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Crowdsourcing the Convention: What Do You Love (and Hate) About WorldCon, DragonCon and PAX?

This weekend, three major geek conventions throw down all at once: PAX, DragonCon and WorldCon. Short of the Hollywood-infused spectacle that is Comic-Con, this will be the biggest convention weekend of 2010. As a rookie programming director for ConGlomeration 2011, it’s also my most hyperconcentrated research opportunity — so , of course, I’m unable to attend any of the trio of A-list conventions. (Stupid adult obligations)

That’s where you guys come in. Roughly 60,000 people attend PAX. Another 40,000 attend DragonCon. WorldCon averages something in the neighborhood of tenth of either previous figure. In any case, about 100,000 geeks — professional and otherwise — will be at a convention this weekend, and a bunch of you read SF Signal, too.

So spill it.

I want to know:

  • What rocks and what sucks about each convention?
  • What makes DragonCon so special?
  • How did PAX double in size every year for the last seven?
  • Are the Hugos really as awesome as we imagine?
  • Who’s the geek ubermensch: Nathan Fillion or Wil Wheaton?

Cite specific examples and show your work.

This is your giant global gripe session and shout-out venue. We can’t leave it all to Cheryl Morgan; not even she can simultaneously cover three cons on two continents.

Last week, we asked what makes a science fiction convention worth going to. Regardless of the answers (which we’ll discuss next week), DragonCon, PAX and are WorldCon clearly doing something right. Now’s your chance to explain exactly what that is — and perhaps change the fate of ConGlomeration in the process.

See you in the comments section.

12 Comments on Crowdsourcing the Convention: What Do You Love (and Hate) About WorldCon, DragonCon and PAX?

  1. Personally, I hate that I’m not at PAX, WorldCon or DragonCon.

    • How did PAX double in size every year for the last seven?

    Booth Babes… (ducks)


  2. Cite specific examples and show your work.

    I just had the most frightening flashback to high school algebra.  *laughs*

  3. Based on what I’m seeing from the DragonCon Twitter hashtag, they’re having some serious registration problems:

    Quoth user FerrelES “45 minutes and the #dragoncon ticket line has not moved!”

    Quoth allanonmage “we waited in line 3 hrs for my pre-reg, and her onsite took 10min!

    Quoth ericastill “My 5th time at #dragoncon and probably my last if they don’t get reg fixed… Line’s been stopped for 30, no ETA of when it will be started”

  4. Well since I commented previously, I’ll just say here that Wil Wheaton is definitely the geek ubermensch and seems to know a lot of SFF authors besides, but Nathan Fillion is very funny and probably would be the bigger draw. But both of them are outmanned by Bruce Campbell and Kevin Smith. Campbell is going to be at Horrorfind, which is also taking place this weekend in Pennsylvania.

    Of the three discussed, I’ve only been to WorldCon, which seems to vary wildly depending on where it’s held. I find that WorldCon largely divorcing itself from comics, games, film and t.v. is a mistake, and that DragonCon doesn’t has probably helped it. I found the most recent WorldCon to be jovial but not nearly as lively as World Fantasy, despite having three times the space. The publishers mostly weren’t there or at least had not put a lot of effort into it. I do think cons need to bug publishers for PR and to help get authors. I know that authors are more willing to come the more you are willing to pay their basic expenses.

    To a certain extent, the cons do seem to be a matter of buzz. I first heard of DragonCon at World Fantasy, and then on the Net heard a several authors say that they preferred DragonCon to the big cons. And that may be why PAX is doubling each year, that and the guest list.

    I already listed my requirements, things I’ve found at the few cons I’ve gone to and would want to have, so I’ll just wish you good luck, with one further suggestion — make sure there’s time for questions at panels. Con audiences like to interact with speakers and panelists, even the names who are not as well known.



  5. In my experience over the last 3 years, DragonCon’s registration line is long (possibly multiple hours on Saturday morning) if paying by credit card and incredibly short if paying cash.  We now bring cash and it’s relatively simple, but those registration lines are the worst thing about DragonCon.

    What makes DragonCon special is the wide variety of mini-conferences going on simultaneously.  Today, I eschewed fiction altogether and sat in on the Skeptic track (Adam Savage of Mythbusters on how to raise chlidren who are skeptical geeks), Science track (Aubrey de Grey on living to be 1000), and Space track (NASA/JPL scientists on recent and upcoming Mars lander/rover missions).

    Also, the presence of numerous costumed attendees means walking from one session to the next is always entertaining.  Always.

  6. Having attended PAX four or five times now, as both attendee and enforcer the reason for the convention’s overall growth is directly tied into why it is as awesome as it is.

    -Don’t Be A Dick – It’s pretty much the #1 rule for all Enforcers at PAX, an attendees also try to take on this philosophy as well. 99.9 percent of all people that go to PAX are there to game, to talk about games, to show games or just generally geek out about something. Common bond = Less dickishness and people acting like decent human beings to one another

    -Anti-E3 – PAX is great in every way that E3 is not. PAX has an expo hall showcasing not only the triple A games currently out or coming soon, it also has things like the PAX 10 contest, showcasing the talent of individuals making games themselves, outside of any corporation or fixture. The expo hall is a place of diversity where you can be waiting in line for Dead Space 2 one moment, and then the next find some odd but totally awesome indie game coming out for the XBOX Live Arcade / PS Home later in a couple of months. There is also the lack of gratutious T&A. If there is a booth babe at PAX she is gonna be pretty well clothed and know a shit ton about the game she is promoting.

    -Games…goodness the games – PAX has dedicated rooms to play any type of game you wanna play. You wanna play some Risk, there’s a room for that. Magic, D&D, NES, Atari, etc, etc. If you can think up the game they usually have it, and good money there are 3 to 5 other people wanting to play it too.

    -Like Skynet – PAX is like skynet…but in a good sense. Every year, after the convention, Penny Arcade asks convention goers & Enforcers “What worked?/What didn’t work?/What can be done to improve things?”. That data is actually used to improve upon the next convention. During PAX East the concept of entertaining lines became more prominent, an now at PAX Prime there is a whole group of Enforcers whose sole duty is to entertain people waiting in long lines and help pass the time by faster. Convention center not big enough? They find a bigger venue (see Hynes to Boston Convention Center). You want Metroid Metal, you got ’em. To put it simply the covention organizers (Penny Arcade) actually listen to the convention goers/Enforcers and make the convention better by using this input to make the next convention better

    -Panels – There’s panels of all shapes & sizes. A Bungie panel, a games journalism panel, a podcast panel, etc, etc. Generally there is always a panel for somebody and gives convention goers something other then the Expo Hall to keep them occupied.

    -Concerts – Even those not overly into games, there are concerts Friday & Saturday night, hosting chiptunes bands / video game related bands and other groups of singers/performers such as Jonathan Coulton, Paul & Storm, etc.

    -Lines Aren’t So Painful – Nobody likes waiting in lines, and while the Line Entertainment idea wasn’t really put into place till this year, lines at PAX were actually kinda fun already. People with DSs will have Mario Kart races wirelessly, another group of people will be playing Munchkin/Magic on the floor. Heck, even without those things I myself have started up totally random and cool conversations with the people behind me simply going “So what do you think of “this game”?” Gamers have a weird thing where though we are viewed as anti-social misfits, when put into a convention like PAX, we are all friends, we are all geeks. Discussing the finer points of of WoW raids and Dragonball Z aren’t cause for ridicule here, heck sometimes they’re touted. It’s not even games talk either so much as just a culture of geek, you mention Whedon and the conversation can go anywhere from Buffy to Stargate somehow. There’s just a yearning to connect with other geeks /gamers / etc who share common interests.

    -Staff Aren’t Dicks – This pretty much applies to the Don’t Be A Dick rule. Enforcers are unpaid, volunteers who love what they do. These are people that work 6 or more hours everyday (sometimes more) and keep a constant optimism about themselves which becomes infectious among attendees as well. If the line is movin and people are sitting on the floor Enforcers politely asked attendees to pick their stuff up quickly as the line will be moving forward shortly. If the line needs to be bunched up more so they can get more people in the line ready to go, they’ll ask everybody to move in if they can. Enforcers don’t yell, least not unless they have to. Enforcers give attendees respect with the belief that they’ll get it in turn when asking a attendee to move up, or fill an empty seat in a front row of chairs.  Attendees have come to expect an appreciate this from Enforcers and its why even now with volunteer positions filled up, attendees will STILL try to become an Enforcer.

    -Developers Holiday – Game publishers/developers WANT to come to PAX. E3 is a work requirement of their jobs but PAX is like a vacation for them. At PAX, attendees come up to them and treat them like rockstars half the time, and for guys stuck in an office 24/7 sometimes, that’s a nice boost. This can even be applied towards games journalists and regular game company interns. Everybody loves talking to the game community at large and well bonding with attendees over the common love of games. I was around the Assasins Creed Brotherhood booth yesterday and heard a intern say “I love all of this *motions around* this is like a vacation, I’d do this everyday if I could”

    -No Smell – Pretty self-explanatory, the BO Con Funk at PAX is almost non-existent. This seems like a small thing but honestly it’s not.

    -No Special Treatment – Most everybody has an equal amt of access for all of PAX. Media can’t cut up front of a panel line, Enforcers can’t cut in any lines unless it’s part of their job, heck even Exhibitors who could cut in some lines don’t, likely cause of a amount of respect they want to show everybody else. Sure you’ll have Media get in one hour early on Saturday to take pics of the Expo hall but really that’s it. Everybody no matter what kinda badge you have is treated more or less as equals.

    Annnnd I guess that’s it in a nutshell, the shared respect and common love of games held by all at the convention is what makes PAX a second home for some people and as long as that attitude holds word will keep spreading of this, and more people will keep wanting to come home.

    Sorry for the long post.

  7. Dragon*Con pros — lots of programming on many different subjects so there’s something for everybody; great mix of people with young (some VERY young), old and all ages in between and many families; hotel venue gives a different feel than a convention center, lots of entertaining costumes, the parade, the dealer’s room and exhibits, the art show, the fan tables.

    Cons — the registration line, the crowds.

  8. Okay, Nick, you sold me on the role of good Enforcers. Ideas are spawning/evolving. I may be drafting you into service in very short order for brainstorming.

  9. Long (but worthwhile) post asks “Is DragonCon Broken?”

  10. I’m very curious about Enforcers as well — I’m not sure if it’s something that is only necessary at conventions with long lines (so something a Dragon*Con could use) — but it sounds like it works really well for PAX.

    Dragon*Con is unique, and just about everything I’ve seen anyone write about it is true, both positive and negative. What makes it special, in my mind, is the Parade, and the sheer size and the number of celebrities that size can bring in but still have some mingling with the fans.  (Stan Lee, for example, wandered into the bar I was at briefly and shook hands with people at about Midnight.)  But the negatives are all true as well, and it’s kind of maddening because of that.

    For me the special things about Worldcon are the Hugos — almost certainly the most prestigious fan-given SF award — and that unlike San Diego, or Dragon*Con, or any other large regular convention, it moves, and might be close to you some year.  I’ve never been, but hope to make it there in 2011 (and almost certainly 2012, when it is in Chicago and is in driving distance).

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