Monday, June 30, 2014

Cons for Fun vs Cons for Money - Does it Matter? by Mike Fatum

For the last ten to fifteen years, geek culture has been booming. We've gone from a group of people who hid away from the world, playing Magic and D&D in dark corners, to a fully fledged movement that has our TV shows, films and events aimed just at us. Whether that's a good or bad thing is an argument for another day - if you've read this blog enough you know what I think. But the fact is, geek culture couldn't have exploded this way without the rise of the Convention.

San Diego Comic-con is the most prominent example, and as it's moved from a tiny gathering of comic book fans to a major launching point of Hollywood films, people all over the world have noticed a very important fact: Geeks are not just a source of angry opinions on the internet. We're also a great source of money.

This past weekend, several of my friends attended Wizard World Comic Con in Philadelphia. According to them, tickets for a photo opportunity with Matt Smith at the event were oversold, leading to an intense line and some disappointed fans who didn't get their photo or a refund. According to these fans, an approach to the convention's organizers was met with a complete lack of sympathy or any chance of a refund. I haven't been able to verify this with the folks at Wizard World yet, if I do, I will update the article. But no matter what happened at that convention, the fact remains that there is a new type of convention coming to the fore-front: one that focuses on the convention as a business, not a passion.

It could be argued that all conventions are businesses, of course. What other purpose is there behind a gathering like this, other than to make the organizers a lot of money off of gullible geeks, willing to shell out $150 to come to the show, and any additional fees just to see their favorite stars and do all the cool events there. But that's not really the case with the majority of the conventions I've attended. Big Wow, PAX, even San Diego Comic-con itself, while business that do pull in money from their guests, seem to be created out of a love for the medium they're celebrating. They create these spaces because they love the feeling we all get when we're in a room with 300,000 other nerds - all smelly and happy that we're with our extended family once again.

But there's another type of convention that's sprung up now. Several companies, like Creation Entertainment and, to a certain extent, Wizard World, have created conventions that seem to be organized more around exploiting us for our tech-job money. These cons are less gatherings of like-minded individuals and more parades of well-loved stars, trotted out for short stage appearances and lavishly expensive photo ops. The creators of these conventions might argue that their passion is the same as the minds behind your PAXes and your Big Wows, but it's hard to believe the owners of Creation Entertainment have a deep abiding love for Star Trek, Stargate, Twilight, True Blood, and Buffy at different times of the year. It seems more likely these companies have found a way to run a successful business than a passion project.

Now comes the real question: Do we care?

Look at the photo leading this article. I guarantee that was taken at one of these business conventions - it's got all the hallmarks of it. And yet - this is an opportunity of a lifetime for this couple. Something they'd never get the chance to do without these con organizers. The Ace of Geeks attended Wizard World in Sacramento last year, and we had a grand old time. It was a damn fun convention, and I made a lot of friendships that continue to this day.

These issues come up in every kind of entertainment - Michael Bay films, Electronic Arts video games - when something is made for profit and not for passion, we all tend to hate it - but only when it fails. As entertainment consumers, we turn on these creators when they make a new Transformers film, or when Sim City doesn't bloody work. And we should. But those same principles seem to fall by the wayside when these for-profit companies produce something we enjoy. We ignore the name on the label and happily hand over all of our money.

There are a lot of people who would say that this means we're using our hard-earned cash to support the disasters just as much as the successes. And that's true - I have no doubt that my money I spent at the well-run Sacramento Wizard World went to setting up the apparently poorly run Philly Wizard World. With conventions, unlike movies or games, there's no way to tell if you're going to be exploited until you get there.

Which leaves us with the same question asked in the title of this article - does it matter? Does the person or company running the convention matter when it comes to your personal experience? Does it matter if it's for profit or for fun?  As geek culture continues to grow, as the convention scene continues to get more mainstream, these types of conventions will only become more and more prevalent. It'll be up to each one of us to decide whether we draw that line in the sand, or not. What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

Mike Fatum is the Editor in Chief and Podcast Co-host of the Ace of Geeks. Conventions are pretty much his absolute favorite thing. 

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1 comment:

  1. It matters for some of us, but not enough of us, especially with so many more "geeks" coming from the mainstream. The best contrast I can give is the recent scheduling debacle between Long Beach Comic Con and Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo. I've met and interacted with both the showrunners of these con's and the LBCC people are definitely more like the "For Fun" archetype of convention and convention organizer, while the Comikaze people are very much the "Charge you for every nickel and dime we can" people. It even got to the point that on a very business-like (but not very fan-community-centric) move Comikaze tried to muscle out LBCC by taking over their traditional Halloween weekend spot that LBCC has had for a couple of years until Comikaze came along (which had different times). The LBCC people, in true "Fandom-centric mode" responded by booking another date and simply responding to the obviously directed move with a "The more, the merrier, the more things for fans" type of speech.