DonAithnen (donaithnen) wrote,

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BayCon, We Have A Problem

Follow up to the previous post about BayCon. This is about the reasons why BayCon is faltering (to put it kindly) plus some behind the scene bits about running con parties.

So sunday night the party scene was rather dead. I wandered about a bit and ended up in what _should_ have been one of the happening rooms because it had good music playing, but there were only a couple people there. I did a little bit of dancing but then got distracted when the population dwindled to just two other people, one the person hosting this party and the other who does the Black Hole party (aka the Klingon bar party) and they started talking about why the party floor was so dead that night. (Apparently things were pretty good friday night, though obviously i'd missed that, and that saturday was just "okay".)

So i'd heard the story before about how Fanime got started. There are three "big" cons Memorial Day weekend in SF. BayCon, an anime convention called Fanime, and a gaming convention called Kubla Kon. As it was explained to me, once upon a time BayCon had an anime track. This track was very popular with the younger crowd. The staff in charge of that track expressed a desire to expand the track. More panels, more anime, more everything. The people in charge of BayCon, after carefull consideration, essentially said "We're not sure about this new-fangled 'anime' thing you kids are into, and we don't want it taking over the con." The anime staff responded with "Fine! We'll go start our own con! With beer! And hookers! In fact, forget the con!" Okay, not quite like that, but you get the idea, and thus Fanime was born. (Or possibly Fanime already existed and the BayCon anime staff defected over to it, not 100% sure on the details, there definitely was a migration of staff though.)

Fanime grew like anime conventions tended to grow in the 90s and 00s, and in 2004 Fanime switched to Memorial Day weekend, and suddenly people had to make a choice about which to go to. Some people went to Fanime during the day then came over to BayCon at night for the parties (Fanime, having a generally much younger demographic, has a no booze policy, and possibly a "no room parties" policy as well.)

However as Fanime has grown larger and larger more and more (younger) people decide to go to Fanime instead and less and less bother to come over to BayCon for the parties or anything else, and obviously if left unchecked that's a viscious circle. And BayCon really hasn't shown much interest in checking it. It's been suggested that they should come up with some kind of shared pass with Fanime. It's also been suggested that BayCon should just move to some other weekend where there's less competition. However apparently the BayCon staff at some level feel betrayed by the staff who moved over to Fanime and/or Fanime moving in on "their" weekend, and refuse to either deal or concede defeat.

That was as much as i knew prior to this year (or think i know at least, anyone with more details than that please let me know =) but apparently those who don't learn from history, especially their own history, are doomed to repeat it. Because the conversation at the "party" turned to the competing cons that all the people were going to instead of BayCon and i got to hear about part two.

So fast forward to a year ago. Some people thought it would be cool to put together a Steampunk convention called "Clockwork Alchemy", but didn't think they had a big enough audience/enough experience/whatever to pull it off on their own. So they approached the BayCon staff and said "Hey, steampunk is science fiction, so why don't we make our con an adjunct of your con?" BayCon's response was effectively "We're not sure about this new-fangled 'steampunk' thing you kids are into, and...' yadda yadda. So the Clockwork Alchemy people then went and talked to the Fanime people and Fanime said "yeah sure! The more the merrier!"

So now if you go to Fanime then Clockwork Alchemy is right there too. I'm not sure if it's just one admission for both cons or if there's a surcharge to get into both, but whatever the system they seem to have proven that two cons and work together to make things better for all the fans if the people in charge can avoid letting their egos get in the way.

So after that the conversation turned to cons that still do have good parties. The guy whose room it was apparently throws parties at a number of conventions each year all across the country. (He apparently has a pretty good job in IT and a big company and can afford to do this.) He provided a list of conventions that are mostly of academic interest since i don't plan on traveling _that_ much, but he did say that he does a big party at DragonCon every year. I had no idea if there were actually room parties at DragonCon or not and had certainly never been to one. So if i can remember where i put his email address and get in contact with him to get details i will definitely be checking that one out. And then the Klingon bar guy mentioned that there's a new con in the process of spinning up in the Bay area called "Convolution" in the first week of November. Obviously the Bay area isn't that difficult to get to, and i'm seriously tempted to go up to check it out.

I also heard a lot of details about things BayCon is specifically doing wrong in regards to room parties. From what they were saying a lot of the other cons will either A: comp them for their badges or B: not insist that they buy badges if they don't want to go to the rest of the con (some people just really like throwing parties i guess?) and sometimes will even pay for part or all of their hotel room if they did especially good parties. Good parties draw people, which helps the con.

BayCon however does not comp the hotel rooms, does not comp the badges, and insists that everyone who staffs a party on the official party floor needs to have a badge. The badge part is a pretty trivial amount of money, both from the perspective of BayCon and from the perspective of the people who are spending hundreds (or possibly thousands?) of dollars to throw these parties. The really dumb part is of course the insisting that everyone have a badge bit. Getting free badges is a nice perk but i get the feeling that it's having to buy badges for people who aren't even interested in the con itself that's really miffing the party people.

There were a couple other complaints about how BayCon handles the party floor vs how other cons do it, but those were the highlights.

Of course i'm only hearing the "anti" BayCon side of the story. Perhaps that's not how things actually happened and perhaps the BayCon staff has good reasons for all the choices they've made, but that seems hard to imagine. I'm not sure if they're in a position of "adapt or die" or "adapt or become increasingly desolated and irrelevant", but it seems like adapting is the better option regardless.

I also got to hear some interesting shop-talk on the right way to run parties. Like doing wristbands for ID checks instead of hand stamps (it's pretty common for people just over 21 to lick their hands and then transfer the stamp to their under-21 friends, which is one of those "duh" things once you think about it) and pre-mixing all your drinks (something i'd actually noticed for this first time just the day before.)

In fact the Klingon party guy has been trying to move con parties towards a more centralized ID check system. Instead of having someone checking con badges at the entrance to the party floor, have someone checking IDs and giving out wristbands. They actually had an unofficial system like that at BayCon this year. At least one of the other parties was just trusting that if you had a wristband from the Klingon party that you were okay. He's actually looked into getting stormtroopers from the 501st Legion to do ID checks, since that would be so appropriate, but apparently they usually charge for doing anything at any kind of event.

There was also a discussion about some of the issues the Klingon slave auction has been having (as noted in other post, there was a somewhat lower turnout of slaves than in previous years, and also somewhat lower prices) and the guy whose room party we were in mentioned that sometimes he would buy slaves and then use them as door guards, which usually worked out pretty well. However he complained that this year no one was advertising any special skills, though that was because the person organizing the slaves this year had neglected to tell us to do that.

After that some more people showed up and the conversation shifted to the previously mentioned Star Trek and Star Wars movie debate for a short time before wrapping up.

So all in all it was a very interesting and informative evening. I feel bad about the lack of partying, but given that, i'm glad i managed to stumble into a behind the scenes discussion between two such relatively in-the-know people.
Tags: cons, conventions
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