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I love the smell of geek in the morning
Hey, game developers: Want to thank your fans? Throw 'em a party!
August 13, 2005: 8:44 AM EDT
Game Over is a weekly column by Chris Morris
Roughly 7,000 fans of the
Roughly 7,000 fans of the "Quake" video game series journeyed to Dallas this week to participate in QuakeCon.
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It started out with two women shaving their heads. By the time the afternoon was over, people had consumed whole sticks of butter, danced the Macarena for over an hour and consumed one of the nastiest milkshakes ever conceived. (More from QuakeCon)
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DALLAS (CNN/Money) - The stench in the back of the Longhorn Exhibit Hall at the Gaylord Texan hotel is already getting a mite strong -- and by Sunday morning, it will scorch your nose hairs -- but no one seems to care too much.

QuakeCon, the annual gathering of gaming enthusiasts sponsored by developer id Software, is not the place for sensitive noses. Some of the more dedicated (some might say obsessive) fans forego sleep and showers to compete with and against friends and strangers. But if you love action games, there's no better place to be in mid-August.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of QuakeCon. In 1996, roughly 30 fans of "Quake" made the pilgrimage to Garland, Texas, gathering at the Best Western a few miles from id's headquarters. By the end of the weekend, the crowd had grown to 100 – and the entire id team surprised the fans by showing up to chat and play a few games. This year, roughly 7,000 fans from around the world will arrive to play together, get sneak peeks at upcoming titles (including "Quake 4") and spend time once again with the id team.

The first QuakeCon was somewhat revolutionary in the industry. At the time, it was unheard of for players and developers to mingle. The success of the show, however, along with the fierce company loyalty it helped foster has given birth to a new way for developers to market their games.

Sony Online Entertainment, for example, introduced Fan Faire in 2000, letting fans of "EverQuest" gather and meet face-to-face, often for the first time. This year, Blizzard Entertainment will launch "BlizzCon," for fans of its runaway hit "World of Warcraft" and other games.

"Normally we're a very secret company, but with 'World of Warcraft,' we decided we want to get more in touch with our fans," said George Wang, public relations coordinator for Blizzard. "We wanted to make it a cool, party event -- not just a convention where people go and see a couple of exhibits and that sort of thing."

One significant difference between QuakeCon and its peers is the price of admission. QuakeCon's a free event, open to everyone (though those under 18 must have proof of parental consent). BlizzCon and Fan Fair both carry ticket fees. BlizzCon, which will be held in Oct. 28-29 in Anaheim, CA, costs $125 per person (after handling fees). Fan Faire, held in June in Las Vegas, runs its attendees $120 and higher.

"The reason we charge is it costs a lot of money," said Chris Kramer, director of corporate communications for Sony Online Entertainment (SOE). "We don't look at Fan Faire as a revenue generator. We look at it as something we do for the community, but it is very expensive for us."

Blizzard expects up to 6,500 guests at BlizzCon, thanks in large part to the staggering worldwide success of "World of Warcraft". Over 3.5 million people pay $12.99-$14.99 per month to play the game. In addition to the opportunity to chat with the makers of the game and attend a concert, attendees will be the first to see what's next for Blizzard.

"We're going to be showing off a new product we haven't announced yet," said Wang. (And for those thinking it's the long-rumored unveiling of "Diablo 3" or "Starcraft 2," get ready for a letdown. Wang said the announcement will be linked to "World of Warcraft".)

Fan Faire saw a smaller crowd this year, shrinking from 2,000 to 900. Like QuakeCon, it started when a few core fans of "EverQuest" met with the game's developers. As word of the pending meeting spread, people began booking flights into California to join in the fun. The following year, SOE made it a formal gathering, with conferences, a sit-down dinner for all attendees and contests.

At QuakeCon, id and show sponsors (who receive floor space in the exhibition hall), foot the bill, which id CEO Todd Hollenshead ballparks at "a couple million" each year. Volunteers organize the events and set up the "Bring Your Own Computer" area (the heart of the aforementioned stink zone), running wiring and ensuring things run smooth.

"We figure if you come down here and pay for your room, it's just not fair to charge $50 or $100," said Hollenshead. "That wouldn't be consistent with the spirit of QuakeCon."

Regardless of whether the event has an admission fee, the developers are consistent in their reasons for holding one. All three say it's a way for them to thank the people who have made their games so successful.

"We don't look at it as a profit center," said Hollenshead. "We say – and it's a bit cliché, but it's still true – that this is a party for the fans and our way of giving back to our community."

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Would you pluck your eyebrows out with a tweezer or eat a whole stick of butter just for a video card? Click here.

Morris is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Click here to send him an e-mail.  Top of page

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