Convention. Even the word evokes excitement: tens of thousands of zealous gamers gravitating to a single city for a weekend of celebrating their collective passion. The pageantry, the people, the panels…and, of course, the parties. While convention days are packed with booth demonstrations, presentations by luminaries, and more cosplayers than you can shake a giant foam sword at, convention nights take on a life of their own.
To an attendee, nightlife during a show means a memorable or partially memorable all-hours affair (depending on the player’s constitution check) while rubbing shoulders with fellow gamers and industry professionals. To a developer or publisher, this is the bonus round where companies are afforded one-on-one time with key influencers who have the potential to spread the good word about your game and brand to their circles: family, friends, guilds, and beyond. However, there’s a lot of planning and thought that goes into these expensive, resource-intensive events. The best companies don’t simply throw parties but, instead, host carefully tailored experiences crafted to turn industry enthusiasts into brand evangelists.
Such was the case last month during Penny Arcade Expo 2011, when we held our first-ever En Masse Entertainment Open House. The strategic planning started early, with much discussion on the possible timing and location of the event. Rather than go up against annual parties and established names, we decided to invite a small group of TERA fans to our downtown Seattle office for an exclusive visit during the mid-afternoon on Saturday, the second day of the convention. This is around the time when many attendees elect to leave the show to rest up for the evening’s activities. As a result, we saw a full attendance when the curtain went up on our shindig.
The purpose of the Open House was two-fold: introduce our team and office to thirty grassroots community members and give these eager gamers hands-on time with TERA in the form of organized dungeon parties and freeform character creation and gameplay. The event was pared down to a lean but meaty three-hour schedule with activities planned throughout for a brief but meaningful experience. After a meet-and-greet with the company staff and a tour through our office, Chief Operating Officer Patrick Wyatt delivered a presentation that introduced a new security measure in the game called chronoscrolls. This exclusive reveal was later shared with the TERA community at large on the official website.
Then came time for the dungeon demonstrations! Attendees were grouped into parties and joined Producer Chris Hager or Technical Producer Sam Kim in tackling the Necromancy Cell, a challenging five-player dungeon instance. Populated by two argon boss monsters, the arch-nemeses of TERA, our guests had quite a fight on their hands. Additionally, the producers leading them created a meta-challenge: beat the other party to defeating the dungeon! In the end, almost all of the parties triumphed in the demo, and all players walked away with a keen understanding of TERA’s action combat and how to convey the experience to other gamers.
We rounded out the Open House by rewarding our newly minted heroes with special TERA loot and merchandise, then raised a pint with them at a local brewery to celebrate their victory and discuss their experiences and feedback. The event ended before the night’s high-profile parties began, and gave each attendee a unique story to share that evening and long after the convention.