Would you wait 11 hours in line for just a chance to play a game? Not for a guaranteed session, just a chance?
This is the question that PAX East attendees have to ask themselves today, as the final day of PAX East soldiers on. It’s been a good convention, although there’s a certain fun factor that’s missing for me that I think boils down to “too many people trying to do too few activities.”
Lines are a part of these conventions, but it’s practically obscene how everything you may possibly want to do here has a huge line attached. My patience for lines is generally in the 30 minute range, more or less depending on what we’re waiting for. But when there’s a line to play Q-bert at the classic arcade? Methinks Penny Arcade organizers either let too many people come or didn’t plan for enough things for us to do.
This is most apparent on the exhibit floor, which is the centerpiece of the convention for many gamers hoping to take a look at the next big upcoming titles. It’s about half the size, maybe less, than the show floor at PAX Prime, and at least for MMO companies there are relatively few attendees — BioWare, Turbine, ArenaNet and Nexon are pretty much it.
Of course, everyone and their mother has been swarming to The Old Republic booth with hopes of getting their hands on the demo. I’ll give BioWare this: Events like PAX East definitely show the immense attraction and popularity this game already has. The booth looked great, the giant screen showed off the space combat (which looks super-duper sweet), and plenty of devs swarmed all over the place answering questions.
The problem? BioWare set up 25 demo stations — half doing the intro experiences and half doing a flashpoint — and then set the timer for the demos at a mind-boggling 40 minutes each. So in the space of two hours, they could accommodate perhaps 75 people, 75 out of hundreds if not well into the thousands of gamers trying to get a peek at the game. Literally minutes after the doors opened any hopeful players had to contend with 4, 6, even 11-hour lines.
Yesterday evening I was there as the show floor closed and saw one gentleman who’d been waiting in line since noon — for six hours — be turned away before he got to play the demo. Six hours of a convention down the drain for nothing, for just a chance. It honestly was kind of sad.
And as much as I understand the devs wanting to give TOR fans and prospective players a full demo experience for their PAX buck, this was ludicrous. PAX Prime had the same issue with Guild Wars 2 because ArenaNet did the same thing by giving players 40 minutes for demos. It’s basic math: you either make a few people happy and many people upset, or you cut the demo time down and channel more people through your exhibit. After all, it’s not like they can all come back next week for another shot — this is their only chance, and that’s all you’re giving them is a slim chance to play.
I don’t get why BioWare didn’t see this problem on the first day and readjust the demo time to something a little more sane — perhaps a 15-minute demo, or perhaps creating two lines, one for a short demo and one for the long one. If you look at how theme parks manage their queue, it’s all about funneling people through a fun experience as quickly as possible so that everyone gets a chance and doesn’t have to wait long.
I just feel really bad for people who made the trip out here with the sole purpose of seeing TOR and having that denied to them, and I really hope MMO studios learn from the lessons of these conventions and cut out ridiculously long demos when there are so many people trying to cram in.