I came back from Metatopia richer in stories, new friends, experiences, and a pile of business cards. None of those are unusual harvests of a convention. But I also came back with a question on my mind.
Why don’t more people go to Metatopia?
Metatopia had 410 people in attendance this year. It’s not unusual for me to attend smaller conventions—BigBadCon and GoPlayNW come to mind—but both they and Metatopia are about specific experiences for me. BBC gives me time to see a number of Bay Area friends, and spend a weekend in a small hotel doing nothing but playing games and sneaking across the street for Indian food. No panels, no work, no being “on.” GoPlayNW is here in Seattle, which brings me together with both locals I don’t see often, and a number of far-flung friends. Again, it’s an experience that includes panels, no work, no being “on.” They’re the cons I turn to for a deeply social, all-play-all-the-time experience. When it comes to shopping, both BBC and GoPlayNW have always done well by me. If I want to stuff my luggage full of new purchases, Endgame is the game vendor at BBC, and always has a great selection. At GoPlayNW, there’s a purchase table where people can buy/sell games, and it operates on the honor system.
They’re fantastic conventions, and great ones for the experience they can offer you. But despite Metatopia’s emotional similarities to them, it serves a different, deeply specific purpose of its own. I was able to make the trip to Metatopia as a Special Industry Guest this year because the convention shouldered a large portion of the cost to facilitate my attendance. I was primarily in attendance to do work for an oral history archive, and my core experience of the con was like my fellow guests; participating in panels, and playtesting games.
It was a deeply educational experience, which is why I’m puzzled more people weren’t there. You can playtest a game you’re designing, play in playtests, and the panels had as much to offer to people who work with games as they did to those who identity more strongly with being game players. But that selection of “how the sausage is made” panels felt strongly shaped to offer insight and substantive information about how games get from that initial idea all the way to distribution. That kind of end to end explanation of the game publishing process is one I think we need more of on the convention circuit.
One of the few conventions I can identify by personal experience as having that kind of strong track for creators and audience is Norwescon, which has a fairly solid track about the publishing industry. Metatopia had a similar feel to it as some of the academic conferences I went to in college, but far less uptight about its educational aspects. There was good food nearby, plenty of time to talk to people socially, and a jewel of a bookseller hidden away in the playtest area. If you want to learn more about making games, playing games, and making gaming a more inclusive hobby, Metatopia should be high on your list.
Did we meet during Metatopia? Say hi in the comments, and feel free to leave your Twitter handle so we can keep in touch!