Comment & Opinion

I attended my first online conference last week, and I loved it

PGBiz Editor Ric Cowley discusses why online-only conferences are a boon for the whole industry

I attended my first online conference last week, and I loved it

Pocket Gamer Connects Digital #1 was last week, and for many of us, myself included, it was the first opportunity to experience what a real, week-long conference would be like if we had to do the whole thing from our own homes.

And naturally I'm going to mention how wonderful the whole thing was - we had a huge line-up of brilliant speakers, fascinating talks about a range of topics, and the whole thing ran as smooth as butter - except for some parts that didn't, but we are always keen to learn from these problems.

But on a personal level, I really enjoyed the whole experience.

Yes, I missed the rush of the crowds and the atmosphere of a busy conference centre, and I missed the genuine pleasure of bumping into someone I know as I walked between rooms.

But it was proof to me that this format really can work, and that introducing more events like this could improve accessibility and diversity in the industry as a whole.

Ease of access

Let's face it: going to a conference is hard work. It's financially difficult, because people need to book travel and hotels and pay for food while they're attending

The barrier to entry is so low, pretty much anyone can take part.

It can be emotionally difficult, because you're spending time away from family and friends. And it's physically difficult - we may joke about "con flu" after each conference, but for some, being around large numbers of new people for several days is utterly draining, never mind the need to rush between track rooms to catch all the talks.

Digital conferences remove almost all of that. All you need is a relatively stable internet connection and some sort of device, and you're away. And if you're in the games industry, you've almost certainly got one of those knocking about somewhere.

Getting to the conference is as easy as turning on your device and logging in. Going to a different track room means clicking a link and jumping straight there. The barrier to entry is so low, pretty much anyone can take part.

Among the crowd

And while you may be in a "crowd" of hundreds of people watching a talk, you're basically invisible. If you dip in and out of a talk, you don't risk a squeaky door distracting everyone, nor do you need to awkwardly shuffle past someone at the end of a row of seats.

I've seen more questions being asked in a single Q&A session this week than ever before, and I think it's partly due to the fact that folks don't need to speak up or even be properly acknowledged. Drop an anonymous question in a text box and you're away.

And as all these barriers fall away, it opens up these spaces to people who wouldn't typically take part. Not everyone can afford the travel. Not everyone is able-bodied and capable of dashing between rooms, or even getting through the front door of some conferences. Not everyone feels comfortable being around so many people at once.

With all these stresses pushed away, attending talks is even more enjoyable than before.

And with all these stresses pushed away, attending talks is even more enjoyable than before. A fascinating talk will always be a fascinating talk, but if you're dressed in your comfiest loungewear, loudly sipping a drink out of your favourite mug, the experience is even better.

A new wave

I'm not saying we'll see an end to physical events. The fact is, a lot of people really enjoy face-to-face interaction. And we're always hearing stories about business meetings that spring up from bumping into someone in a corridor. You can't quite get that same experience in a digital space.

But I do think that as more people attend digital conferences over the next year, largely because they're incapable of going to physical ones, they'll realise how good they can be.

We're going to see more digital conferences spring up between physical events, and I hope that we as an industry take note of how this style of conference could be a good thing for the industry as a whole.

Games are for everyone, and we shouldn't be locking off knowledge and interactions to those who can't get to a big building in San Francisco for whatever reason. Digital conferences work - let's embrace them as much as we can.


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Editor

Ric is the Editor of PocketGamer.biz, having started out as a Staff Writer on the site back in 2015. He received an honourable mention in both the MCV and Develop 30 Under 30 lists in 2016 and refuses to let anyone forget about it.

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Andy Cowe Developer at Moonjump
While not as good as the physical Pocket Gamer Connects events, it was still an interesting and useful week, without the time pressures of the usual conferences. And I didn't get the "con flu" that I got at PGC London this year!

I took part in the mobile Big Indie Pitch and it was clear there were a lot of pitchers who could not make it to any of the physical PGC events, which made for a different crowd, although still with the common bond. That was a nice thing to be a part of. Spending time in the waiting room for the BIP meant more interaction with the others than the physical events.

The random chats in corridors were missing, perhaps that could be replaced with a Chatroulette type service (although with some moderation to avoid the issues of that platform).
Dave Bradley COO at Steel Media Ltd
Hi Andy. Thanks for your feedback. Glad you found the Digital Big Indie Pitch interesting and useful! We’ll look at ways to increase the “social interaction” element of a conference, perhaps with some dedicated chat rooms by topic areas (a developer coffee room for instance). Do you mind if I quote some of your points in here on our PGC Digital website please?