10 Things I Learned Running Game Demos at WonderCon

Tuesday, April 22, 2014 at 6:00 am

This last weekend, I attended WonderCon for the first time. In addition to general convention activities like observing cosplayers and wandering the Exhibit Hall, I was also con liaison for Steve Jackson Games.


WonderCon didn't particularly have gaming as a focus, but there was a sizable gaming area, part of which was reserved for the Steve Jackson Games demo team. It was an interesting and fun experience, so I'm sharing ten things I learned serving as a con liaison and miscellaneous convention attendee.

1. Go on Friday

Julie Scott
This is what happens when you arrive 5 minutes before demos are supposed to start. Never again!

WonderCon plans were finalized a bit late for me and the family. We were unable to take a vacation day from our day jobs Friday, but a $150+ hotel bill in exchange for maybe one panel was not an great option either, thus we decided to not make our way over until Saturday morning. This was a huge mistake as Saturday morning ended up being a disaster, not only due to traffic (more on that later, True Believer!) but because things were already in full swing that morning. Hordes and hordes of people were already at the convention center, some wearing extensive costumes, streaming here, there, and everywhere.

We arrived at our hotel with an hour to spare, but then were stuck in the registration line 15 minutes while the lone clerk dealt with some very privileged "guests" who apparently didn't actually have any rooms reserved. Room keys were procured, but then we waited almost ten minutes at Baja Fresh before realizing the one person in line was apparently reading texted orders from his secret masters elsewhere in the convention (Hail Hydra?) with no end in sight. Pretty innocuous as far as delays go, but when the clock is ticking the tension builds quite a bit and it would have all been avoided by checking in the day before.

2. Gridlock Isn't Just a Doctor Who Episode

Speaking of tension, the traffic sucks. I mean, really sucks. We were staying at the Hilton so we missed the actual Anaheim Convention Center parking, but by all accounts it was horrible. Even avoiding the actual lot itself and living less than half an hour away we still had a rough time. The traffic started over a mile away; we were barely off the freeway before we started seeing stop and go on surface streets at 11 a.m. on a Saturday. We tried waiting in line but time kept relentlessly passing and our 1 p.m. start time kept getting closer and closer.

I think we would have been late if not for the fact that I used to live close enough to the convention center that I could see the Disneyland fireworks every night. This allowed us to take a more circuitous route and skip miles of lines, especially since the line was to get into the convention center and not the actual hotel. Thanks to a "no non-guest parking" rule, it was not particularly crowded in the hotel parking lot once we escaped the crowd and got in. We technically reached our demo area on time, though I think most people involved expected us to be running games at noon, not putting up signage and moving tables around. It was our own personal Peter Parker moment, but it wasn't our last.

3. Do Your Research

Julie Scott
Shown: the only friend we managed to randomly run into.

I came to WonderCon thinking it would be fairly small, at least as compared to San Diego Comic Con. I also knew a few other things. First, one of my favorite cosplayers, Abby Dark-Star, would be there. Second, a friend of mine I haven't seen in a few years would be there as a creator. Third, The Room had a booth and we were going to buy a signed Blu-ray for a friend of ours who is a fan. Fourth, two friends of ours, one of whom would be presenting at a panel, would be wandering the floors in cosplay. Finally, another friend of ours with a comic script planned to travel artist alley to find an artist who would buy into his script and agree to make a comic book with him. It seemed like it would be a social occasion.

Unfortunately, what actually happened was that the place was so packed with people and there were so many booths that we struck out entirely the first day. The second day we only had an hour before we had to start running demos, so of the list above we only managed to see Abby Dark-Star because we didn't do our research. We were lazy about checking programs, Twitters and Facebook pages for too long, and we didn't work hard enough to set up meeting times or places. If you think you will run into a random person wandering the floor, you probably won't. There are just too many people and things all over the place.

4. It's all About the Art

Cute. Unique. Expensive.

I've been to quite a few geek-spectrum conventions over the years, and WonderCon, by far, concentrated the most on art. It seemed like half or more of the booths were one artist or another, showing off portfolios and selling prints. There were so many great pieces of art - not only pictures but custom plushes, leather jackets, and even fezzes. We bought what we could without shattering the bank, got them signed, and then spent the rest of the time admiring potential future purchases.

Frankly, there are only so many $40 pieces of wall art I can buy and I didn't have the budget for any super-premium jackets or even the fezzes (nearly $70 for novelty headgear wasn't necessarily unfair, but it wasn't in me to cough it up). This left strolling the aisles and looking at art, though it felt a little awkward and like I was rejecting them when I didn't buy anything. I mean, a lot of that is on my being neurotic and there were very few aggressive salespeople there, but you could still see some quietly desperate people in unvisited booths. Basically, bring your wallet and hope you have a lot of wall/shelf space.

5. Business Cards and Flyers are Surprisingly Rare

Swag. Fun to get, fun to give out.

One of the things I like about doing demos for Steve Jackson Games is that they provide business cards for their website, as well as some bookmarks and prizes to hand out. Attendees like receiving them and it's a fun interaction as well as a marketing tool. It may be the particular booths I went to, from what I saw most of the authors could have used some handouts or at least something posted that told you where to follow them digitally. I assume most of these independent contractors are connected in some way - Twitter, Facebook, DeviantArt, Tumblr, Instagram, what have you - why not provide that info?

Some of the art we saw was up in the triple digits and might possibly be a family Christmas gift or something to save up for, but I got the impression that a lot of artists were more interested in immediate sales than mailing something to me in six months. Not to mention many of the artists seemed to be solo acts and you would think small business people like that would want to keep up a fan community. In fairness, they may just have been exhausted or overwhelmed by the fickle crowds, but as a potential customer, it would have been nice to a tangible reminder of talent I'd like to order from in the future.

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