed. Conventions might even share content and run at the same time.

What do you get out of this?

  • You get groups that are good at running a set of specific things – and have a target audience.
  • You get groups that can run relatively independently.
  • You can have these events happen on their own, but when they are part of a convention, everyone gets to know more about these events.
  • You can work outside the usual convention schedule.
  • When we can finally meet in person, you have the talent you need to do things in person, or share things virtually, or whatever works.
  • If any con falls apart, its elements can survive.

This idea is one I clearly need to think over, but it feels like it’s something that can work, and I’ve seen similar business structures such as Scrum At Scale and even SAFe. Maybe we can save and improve conventions by making them modular and distributed.

There’s a seed here we can grow.

Steven Savage

Crunchyroll Expo: Thoughts

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

So I attended some of Crunchyroll Expo, and wanted to share a few thoughts about the event. It’s actually pretty positive, though keep in mind I was mostly observing and wasn’t doing everything.

Still, what I saw impressed me – and gives me ideas for how we can manage cons in pandemic times. In fact, more on that later.

METAPHOR: In general there was an attempt to copy the feeing of a con – treating it like a city! That’s just pure metaphor, but it makes it memorable and relateable and fun.

Takeaway: Model your virtual con on physical space.

EVENTS: Pretty much every kind of con event was there, just often changed for the need to be virtual. Again, this preserved the metaphor and experience, and it made it accessible. Also I think people needed that sense of normalcy.

Takeaway: Find equivalent events for your virtual cons. Not always the same, but close.

MEDIA: There was streaming and videos and so on. Wisely, there was chat so people could, well, chat – while being on the page. Discord type stuff is nice, but I see the advantage of the embed (more on that later).

Takeaway: Combine streaming with accessible chat for the “con experience.”

PANELS AND SUCH: These used pretty much the same model – stream with a chat. But most panels were pre-recorded, which gave the presenters time to chat. I never realized until now how the pre-recorded appraoch works for audience contact.

Takeaway: Try pre-recorded events in your virtual environment, using chat for interaction.

SHOPPING: This was disappointing as it was mostly links to people’s profiles and some items. This is an area that needed to be rethought as it lacked the human contact. I think shopping at virtual cons needs to feel like the real thing, including chats with others and the store owner. Try to create a virtual artists alley or dealer’s room.

Takeaway: The fun of shopping and art at cons is the interaction. Try to get that with chat, people being available certain hours at their “table,” a good metaphor, etc.

Was it a success? Well, people came from all over, I saw great stuff, people had fun, and in the middle of a horrible pandemic. I also saw some clever use of metaphor and web layout.

So heck yes. There’s a lot to learn here.

Steven Savage

Remote Cons?

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

With the coronavirus again in the news, I was talking with fellow author Dianne Dotson about COVID-19 and conventions. Obviously some cons are threatened by this disease and it’s going to be with us awhile. This led to a further discussion of how could cons go remote?

That at first sounds kind of impossible for large cons. I mean, how do you replace a get-together for 20,000 people? I’m not saying we should (I may blog on that at another time), but let’s look at how we could do it.

Let me theorize.

General

In general you want the con “feel.” That would probably mean:

  • A central website.
  • Communications tools like chats and forums.
  • Scheduled events.
  • Guests.
  • So on.

Really, none of this is impossible to achieve. But we think of cons as geospecific gatherings – we need the internet equivalent. Besides, that’s a central clearing point for other things . . .

Dealer’s Rooms

Well that’s pretty easy if everyone has an online store or can set one up. You make a list of dealers and perhaps arrange some con discounts.

But you could do more. People might have their own chats or discord servers. You might even be able to route things through an app so you can literally browse and socialize.

There would obviously need to be pre-screaming and so on. On the plus side, it means there’s less physical limits.

Green Rooms/Host Rooms/Parties/Social Events

These can be done easily as well – there’s many social programs folks can use. It wouldn’t take much to have these simulated with chat rooms, etc.

Of course they’d need to be moderated, but that’s something you can do easily – and by holding people responsible of course.

I’d strongly encourage these kinds of socializings at “Remote cons” because that’s part of the point!

Panels and Events

A lot of these can be done, again, with social media programs and chats. There’s things like Zoom, Webex, and more. it’s not hard to do them at all – I know, I’ve done them. Plus you don’t have to have physical limits of space.

These would need schedules and so on – just like other cons.

Guests

Well meeting guests and getting autographs and the like is kind of out here. People can hear them speak and see them, but it’s not quite the same. They can have events, but yeah some stuff might not work.

Maybe autographed stuff can be done by mail or something.

Costume Contest

That’s tough, but it could be done by video or with pre-submitted video. It might be fun to at least try, but I think people would have to experiment to find the best way to get this to work.

Membership

This may be challenging. Cons need to be paid for, and that’s memberships – so how do you make sure con events are exclusive?

I suppose membership access, passwords, and the like could be made for various things. The tech has to be there, using it on the other hand . . .

And That’s It

Really, I can’t see any reason not to try a virtual con. The thing is, there would be challenges.

Even though I’ve enumerated the tech and methods, I think this would have to be tried out. Maybe a minicon could be done, or another con could be partially online. There would need to be experiments and so forth.

But perhaps it’s time we experiment

Steven Savage