Saturday, November 24, 2012

Game Convention Review: AetherCon

When we first started gathering game con listings for GCC the first online game convention I ran across was AetherCon.  For a while I thought they were the only online con (check out our Online Game Convention page as there are at least half a dozen at this point). 

I had the pleasure of attending AetherCon this past weekend and was quite pleased.  Whenever I write a review I am caught between the desire to compliment the hard work I know goes into an event and the desire to provide an accurate review of the event.

Let me start by saying AetherCon deserves an A+ for effort.  What they attempted was quite ambitious - close to 100 events, all using Roll20, plus dozens of vendors, artists and lectures.  As for execution, I'm going to give them an A as well, but this time I am grading on a curve . . . an aggressive curve.  There were a lot of tiny little issues but again, considering the scope of the event I was easily able to forgive them.

All games took place on Roll20 virtual table tops (review coming later).  Roll20 itself worked fine, but none of the games I played in managed to get the audio/video chat right and we ran Google hangouts for that (there is a Roll20 plug in for Google+ which most used, I however ran one monitor for each program).  I suspect the issues with the audio / video was just the load from the con.

My one real complaint was the lack of game grid that most conventions offer.  The website listed the games sorted by start time but you had to read down the list of games and their descriptions to find the times you were searching for.  They also allowed GMs to schedule their games at any start times and of varying durations.  [Most conventions are run in multiple four hour time slots and most games fit into some fraction or combination of these slots.]  (While AetherCon did publish a .pdf program, it was a series of interviews and neither listed the con's games nor their times.) 

The various time slots at AetherCon (excluding demo games). Numbers in ( )'s are the number of games that slot.
Since there were gamers attending from all over the world, varying start times could have made sense however, the real issue came when trying to fit games together to form a weekend.  Games that started at 10am wouldn't be over in time to jump into a 2pm start time game and so on.  It also became an issue when games were canceled or under booked.  My Friday night game need some extra players and while I found a couple of interested people, they were waiting on 8pm games that were also under booked and were holding out hope.  Had all the Friday night games started at the same time, it would have been easier to combine the available gamers into full tables.

Thinking more about the various timezones attending the convention, it also seemed odd that there were no overnight games.  My 7pm EST Friday night Call of Cthulhu game had me in EST, another players in PST and our GM who was in Australia (complete with bright morning sun shining through his window on the video chat).  While I was heading to bed after the event, he was heading out to the pool since the convention was then closed until Saturday morning in EST.  The scenario was set near his home in Australia and was quite a bit of fun (more of an action adventure than an investigation but a blast all the same).

There weren't enough gamers for my Saturday morning game and I decided to get some chores done around the house instead of looking for a replacement game (damn you real life!).  My second game was also CoC and again the players were scattered (we had at least two European gamers, one or two Canadians and the remainder were Americans from across the timezones.  This scenario was a traditional CoC investigation complete with horror, plotting, insanity, possessions and a last minute spell to seal a portal into our world!  [You're welcome, planet Earth.]  Another truly great game!

My Sunday morning GM was a no-show and since it was an 11am start (while most others were 10am) there weren't any other games to jump into.  By Sunday afternoon I had a home emergency (squirrel in the attic) but I also never heard from that GM.  And that is the one downside to attending a con from the comfort of your own home, it is very easy for real life to find you, much easier than if you are hours away at a convention's hotel.

The final analysis is this, when AetherCon rolls around again next year you should definitely attend.  They have a lot of little issues to smooth out but I'm sure they will.  There may have been some kinks but overall it was a great time!

So, did you attend AetherCon?  If so what were your thoughts?  Have to been to any other online conventions?  Feel free to comment below!

[p.s. if you'd like to review a game convention here on GCC, just reach out using the Contact Us form at left.]


  1. Hi - we are just starting to get organised for Fantasy Grounds Virtual Con 2 now. Will send you more details once the con site is ready :)
    I do see the value in planning the games to fit within specific timeslots (like in a real face to face con) but its also weighed up against the availability of the dm/gms who make themselves available for the event... From your point of view would it have been better for GMs to call the game off earlier so you could join other games? You mention 4 hour timeslots - would you want sessions to aim t run 3.5 hrs so that you could be sure you could make back to back sessions? We also worked at having games run round the clock with Aussie and NZ GMs kicking things off on Friday evening here which was Friday daytime and even early morning for other parts of the world and ran thru to Sunday evening games hosted out of the US. Some parts of the day were still a bit sparse nonetheless :(

  2. Don't get me wrong, I understand the need to balance timezone starts and availability, but there still could be a bit of structure and concern for overlap. For example, if there are only four games scheduled each four hours long: 10-2, 3-7, 8-12 and 12-4. If you are interested in the 12-4 game then that precludes you playing in the first two slots and leaves you a four hour gap until the 8-12 slot. And if your 12-4 game gets canceled you're sitting around until 3-7.

    Calling the games early also has a problem since for the con organizers you never know how many gamers are going to just show up without pre-reg - and this is what happened Friday night. I found two GMs with only one player, but they didn't want to call the game incase others just showed up at their start time. Slots that were more on a grid would have allowed the free flow of gamers between them more easily.

    No, I would not want back to back sessions, I'd prefer a 1 hr break between them. (As a matter of fact AE did not allow scheduling of games that shared an end and start time. [This allowed for game set up before the event start time and a bit of a buffer if a game ran over.]

    In the end, even if the decision is to allow random start times based on GM availability/timzone, then a pubished grid showing all the games would allow for much more ease in scheduling for players.

    We've got a place holder on our Online Game Con page for Fantasy Grounds 2. Looking forward to it!

  3. We had our games running between 4 and 6 hours in length which is probably where you are seeing the conflicts in schedule. Do you feel it would be better to stick to one game length, say 5 hours?

    Stephen J. Holodinsky
    Event Coordinator - AetherCon

  4. Stephen - the variable lengths also contributed but I don't think as much as the start times. I've added a graphic to the review above to more easily show what I mean. If a player was interested in one of the 11am games then they were precluded from any of the 3pm games and so on. While an offline game con generally has three main time slots per day (4 if there is a midnight slot), AetherCon had 15 (not including demos and so on).

    Truth be told, with the timezone concern, I don't know what the solution here is. Once you add in scheduling the artists, demos, and seminars I certainly don't envy you! But I do greatly appreciate the work you and the rest of the volunteers put in.

  5. This was actually addressed at our after meeting this week. Look for improvements here going forward.


  6. Jason: Would welcome further discussion with you about AetherCon. What would be the best way to do this?