Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Salt Lake Comic Con Post-Battle Report

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 9, 2013

As I mentioned last week, I went to my first Comic Con this weekend – the very first Salt Lake Comic Con. It ended up breaking a few records. It managed to be the most heavily-attended first-year Comic Con in history (by almost 2x). It also turned into the single largest convention ever held in the state of Utah, I think. Pretty successful numbers, at least, with over 50,000 tickets sold.

comicon1Some quick descriptions of the event:

* Crowded.

* Very Crowded

* Lots of people wearing box-shaped Minecraft heads or pixely picks, in addition to the usual superheroes, starfleet personnel, Star Wars characters, and various incarnations of The Doctor.

* Insufficient Organization

* Absolutely impossible to see / do everything. Chock full ‘o stuff.

* A hell of a lot of fun.

I’m not a usual convention-goer. I guess to be more successful at what I do, I should attend more (and buy booth space), but that’s never been a big part of my life. With the exception of a Consumer Electronics Show, I’d say this was the biggest event I’ve ever attended.

Maybe it is a holdover from the years I attended the Game Developers’ Conference, but I tend to go for the panels and lectures. Yeah. Learning is fun. Sadly, as Comic Con isn’t really an educational / professional conference, the panels tended more towards the fan-based discussions and introductory level information, but I managed to attend several in some unfamiliar territory that were quite interesting.

I attended a panel by the team doing the new Tex Murphy game, the Tesla Effect (which included Rifftrax / Mystery Science Theater 3000 member Kevin Murphy), and found out what they’ve been doing since their successful Kickstarter. It’s looking pretty good. Oh, yeah, and it’s being built in Unity. All the cool kids are doing it, apparently. One of the more interesting things about the sets is that they are using exactly the same source data for the 3D virtual sets in the videos as they are in the 3D gameplay. While it’s able to be more nicely rendered in the movies, it means transitioning between the video segments and the interactive segments should be more seamless.

Another great panel I attended was the one for the movie Unicorn City. I’ve talked about it before, and I think I love it even more now, knowing a bit more about the details of how it was made, and the challenges they faced as indie movie developers. Just as interesting was an announcement by the financial backer for the film that he is involved with making a “Unicorn City” for real (under a different name). They’ve already bought the property and are about half funded. They’ve got plans for having a couple of restaurants / taverns on the property, themed seasonal events, and so forth – including a “haunted house” concept that should rival Richard Garriott’s big Halloween events.

As far as the gaming panels I attended, there wasn’t a whole lot new being discussed, but it John & Brenda Romero were extremely entertaining (and, to their credit, they kept it mainly kid-friendly!) in the two that I attended that they were involved in. Nobody on a panel about the “next big disruption in video games” thought the new microconsoles were really going to make a big impact (they weren’t too excited about the upcoming big-name consoles, either). I loved Brenda’s answer to the question about what the biggest disruption now & upcoming would be for the industry – Minecraft. She and John said that they’ve caught wind of a large number of AAA games that were canceled because of that game. In a nutshell, the AAA studios are now competing with the indies, and they wish they could be Minecraft. While it is certainly an exception by several orders of magnitude, it was a seismic event in the industry that heralded the shift to the indies, and is causing lots and lots of re-evaluation of how things can and should be done. The old ways are dead / dying, but the new ways aren’t yet set in stone. At least this was my interpretation.

comicconTRexI attended several panels on writing. While I’m looking at writing as yet one more hobby of far too many that I don’t have time to pursue, I do think a little bit of an exercise in that arena could improve my game dev skills, particularly in the RPG (or other story-heavy) arena. But a major aspect of my curiosity was to look at the parallels between the game publishing and book publishing.  I wanted to learn what the publishing and writing biz has been doing to react to the same kind of disruption (albeit probably on an even larger scale) as gaming.

It’s fascinating. Really. In the literary world, traditional publishing is far more hosed than it is in the video game industry. The plight of new authors in the “mainstream” publishing world is even worse. Far worse. Ridiculously worse. The overwhelming sense I received in several panels, from every single author (including ones with long careers working with mainstream, traditional publishers) was that if you are a new author, forget the big publishers. Or, at best, send stuff their way and go indie in the meantime. Perhaps at some later point, once you’ve already got a following, you might be able to get a book contract that might be interesting, particularly if the big publishers finally see the light and change their ways in the future. But for now… forget it.

That leaves either completely doing-it-yourself as an indie, or going through a “small press” publisher. The latter may or may not be a good option, depending upon the author, and depending upon the publisher – there are plenty of horrible ones out there. However, if you “go indie,” it absolutely has the same problems as going indie as a game developer – you spend half your time on business & marketing, rather than making your next title. That can be a pain. Even if you go with a publisher (big or small), a sizable chunk of your time will be spent marketing – they all depend on you to promote your own product.

One point brought up in both game panels and writing panels was the problem of lack of curation. Now, as a hardcore indie evangelist for many years, I’ve not been a major fan of ‘curation’ in the traditional sense. I don’t really want some panel of people with PhDs (or advanced marketing credentials) designating what’s worthy and what is not. We’ve been there, we’ve done that, and the problem is that they exclude a hell of a lot of wonderful creations, and yet still let a lot of crap in the door. Now, they are often competent enough that the gem-to-crap ratio is higher coming out of the filter than going in. That’s a good thing. But I don’t know that it’s worth the cost. However, while the wild-west of uncurated, free-for-all media has plenty of appeal for adventuresome veterans, Sturgeon’s Law can turn off most audiences, forcing them to flee for the safety of some kind of guarantee of quality from a credible source.

I’m sure that’s worthy of a blog post or three in the near future.

Actually, the whole event was a goldmine for possible blog post topics.

As far as big celebrities – I didn’t really spend any time looking for them. I caught glimpses of Dean Cain (Superman of Lois and Clark), Nicholas Brendon (Xander in Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Henry “The Fonz” Winkler, Adrian Paul (Highlander), John de Lancie (Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation), Kevin Sorbo (Hercules), Sofia Milos (CSI: Miami), and lots of others.  And nope, I never saw William Shatner or Stan Lee. Was tempted, but by schedule was too full. 🙂

As a final note, there was a comment about networking with other professionals in your field using social media and whatever. One best-selling author noted that he would never have Stephen King friend him on Facebook. Instead, you’ll make friends and contacts around your own level. And in five years, some of those folks – maybe you –  will have “broken out” and had some serious success. And they will be in a position to help the people who they’ve been friends with on their way up. So you get the “rising tide” effect (a rising tide lifts all ships) via cooperation all the way through.

Another tidbit: I can’t remember if it was John or Brenda Romero (or both, echoing each other) on the problems of Kickstarter & crowd-funding: The way it has evolved, a crowdfunded game ends up being developed via a near-waterfall methodology. Which is, with a few exceptions, a failed methodology for game development.

So… bottom line: Will I go again? Yeah, I’d definitely go to the next one. I hope they learned some lessons from this one and do a better job of organizing things next year (it may very well mean that they restrict ticket sales, however, to something less than what they had this year). But I did have a great time, if an exhausting one.

Filed Under: Geek Life - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

  • Xenovore said,

    * Crowded.

    * Very Crowded

    Those two things are show-stoppers for me. I hate crowds. So, while it may have been a lot of fun otherwise, the crowds would have made it not fun, and likely I would of snapped (probably ending up in police custody). So yeah, I think I’m good with just reading/watching stuff about it.

  • OttoMoBiehl said,

    I am sorry I missed it which is a shame because Salt Lake City is only about an eight hour drive. It would have been worth it just to see John and Brenda Romero. I do admire those two. Note to self: wake up and pay attention to this stuff!

    All in all, it sounds like it was an awesome time. Next year I’ll get my self down their and enjoy the Con.