We tried a comic-con experiment this last weekend.
I say we, because while it started out as my crazy idea, I managed to convince several people to join in, most notably my writing partner and co-author, Annalisa Parent. Here’s the idea: let’s a write a custom story for a specific comic-con, the North East Comic Con in Wilmington, MA. More than that, let’s play it out as a live, interactive story at the con, costumes and all, and see how people react.
The story was about super heroes as told from the perspective of a sidekick, well, a woman that works for an agency that outsources sidekick services to super heroes. The agency is called No.2 Inc. Kate Taylor, the “protagonist assistant,” was sent to retrieve a laptop containing sensitive data that was then stolen and later reappeared at the con. When she arrived to reclaim it, she discovered the situation was far more complex than she assumed and she needed more information to get her laptop back without getting caught.
In order to get that info, she enslists the help of conference attendees with smartphones via Twitter. Here’s the interactive part of the story. Attendees are encouraged to take pictures, meet with vendors, and pass all the information back to Kate before the con ends.
We also had an antagonist, the mysterious Carle Group, voiced (Tweeted) expertly by Jon van Luling, interferring, harassing, and generally trolling Kate while she attempted to pull off her reverse heist.
Then, for those who wanted to know more about the story and Kate, we wrote an ebook version of the mission with all the behind the scenes details. By the way, you can find where to get the ebook and pictures from the con at http://apologue.co/no2inc
So was it successful? Depends on what you mean by success.
People loved the idea. From vendors, to actors, to attendees, I was told over and over this was the coolest idea to hit a con in a long time. But there were a number of problems that prevented us from making a truly cool experience.
The first, and biggest, was that the network was absolutely awful at the con. Moreover, the promised public WiFi didn’t exist, which made it difficult to run this thing, let alone participate.
The second problem was that not everyone was using, or even liked using, Twitter. But then, no one could agree on their favorite social media platform either. That was a definite facepalm moment for me. You know that moment when an assumption catches up to you and boots you in the butt? This was mine. We rallied quickly and added Instagram and Facebook to the mix but by then half the con had gone by.
The third problem was what really got me. This is one of those problems that I didn’t really anticipate because it never occurred to me until I was standing on the con floor. Turnover. For those who enjoy the chaotic math surrounding crowd dynamics, this was fascinating. I don’t like that math. I just found it frustrating.
Turnover: meaning, how soon before someone gets their fill of the con and leaves. The answer is not simple. For example, if a con is small, you don’t spend as much time there. Also, if a con doesn’t have a lot happening other than vendor tables, you don’t spend much time there. If a con is small but there’s a ton of people there, you spend more time there because there’s more to see: namely cosplayers and friends. If a con is small and there’s too many people there, you get overwhelmed and get something to eat while things die down a bit.
The bigger a con gets, the messier the mechanics. Who are the celebrities attending? How many panel discussions are happening? Are there any sneak previews of upcoming projects? Here’s the thing I find funny about this. Messier is generally better. At the popular cons, when the numbers get larger, the turnover stabilizes. People may be leaving at the same rate, for any number of specific reasons, but you have enough other people replacing them, that the population doesn’t spike as often.
Complicated, right? How this affected me was that if people stayed longer, I had more people involved in the story. If the crowd was thin, less people. If you had a day like I did on Sunday, where there little attendance except for two decent spikes, it’s hell to keep story momentum moving. In the beginning, people leave faster. In the middle, people want the whole story to play out immediately, until it gets too crowded, and then they leave.
What I can say is that I know a lot whole lot more about how to write an interactive story for a con than I did before attending this con. Will Kate have more missions? Absolutely. She one of the more interesting characters I’ve written. I’m not giving up on her yet. And the whole interactive part? We’ll work it out. Because, as I said, people really really liked it.
I hope you like it too. As I mentioned you can find more about this story at http://apologue.co (the “imprint” I created for this project). Go there and start clicking on things.