Con. It’s a word that conjures images of crowded convention centers filled to the brim with costumed attendees, each trying to out-geek those around them. It’s also a word that in this day and age comes with a certain connotation: You expect certain things going to a con. You expect to be amazed, to be enlightened, and you expect to walk away with an experience that no one else could have.
Perhaps that was why the word con is not in the name of this particular gathering. Call of Duty XP was billed as an opportunity to live the Call of Duty experience, for two days to feel like you are one of the men inside the game. Perhaps as an “experience” CoD XP was successful, but as a con it failed miserably on every level.
What went wrong then? Why was it that this little event didn’t even dent the geek radar? What could they have done differently to make this “experience” more meaningful? In a word: logistics.
Anyone who’s thrown a party knows a great deal of planning is involved. If it’s a big event, chances are you are spending six months to a year getting everything ready. You have to choose a venue, hire a staff, build a guest list, book talent and vendors, and make sure that everyone is on the same page. But before you do all that, you have to decide what kind of event you want to host. Call of Duty XP looked like Activision’s attempt to throw their own BlizzCon, but do it in their own way. A fan-centric convention like BlizzCon requires a unique blend of panels, reveals, and community experiences to pull it off. Had the CoD XP folks merely copied BlizzCon and used that time-tested event as a template for their own, then things would have gone fine. But they didn’t. They decided they could do things better, better than the team that had been throwing the same event five times. They thought they could reinvent the wheel, and they thought wrong.
Let’s look at what BlizzCon does that CoD XP did not:
Lines of people crisscrossed the one hangar where play stations were set up, while the second hangar was left largely empty the entire weekend.At several points during the event we were told to stand in completely different lines for the same thing, doubling both the time it took to play the games and the frustration levels for everyone involved.And that doesn’t even scratch the surface on the management of the play stations themselves.Rather than staggering play sessions to keep the lines moving, all the sessions seemed synced up in batches which meant huge wait times before people in line saw any movement in the queue at all. At an “experience” where all you have to do is paintball, a zipline, ride a jeep and play some games, there better be plenty of chances to play the game you love.We got to play MW3 twice, Spec Ops once, and the zombie run once -- and that was with being there for two days and standing in line pretty much the entire time.
I wish I could say this is a case of “first con blues,” but that doesn’t come close. In this day and age when dozens of conventions are being held just in California alone, it’s criminal not to hire an event management staff who has experience with these things. Just bringing a handful of people on board who had handled cons before would have made a huge difference. Or they could, I dunno, talk to the folks over at Blizzard. They own them after all. Just one conversation about logistics would have turned the “experience” into a con worth remembering.