By Paco Garcia Jaen
We geeks of the world look to the west and very often we grumble with hidden envy at the conventions that take place in the USA about our favourite subjects. Comics? They have them. Science-Fiction? They have them. Fantasy, they have them. Role Playing games? They have it. Boardgames? They don’t have that. Sorry friends from the USA. Origins is not that great and we have Spiel. No match.
But still, the tradition and passion and coverage those conventions get, leave us wishing we could attend. I certainly do I wish I could attend GenCon. I’ve been wishing that since I was 18!
So these three geeks decided to do something about it and they created Nine Worlds, the London Geekfest. They started to do research, they gathered some money and then they went to Kickstarter to get more money. And they did. Tons of it.
Enough money to organise three days full of events at two different locations near Heathrow in London and bring people like Monte Cook and Leigh Alexander to do talks on our favourite subjects. Unfortunately Cook wasn’t able to make it because of the death of his dad. Perfectly understandable.
I will confess without any reservation that I backed the Kickstarter project because of their intentions, not because I had any idea what was going to come out of that convention. In fact, I gave them my money and then didn’t even take a look at the website until a week before the show’s date. I just wanted this to succeed because I want to have a convention like the ones in the USA.
When I arrived at the Renaissance Hotel near Heathrow, one of the two locations used, I was really impressed. I was familiar with the hotel from my days in Computer Associates, so I knew the venue was clean, big and well prepared. What I didn’t expect is that the place was buzzing with so many people and so much enthusiasm!
Registration was as hard as having to fight past a huge grin featured in the organisers faces and tell them my name. I really think they couldn’t stop smiling. Took the best part of 30 seconds to find my name and for me to get my goodie bag and my three days pass. I was staying in the same hotel thanks to the rates they had managed to negotiate, so after 10 minutes of waiting and getting to my room, I was ready to come downstairs, meet some friends and take a look at the programme.
To say that there were more than 100 events planned for the three days is no exaggeration. What surprised me is that they weren’t events just about games, but about geek culture. There were talks about feminism in games, female roles in comic books, disability in fantasy, cyber bullying… You name it.
And there were practical workshops too. Sharing ideas, writing sex, Kickstarter, creating steampunk things, designing your own video game, writing for video games, designing role playing games…
And there were rooms of games. Yes, you could sit down and play games.
And a vendor’s room.
And a disco.
And more things I can’t remember because I don’t have the programme with me at the time of writing this review. But there were more things.
No. More than that.
Anyway, it was pretty awesome.
The next two days were a mix of having to jump from hotel to hotel to get to the seminars I was interested in, navigate schedules so I could see my friends and/or have lunch/dinner and attend seminars. Mental!
The seminars were organised by track organisers who took on the responsibilities of different tracks. For example someone would take on the task of organising all the seminars on feminism, someone else all the seminars on RPGs, someone else the seminars on LGBT issues, etc. The advantage of that is the persons in charge could concentrate in just their task and make sure they were organised to the best standard they would think of.
The disadvantages were that not all the seminars were organised to the same standard and that you ended up with too many of them. Often two seminars you wanted to attend would be happening at the same time on the same day with no repeat on the Sunday. It was frustrating at times. Not because it was disappointing the seminars were there, but because there was no way to attend both.
Although the two locations are on themselves stunning hotels and well prepared, having to hop from location to location was a bit of a pain, to be honest. Specially considering that some of the rooms were really well hidden and finding them could be a chore. Finding one of the talks I wanted to attend took me more than 15 minutes and I got lost twice on the way to the room. When I arrived, I was the audience.
Yes, I was there alone with the speaker.
Well, that and with a small vendor, Arion Games, who had been marooned into that room and didn’t get anywhere near as much exposure as he needed/deserved. I realise that partly was because Monte Cook couldn’t make it (his seminar was meant to happen in that room and thus id would have been full at least twice a day) but I would have liked to see his table moving onto the main vendor’s room to make up for that.
I was very lucky that the speaker was a true professional and decided to give me his speech, with handouts, exercises, questions and the works. It was excellent for me, and truly terrible for him.
It’s not the only example of seminars that didn’t go well and I was informed that some had to be cancelled because there was no interest. I understand these things happen and can’t really be prevented easily, but in the future they are going to have to think very careful what worked and didn’t work in this occasion so they don’t have a repeat of the same situation.
There is some room for improvement in the future, there is no escaping from that, but then, it’d be stupid to expect the three organisers to get everything perfect on a first go while they work around their family lives and their jobs.
Great as some of the talks were, I think Nine Worlds could benefit greatly from having less talks and making sure the existing ones are of great quality. Also to have some of the talks repeated, at different times, on different days. Maybe not all of them, but the key ones certainly. And if the two locations is a formula that will be repeated, then some of the talks should happen also in both locations.
Also they should be recorded and put out there. I know they were mega-cautious with not taking photos without permission and recording without permission and all that, which I understand, but it’s a waste to have some of the speakers coming up with such inspirational material and not be able to show to the world what they can expect next year.
I’ve recorded video seminars at Dragonmeet and UK Games Expo and never had a problem. In fact there should be no problem; just leave a blind spot for the camera so people won’t be recorded at any point – they can then feel safe they can attend and not be recorded. Can’t think of a reason why this can’t be arranged at Nine Worlds and it should.
The programme needs to be more precise. Some of the events’ descriptions were really poor with barely any information provided. This was especially poignant in the Tolkien based events. My friends were really keen to go to them, but to read “Tolkien based gaming” but not what sort of gaming or what games was a bit on the poor side.
The good news is all those issues are issues that can very easily be rectified and there was absolutely nothing seriously wrong with the convention. It is true that they need to find and define their identity a bit better, but again, that is to be expected from a first time event.
One thing they should seriously consider, though, it’s the date. Having this on the weekend before GenCon means that the biggest companies won’t be able to attend because of GenCon preparations. I know this hurt them this time on, at least two companies that didn’t make it because of that reason. Bringing it forward to June, or delaying it until September would be a wise move.
The best bit about the event, well, the two best bits, were the organisers and the ethos.
The three organisers were there *all the time*. And there were *all the time* happy, helpful and smiling. I swear I don’t think they slept or went home for three days. I just wanted to hug them and say nice things to them because they were fantastic. I didn’t do it because it would have been creepy.
Secondly the ethos of the show is pretty amazing. Concentrating on geek culture (whatever that means) made the show a lot more fearless. Fearless of dealing with sexism. Fearless of making it obviously inclusive. Fearless of challenging perceptions (though not our own, in my opinion).
They wanted to have a show to prove that one can be a woman and a geek and be proud and unchallenged about it. That you can be gay and display it and be accepted without anyone even batting an eyelid. That you can learn how do what you want to do just because you can, not because anyone has to give you permission.
More of that in more shows, please.
Personally I am looking forward to the next one very very much. Whether they do another Kickstarter or simply pre-sales, my pennies will gladly fly towards them as soon as they get themselves a well earned rest.