The Virtual Convention Goer

This year marks the first time I ever went to a sci-fi convention myself. I had a fantastic time, met lots of cool and strange people, got to see the first episode of the new Doctor Who projected up onto a screen in a room with 7-800 others,  and geeked my heart out all weekend.

Even last week, you could have read Arbitrary’s experiences of San Diego Comic Con here. Again, actually being there is a huge part of the experience. Yes, there are panels and they’re great but you can’t get recorded yelling DE-REZ to be in the Tron movie unless … you’re actually there.

Now, last week virtual tickets for Blizzcon also went on sale. For the knock-down price of £24.95, you can watch pretty much the whole thing over streaming video. They’ll record panels, PvP tournaments, opening/ closing ceremony, the whole works. And you can also spend more money on exclusive Blizzcon items and get whatever free pet is that Blizzard are giving away this year.

It certainly isn’t the same experience as actually being there in person. Especially not if one of your goals was to meet up with other players from your guild or server. Or to go to any of the parties or other informal events which fans will organise (I don’t even have to check to know that this will happen, it’s what fans do.)

Not to mention the fact that timezone issues mean that most of the panels will be in the middle of the night if you’re in Europe. And even though the video stream offers some DVR functionality, the content of the panels  (complete with liveblogs) will  be all over the internet before you get to see it anyway.

For all that, if you want to share part of the Blizzcon experience without having to actually go there, it’s not a bad option. If you collect pets or merchandise, then the price here isn’t all that much more than a sparklepony. In fact, the more mercenary minded could  pay the cost of the virtual attendance by buying and selling on the exclusive Blizzcon merchandise, and you won’t even have to stand around in queues to get it.

But this does all make me wonder about the notion of virtual convention going and what sorts of activities could make the virtual participants feel more part of the action. Certainly livestream viewers could submit questions to panels or take part in any quizzes or competitions alongside the real con goes. More online activities associated with the con might also pad out the subscription cost. It could also be really fun to sub to the livefeed along with other guildies and chat to them about it on twitter or IM (or in game) as it’s happening.

But ultimately, it will never be the same as being there. And you won’t ever understand exactly how it’s different from being there unless you go there.

I won’t personally be buying the virtual attendance because I’m going to be very busy in October and won’t have the time to watch all those panels.  But I don’t think it’s a bad deal at all.

And for anyone else who is curious about the virtual attendance but not planning to use it, Mana Obscura commented in their last podcast (which you totally should listen to) that they are planning podcasts every night to sum up the day’s events.

Is anyone excited about being a virtual con goer? Do you have anything planned to make the experience more special?