re:Play re:Envisioned

Bigger versions of the same things aren’t making it better

tl;dr: re:Play has to change to accommodate the growing re:Invent conference. Done right, the event will continue as a major celebration of the week. If they continue down the current path of bigger activities with fewer people in them, the number of people standing in line will destroy the event.

Just after Thanksgiving, over 55,000 technology professionals gathered in Las Vegas for the annual Amazon Web Services re:Invent conference. re:Play, the celebration that ends the event, rocked the Las Vegas Festival Grounds on Thursday night. A large number of conference attendees and sponsors found their way via Bus, Monorail, Lyft, Uber, and probably a taxi or two. This years event was ready for the rush of attendees who showed up starting at 7:30pm.

Happy people on the monorail before the door didn’t open at the SLS

This Year was Better

First, let’s recognize that this year had some major improvements over previous years. Dodgeball and the laser light show joined broomball outside. The laser light show was a rare example of an activity that was bigger and allowed more people to experience it at once. Previously in a small tent, this years event moved outside in a giant inflatable tent. In previous years, each person had a silent disco headset to hear the music. Now outside, the music could be played inside the tent eliminating the cycle time of people getting headsets and sitting down. Adding a third airlock entrance and exit would have made a major difference in the line.

This made lots of room in the 3rd tent for a new live show. Zach Person, Thievery Corporation, and Future Islands played amazing shows there. Hopefully this made more people feel like re:Play had something for them.

Zach Person Takes the stage

Getting into the festival grounds was easy. There were two entrances, one where the monorail dropped off, and one for the where the busses and other vehicles were dropping off. This allowed easier access into the space than previous years where we had to cross a bridge.

This Year was Worse

Lines wrapped around every activity. Discussing this article with Brandon Sherman in OG-AWS, he summed it up best:

“re:Play was definitely re:Queue”

For most of the events, the lines took a huge amount of time compared to what you got to spend doing the activity.

The line for the laser light show may be Corey Quinn’s fabled Amazon Complex Queueing Service.

Outside, there didn’t seem to be a designated smoking area which led to people smoking everywhere outside. I was suffering with a chest cold all week and that made it really rough anytime i stepped outside the tents.

Food ran out at 10pm, that is a pretty big miss on planning. The entire time before it ran out though, the lines on the pizza and burger stations stretched across the facility. Why were the lines so long? I stepped back at 8:15 and spotted the reason. The food booths were all setup to have three stations going at once. What happened when people showed up was they stood in line for the first section and then proceeded to the second and third sections of the tables treating it as a single station.

Adjust! Adjust!!!!!

This shouldn’t have been a big deal, anyone on the event staff could have quickly come over to each table and split the lines to get everyone moving through the hamburger station while those who wanted to wait for pizza could have a second line. Sadly, nothing happened, until the food ran out.

The only upside was that instead of food running out at 9pm, it lasted until 10, but past events seemed to have food and deserts through most of the eventing.

Bigger isn’t Better

This year’s balcano was huge, probably twice the size of last year’s ball castle which was 3 times the size of the ball pool at re:Play 2016

Ball Pool (2016), Ball Castle (2017), Ballcano (2018)

While using 6 times the space as the original ball pit, Ballcano only had a few people in it at a time. Partially this was due to the rain getting the upper part wet, but even later in the night when it was open, there were still only about 5 people I could see in the bounce house at a time.

If you look closely at the ball pool picture, there are 17 people (and two helpers) in the ball pool. If they just packed 6 of them into the same space, about 100 people would have played at the same time. Having been in all three configurations, the ball pit was way more fun than the ball castle or ballcano.

A Note About Time

I’m aware that time impacts the number of people who can move through an activity. I think this comes into play if we are trying to squeeze in a few more people. Next year, re:Play needs to have 1000 more people doing something.

Everybody Doing Something

The Ballcano is at one end of the spectrum, about the only way to use more space for fewer people would be if they just gave us each our own football field. At the other end of the spectrum is probably the first 20 rows of each concert. Each person has a pretty minimal amount of room above the amount of space their body takes.

More Participants, Less Space

If re:Play wants to continue as the amazing party that it has been in years past, it has to adjust from just trying to have bigger versions of the same thing to having more people doing things in the same space. For next year, the team that sets the direction for re:Play needs to change the focus for the non concert tents to be on the number of people that are actively participating in them at the same time. The more participants at once, the less people there are waiting.

What could re:Play add? Here’s what I can come up with

More Songs in the Laser Light Tent

There was only one song in the laser light tent. This meant that people came in, watched one song, and left. If there were 3–4 different tracks, people would have stayed in longer. Perhaps have 2 shows from 8 to 10 and 2 different shows from 10–12. This way people still move through in 6–10 minutes each time but come back later in the night.

Board Games

There is already a board game night. Bring that to re:Play. The photos from the existing event shows a lot of people in the room playing. I’d also bet that there are some people who won’t go to the board game night but would stop to watch the games being played.

Poker Night

This was at OSCON(~2013) event. I know, in Las Vegas, anyone who wants to play poker can, but it still might work. I’m not sure that I want to put down $100 to get into a tournament but a chance to play for free/fun. Best of all, poker night gradually releases players back into the event after they run out of chips. At the beginning of the event, lots of people are playing. Gradually people lose their chips and move on to other stuff.

Comedy Club or Game Show

This would take a dedicated space, but a comedy club or game show in it’s own space would keep a bunch of people having fun for the night. I think with the right mix of comedians, this could have a big appeal to people who don’t currently have activities they love at re:Play.

Slides

One of the best things about having kids is getting to have fun on the playgrounds helping your kid understand what to do. Slides are fun. Carnivals have versions that are 30 or so feet tall and run lots of people through them.

Carnival Games

A whole alley dedicated to carnival games. These could even be outside in the cold or wet weather. Most have a cover that extends out to cover the participants. Need ideas? Check out https://www.skys-entertainment.com/category/carnival-side-stalls

Big Games

In 2017, Tinder threw a networking event at re:Invent at the American Bar. There was a giant connect 4 and Jenga. Lets add to that a life-size checkers game.

Make it Longer

Dare I say that replay needs to be longer

That one came from Taylor Price in also via OG-AWS and surprised me. Say start at 5pm. Some people will be in and out early, others still show up at 9 for the shows. Spreading the same number of people over more time could help reduce the number of people in lines.

What are your ideas?

Add your great ideas. What large group activities have you done that you look back and think wow, what a great time. Add a comment here, or on the twitter post.

Special thanks

Thanks to a few people for early reviews and suggestions on this article