AetherCon is coming!

(As any viewer of Babylon-5 knows, a Zocolo is a marketplace or gathering place).

The unusually observant may have noticed a new link in our right-hand Navigation. AetherCon is an idea that has arrived at exactly the right time – just as the required technologies and their distribution intersect with the realm of possibility that is required to make it work.

So what is AetherCon, exactly?

AetherCon is the first example (that I’m aware of) of a new (to me) concept: the virtual convention – a gaming convention that is held purely and completely over the internet.

Just like any other convention, it will have a huckster’s area, an art show, games and tournaments, areas for con “attendees” to mingle and chatter and meet one another, and so on. The only difference is that it will take place entirely within cyberspace.

Many of the building blocks for such a convention have been in existence for a while now, waiting for someone to assemble and package them in the right way. People have played RPGs in chat rooms before, for example, and there have been podcasts and streamed interviews, which are virtually the same thing as an online “Panel”. E-commerce has been around for years. Twitter’s been around for a while, and Tweetchat can turn Twitter into a virtual chatroom within a chatroom using the magic of hashtags. One such regular “virtual chatroom” that’s been around for a while is #RPGChat; I’ve only had the opportunity to participate in one, but gained some new friends and followers from the experience, and picked up a couple of new ideas for my trouble. It was quite rewarding :)

But playing games in this way is somehow less stimulating than the genuine tabletop experience with its interactivity. What will make AetherCon really work is a new piece of virtual tabletop software, currently in Beta test, Roll20.

AetherCon is scheduled to take place on the weekend of November 16-18, 2012.

And here’s the best part: It’s absolutely Free!. No registration fees. No registration QUEUS. No sudden rushing from one room to another after a panel is relocated.

Distributed Conventioneering

One of the big reasons why I expect AetherCon to be very successful, and why Campaign Mastery is so happy to be associated with it, is the fact that attendance is distributed all over the planet. It has the potential, therefore, to become the biggest convention in the world. This first effort is the first raindrop of a monsoon.

Furthermore, with GMs scattered around the globe in different time zones, with a little scheduling effort and the right volunteers, a virtual convention could operate 24 hours a day, with GMs and administrators in one country taking up the baton from those in another. Even if were a convention you had to pay for, that means that attendees would get more value for their dollar – and however much it costs to line up sufficient servers to run the convention, I am quite sure that the cost per attendee would be far less than a ‘conventional’ con, which has to worry about renting facilities, refreshments, insurance, and so on. That’s a savings that can be passed on to the customer – and it also means that virtual conventions would be more easily profitable.

The advantages just keep adding up. Have you ever missed a convention panel you were interested in because it was scheduled back-to-back with another one that you also wanted to attend? A streamed convention panel can be recorded, and a text-based one can be automatically transcribed – and both can be downloaded for “attending” at a later time, just like a podcast.

Guest fees are almost certainly going to be less, because there is no need to pay for transport and accommodation. That’s either more guests or even lower prices! Because guest commitments can be smaller – they can attend from home, or from wherever else they happen to be – guests should also be easier to find and organize. What do you need – ten bucks for a webcam and twenty towards internet fees and electricity?

At some conventions, guests are paid hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and justifiably so – they have a lot of demands on their time, and a convention can be a big commitment. Add security and other overheads, and the total can be staggering. The virtual convention undercuts all these requirements, all these expenses.

And finally, there is the international appeal. I live in Australia – for an American or European guest to attend a convention here, the air fares are thousands of dollars, the time commitments are much greater (call it a couple of days spent travelling), the guest is often jetlagged. It not only makes it much more expensive to have such guests, making cons more expensive and less profitable, you have far fewer guests when you do organize a convention. The virtual convention internationalizes attendance. It doesn’t matter much where the convention is being based, or where the guest lives, or even if they are working – on a movie, TV show, or whatever. It would be a lot easier to get Peter Jackson on a webcam for a panel for an hour than to get him to physically attend a con, especially if he was in the middle of editing or shooting his next movie. Does anyone seriously think he wouldn’t be a popular guest at a gaming con? It just hasn’t been practical in the past. It still might not be easy, but it’s suddenly not out of the realm of possibility!

So, let’s talk about AetherCon

AetherCon, as befits any prototype, is not organized on a scale to match these grandiose visions, but it’s still impressive. AetherCon is a free to attend, free to partake, non-profit initiative.

It will feature tabletop RPGs of all genres throughout the weekend, highlighted by four three-day tournaments of Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, Savage Worlds, and Shadowrun. Game tables will be run on the Roll20 browser-based virtual tabletop. There will be Roll20 tutorials and a Roll20 Live Stream. The Roll20 program will allow GMs and players alike to simply click on a link in our Gaming or Tourney Halls and enter the playing area as opposed to needing to download and install the software to participate.

Game publishers confirmed as taking part in AetherCon either through prize support, supplying guests, or taking a vendors booth include Battlefield Press, Catalyst Game Labs, Chaosium, Chronicles of the Void, Flying Buffalo Inc., Immersion Studios, Imperfekt Games, Kenzer and Company, Paizo, Pinnacle Entertainment Group, Scrying Eye Games, Skirmisher Publishing LLC, Stardust Publications, Sundered Epoch, The Design Mechanism, Third Eye Games, and Vigilance Press.

Confirmed guests to date are Wedge Smith and Doug Bush (Chronicles of the Void), Steven ‘Bull’ Ratkovich (CGL), James Sutter (Paizo), and Lawrence Whittaker and Pete Nash (The Design Mechanism).

Current Members of the Artists Enclave include Paul Abrams (TSR, Shadowrun); Alex E. Alonso Bravo (DC Comics, Pixar, AEG); Brent Chumley (AEG); John L Kaufmann (Shadowrun); Eric Lofgren; (Paizo, White Wolf, Mongoose Publishing), Chris Malidore (Fantasy Flight Games, PEG), Patrick McAvoy (WotC, AEG, Fantasy Flight Games), Brad McDevitt (Chaosium, CGL, Battlefield Press), Jesse Mead (Fantasy Flight Games), Aaron B. Miller (WotC, AEG, Open Design), and Stanley Morrison (AEG) – among other up and comers in the field. Some of the work by these artists is available as computer wallpapers for free download from the AetherCon website, and Convention attendees will have the opportunity to purchase prints of these and other works as well as attend live tutorials by those artists during AetherCon.

Confirmed games now include:

  • All Flesh Must Be Eaten
  • A Thousand and One Nights
  • Atomic Highway
  • Call of Cthulhu
  • Castles & Crusades
  • Dark Heresy
  • Eclipse Phase
  • Fantasy Craft
  • Labyrinth Lord
  • Legend of the Five Rings
  • Leverage
  • Mouse Guard
  • Mutants & Masterminds
  • Paranoia
  • Pathfinder
  • Pathfinder Society
  • RIFTs
  • Savage Worlds
  • Serenity
  • Shadowrun
  • Time Lord
  • Star Wars WEG D6
  • Swords and Wizardry

…with more to come.

How to participate

If you’d like to play in a game use AetherCon’s Player Pre-Registration Tool to register.

If you’d like to run a game use their GM Pre-Registration Tool.

If you don’t see your game in their lineup, would like to lend a hand, or need to inquire for any other reason, they encourage potential attendees to feel free to use their ‘Contact Us’ page.

Be sure to visit their website and show your support for AetherCon via Facebook, Google+, and Twitter:

The Shape Of Things To Come

I’m proud that Campaign Mastery is a supporter of AetherCon and wish the organizers every success. I’ll be updating this post regularly in response to releases from the convention website, and I’ll post a comment each time I do. So if you want to use Campaign Mastery to stay informed, post a comment to this post and tick the box to subscribe to further comments.

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