James Portnow: This Developer’s Life — SakuraCon!
week was a blast. I got to kick back and blow off working a weekend in
the first time in…well…ever. I went to the strange and wonderful
silliness that is SakuraCon, which means this week we’ll be exploring
questions like “Are you otaku?” and “What’s a furry…?”
Seriously though we’ll be looking at consumer conventions and what it means to know your customer.
Oh and I’ll share pictures of cosplayers ‘cause that’s always a good time…
WTF’s a SakuraCon?
Ok, if you didn’t pick it up from the above paragraph (in case you don’t know the hip lingo the kids are speaking these days, just ask the nearest sixteen year old what a furry is…also, have a good lawyer), it’s an anime convention. In fact it’s the largest anime convention in the northwest U.S.
So what was I doing at an anime convention? I was dragged to it over vehement mock protestations by some of the artists at Divide by Zero, as they had pieces in the art show. It was a surprisingly edifying experience.
Those of you who have been following my adventures know that I’ve been on a month-long tear of straight conventioneering. NEVER DO THIS. It’s a terrible idea.
But, ignoring my mindboggling failure to understand my own general misanthropy and my gross underestimation of my body’s ability to go without sleep for 28 consecutive days, what made SakuraCon different? Well it was the first “consumer” show I’ve been to this season. This meant a series of things:
- I could feel smugly superior about my otherwise insubstantial existence.
- I didn’t have to do any work.
- I got to talk to consumers.
and this is a helpful tip for all of you, I found out that a “consumer”
is not a person stricken with consumption. Upon realizing this, I
removed my medical mask (which was by no means out of place at an
SakuraCon) and began to engage with these rarefied creatures. When I
began, I would follow them silently for a period of 15-20 minutes so as
not to scare them off but, when I found they were relatively
unflappable, I began trying to interact with them more directly. I
would hail them with a friendly call of “Churl!” or “Thrall!” and then
ask them if they would like me to pour some glorious and undiluted
meaning into their otherwise vapid and hollow shells of an existence.
This seemed to go over well. Here is the data that I gleaned from
doing so (plus, pictures!)…
Consumers Part 2…the Serious Bit
It’s interesting how often we talk about really knowing our consumer when often we only look at them from behind a wall of numbers and data. After going to Sakura I spent as much of this week as a I could spare haunting Gamestops and hobby shops, just listening to conversations and talking to the people wandering through. Here are my honest observations:
- People are looking for stories — Not in-game stories, but campfire stories, the type of stories they can tell their friends or, better still, the type of stories they can tell another gamer they just met. Stories about poisoning the food in the NPC baker’s bag or about landing on top of four guys in a Warthog or beating a boss without taking a hit…these are the stories that people are looking for. Video games create shared experience, shared experiences are the root of communication, and people love to communicate. Even single-player games can become social, giving players an experience they can share. After all, gamers these days are social people.
- Newbs — For the most part even people who play “hardcore” games aren’t “hardcore." They’re looking to kill some time and have some fun. I believe (though clearly my sample size isn’t big enough) that the true hardcore ubergamer is actually a much smaller fraction than the sliver we believe it to be now. This doesn’t mean that people don’t enjoy challenging experiences; they just don’t rest their self worth on winning or losing.
- The demographic really has changed — There is no such thing as a “gamer” anymore. Everyone plays games: young and old, rich and poor, all nationalities, all creeds, every political affiliation and economic class. We haven’t broken free of the stereotypes yet, but that’s all they are anymore, a stereotype that represents a small fraction of the people who now play games.
As promised, here’s the exciting, superfun cosplay gallery (and no, you won’t be getting any pictures of the faptastic Cammy White…)
SakuraCon was a great experience for me. Rarely do I get to take that type of step back. As often as I am light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek with this column I’d like to mention one thing that moved me and I hope provides some inspiration and motivation to everyone doing this job during the long days of crunch.
I talked with a great number of people who came to SakuraCon in costume as a character from a videogame. One thing that was pervasive in talking to these people was how much these characters, and these games, really meant to them.
I spoke to a fantastically done Kratos. I asked him why he was dressed (or rather painted) that way. He turned out to be a marine on leave. He told me that “over there I’d sometimes think about Kratos whoopin’ ass and you know, he can’t be afraid because he’s on a mission”. He told me all about the God of War series and even about understanding the difference between Kratos and him and how he can’t make the moral errors that Kratos made.
But beyond all that, he ended the conversation with something that shook me to the core. He said to me “Sometimes I say to myself ‘Fuck it _____ (he referred to himself, I’m omitting his name) you can’t die in this armpit of a country, otherwise you’ll never get to see what they do in the next one (referring to the upcoming God of War)’.”
We’re a mass media. We affect people’s lives. We have to accept that these days.
Catch up with my latest adventures at www.gameculture.com.