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18 June 2013 @ 01:01 pm
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.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
Madman Across the Water: Hermitmadmanatw on June 18th, 2013 09:32 pm (UTC)
Many of the people who run Convolution are friends of mine. Last year was its first year, and I'll definitely be going this year as well.
DonAithnendonaithnen on June 19th, 2013 08:20 pm (UTC)
So it's correct that they approached BayCon first and were rejected before teaming up with Fanime? Or is that officially privileged information? :)
Madman Across the Water: Hermitmadmanatw on June 19th, 2013 08:35 pm (UTC)
The one that teamed up with Famine was Clockwork Alchemy. Convolution is the new one in November that the Klingon told you about. Unless Convolution is supposed to have also tried to team up with BayCon, in which case I dunno. :)
DonAithnendonaithnen on June 20th, 2013 08:44 pm (UTC)
Oops, right, too many conventions running around in my head :)
Rose Redrosered32 on July 3rd, 2013 08:27 pm (UTC)
Insight from a BayCon Staff person
HI Donaithnen ,

I am a member of the BayCon Staff and have been for 6 years. I don't know all the secrets from the past. I do know that some of what you are saying above isn't quite right. Also I did join the Board of Directors this year BUT I am posting this as a person who read what you wrote and wanted to share knowledge I have, not make an official "BAYCON SAYS" response even though so of it may seem like it.

No Stemapunk Group approached BayCon in the last 2 years. Mind you the Furries and the Fanime groups did spring from BayCon and I am sure there are "things", but I want to be very clear, BayCon didn't reject any Steampunk connections. It was not approached by the the people who ran Clockwork Alchemy. They already had connections to people who work with Fanime and approached them when Nova Albion, the StemaPunk Convention that takes place in March usually, didn't happen in 2012.

In fact in 2012, BayCon was hoping to connect with Legion Fantastic from Dickens for 2012 but that group was having its own issues and was not able to commit to anything with BayCon. I know because I was talking to people there but they were doing what they needed to do for their group. Also The Clockwork Alchemy people were doing their thing separately from Nova Ablion.

While BayCon has many issues, please understand it is trying to revitalize with new board members and new people trying to grow it. It is far from Perfect but it is trying to grow some.

While Fanaime is amazingly large and fun, it isn't quite what BayCon wants to be. BayCon wants to be about 2,000 - 5,000 people at most as then one doesn't just get lost in the crowd while trying to meet the Writer Guest of Honor or miss out on a conversation about drawing techniques with the Artist Guest of Honor or asking a writer from Star trek about how it was to work with Ray Bradbury.

I know that while BayCon seems to be dying (And in some ways it is as our original fans and Guests of Honor are getting older), we are working to build connections to other SciFi fans and not trying to cash in on what Fanime does so well. They bring anime to the Bay Area and I think that is a reason BayCon doesn't focus on it as much. Why copy them in something they do better than BayCon could? BayCon brought in Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt of Sword and Laser(As you know) and Bonnie Burton from Geek DIY. It had a DIY Room this year which did very well.

The Masquerade did need help. No argument there. But again BayCon needs to reconnect with costumers and work on that. It will be a slow process as the past will be haunting BayCon. But with new blood coming in to try an grow it, there may be surprises on the horizon yet. All BayCOn do is try.

But this post was about the Parties and as has been commented before, there is a liability issue which if members buy memberships the insurances then covers anything that could happen. it sucks but it is what BayCon has had to do. There was no badging on the Party floor this year as the hotel is shared with other groups but rooms did have to check for them. Again people sue over stuff and BayCon has to follow its insurance guidelines.

While there is talk of moving to a different weekend and sour grapes, I think that really the issue isn't that. It is about hotel contracts and space. When one has a contract, an event can't just say "Oh Hey we did poorly that year, can we change dates of when we are?" Hotels don't like that. If only it where that easy. And yes I am sure there has been past issues about "Well we were hear first!" I think that is no longer the issue. Only the future can say on that when the new contracts come up for renewal.

Sorry to have posted so much. I just feel like if you heard from a new person on staff who is trying to help verses saying "Oh no that is wrong, BayaCon is Just Fine.", you might be inclined to offer some help or some suggestions too as you do seem to like the event over all. Or may be I am just being a Mary Sue.

Thanks for reading.
Robynnecorpsefairy on June 18th, 2013 10:10 pm (UTC)
BayCon did exactly the same thing with the furries. FurCon basically started as a room party at BayCon, and then it got bigger, and then BayCon said yeah, this furry thing you kids do, we don't want it at our con. So the furries said ok, we'll make our own convention, and now FurCon takes over two hotels plus the San Jose Convention Center, and BayCon is quietly dying.

Between the furries, the steampunks, and the anime kids, BayCon shot itself in the foot, the thigh, and a good chunk of its arms.

Regarding parties and badges: There's a bit of history there. Once upon a time, BayCon didn't check for badges on the party floors, and the parties got wild. They had some problems with non-attendees showing up and getting stupidly drunk at the parties, which caused problems for hotel security and by extension BayCon. Then someone (maybe an attendee, maybe not; I'm fuzzy on the details) fell out of a window and they decided to tighten up the badge policy.

Edited at 2013-06-18 10:13 pm (UTC)
DonAithnendonaithnen on June 19th, 2013 08:27 pm (UTC)
Well they seem to have reverted. This year they weren't checking for badges on the party floor. The individual parties _may_ have been checking for badges at the door, but if so it was overshadowed by the "checking for ID" functionality.
Usqueba: Lainusqueba on June 18th, 2013 10:21 pm (UTC)
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.

I bet it's a liability thing. If a person is running a party with out a badge and something happened, BayCon's butt might be on the line. By buying a badge, you agree to abide by all of BayCon's rule's, etc.
Sister Atom Bomb of Courteous Debateakiko on June 18th, 2013 11:35 pm (UTC)
I've honestly never heard of someone getting comped badges for throwing a room party. I would be surprised to learn that it is common.
DonAithnendonaithnen on June 19th, 2013 08:24 pm (UTC)
Well i guess it depends on how big the con is and how big of a role parties play in the con, and how big the party is. I got the impression that even for the cons that do it it's only the parties that have a reputation for drawing a crowd (or the people who've thrown such parties for other cons) that get that treatment.
Sister Atom Bomb of Courteous Debateakiko on June 19th, 2013 08:42 pm (UTC)
The comped badges at our con are for volunteers and guests (+1) only. I don't generally go to party cons (I don't even know what counts as a party con tbh), but I can ask my acquaintance on staff at Arisia if they comp Barfleet's badges. (Though not very soon; she's kind of busy dealing with a personal life implosion right now.)
Beth Leonardbeth_leonard on June 19th, 2013 04:08 am (UTC)
Having never been to a con (save for picking a furry friend up at one once and driving him to the airport) I find all this fascinating. It also sounds like you are certainly starting to meet people in high places.
DonAithnendonaithnen on June 19th, 2013 08:19 pm (UTC)
The fandom social hierarchy really isn't that deep :) There are published authors and people who are famous (within the fandom community) just for being prominent fans (and there's a specific term for them that my mind is completely blanking on) and being _friends_ with those people would be pretty awesome. However just chatting with them at a con is no big deal. I've chatted, for periods ranging from a minute or so to an hour or so and in groups ranging from one on one to about a dozen people, with Seanan McGuire, John Scalzi, George RR Martin, Mercedes Lackey, Jack McDevitt, Lois McMaster Bujold, Robert J Sawyer, and probably a couple other reasonably prominent authors i'm forgetting. And i've lost track of the number of people involved in con organization (either directly or indirectly, such as the two party organizers above) that i've chatted with for moderate periods. And all this despite me feeling very hesitant about pushing myself into conversations with such people.

So the places really aren't that high, and it's not that hard to get up there, at least to visit briefly :)
Sister Atom Bomb of Courteous Debateakiko on June 19th, 2013 11:53 pm (UTC)
Yeah, like D says below, the fandom hierarchy isn't that deep. I met a woman at a meetup at a con a few years ago, we became friends, and now she's one of the editors of a well-regarded online SFF magazine.

I ate lunch with Lois McMaster Bujold one day at DragonCon, which was really cool. She won't remember me, of course.