2018 in Geek Conventions: The Great Convention Depression

Another year has passed, but instead of great experiences in conventions, people are starting to feel the fatigue. Looks like 2018 isn’t the best year for geek conventions.

There are a ton of events happening this year. We could say more than the previous years as in a span of month, or there are three to four events happening with a chance of two events held in a same day.

Just a few months ago, convention goers have been voicing out a major problem in the pop culture scene, and that is there are too many conventions and events happening. Now it may seem like a good problem, but when analyzed carefully, it smells a disaster to both the organizers and the community. Fast forward to the end of 2018, some conventions are experiencing the problem with low foot traffic outputs. To determine the situation, we previously made a short survey to see on what would be the common issues that con-goers are voicing out on. Though the data we gathered may be few and a bit generalized, it did provide us some new insights on what con-goers are always after.

[You may refer to our previous article in the overview of the convention fatigue based on our findings]

For our year-ender discussion, we tackle on the common issues that the organizers have encountered in 2018 and see what could have been done to lessen the impact of the problem.

The Same Old and Many

With so many conventions or events happening every year, some organizers are joining the bandwagon on making so many events where they would host one in every three months, in which some are calling these the quarterly conventions or QuarterCons. Having too many events may seem okay, except when majority of the events are just plain duplicates of their own or even from others. This added more redundancy to the content, booths and even special guests. This makes the experience of an attendee feel like they are only visiting a mall and went back a few months later with the same booths, the same stage and the same line of activities. This eliminates the thrill of anticipating something new whenever a person visits an event, where it should add sense of discovery every time they attend a new event. This only resulted in having a feeling of déjà vu whenever an attendee goes to the same type of event over and over.

The approach makes it feel like the organizers are exploiting the interests of the audience and instead of innovating on bringing new kinds of experience in every event, they just added more events with the same used up format. And in some cases, this meant for cost cutting as there is no need to spend more on other setups and just apply on what they currently have. This may be a good practice, but when the overall experience is also affected, this may reflect to poor sales especially if the ticket prices have no significant change and do not reflect to the value they are providing to the con-goers.

Organizers should start analyzing the interests of their audience, and adapting to the current trends that can help them think of new approach for their community to have a new kind of experience every year. They can focus on certain niches for their specific events instead of copy pasting the same layout for all of their events. Giving new content to the audience can make them feel refreshed and would encourage them to look forward for future events. Becoming creative and innovative are important when hosting events; it is always a risk to try out something new and refreshing, as there is always that fear that it may not sell well, but the same can be said when playing it safe on having the same content every event which has less benefits.

My Little Event wasn’t this Expensive

Most major conventions today are now priced at PhP 500 (almost at 10 USD), as compared to PhP 250 (5 USD) half a decade ago. The change began when AsiaPop Comic Con arrived in Manila in 2015, after that, some events followed suit with the price hike where it finally became a trend where big conventions should have expensive rates. Unfortunately, some were not happy with the rising ticket prices.

Like it or not, events need to get their return of investment from ticket sales, and hosting an event is very costly so this reflects to the ticket prices. There are equipment, manpower, permits and venues to pay, and don’t forget talents and other guests from both foreign and local. However, this does not mean that organizers should exploit this opportunity to spike up their ticket prices. Learning to find the right spot for their pricing is important, as it has to consider the specific audience the events have, as making it too expensive could block off their own community, and making it very cheap will result in a big loss in terms of revenue.

What is also important when finding the right pricing is equating it with the event value, wherein the attendee will be able to get a great amount of value from the ticket that they spent. It may be in a form of free premium items or perhaps getting some exclusive sneak peek of upcoming movies and TV series, or sometimes having a hands-on the new gaming titles. Other value may be having a chance to meet international and local celebrities or even attending panel discussions and workshops. Some organizers are adding more factor to the value, yet there are still some that still provide less value but gives out expensive tickets in which some attendees took notice of, and some common culprits are those with add-on costings for other attractions with an underwhelming content for their base attraction. Add-on attractions are usually premium perks for attendees that may want to get more event experience than from the standard option. These are sometimes meet & greet sessions, guest stage performances, concerts or even limited edition items.

Add-ons can be compared to Downloadable Contents in video games, as these are just merely optional contents that only add more value to the event experience, but not a mandatory feature to fully enjoy the event. Having add-on perks allow more choices for the attendees to choose on investing their money. The only thing that will become a problem is when the event itself lacks any content despite the high ticket price and requires to spend additional cost just to have the full experience.

Not all attendees can spend big for events, as based on the survey that was conducted about convention fatigue, majority of the attendees have a budget of PhP 1,000 (close to USD 20) when attending a major convention. That already included the ticket, transportation, food allowance and spending allowance when inside the event. With half already spent on tickets, and more than a quarter for the food and transportation, there is already little to no budget left to spend on merchandise. We can assume that majority of those who attend pop culture conventions are students, with some having little allowance, so saving up for big conventions is an option for them. But when an event requires them to spend more just to give them the full experience, it can force them not to attend the event at all and just spend their money elsewhere that would give them more value.

You can’t Unlock this Guest Character

One of the notorious problems that all organizers have probably experienced is when their top-billed celebrity guests can’t show up. Some examples were with Comic Con Asia when they billed the late Stan Lee as their main guest that shook the community, but at that time he was battling pneumonia which makes him unfit to travel. They eventually had to cancel his appearance, but it took a lot of delays from the organizers’ side to formally announce his cancellation. Another was from Hayley Atwell; most probably known as Agent Peggy Carter from Agent Carter and Captain America: The First Avenger at the same event where she had to call off her appearance. However, Comic Con Asia organizers made an official statement of her cancellation was due to ‘political unrest’, in which Atwell clarified that it was her words and the real reason was work schedule. (This was also the same reason of her cancellation in the first Asia Pop Comic Con back in 2015 as she was currently shooting for her new TV series).

And it gets better, as Toycon Pop Life Experience had a major problem when they announced very late that Jason David Frank of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers fame will not be appearing at the event despite their major promotion of him appearing. What makes it worse is that it was announced during the event itself with just an explanation that he wasn’t feeling well. The organizers ‘promised’ that JDF will have a reschedule for his appearance on a later date. Come the Christmas Toy Fair (another Toycon event that is held every December) and a teaser for a potential Power Rangers guest, unfortunately, it drew flaks from the community as it was later revealed to be 5 actors from different Power Rangers series and not a single JDF in sight. What’s worse was that fans demanded for refunds but were never entertained.

These problems can’t be avoided, as there are many factors ranging from health concerns, political issues to contract disputes between the organizers and the talents, but having a backup plan during these cases is a must. A proper communication should be made to the community, and no need to add twists to the reason on the cancellation; what’s important is what can the community who purchased the passes do if a cancellation occurs. Give them options, either provide a good compensation package that matches with the total value on they spent or give them a choice to refund. Sometimes organizers can’t get their money back from guests who cancelled depending on what the two parties have agreed upon, but the burden shouldn’t be passed on to the attendees that invested their money on something that they are expecting. It is still better to have a loss on sales rather than a loss from your community’s trust.

And if a guest celebrity doesn’t show up, always have a shortlist of other potential guests from the relevant scene, someone that the targeted audience will still appreciate. An organizer should never be too confident on their trump card as anything worse can happen.

The Bottom Line

Organizing an event is not a piece of cake to handle, but it should be prepared with all your effort and passion. As all of those who became successful will always say to you that you should always work with passion, money will come by itself when it does become succeed.

The pointers that I made on this long write-up doesn’t mean that the community should be entitled to anything that they demanded, but it points out how to handle the common problems in events to maintain your integrity, and on dealing with the community itself. After all, without the community, an event would never materialize or survive long.

Another to point out is with the excessive amount of events happening every month. Each organizer has their own reasons in organizing events, though it should be taken into consideration on the amount of events that they are hosting. As more events can mean more things to look forward on it adds more reach to newer attendees, but when an event becomes too redundant with each other, the audience will start to grow tired of having the same content over and over, and they’ll soon start to disappear when they realize that they are wasting too much money. There are several events that are already experiencing low attendance count for this year, and one doesn’t to be an expert to notice the drastic changes. Don’t serve them the same fried chicken all the time. Give them bacon once in a while (well…if that make sense).

It would be nice if large organizers start to target niche markets with newer content to add diversity. There are fans of JPop idol groups, and maybe it’s a good start to give them proper events, or perhaps the model kit community deserves a proper event. Heck some groups are starting to give new and refreshing events, from Sticker Con Manila for those who love fandoms and stickers in a single package, and Brawlfest Versus Arena for those who love fighting games. There are more communities to tap into; it is probably time to start reaching them out and give them a spotlight.

And lastly, organizers shouldn’t ignore the feedback and critique of the community and even from their partners, as these can become important pointers in improving the overall quality and experience. Shrugging off any criticism is a sign that some organizers’ ego cannot accept that their events have flaws and rather continue with the same format instead of enhancing for improvements. All events are never perfect, that’s a fact, but it should not be an excuse not to step up and improve. Convention Fatigue and other dilemmas can be overcome once organizers start waking up and make an adjustment, because in the end, it’s for the community.

Happy New Year, everyone. Despite the shortcomings from events last year, we still look forward for better events as 2019 starts a new chapter.

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