Okay. I'm ready to write about this.
This is going to be a hyper positive and somewhat introspective summary of the four days I spent in New Jersey earlier this month at METATOPIA, a gaming playtest convention.
The reason this is so late in being posted and the reason I've been so silent this month is because METATOPIA was profoundly impactful on me in a way I didn't really expect. It left me raw and vulnerable in the best way possible and my brain has been absolutely fried since I attended it.
So here we go, my post-mortem convention summary breakdown.
What is Metatopia?
Before we dive in, let's talk for a VERY very brief bit about what METATOPIA is in case you're unfarmiliar. It's an annual convention run in Morristown, NJ by the awesome folks behind Double Exposure. The idea is that it's a convention for designers, where indie designers can come with prototype games and run them for groups of players who sign up. Then, you get feedback on the game. There are games being run nonstop all weekend in every corner of the hotel, powered by hundreds of players all giving feedback and helping designers refine the games and make them better. It's an incredibly wild way to build a con, but the DE folks pull it off with grace and flair. This is a convention I think everyone should go to. If you care at all about the game design community and want to help games and indie designers get bigger and better, it is a very valuable convention. Now, I speak mostly from having experienced the con as a designer, so I can't speak to it's value as just an attendant, but I found it to be very well run and a super positive experience.
I got in on Thursday night for the METATOPIA "social". Now, the social never really stopped for the entire weekend, but it was at least a time before all the scheduled games started for us to all hobknob and say hello. Now, as a first time attendee, I found the social to be rough. I knew I was surrounded by designers, but I hadn't actually met any of them yet, so I was a bit lost. I did get to hang out and grab some food with Jason Cordova from the Gauntlet Podcast and I got to meet a group of pretty awesome folks and fans from Fall River (local to me) and we all became besties. All in all, a nice social Thursday night with some new friends made, but honestly I feel like I would be okay missing this next year to save a night of room fees.
On Friday the convention began in earnest. I attended a panel about Working With Artists 101 first thing in the morning but honestly found that it wasn't very helpful. Despite being new to design I actually feel like I could have fielded some of the questions better. In retrospect, I think the main issue here was that METATOPIA is built for indie designers, and the artists pulled a lot of their experience from big game companies they've worked with. A lot of what applied for big game companies didn't apply to us in any real way. I asked what I thought was a really simple question, which was essentially "Let's say I know nothing about what art is worth at all. How should I approach price negotiations. Is it okay to let artists set price points in this case?" I got brushed off and they didn't answer my question. I was able to chat with some attendees after the convention however and share my how-to-find-artists secret which is essentially: Use Pinterest. I handed out my pinterest user name to some folks and they found that helpful, so I'm hopeful that I may have steered some people in a good direction.
The second panel I went to was Crowdfunding Accounting. The presenter however, was a no show.
The third and final panel I attended was my own! Designing Emotion. The panel was all about how to design mechanics in a way to reliably evoke certain real-world emotions and turn games into reliable experiences. I went in feeling a bit unprepared, but I was expecting a small crowd so I wasn't really too concerned. Lo and behold there were a TON of people there. It was a great crowd of folks and we had a great discussion about emotions in games. There was a really exciting moment in the middle of this panel where I realized that I actually knew what I was talking about! I hope to actually link you guys to a recording of this panel once they post it, so stay tuned. The panel spilled over into a discussion with a few folks in the hallway once we were kicked out of the room, but I genuinely feel like I helped folks wrap their heads around turning their games into experiences. I was very proud of how the panel went.