A First-Timer’s Guide to Fan Faire
By Jennifer “Minerva” Wilcox, Community Relations Manager, SOE-Denver
My first opportunity to experience the exciting whirlwind of games, goodies, and people that is SOE Fan Faire came last year, in 2009.
I’d been to Gen Con many times, and to Comic Con in 2008, so I knew what to expect from a convention and its attendees in general. Still, Fan Faire was a whole new ballgame, because firstly, it was in Las Vegas and secondly, it was SOE’s exclusive convention; planned by us, run by us, all ours to do with as we pleased. The prospect was both exciting and daunting.
I arrived in Las Vegas in the afternoon, having spent a scant hour or so in flight (and spying from my plane window a great scar across the desert land below, which the pilot informed us was the Grand Canyon). The first thing that hit me when I got off the plane was the noise level. It wasn’t from the people in the airport either, although they may have contributed indirectly. The airport was full of slot machines and the pinging, ringing, jangling of their bells. Since this was also my first time in Las Vegas, I took it all in with some amusement, figuring I had quite an adventure to look forward to if even the airport was so adorned. If you are a Vegas first-timer like I was, I suggest you take your time if you can. Get your bearings and indulge the urge to look around the airport for a few minutes.
The airport was very busy and it took awhile to get a cab; if you are able it may be worthwhile to both call ahead and group with others going your way. The air outside was much hotter than my home city of Denver, and just as dry. I quickly learned while waiting for my cab that it’s a good idea to carry a bottle of water on you at all times while in Vegas and drink, drink, drink. The heat and dry air can sap your energy pretty quickly. Last year Fan Faire was in June; this year it’s in August, and I imagine the heat will be that much worse in the desert. Hydration will be your friend. Even if you plan to spend most of your time inside, the indoor air is so air-conditioned and over-processed you will still need to drink plenty of water. I remember wishing for a big tube of lip balm after my first night there; my skin felt like it was burning, it was so dry!
Once I got my cab, it was off into Vegas, and onto the Strip - the humming heart of the city itself. Huge buildings soared into the sky on all sides, adorned with enormous billboards advertising everything from high-end restaurants, to dance revues, to casinos (of course). I saw several enormous but unfinished buildings; the construction crews that should have been busily building absent; the huge cranes that should have been carrying pieces of building material still and silent. There were obviously parts of Vegas that, like everything else in the US, had been hard hit by the suffering economy. It was a sad reminder, but as we got closer to the center of the Strip the existing buildings bustled with plenty of activity to show that business still continued.
Once I arrived at the hotel, there was a long line to check in. It was right next to a casino, of course, so it was hard to hear people, but the hotel staff was friendly and helpful once it was my turn. At this point, comfortable shoes were a much-appreciated necessity, as was packing lightly. I certainly saw my share of people dressed to the nines, but I also suspect they brought in at least two more suitcases than I was prepared to lug around. I’m a t-shirt and shorts kind of person, and I saw plenty of that, especially since I recognized many of the people waiting in my line as fellow gamers. I was comfortable right away and never felt out of place or underdressed.
Once I dropped off my bag I checked in with the Community Team, but they already had an assembly line going, smoothly stuffing bags and setting up tables and computers for the main gaming area. I took the opportunity to find a map and wander a bit, getting a sandwich and getting familiar with the rooms where Fan Faire would be held. I’ll be straight with you; food in Las Vegas is not cheap, not even a sandwich with a drink and chips. I can get away with a yogurt and granola for breakfast and a sandwich at lunch, with maybe something heartier for dinner, but if you eat more than that, be sure to budget enough for your meals. It seemed like everything was 5-8 dollars more expensive than at home, even if it was pretty good. You are paying for ambience in Vegas, and you get it wherever you go. That first night, I wandered over to the Paris hotel and bought myself the biggest cream puff I had ever seen. I ate that for dinner, because it was Vegas and I could (and it seemed like I should). It was extremely delicious.
The next day (Friday) saw long lines of players arriving to register or pick up their passes, and I recognized a few by their character names. I really love meeting our players and talking with them about the things that they enjoy in our games.
For other first-timers, once you arrive at Fan Faire, pick up your pass or register, and get a copy of the events; start planning! There is a lot to do and see in just one short weekend, and if you also want to go out and see a show in Vegas or get some gambling in, careful planning is required. I knew what was going on in Fan Faire and where I had to be on each night, but once I was done for the day, I had no real idea of what else was out on the Strip. Fortunately my team mates already had some ideas of what they wanted to see, and I went along because it sounded like fun.
We went and saw the musical fountains at the Bellagio, oohing and aahing over the lights and dancing water. After that we went inside to see the botanical gardens there, which were dressed for summer and the Fourth of July in red white and blue. The Bellagio itself was indescribable. I remember a lot of sparkling light, lots of rococo or perhaps baroque ornamentation, and lots of mirrors. Las Vegas is exciting enough during the day; at night it lights up and really kicks into high gear. Out on the Strip, which was absolutely packed with people walking up and down, I had no idea which way to look first, it was all so dazzlingly beautiful. My suggestion, once again, is to get a list of events happening on the Strip for the weekend, and pick a few you’d like to see after you get your daily Fan Faire fix; otherwise the sheer ebullience of the city at night will overwhelm your senses. If you tend to be something of a homebody, like myself, and you’re tempted to not go out into the city at night…forget it! Vegas is a must see, even if only once. Find someone, anyone, who will go with you to soak up the sights and sounds. You will not regret it.
Saturday was a day of panels, Live Quests, and other activities at Fan Faire. I was working at the registration desk, but I saw Live Quests from several games go by; the participating groups laughing and shouting and having what looked like a grand time. I attended the Legends of Norrath developers’ panel and saw many of my LoN players in person, which is always a blast. There was a lot going on and a lot of people participating, and overall the crowd was friendly, funny, and interesting. If you can only attend one day, I’d say Saturday should be it. The entire day from morning to night is packed full of stuff to see and do with your favorite players and devs, topped off by a Grand Banquet that must be seen to be believed. The costumes were inventive and very well done and not to be missed. Be sure to eat a good breakfast and carry some snacks just in case you can’t duck out for lunch, and don’t forget that water bottle! Once you get going, it will be hard to stop (and who would want to?).
Sunday was a day of cleaning up and packing up for the members of the Community Team. Players and developers get to make their way home after a fun weekend, but Community stays behind to help make sure everything and everyone gets home alright. All the computers, leftover goodies, signs and other items got carefully packed up and shipped home, and not until the last t-shirts and artwork was safely on its way did we finally say goodbye once again, with many smiles and some great memories (and a few dubious photos) of Las Vegas. It’s hard work, but it’s entirely worth it for the players who love our games.