Take the EverQuest II Battlegrounds and PvP Feedback panel. Straight from the program, it states "Bring your thoughts on what could be improved for both Battlegrounds and PvP. What's good? What's not? What suggestions do you have? We'll take notes!" Such a call to arms seemed like a setup for a bloodbath to me - how could I resist? What I found amazed me and renewed my faith in game developers and my fellow gamers.
The room was packed; I arrived shortly before the start of the panel and still had to sit in the back. I set myself up with a nice view of the panel and the sea of EverQuest II players before me, and I knew fear. There were so few developers, and so many players! In my mind, blood could be drawn at any minute, and I was relieved to have a seat in the back, to make a quick escape should things turn ugly. When it began, I was shocked to find each question taken seriously, directly, and honestly.
They took notes, they talked amongst themselves, they made sure that the answers they gave were as open and honest as they could be. Suggestions poured in, and the panelists took them in, responded clearly and concisely, and did what they could to set the players at ease. This wasn't simple placation, this was a display of true concern for their players' desires and concerns. Questions ranging from class mechanics and balancing, to hacking, to buggy voice chat were voiced; all addressed in a sincere and straightforward manner.
Certainly, a few responses were not what the player wanted to hear; one player voiced their suggestion on the often-seen act of working your ass off to get a full set of top-tier gear, only to have a whole new set of more powerful gear released shortly thereafter, forcing the grind all over again. The player inquired as to a possible trade-up on items, so that all their recent hard work was not all in vain. The devs' response addressed that concern, but also stated that on the other end of the spectrum, they have players who have been saying for months "I'm fully decked out - what do I do now?" No, this was not pacification, this was a serious attempt to give the best game they can to as many players as possible.
None of this is to say that developers don't want to satisfy their playerbase; that would be ridiculous. Every developer wants nothing more than people to play and love their game. Given the walls often placed between the playerbase and the development teams in many games, however, it gets increasingly difficult to see that human side of development from the player sidelines. The SOE Fan Faire broke down that wall, and readily demonstrated the true focus of the event - not the publicity, not the money, but the fans themselves, the players of these games.
All of this doesn't even mention the extravagant scenery that Las Vegas offers. Here is a town of glitz and glamor, of style and panache. Everyone is beautiful (or feels that way), and everyone is a celebrity (or wants to be). There was a pool party with an open bar and fire spinners, a closing ceremony grand banquet, and the entire event takes place right on the strip, smack in the middle of everything Vegas has to offer. Here's the thing - I may know how to party, but I'm still a gamer at heart. Many a night I've spent not out at the club living it up, but instead in my room on my computer, on vent with my guildies, trying to down the next internet dragon. The people with whom I game are my extended family, and more often than not, I'd rather stay inside gaming with them than going out to a club and dealing with all of those who don't share my interests. This doesn't make me antisocial; far from it. It just shows that I know where my friends are, and I want to be with them.
Heading out to Vegas for a Fan Faire isn't a small endeavor for any of these participants; it's a huge investment of time, money, and effort. I can't imagine many attendees being the super-casual type. That means a lot of nights spent killing internet dragons instead of partying like rock stars. The Fan Faire gives these people the rare opportunity to have their cake and eat it too - to live it up in Vegas, party like a rock star, and feel like a celebrity - all without having to sacrifice their preferred company to do it.
SOE, as a developer, has given their playerbase wonderful games where they can feel like heroes, and with the SOE Fan Faire, they've bridged the gap from game-world to real-world and given them a place where they can feel like heroes in real life; A place where they can meet, socialize, and go on adventures with their virtual families in the real world. Outside of all of the necessary trappings of publicity, demos, and advertising associated with any major gaming event, I walked away feeling happy to have been around so many truly happy people. Color me impressed.