Well, that was a full weekend…
Two virtual conventions, both replacements for physical events… Better still, being on two different time zones and being virtual events means it was easy to switch back and forth between them. UKGE’s ‘Virtually Expo’ was the bigger draw for me, personally, but the Nonepub’s singular focus on playtesting was a compelling draw.
UKGE kicked off on Friday and featured three ‘stages’, all accessible from their main page or the matching Twitch streams. Unfortunately, the schedule was on the counter-intuitive side — actually finding the schedule means hoping the website loaded it correctly or you caught the listing of what’s coming up on the Twitch channel. You might have also found #the-hallway channel on the Discord server and located the firehose of activity. Demos, seminars, and everything else were grouped together by starting time, with only Discord’s underwhelming search function for finding something specific. There’s a fair amount of functionality on the website, but it felt like it took some digging to really get into it…
Slightly better was the ‘virtual expo hall‘ — an opportunity to take in the publishers, artists, and other exhibitors. Each exhibitor got a page to share some info about the games they’re demoing or the events they ran during the convention. A number of publishers ran their own Discord servers, which were necessary to play or demo games since the official UKGE Discord server only ran the open gaming and playtesting tables.
I spent a fair bit of time watching some of the seminars — hearing some of the behind-the-scenes work to put on this version of the convention online was definitely interesting.
The biggest issue with the UKGE site (beyond issues having to do with lots of people logging on at a time) were a couple of puzzling design choices. Only two columns of exhibitors (instead of a responsive grid) made it a very long page. Once you got beyond the major sponsors that were always on top, the rest were randomized, possibly to ensure every exhibitor had a fair chance of being seen. This made it rather difficult to track which publishers you had already seen or looked at, however…
UKGE’s main Discord was complete with emulations of real-world aspects — a Cosplay channel, Chow Street, a channel called ‘The Queue’ (because what’s more British than queueing?) and the Viking Village. I didn’t see a lot of activity in the open gaming channels, but the exhibitor hall was pretty full of announcements.
I volunteered to assist with the playtesting side of things and signed up to playtest my own game, both of which went fine. Some designers volunteered to help moderate and run things, which was awesome… but it did get a bit confusing to know which hat a given person was wearing at any given time…
While there were relatively few playtesters present and the structure for the event didn’t really take shape until a few days before the con, other designers filled in nicely. Just about everything got to the table, as far as I could tell.
Over to Nonepub
Run by the Unpub team, Nonepub kicked off on Thursday with some open playtesting, but it wasn’t until Friday that the reserved playtesting tables opened and the seminars kicked off. Streamed live on Twitch (and thus accessible to the public if you have the URL), I ended up catching a few of these sessions, and will be watching more of them now that they’re in Twitch’s archives.
Although Nonepub was an order of magnitude smaller than UKGE, these sessions were probably the highlight of the Nonepub event for me — beyond being laser-focused on designing board games, their schedule was listed in a straightforward Google Doc e-mailed to everyone. It wasn’t as flashy, but it got the job done with proven technology to handle the crowds.
The structured, four-hour playtesting blocks looked to run pretty smoothly, and while there never looked to be an abundance of playtesters, plenty of games got to the table over the course of the weekend. Open playtesting was available and moderated for much of the con, and the server remained open 24/7 for open playtesting if anyone desired.
All things considered…
Both conventions went relatively smoothly. Both conventions used some well-known tools of the trade — Twitch for broadcasting and Discord for voice communication. UKGE had a more fully-featured website for general info, while Nonepub used tabletop.events for badge sales and Google Docs / Sheets for organizing schedules. Virtually everything related to Nonepub happened in their Discord, which made it easier to see everything that was happening.
I wish UKGE’s Discord server had been more of a central meeting point for the games (much as I did with GenCon.online). It would have been a lot easier getting people to tables if it didn’t take so many different steps to find the when, where, and what.
Over to you
Did you go? What did you think? What would make future virtual conventions better?