Convention Fans @ GameX 2009: Convention Report
This weekend I headed to Oaks, Pennsylvania to check out GameX, a video game expo and media convention. While I did have a good time overall, GameX does have some areas that need improvement. As with most of my reviews, I’m going to break this convention report down into the good and the not-so-good, and offer some constructive criticism for the organizers of the con. Of course, some of the criticism I have for GameX would be good to read for any convention organizer, so you don’t make the same mistakes, as they were pretty common ones.
- The convention had plentiful and free parking at it’s location (the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center). You don’t realize how important this can be to someone’s overall experience until you have a parking problem. Being able to find a place to park quickly, and not have to pay for it, is a strong selling point for a convention, for me personally.
- GameX had pretty good signage! Again, you don’t think about this being important until a con doesn’t do it right. GameX had clear signage for check in, and plenty of overhead signage in the expo hall itself. They also had maps printed in the program, and posted throughout the convention hall. The only thing that could have been marked a bit clearer was the celebrity area. The cast members from The Guild actually told their Q&A audience on Saturday that they felt they were hard to find.
- The check in process for the media was quick and easy. I had been working with GameX’s public relations manager, Jesse Collins, who could not have possibly been any nicer. He had been communicative and helpful in the weeks leading up to the convention, and he made sure I had everything I needed as a member of the press. I wish every convention had someone like him on staff.
- Speaking of Jesse, he is the one who arranged for me to interview Robin Thorsen (Clara), Jeff Lewis (Vork), and Sandeep Parikh (Zaboo) from The Guild. I was able to get individual interviews with each one, and GameX had some fairly quiet conference rooms to use just for that purpose. It was definitely one of the highlights of my GameX experience, and I have Jesse to thank for it. I wish every media liaison was as helpful as he was.
- Speaking of The Guild, all three of the actors there were amazing. They love their fans, and it shows. I was able to chat with them at the table, and snap a photo with them (which they didn’t charge for!). I love it when I meet celebrity guests, and they don’t act like celebrities. The trio actually wandered the convention floor together, talked with vendors, took photos with fans, etc. What a wonderful addition to GameX’s guest list!
- If you are a gamer, GameX was the place to be this weekend. Some of the big names in gaming were there: Alienware, SEGA, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, and other smaller companies. They were running demos that were consistently packed with people. On top of that, GameX was running Guitar Hero tournaments that usually had a pretty big audience. There was also a massive set up for Dance Dance Revolution, where over a dozen people could compete and play at the same time.
- There were plenty of events, tournaments, contests, and panels to keep people entertained. Additionally, there were also a lot of opportunities for kids to enjoy themselves, thanks to the robotics groups that were there. One of my big complaints about expos is that once you’ve seen all the exhibitors and vendors – then what? GameX had a “GameX theater” that was running some kind of event from open to close each day, in addition to tournaments and contests being held on the main stage. They also utilized their celebrity guests, by giving them a few Q&A opportunities.
- The expo center had a decent variety of food and beverages available. They also had a nice open area with numerous tables set up for dining. Granted, the food was a bit pricey, and certainly not restaurant quality, but I was really glad it was there. There are no fast food restaurants near the expo center, so having food right there inside the event was a big bonus. And as always, I don’t hold the convention at fault for the food being pricey, because virtually every con location is like that, and it is almost always beyond the organizers’ control.
- While I had an easy check in process on Saturday, that was not the case for the vendors checking in on Friday. I spoke to at least four different vendors who said they didn’t even get their badges till after 4 p.m. on Friday, because of a problem with the printer. Now, things do go wrong time to time, but the test of a convention is how they handle it. Unfortunately, door security wasn’t consistent. Sometimes there was no one manning the door, and the badgeless vendors could come and go as needed. However, sometimes unfriendly staff were manning the door, and gave these vendors a hard time. If you know you can’t provide badges for your vendors, then staff should find a way to identify them so they can continue to get set up and come and go as needed. You definitely don’t tell them to keep checking back every few hours for a badge, only to yell at them when they do. And yes, some vendors reported being yelled at for doing exactly what they had been told to do. That’s not professional behavior, and is especially upsetting when these vendors paid to be there.
- Some of the volunteer staff really didn’t know what was going on, and provided no information (or wrong information), on multiple occasions. This is a problem many cons have, and it can be extremely frustrating for attendees and vendors. Staff members didn’t know anything that wasn’t in the program. While they did volunteer to go ask someone else when they didn’t know an answer, they still came back without the info. One of my questions? When would the celebrities be showing up. None of the volunteers seemed to know. There was nothing in the program about it. Also, some staff provided inaccurate information to vendors. Some had specifically asked if they could bring in outside food for their staff, and were told “yes”. Then when they arrived with food, they were told by a different staffer that they could not bring any in. This same vendor who had been told “no” then saw a different staffer hold the door open for another vendor who was bringing outside food in with him.
- Some GameX volunteers were just not nice. Vendors were being yelled at about the badge problems. They were yelled at on Friday, and were told they had to be out at 6 p.m., when a previous staffer had told them they had to man their tables until 8 p.m. They were yelled at about the outside food situation. You do not permit this type of volunteer. Ever. This is the quickest way to make a vendor or an attendee never come back to your convention. Volunteers are great, and necessary for cons. But you have to make sure you are providing some oversight regarding their behavior. I told the vendors who complained about this to start taking names, and to let the convention organizers know. If you are a vendor or an attendee at a con, and you get bad treatment from staff, take down their name, and let someone know.
- The noise level was out of control. It was just really poor planning to place the main stage facing the GameX Theater room. Even though the panelists were using microphones during the Seventh Kingdom IGE/LARP panel, you could barely hear them over the music from the main stage. If someone opened the door to the theater, it was downright deafening. I did notify staff of this problem, and for The Guild Q&A the volume level from the stage was much better, but the noise problem had already impacted a number of events in that room. It also meant that vendors and attendees had to yell at each other just to be heard. If you’re going to use an expo center, you have to be really thoughtful about the noise situation, because with a concrete floor and bare walls, everything is going to echo and amplify.
GameX was a lot of fun, and I got to meet some really cool people (including the cast members from The Guild). There was a lot to see and do, both for kids and parents. I would definitely like to come back for GameX 2010. However, I do hope that the convention works on tweaking some of the issues they had, namely with consistent information and polite communication from volunteers, and in handling the noise issues, so that everyone isn’t getting blasted by music.
You can view the photos I took at GameX over at the Convention Fans flickr account! Additionally, you can expect a full write up about The Guild Q&A sometime this week, along with links to the individual interviews I conducted with them.
Did you attend GameX? What did you think of it?