Conventions vs. online conventions debate
During the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, various members of the furry fandom convention scene took it upon themselves to adapt and begin the trend of hosting online furry conventions. While virtual conventions did not first start in 2020, interest became exponential when people of the furry community felt withdrawl from the lack of conventions to attend in person.
Online conventions were seen as a great idea for the year to pass the time when all conventions were closed, postponed, or cancelled. While individual furries had opinions kept to themselves about how an online convention should be run, Meeran, a furry who eagerly attended several online conventions openly began the discussion and debate if continuing the tradition of online conventions were seen as a positive or negative practice in the fandom.
Pros and cons
A common debate is that online conventions can attract guests from all over the world rather than a particular region, country, or continent. The ease of managing conventions at home is cheaper than renting out a convention center or hotel. Some furries with social anxiety may also prefer going to online conventions rather than physical conventions. Another argument is relieving the financial burden that it takes to purchase a full-price convention ticket, a hotel room, and possibly airfare.
Meanwhile, the pros of being at physical conventions is that you will be able to see friends face-to-face, and have physical contact with them makes it worthwhile. Being able to interact with fursuiters and cosplayers, and the ability to fursuit at events is another charm, despite the use of custom avatars with online conventions. The sense of presence at a furcon, and treating it as a vacation is another attraction of going, along with eating at restaurants and shopping locally with friends. Vendors and artists are able to sell their goods, and consumers are able to purchase on-site rather than having to pay a shipping fee.
Opinions from convention hosts
"You're asking the wrong person that question, because I am a convention organizer myself. Everybody is talking about 'Oh, boy! Virtual furry conventions, virtual furry conventions!'. Okay, that's all well and good. Once we get back to having in person furry conventions, we kinda count on people going to them, and if people decide that the next hottest thing since sliced peaches is a virtual furry convention, and membership at the in person furry convention tails off... we're going to lose those."
Uncle Kage comically exclaimed afterward that they will not feel like real conventions unless organizers find a way to imitate the smell of body odor being masked heavily by Febreeze during the event.
A panel at VirtualFurence was held named "Online Furry Conventions: Will It Stay?" on August 23, 2020. The panel consisted of a one hour and thirteen minute interview with the chairpeople. G-Shep from ConFuzzled, Daltyn from Furality Online Xperience, Reimajo and Hiyu from Eurofurence Online, and Freeze Badger from Virtual Anthrocon were all involved in the interview. The transcript can be read below:
Reimajo started with: "Our world [VirtualFurence] is a few months old now, and people join it every day. So for us, like, the convention started months ago and it will just never end. Right? So, you can just come in here every day and just enjoy all the fun. We built in stuff into the space for people to hold events in, and we'll further improve that. And what we want, is that like, if different conventions and events, like, take place in this world, then we'll do our best to support them... ...that's kinda the idea of this project. Like, every day you can have a con."
Hiyu commented: "For me, what we see here is examples of people who had a few days, a few weeks, or maybe a few months to work on different fur cons and we're seeing the results in the difference of amounts of time that people have available. And what those different amounts of time, they can do their best with that amount of time. And I'm wondering now, what if someone has a year; what if someone has several years? What if someone starts something, and continues developing it. Would we end up conscending VRChat and having our own application? That's what I wonder about. I think that would be quite a hard thing to achieve, because right now the VR space is certainly very hobbyist-focused. Since we're kinda on the edge of being mainstream, it's not quite there yet, so we aren't seeing much commercial interest yet as it's not particularly profitable for teams more than a few people. Therefore, the innovation you see is very hobbyist-made. You still see all the corporate types and they didn't yet understand it at all. They think that all of this stuff is yet to occur. If you told them there already have been a VR convention, the stock market would change considerably, but they have absolutely no idea what we're doing, because it's all hobbyist-led. I'm wondering how far this can be taken."
In response, G-Shep stated: "I would say one thing aside from that, I'm starting to feel like VR is coming into its fruition now, like the company I work at the moment now, we're specifically research-based; government-funded research-based. We're now starting to see things like VR and starting to look at getting into our machines and things like that. Being able to move robots around inside a virtual world before we move around in a real [virtual] world. It's quite interesting, but yeah I think we're just under cost at the moment. People may be six months to a year before we start seeing decent virtual conventions on a commercial scale. Like, on a national commercial scale. This is amazing and as professional as you can get it, but talking about how you can use it at work. It's absolutely amazing."
Daltyn: "So, my answer if virtual conventions will stay is an easy yes, because ever since we finished up the first Furality Online Xperience, we knew we had to throw another one. There was so many other things we wanted to do; so many things we wanted to improve. We've been hard at work already and I'm sure that the next to months leading up to November when we're going to have the next Furality Online Xperience will just be a lot of work, but so worth it. We've been in close cooperation with VRChat and brought some really helpful people to our team, and I'm sure from this point to when we hold the next one. Every release of VRChat, every month that goes by, we get new people from the fandom joining, we get new features, we have the Avatars 3.0 system now to make our avatar so much more experessive. We're so excited to show to share an event that's really based on bringing the panels, the meetups, the things that are not only just fun, also educational, also social to VRChat. So, I don't think virtual conventions in any way replace physical conventions, but I think that it's a place to celebrate this somewhat new medium. Furality is not just a convention that takes place in VR; it's a convention about VR. It celebrates the avatars, the worlds, the things that our fandom is creating like VirtualFurence in VR and VRChat. I think that we have a place amongst the physical convention, and it's certainly our intention to stay around."
Freeze Badger: "So, I think I kinda have a diffrent view of virtual conventions, because there's kinda two ways to look at it. The way I see it is kind of as a mixed-media thing. Instead of just VRChat, and the way we did it with Anthrocon was video was the primary thing. We were livestreaming, and I think you start running into a point where you have a content issue. It's easy to get a lot of people to back it, but you need people to run panels, you need people to organize events. And I think from the aspect of that, people will start doing their own things more than they'll start going onto a convention just because the Internet is open like that; you can do whatever you want. Things like this [VirtualFurence] with VRChat I think will continue to grow. I certainly had a lot of fun running around this hotel virtually. I've never been to actual Eurofurence. *chuckles* ...money. Seeing this space actually makes me really want to go, because it's gorgeuous; it's stunning. I don't think it's going to be a replacement, but I think they're going to continue at least, y'know? We're going to see an improvement over the next year or two. And I think people are just going to get used to it and expect it after that, along with your in person events. Just because with VR, you can talk with people more than you can talk with them on Telegram. You kinda get the sense of actually being in the room with them. So I think we're going to see it for a long time, just hopefully in a different space and a different kind of event, because 'Damn, do I miss actually seeing my friends in person.'."