Kristin and I attended Penny Arcade's 3rd Annual Child's Play Dinner & Auction tonight and all I can say is wow! That is a mighty wow in response to the fact that even before tonight's event over $600,000 in toys and money have already been given to children's hospitals around the world -- and that is money and toys that go straight to the hospitals gamers specified with not a penny taken out for administrative purposes. I say wow in response to the number of people in attendance, each of whom paid $75 to be there. A hearty wow for the uniqueness of the items that were donated to be auctioned off and a double wow for the bids they received (you must read on, the values will amaze you). Lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't give a somewhat snarky wow to the level of geekdom on display. Not quite as bad as E3, but pretty close. I was in awe. Kristin was absolutely mesmerized.
I had missed last year's event for some reason or another, and was admittedly quite shocked to see just how much more, well, expensive the live auction became. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Kristin (looking as ravishing as ever) and I arrived around 6:45 and immediately strolled the aisle of silent auction items. Two years ago I came away with a Robosapien and Moonstone down coat from the MTV Videogame Awards. This year, I have to admit, that I wasn't as intrigued by too many of the items in the silent auction. Lots of bundles of fan-service for Gears of War, SOCOM 3, Final Fantasy XII, Alien Hominid, World of Warcraft, and various other games. Numerous signed faceplates for Xbox 360, autographed posters from dev teams, lots of games, some Seahawks tickets, videocards, a signed Zune, and a "Heroes" pilot script and apparel. There was also a bunch of stuff related to table-top gaming that spurred several questions from my better half. To which I could only muster the following reply:
"Kristin, there are many levels of geekdom. What you see in front of you is the penultimate level. If you want to know what this is, I think you're going to have to ask one of the guys walking around with the swords. Or maybe the one with the kilt, or perhaps the guy with the top-hat with the Queen of Diamonds in it. Or just wait until you overhear someone talk about chain mail, then ask him. They will likely be able to tell you. But me? I have no clue."
After I got a scotch in me (and then another) my threshold was lowered and I began to bid on two items. I was very interested in the Viva Pinata mega-pack, but it was already fetching a couple hundred dollars, so I turned my focus to the Forza 2 autographed faceplate. They had three of them and the top three bidders were going to each win one. I ended up winning one of these collectible faceplates signed by a dozen or so members of the dev team -- I can't wait to throw it on my system when the game finally comes out in a couple months. There's another item that I won as well, but I got it as a gift for Bill Harris over at Dubious Quality so I'm not going to give away what it is just in case he goes slumming and happens to read this article. I was also interested in bidding on a large poster for "Resistance Fall of Man" signed by dozens of people who worked on it and gift it to my editors at BradyGames, but it was netting quite a bundle of cash. Sorry guys, the thought was there.
The silent auction ended at eight o'clock and after a few minutes of watching people standing 8 inches apart use their Nintendo DS's to Pictochat with one another (I kid you not, they were within whispering distance, but were texting one another), the doors to the dining area finally opened and we were allowed in. Our end-of-the-alphabet last name netted us a spot at table #30 which, fortunately, was in the center of the room and only 3 tables from the stage. What luck! There was a crew of folks at our table from Sony Online Entertainment, a woman from Microsoft, and a guy from THQ.
Mike and Jerry (aka Tycho and Gabe... or is it Gabe and Tycho?) were introduced on stage by the time wine and salad was served and within minutes the gamers-turned-comics behind this shindig were auctioning off the first item. And the bar was immediately set far above that of the auction from two years ago. The most expensive winning bid at the event in 2004 was roughly $1800 and it went to a group of people who went in together on being a one-time character in a Penny Arcade comic. This year, the very first auction item was a series of three framed laser cells of Penny Arcade artwork and it went for $3700.
There were about 18 or so items up for auction and the lowest winning bid was $700 and that went for the chance to name a character in an upcoming White Wolf book. I'd elaborate but this is back into that realm of geekdom that I dare not attempt to enter. There were several laptops up for auction and a couple Penny Arcade banners that were on display at PAX, all of which went for in the neighborhood of $2000. Of course, I'm sure there are plenty of folks who would like to read into the following...
- Xbox 360 console autographed by Microsoft's J. Allard w/3 games. ($2000)
- PS3 console. ($1300)
- Nintendo Wii autographed by Reggie Fils-Amie w/signed Black DS, extra Wiimote/Nunchuk, three Wii games, and three DS games. ($3700)
The actual street value of the items puts the X360 combo at $580, the PS3 at $600, and the Wii/DS combo at $575. Yes, the autographs add to the perceived value and rarity, but there was clearly no love for Sony. While the Wii/DS combo was extremely popular and netted far more than I would have ever imagined, I was pretty shocked to see the X360 go for two grand. After all, you've been able to buy one for $400 for over a year now.
Another item of note was a Mystery Box. It was gift-wrapped. It's contents were a secret. And the box, which measured about 24" square at the base and maybe 42" tall didn't seem terribly heavy judging by the "elves" who carried it onto the stage. Like I said, nobody knew what was in it. It netted $3100. And if you think that is wild, the winner then got on stage and swore only to open it if someone would bid on the act of watching him open the box. Someone did. They ended up donating $400 more just so we could all watch the original winner open the box. Inside was some games, figurines, a stuffed Pokemon, art books, a couple strategy guides that I autographed and donated, and an Xbox 360.
But this was far from the only eye-raising items of the night. The item I coveted the most was a trip to Iceland. That's right, Iceland. The winning bidder and a guest would get airfare, weekend accommodations in Reykjavik, and a tour of the CCP Games offices, makers of Eve Online. Iceland is very near the top of my list of places I want to visit and Kristin and I were in deep discussion over this item before dinner. The street value of the item was listed at $1500, but when you factor in that it is for charity and tax deductible, it's easy to start gathering the nerve to bid a high number. Of course, we already have our Utah multisport trip and the trip to Canada for TransRockies planned for 2007 so we probably couldn't really add much time onto this Iceland trip even if we won it. Nevertheless, I at least wanted to bid it up if I wasn't going to win it. So I bid at $1000. I bid again at $1800. And again at $2400. The bids were slowing down and when I raised my number at $2800 I allowed myself to think that we had won it, but before I could smile Kristin kicked me under the table and gave me the look. Not a look of outright hostility, mind you, but one of warning. As if to say, "You're okay for now, but so help me God, if you raise that number again I'm going to stab you in the eye with your steak knife!" Yeah, that look. Unfortunately, after a brief pause in the action, during which time visions of Kristin and I swimming in the geothermal springs danced in my head, the bidding quickly jumped to $3000, then $3500, and ultimately $4100. Oh well. It was exciting while it lasted.
And speaking of exciting, nothing was more exciting than the bidding war that erupted over a chance to record a line of dialogue for an NPC in Halo 3. The winning bidder would get a tour of Bungie's offices and record the voice-over for a line of dialogue in the game. Would you believe this fetched $9000? That's right... nine-thousand-dollars. The guys from Red Vs Blue won it. Congrats to them, I guess those DVD's they make really sell!
Traditionally the most sought-after item in the live auction was the chance to be included in an upcoming Penny Arcade comic strip. And once again, it failed to disappoint. Numbers were shouted from all sides of the room until, finally, someone tipped the scales at the five-figure mark and everyone else backed off: $10,000 is a lot of money. But having your likeness in a Penny Arcade comic strip is worth it. I guess.
The items may have all been handed out, but there was one final auction left. It was for bragging rights. They started the bidding at $100 and everyone raised their numbers. Whoever was the "last bidder standing" got to leave the auction knowing they donated more than anyone else. Jerry and Mike quickly escalated the dollar amount to $1000 and most everyone lowered their cards. Then $5000, $10,000, and $20,000. There were two numbers still high in the air. Twenty grand became thirty grand, which then became forty grand. Finally, at $50,000 one of the bidders lowered their card and, during the standing ovation, it was made apparent that the creator of "Bookworm Adventures", the head of PopCap Games was the last bidder standing.
The conclusion of the auction was perfectly timed with the end of dinner. Kristin and I had finished our desert and coffee and once the standing ovation for the $50,000 donation subsided and the reality set in that the couple hundred gamers in attendance raised roughly two hundred thousand dollars for the Seattle Children's Hospital in a single night, we realised it was time to collect our items from the silent auction and head home.
If you read this and feel inspired to give, even if it's just five dollars, I would encourage you to head immediately to http://www.childsplaycharity.org/ and select the hospital nearest you from the map and either buy an item from the registry listed on Amazon or make a cash donation. Like I said earlier 100% of every donation goes directly to the hospital of your choice, not a penny is taken by the folks at Penny Arcade or by anyone else. It doesn't get any better than that.