Is Dragon*Con Broken?

Is Dragon*Con Broken?

Updated Sept 5th, 2010 at 7:02pm – thanks to all of you who have contributed to the discussion!

It’s the Sunday morning of Dragon*Con 2010 and I’m spending my morning recuperating from having walked 5 or 6 miles around the East Coast’s fan-driven answer to Comic-Con yesterday. I woke up thinking about how much my beloved nerdfest has changed over the past five years and thought that I’d jot down some notes for later discussions with my friends who are also attending this year.

Truth is, I suppose the old girl has been changing ever since I first started going in the late 1980s, but lately it’s becoming hard to see what first made me fall in love with Dragon*Con. During a stopover at Trader Vic’s I participated in an impromptu panel called “Dragon*Con Might Just Suck” regarding how this year’s convention has been particularly lackluster. My fellow panelists Carl, Joseph and Timmy made some very good points and I’m distilling that conversation into the following five points:

  • Invasion by Non-Fans
  • Economy & Events
  • Social Networks
  • Scale
  • Age

Before I elaborate on what the ‘con has become, let me say that I’ve come to know a lot of the people who volunteer at the convention. These people have become my friends and without them the event would collapse under its own weight. I’ve known the convention’s Director, Pat Henry, since the mid 1980s (it was at Pat’s comic book shop that I found the contest flier for the Batman competition that I won back in 1988) and I have nothing untoward to say about him or the Dragon*Con staff. They all bust their asses to make this thing happen and I appreciate it. What follows is simply an evaluation of the experience of the event from a long-time attendee’s perspective.

Invasion by Non-Fans

Is the “social order” of the convention in jeopardy?

The “invasion” of the convention by non-fans is the most obvious challenge the event is facing and it has drastically diminished the quality of my own experiences there. The thing that made Dragon*Con so special, that makes any science fiction/fantasy convention so special, is that the rest of the “real” world goes away for a weekend; you’re in a safe habitat, surrounded by your fellow Fans. Even if you’re not fans of the same comicbook/movie/book/game/etc, there’s still a very special language that all true nerds share, be they gamer, costumer, Trekkie, comicbook geek, horror fan, etc, etc

Over the last five years the rest of Atlanta (the non-fan element) has discovered that the best party of Labor Day weekend is at Dragon*Con and as a result they’ve invaded the convention in sufficiently large numbers as to make the costume-to-person ratio ridiculously low. I can’t tell you how many young punks and urban hipsters I saw running around like they were in Disneyland, eyes agog, drinks in hand. Joseph remarked that: “At least 50% of the people I see here at DragonCon dont even have a badge.”


It looked like most of East Atlanta Village had crashed the party (I personally knew more than 10 people who were there without badges). Added to the mix were a bunch of drunken football fans who were in town to see the game between LSU and North Carolina… Dragon*Con costumers became playthings for them. I was personally accosted by a drunken brunette who kept grabbing at my costumed face and yelling farm-bred hoots which must pass for verbal communication at her chosen “college”.

So how did we get here?

Unnecessary Advertising?

From around 2005 onward I began hearing longtime con-attendees openly asking why the convention continued to advertise on local radio and television. The feeling was that every fan within 500 miles had the ‘con noted on their calendars and circled in their hearts. The crowds were already getting too big, the hotel security staffs were becoming militant, the Fire Marshal was coming off like a bully and as a result the event was suffering.

Bigger, it was felt, was only better for the convention’s coffers, not the for fan’s experience.

The Dragon*Con Parade

I love the Dragon*Con parade. Our cardboard troopers became celebrities because of the parade and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a great big high to have thousands of people screaming and taking your picture. But this celebration of Dragon*Con’s famed costume element is a double-edged sword. As word of the parade spread throughout Atlanta the crowds grew larger every year. Where those crowds once dispersed back to whence they came after the parade had ended, leaving the convention to the “true fans”, we now find the convention hotels loaded to the gills with aggressive suburbanites armed with cameras and ready to party down while making relentless fun of all the “nerds”.

This isn’t the convention I was looking for.

Dragon*Con Documentary

Another factor which must certainly have affected this year’s convention is the documentary “Four Days at Dragon*Con” which has been running in what passes for heavy rotation on WPBA, Atlanta’s local public broadcasting station. I think a lot of Dragon*Con attendees were excited to see this presentation because it allowed us to say “Look, Comic-Con, we’re as important as you guys.”

Unfortunately, I believe that this documentary may have bolstered the “outsider” interest in our convention, at least in the short run.

In the end, regardless of what brought them to Dragon*Con, non-fans don’t understand or appreciate what really happens at the convention. They have no understanding of the programming that occurs in the bowels of the Hyatt. They don’t know what filking is. They don’t know about The Masquerade. They don’t know who Dawn is, or of the subtle irony that her talented creator is an overweight male version of his own goddess character. They don’t know about Pie. They haven’t watched Trek fandom wane as the Star Wars fandom grew, or that the steampunk movement is beginning to overshadow both of those franchises. These “outsiders” have no idea that the dealer’s room exists or why it is made of awesome for so many fans.

The gatecrashers just come to drink and gawk and enjoy “Nerdi Gras”.

With as many badgeless attendees as I encountered yesterday I can’t help but think that Dragon*Con (the company) might be experiencing a sag in revenue this year, which takes me to our next point….

Economy & Events

Fans face many events with limited resources

While queuing up for this year’s parade it was quite apparent that there was a significantly-reduced turnout for the 501st, the Imperial Stormtroopers from Star Wars. The reason for this was that the Lucasfilm-sponsored convention called Celebration was held in Orlando, Florida, two weeks prior to Dragon*Con, shredding the bankroll of a good many Star Wars fans.

Our friend Bob, known in Star Wars circles as Vader Painter, told me that like many of his fellow Star Wars fans, his Dragon*Con budget for this year had been made razor thin in the wake of Star Wars Celebration, and that he wasn’t alone in that. You needn’t be a financial genius to realize that the fragile personal economies of many of our hardcore sci-fi/fantasy fans continue to suffer in this relentless recession.

And like Celebration, there are other events that clamor for the discretionary dollars of fandom: gaming conventions, renaissance festivals, comic book conventions, animation conventions, pirate festivals (I host one called PiratePalooza every year and recently started up Cardboard*Con this past March), toy fairs, horror conventions, the list goes on and on… and a dollar only stretches so far.

Social Networks

Social networks are ruling our actions

Carl and Foe asserted that Social Networks, specifically Facebook, have played a role in diminishing the excitement of the convention. Prior to Facebook our convention friends’ lives remained a bit of a mystery to us and so part of the fun of ‘con would be spent catching up on what had changed in their lives since the year before. Familiarity via Facebook isn’t necessarily breeding contempt, but it is certainly robbing us of the need for face-to-face communication and that’s at least worth a smack on the forehead.

Maybe we’ve seen so much of each other online that we have no patience left for each other in person?

To that point, Timmy pointed out that a lot of people have their noses buried in their smartphones now, walking past super heroes and vikings and cardboard troopers so that they can post things on their friends’ walls or send a text message. My friend Juliana railed at fellow fans who were live-tweeting a panel, their faces buried in their screens, instead of being there in the moment to listen to the actors discuss the show. It’s like going to a concert and then watching the video screen the entire time.

That’s how addicted to our social networks we’ve become… and I’m as guilty as the next person in this regard.

I suppose our new reality is unavoidably augmented these days?


Remember when you were a teenager? Transitions can be ugly.

As Joseph said, “Dragon*Con is a large con that’s operated as if it’s a small con.”


If you get to thinking about it, it’s a miracle that Dragon*Con has been able to handle 30,000+ people per day without a major incident during this decade’s growth spurt. This unlauded success required boatloads of dedication and energy from a volunteer workforce. Now increase the size of the crowd you’re trying to control and try to anticipate the problems that you’re going to encounter. With a volunteer staff numbering less than 200 and a guesstimated 2010 crowd size of well over 50,000 people you’re looking at an assignment of at least 250 attendees to every volunteer (some of whom grab their staff badges and then go AWOL).

[NOTE this article has attracted a lot of conversation today and several people who work on staff were kind enough to post replies and send messages correcting my understanding of staffing numbers cited in the previous paragraph. The main point is that my numbers were far too low in regard to the number of people working staff. BrundelFly commented that “I’m a 7th year staffer at D*Con, and it’s important to know that there is significantly more than 200 folks on staff. 200 individuals compose the volunteer staff of our technical operations department alone. In total there’s over 1,250 folks on staff. I know this still might seem low, but a 1/50 ratio is MUCh better than a 1/1000!”. So, my apologies to the staff for my ignorance (I blame the fatigue I was experiencing from the previous day of tromping through hotels in cardboard armor). My suggestion to folks just arriving to this conversation is to make sure to read the comments for more viewpoints on this topic…. now back to the article…]

Looking westward, a question hangs heavy in the air: “When will Dragon*Con put on her big girl panties?”

When will the convention ramp up their staffing and hire professionals to operate the ticket lines? When will it hire crowd control experts and maximize the experience for its patrons. Notice that I’m not asking IF, I’m asking WHEN. This would seem to be the only logical step an event of this size could make to wrest control back from the situation it’s in.

The question is whether the con should, as my friend Tony suggested, move the blasted thing to the Georgia World Congress Center, away from the lookie-loos and gate crashers. This scenario would put the con into an entry-controlled space where only badgeholders would be allowed, but in the process it would likely diminish the party atmosphere that the convention has enjoyed for the past decade, forcing many mobility-impaired fans to endure countless shuttle trips or long walks between the hotels and the convention spaces. It’s certainly not a favored option, and it smacks too much of Comic-Con which is the soulless, Hollywood-shilling black sheep cousin of Dragon*Con.

Wouldn’t it be a better experience to stay put and identify then resolve the problems experienced this year? (maybe we could ask the entire floor of gamers to strategize the potential issues the con might face, from actresses storming out of panels to attendees falling off of balconies, to Mecha-Godzilla eating the Hyatt)

I don’t know if a paid army will fight with the heart of a volunteer army, but this change does seem inevitable.


Been there, done that

We humans are funny beasties: without change we get bored, with too much change we’re beset by nostalgia.

I’ve been going to science fiction conventions since the mid 1980s (shout out to DixieTrek!) and in that time I’ve witnessed and participated in more crazy and wonderfully hysterical antics than I could ever hope to remember or set down to paper. I’ve been astonished at people’s costuming creativity, been blown away by the unexpected (like the animated film AKIRA in its original Japanese, sans English subtitles), reduced to tears of laughter by the inventive heckling that used to happen in the Masquerade, delighted by late night video shows and unexpected role playing situations. Over the years I’ve met so many bright and shiny minds and made so many new and creative friends.

This year was different.  I didn’t have a “zoo crew” to hang out with and that was good, I needed a break and a chance to stand back and experience the convention on my own again. My first thought going into this year’s convention was that I was becoming like the character Louis in Interview with the Vampire; tired of life, tired of Dragon*Con. But, even with the systemic problems the convention is experiencing, and my feeling that there’s nothing new under the ‘Con, in the clear light of day I remembered that the experience of Dragon*Con isn’t made up of the events or the guests or the hotels, but of the people who are there.

The best memories of the convention are the ones that you make with your friends.
Now let’s get out there and be weird.

96 Comments on “Is Dragon*Con Broken?”

  1. OMG! What a well written insight and thoughtful analysis. You put what my friends and I experienced this year. Thank you!

  2. Excellent post. Many many good points. I would also add that with age, you tend to expect more for the money you pay out. Me and my husband attend, we have our own room, we pay for our passes, we order room service. We tip. Yet the hotel still treats us like we are 19 year olds with 10 people in one room.

    We chose to sit this year out and it sounds like it was a good year to do it. We considered riding over for the day to hang out (sans badges) and decided against even that because we figured it would be a mad house. Should people be required to show a badge or room key to be admitted to the hotels during this time. Maybe. *shrugs* If you had friends coming you would have to meet them outside and escort them in. It might cut down some on the gawkers….but it would slow down entrance from one hotel to the other and maybe piss a few people off.

    A note on the football infiltration this year. The past two years the football game has been hosted in Atlanta Alabama played. Alabama fans could actually make the trip home after the game. LSU fans would have a helluva drive so more than likely there were more of them that stayed in Atlanta and added to the masses than on the two previous years (and I heard they are much rowdier fans that Alabama and trust me THAT is bad!)

    Economy wise see first paragraph. People are taking on more room mates to afford the con. So you have 4-10 people per room…which increases tension and drama and makes for more bad energy around the con. As well as increases the bodies because each true con goer brought 3-9 people that might not have attended if they had to pay $700 for a room for three days.

    Social Networking…when I go to the con, I don’t log on, I don’t make posts. That is my time away from everything and to make contact with people. Not to do the same bs I do every day. I don’t understand why people are doing that.

    One last note, some people don’t come mentally prepared. They get pissy because they had to stand in line or wait on a drink. You have to have that I’m just here for the party attitude when your there or the short of it is you will NOT enjoy yourself. You have to have respect for those in charge and security because they are there so your ass doesn’t get trampled if there is an emergency. Fun can be had in copious amounts it you just chillax and go with the flow.

  3. I have worked security the past couple of years at D*C, and I was told by someone else in security that we had more than 50,000 pre-registrations *alone*. He estimated that we had well over 67,000 people there this year, and that doesn’t count the gawkers. I personally turned nearly 1,000 people away from the Firefly panel because there just wasn’t enough room and we’d prefer not to call down the wrath of the fire marshal.
    I will freely admit that I didn’t enjoy D*C this year at all. I didn’t feel like I get anywhere because there were so many people *everywhere*, and only one out of every 5-7 were in anything resembling a costume. (I am guilty of this, but frankly I refuse to be on my feet directing said 67,000 in anything BUT jeans a t-shirt!)
    I don’t know if I will go to D*C at all next year, and every concern that you cited is part of why.

    A last thought, however, and one I mentioned to Maddog, our security chief: every other convention I attend has a tiered volunteer system. Dragon*Con security volunteers are expected to put in at least 24 hours to be invited back, and even if you’re able to arrive Wednesday and work all 4 days of Con, that means that you work6 hours every single day. Neither I, nor most people I know, are willing to do that.
    SouthEast LeatherFest, for whom I also volunteer, is another specialized con that charges nearly as much as D*C for weekend admission (these are my two most expensive cons)… but their volunteer director tiers the volunteer hours to admission price ratio. Work 12 hours, get in free. Work 6, get in half-price, etc etc. While it’s a pain in the ass for our volunteer director (and, admittedly, done at a con 1/10th the size of D*C), s/he has a MUCH better volunteer-to-attendee ratio and is never as shorthanded as D*C.

  4. Excellent and thoughtful post, Drew.

    I think there are big changes afoot for con and I hope to be part of the improvements if possible. It can continue to be great or it can atrophy and lose loyal attendees, depending on whether the “higher-ups” are willing to make a change.

  5. Well thought out post. Many of these factors were things my friends and I were discussing this weekend (i.e., invasion by “non-fans,” economy, scale, parade, football fans).

    It’s well beyond time for Dragon*Con to start hiring professionals. A 4-hour wait to pick up your badge is ridiculous.

    It’s important to make the fun stuff “badge-only.”

    And I do get tired of Dragon*Con’s seeming inferiority complex with Comic Con. There’s a reason I go to Dragon*Con and not Comic Con. Stop trying to be Comic Con. Stop comparing the con to Comic Con.

  6. Interesting article, but let me toss out one MAJOR correction.

    I’m a 7th year staffer at D*Con, and it’s important to know that there is significantly more than 200 folks on staff. 200 individuals compose the volunteer staff of our technical operations department alone. In total there’s over 1,250 folks on staff. I know this still might seem low, but a 1/50 ratio is MUCh better than a 1/1000!

    Also, if you notice, the convention and hotel staff did a lot of gate keeping this year to keep folks without badges getting in to the facilities at night. The problem is the hotels are insanely large, and it’s not impossible to sneak in. This is true of any facility large enough to hold Dragon*Con.

    That being said, I think this year’s awkwardness is due to the con still getting used to having so many hotels. The pressure of the crowds feels dispersed to me. There are always key lobbies that are slammed (Marriott) but as a whole, you could definitely feel that people were no longer in just 2 or 3 hotels, they are in 5.

  7. I have been attending D*C since the 2nd show. It has grown by leaps and bounds. I think this year was worst than the past. The crowd seemed so much larger. I really feel like the con needs to limit the number of memberships it sells. As for the mundanes invading our space, that has been happening for the past several years. They also get rooms at the con rate, because they get the information off the website.

    I think your post hit spot on. Thanks!

  8. Drew, you’ve pretty much summed up Dragon*Con for me this year.

    Someone asked me on Sunday night what the best part of the con had been, and I was stumped. Not because there were too many choices, but because there were none.

    Dragon*Con is becoming, or has already become for me, something that is far better in remembrance or retrospect than in real-time.

    Still, I’ll give it another try next year and see what to do from there.

    P.S. Best quote of the con came from a staffer in response to someone asking directions;

    “See that guy in black, next to the fat guy…”

  9. I would agree with all of this. I’ve always come for the computer gaming since 1996. Tournaments were always fun and competitive, and I was always able to hang out and meet fellow gamers. However, computer gaming turned into console gaming. No more computers.. they also had a shop in the computer gaming room that was selling things for exorbant prices. This kills an entire genre of *nerd* that came to the con. IMO it has also gotten too spread out. (4 hotels instead of 3)

    I understand that the con is growing. However, there just isn’t that feeling of *awe* anymore… with the commercialization of my favorite track (and some others) everyone playing DND 4th edition (i’m still a 2nd edition fan. 4th edition feels like a kids game), lack of costuming, walking between 4 hotels and the influx of non-nerds. I feel my dcon days are over. Most of my old friends I used to go with don’t go anymore. It’s hard for anyone to justify buying a 100 dollar badge + any expenses for the current attractions. It’s just not fun anymore. I hope Juliana is right that things are going to change… cuz as of right now. I think i’m going to say farewell to dcon.

  10. You hit the nail right on the head. Some of the problems are not D*C’s fault, but a lot of them are. It makes you wonder WHERE the money is going and why they still run registration like it is 1988. Truly D*C has become a victim of their own success and they have not moved even close to fast enough to deal with the issues that could kill it in the end.

  11. The con has suffered from a few problems, and a few of them ARE from management — you can’t blame the users (fans, attendees, etc) without blaming the management for making a few choice decisions, and some decisions (like thinking it’s better to bar various ‘troublesome’ artists and vendors from the con, like Blind Ferret Entertainment and ArcAttack, than to actually deal with their sometimes valid complaints) can’t be pinned on drunken college fans at all.

    Heck, this was the first year that one of the staff members actually went off on a friend of mine for just mentioning the word “booze” — a sure sign the number of con staff needs to be expanded so their collective stress levels can go down. Given that attendance is already “Free” for staff, they may need to offer something else to swell their ranks.

    If Dragon*Con has suffered from a lack of general decorum and an influx of new fans or even “mundanes”, then it’s Dragon*Con’s responsibility to (somehow) provide a way to educate new folks on how things are supposed to be run around here, including a way to deal with the badgeless, panel etiquette, and how to deal with the very real problems of overcrowded hotel rooms, finding ways around human traffic jams, and making better use of the new hotels (Sheraton + Westin) as opposed to jamming everyone into the Hyatt and Marriott.

    … for that matter, having longer vendor hours would be helpful and probably cut down on everyone trying to swarm them at once :/ When the Artist’s Alley closes at 6, the Dealers at 7, and the Art Show at 8, it makes dealing with sales-oriented traffic VERY difficult and confusing, and I missed out on purchasing from one vendor I was looking forward to as a result.

  12. I began working security at Atlanta Fantasy Fair in 1984! THAT was a good time! It was just the right size to be full and fun, and the only time the mundanes and the fans mixed was in the hotel (which was a sort of neutral zone). All of the panels and and other con related stuff was separate, in the convention center. So, if you just wanted to stop by for a drink for an hour to catch up with old friends in the hotel bar, you could.. D*Con has gotten so big that you can’t even get into the hotel without spending $100! (Want to bring your husband his wallet because he accidentally left it at home? Well, you can’t bring it to his hotel room!) And AFF (and other smaller cons) were more genre specific. It was sci fi/fantasy only (which easily encompassed gaming and comics). D*Con mashes together sci fi/fantasy and goth and fetishism and pop culture and anything else they can think of! That’s why it takes half a city to hold it! And while I have nothing against the other various sub-groups (and certainly see the overlap), I personally like my sci fi/fantasy escape to be a little more Sci/Fi Fantasy! I have thought D*Con has gotten too big for its britches for a couple of years now! I agree that it’s become a sort of all out anyone’s invited (as long as they can pay$$) party and a lot less of a nerd/geek celebration! (Besides, those non-nerd/geeks made fun of me in school! They should not be allowed in my party now!! -said with just a touch of sarcasm-)

  13. Brandin–there was actually a *fifth* hotel added…(The Westin), which was where all my programming (Alternate History) was held. I’m still trying to process if this was a good thing or not. The service at the hotel was generally good, but a lot of folks weren’t happy about the additional ‘commute time’….

  14. I think that they keep inflating the figures to increase the price and provide less. Too much keeps happening on the Labor Day weekend and too much advertising which could be stopped and money provided for better services. There has to be a better way. I already know a lot of people that are not coming next year and too many Fandoms where thin and not just because of money. They know that improvements have to be made, but will they do it??? or will it slowly die as more and more people go to smaller cons.

  15. The absolute #1, major problem with Dragon*Con (which has now reached critical mass) is that The Powers That Be completely lack a solid vision of what this con could and should be. Couple that with a total lack of fundamental organizational skills and a ballooning attendee count and you have a recipe for disaster. I’m tired of the excuse-making. A dog with a note in its mouth would be just as efficient as this year’s pre-reg badge pickup, for example. My advice to Dragon*Con: Decide if you want to be a big boy con or not. If not, scale back down and continue to run things like your local Joe Blow con. If you strive for something bigger, then get your crap together with a quickness. In other words, shit or get off the pot.

  16. I’ll also add… This was absolutely the year that San Diego Comic-Con bent Dragon*Con over a barrel and upstaged them in every single way, including (for the first time) the quality of the night life. You want Dragon*Con to completely lose its identity (and ultimately any real appeal it has), then feel free to ignore our criticisms and suggestions. Because unless some real changes are made, it’s going to get much worse.

  17. I’ve been going to d*con for only about 3 years. However, I agree with most of what was said in the article
    I can’t tell you how many underaged girls begged me to sneak them into the Marriott. The hotel staff of the hyatt were great except the cleaning ladies. Angry and annoyed they tended to ignore us when we needed something, and one gentleman refused to take my blanket to be washed (it only had mt dew spilled on it) without little trashbags on his hands.

    I think security needs more staff.
    Another thing I noticed about the con was the focus on sexual hookups rather than the true con experience. I was personally approached by a man who was married and seemed to think this was what the con was for.

    I for one will not be going to the con again without my husband ever again. (he’s in basic training)

  18. Valid points all. Who has actually made them to the powers that be instead of just ranting? If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

    Re: all the people who “aren’t coming back next year”. Wait a few months and the bad memories will fade and the excitement will build again. Or you’ll all stay home and the crowding problem will fix itself. Win/win for me really.

  19. Background: This year was my 11th Dragon*con in a row.

    There are a number of significant things that could be done to improve the con; requiring a badge purchase before getting the con hotel rate, Comic-Con style barcodes with badge printing on-demand, etc. I really get a feeling that the con management either has no concept of how the con is changing, or is just trying to squeeze every dime out of the fans. The badge process has not changed in eight years– literally, they’ve been printed on the same kind of stickers using the same font, with the same ‘sign your name in this binder’ process. A few hundred dollars invested into the system would do wonders. Hell, take donations of used computer hardware from fans.

    I echo a lot of the same concerns; there were so many people and so few costumers or folks who were obviously fans. This is a serious problem because for long-time con-goers such as myself who have seen the same panels and the same stuff in the dealers’ rooms over the years, the con really is about the *people*.

  20. JD – Dragon*Con is actually quite interested in doing a debrief after every convention (after they wake up and stop hurting that is) and maintain a very active community on LiveJournal, where they ask for and receive hundreds of comments – both complaints and praise. I’ve seen a LOT of women making posts which mention sexually aggressive behavior from the gatecrashers this year. The best I got was the drunken brunette girl who wanted to tear up my cardboard trooper helmet! LOL

  21. I just have to point out something here. Just because someone isn’t in a costume does NOT make them a non-fan. Some people cannot afford the materials for a costume, some just don’t have the skill, and some come to Dragon*Con to PLAN a costume and buy some of the props and materials they will need to make one for future years. My husband and I are huge fans of comics, RPGs, and SciFi/Fantasy books, artists, TV and movies. We’ve come to DC twice from Texas. We’ve been slowly pieceing together costumes which simply are not ready yet. This doesn’t make us non-fans. We spend a lot of money getting to the con and purchasing things in the Dealers rooms and getting autographs (that thing that keeps celebs coming back). We end up at offsite hotels instead of the host ones and don’t even get to enjoy the late night parts of the con or the parties because of the other costs for us. But we still get there when we can and spend what we can. Someone accusing us of being non-fans because we aren’t in a costume is pretty offensive.

  22. All good points, but I’d like to comment on the “non-fan” issue. I’ve seen Ren Faires go through this same sort of thing, as far as advertising vs. keeping it “for the real fans.” You want to pay the bills, you want a bigger, better event, but that might mean letting in people who aren’t as geeky as the die-hards. It’s a tough dilemma, not unlike the one Cartman faced in episode 71 of Southpark. lol

    I didn’t attend Dragon*Con, but I did attend the North American Science Fiction Convention this year. I only found out about NASFiC two weeks before it happened, and that was because someone in my D&D meetup group just happened to mention it. I don’t know what the official party line is for NASFiC, but it looked to me like it had pitifully low attendance. I attended several panels with as many in the audience as there were on the panel, and the dealer room was a cavern. When I asked around why it was so empty, I was told, “Well, they didn’t advertise much. You don’t want the wrong kind of people.”

    Geek snobbery=Epic fail

    Without advertising, you also don’t reach the people like me, who like sci-fi/fantasy but are not “in the know.” I don’t dress up, I don’t memorize every episode of whatever, I don’t keep track of every con, and I don’t know what Dawn or Pie are. So, am I just not cool enough to be allowed in? Would you assume I was a gawker? How, exactly, do you define a “fan”?

    To hell with worrying about “mundanes.” This isn’t junior high. And I don’t know about Dragon*Con, but NASFiC cost $140 just to attend, not counting food, lodging, travel, purchases, etc — that’s not small change. People don’t pay that much money just to gawk and giggle. Maybe they secretly love it and are just trying to psych themselves up to join in. Maybe they’ll come back stronger next year. And if they get unruly or don’t have badges, why can’t security throw them out? This sounds like a management issue, not a call to start inventing secret handshakes.

    1. In response to Jen and others on the non-fan discussion, costuming isn’t my main draw either. The only costuming I do is as Captain Drew, leader of the cardboard trooper, and as Captain Drew, leader of PiratePalooza – both of whom are actually sly, loving pokes at both the costuming and renfaire communities. And while I daresay that costumers only account for 30% of Dragon*Con attendees, their presence (or lack thereof) can be a quick visual cue that something has changed with the event. On a sidenote, some of my “non-costuming” friends are so stereotypical of a sub-genre of fan that it can still come off looking like a costume ;)

  23. I couldn’t attend D#C this year, because of my investment in CV earlier, but after hearing about it from friends, the consensus was that it WAS lackluster. With every new tidbit of negative info I get, I feel better for missing it. Thank you for pinpointing what exactly is causing it to teeter away from “fun”.

    Pretty much all my costumes are made of LEGO and each year it has been getting more difficult to maneuver without losing any pieces. I like Tiphareth’s idea for room reservation and changing the badge system. Each year the wait time got worse. (There was also problems with my wife and her maiden name….urrh!)

  24. And worth pointing out that the furries can come off looking like non-fans as well — if only because being in fursuit all day is REALLY tough to pull off, and all the other furries are just wearing things like tails / ears / badges (which can be pretty damn subtle sometimes).

  25. Much agreement. Much to say. Much more evaluation to be done to determine what action I would recommend.

    Would like to gather or attend some larger group discussions with other members of the staff (professional and volunteer)

    Because, Large Con Run Like A Small Con? As a volunteer, SO MUCH AGREE, at least, from the point of view of how many thousands of dollars of unpaid labor and donations keep this affordable FOR THE FANS! We are lucky we have had so Little Trouble, but it’s been that way because of the core community of locals, and the network of geek friends we’ve built through the years. It’s not elitism to say that we don’t want an “Eternal September” to risk destroying Dragon*Con.

  26. Several points.

    First, this is entirely my own opinion and does NOT reflect any opinions of the board OR any managers of Dragon Con.

    1. Your numbers for staff AND con size are grossly wrong. I cannot attest to actual number sizes for attendees but the credible numbers I heard were substantially lower than 50,000 attendees. As others stated, there are 200 people on the Tech Ops staff. There are MANY other departments with a ~1500 volunteer staff count. This doesn’t include folks working for the hotels, support and hardware rental firms (Freeman and Magnum for example) and police hired to bolster security functions.

    2. The advertising and the PBS thing are substantial points FOR the con. In years past where they have been problems with hotels it was because of a perceived low benefit for the hotels. Tee amount of money that Dragon Con brings to the hotels and nearby businesses is substantial. Ever see a Chick-fil-a open til Midnight? It was Saturday night. The con is big. It’s big for the Hotels. The more they realize that the more they’re willing to work with us to make things go as smooth as possible. You realize that the sky-bridge between the Marriot and Hyatt was built FOR Dragon Con right?

    3. The Non-Fan aspect is a serious issue. The hotel books people for other events and they get rooms so they DO have access to the hotel. This makes for a complicated problem. That they are the known trouble makers makes for a specific issue that will come up in post con management meetings.

    4. The World Congress center is a no go. They don’t stay open late. So, no 24 hour party. And further, it would be right next door to the Georgia Dome, so you’d have MORE football fans, not less.

    5. Being introduced to fans is NOT a negative. How did you get into your first Con?

  27. In response to the “non fan” issue, not all fans wear costumes. I have been going to D*C for two years, and I plan to keep going. That said, I am not into wearing costumes. I come to meet up with the people I have met worldwide through podcasting and social media — my family, if you will — to geek out over our shared love of science fiction, fantasy, and popular culture.

    I admire the time and dedication the costumers put into their creations, but I’m not one of them. I also refuse to attend any other con because of the commercialism involved. I love D*C for the fan aspect. It’s our show, and we need to steer it the way we want it to go. I’m not interested in having Hollywood come sell me their products. I want to hang out with fellow geeks for four days and have a party. I want to celebrate that which makes us different from the rest of the world. I want celebrities who aren’t in the appearance strictly for a paycheck to sit down and regale us with stories and appreciate us for who we are.

    I don’t need a costume to be a fan, and I’m not less of one for attending in a t-shirt, shorts, and sandals. If I need a costume to be a “true fan,” then Dragon*Con isn’t the place I thought it was.

  28. I’ll be honest, I stopped reading after the third typo. Which was in the first paragraph. You didn’t go to that blogging panel, did you?

  29. I second Bea – I must have looked like a gawker this year with no costume, but don’t be so presumptuous.

    Great posts, everyone. Took a while to read it all, so I’ll be succinct with my $0.02.

    1) All of you, your nostalgia is sweet and inspiring. I’m sorry things are changing – you can’t stop it though. I think this constructive criticism needs to reach the management level and we just solve the problems. Don’t expect to ever experience D*C again like you did 5 years ago though. Expect it to keep changing and do your best to help shape it into something you’ll continue to love.

    2) Beyond registration and security/crowd control, I have no complaints. This was my third year, and it was better for me each time!

    3) The most important thing I’m hearing from everyone is that we need to ensure this con remains for and by the fans. It needs to remain a safe place for us to be us. That doesn’t mean smaller, it just means better.

    I’m going to look for those Live Journal threads and make sure my opinions are cast in. The valid problems cited here are easily fixable, and are only an oily sheen that needs to be cleaned off of this still-awesome and beautiful con.

    1. Exactly! “For and by the fans!” all of them… the gamers, collectors, artists, movie buffs, costumers, music lovers, and even the gawkers (of whom I am often one).

  30. Rachel, I agree and will also add that you also have those folks who are new to the fandoms and so they don’t have ears, tails, or fursuits yet. That was my experience with going to Anthrocon, but I still made it work, and now have a ears and tail commission lined up with one of the vendors from there.

    Going back to other points, I’m rather surprised that DragonCon doesn’t just use printed plastic card badges, and they have the pre-registrations printed already. Anthrocon seems to have no problem with that, and they’re able to print a badge on demand for those who show up. Sounds like DragonCon desperately needs that system, and also security staff that checks for badges and is more than happy to throw someone who tries to sneak in out on their ass.

  31. This is the first year in 6 that I had missed going with my (adult) kids.
    Drew, thank you for a very well written and thoughtful article. And I agree with much of what you said.
    To me, of late, the biggest downward spiral is the college football game now foisted upon the con and hotels and negatively militant staff.
    Angers me to know end to see shirtless, face-painted, beer swilling, armchair jocks hoot and heckle the costumed, face-painted, Mountain Dew swilling con attendees. Ask them how to spell ‘hypocrite’ next time, right?
    Last year, I had innocently walked through outside open doors into the Marriott bordered by other badged adults. Turns out, it was the kitchen service entrance. But before I even realized it, I was accosted by 4 little Zelda Rubensteins who munchkin handled my 250lb butt back out while cursing me. Totally uncalled for, but really punctuated much of the mood there.

    I think the best idea I read above was requiring a badge pre purchase in order to get the con room rate.

  32. so what if “non-fans” attend? isn’t the point to introduce others to cool things? just because someone isn’t wholly immersed in a culture doesn’t mean they’re not fans. I know many folks who’d be quickly labelled “non-fans” by first glance who are huge comic fans, for example.

    this is ridiculous, and is reversal of the idea that brings people together for dragon*con.

    Quit whining, and embrace the opportunity to meet new people from across spectrums. this is the post-twitter age, where tribes and cliques break down and the edges blur. embrace it or die.

    or keep whining, and show how much of a bitch you are.

  33. I think D*C is not broken, but it’s stressed and when any large entity is stressed, the fractures begin to show. There is a serious need to revamp a lot of the D*C and maybe the best way to do that is to start over at “ground zero” and figure out what you want to be. Perhaps they need to keep the format to 2 hotels (5 is a lot). Or, maybe as you suggest, hold it at a “venue center” and then the after-parties would just organically unfold.

  34. Good points being made, but time for some rebuttals / comments. Registration!! Do any of you know of a company that can handle registration for 40,000 and do it quickly. Sure they can use some basic program and print out non-descriptive badges, like Comdex used to do or CES does. But the badges are part of the D*C experience. Other than Comic-Con, what other 40,000 person event are you attending? BTW, San Diego does not mail out badges either. Ain’t gonna happen due to lost badges and liability for lost badges in the mail. We can all complain, but it helps if you can give information that is useful to give to the con committee. And bar codes are a great idea, and heard that they are looking at using them.

    Gate crashers.. D*C does hire off-duty APD officers and they were present. The hotels do bring in security from other hotel locations within the chain, but unless you have worked D*C, nothing can prepare you for it and some security folks get a bit over zealous.

    Use of the World Congress Center. Have had events there and they have complete control over the site. If they don’t like something, they can shut you down without notice. Also only about 1000 hotel room within walking distance. I have no issues walking through Atlanta at 1am to my hotel, but what about the other 39,999 of you? Buses help, but are not a viable solution for such a large number of folks.

    The con does welcome comments and especially would like to hear about possible solutions that the fans provide. I have made many of them and always offer the names of companies that can provide the services. But to complain without offering solutions does not solve anything. Also complain to the hotels about issues that are hotel related.

    I would like to say Thanks to the retailers in the Peachtree Center food court and the surrounding area for staying open later. Many of them opened up for the weekend for the first time ever and I am sure they benefited from it all. Corner Bakery across from the Hyatt was my coffee savior. They never used to open on D*C weekend.

  35. I’ll throw in on this one.

    You raised a host of very valid points, and I hope that you don’t mind that I will be using it to illustrate my points in the coming days. Because I agree with what you had to say. I’ve been saying it for quite some time now.

    Yes, you can give feedback straight to the convention. And they will wheedle and whine about how so much of their labor force is volunteer and how they don’t have time to address any concerns because these people have real jobs. There are surprisingly few people on the D*C staff who actually get paid for what they do. The rest of them apparently phone it in when they have time, and considering just how much revenue is being generated by this convention, that’s a joke.

    Explode at me if you like- I know plenty of people who put in tireless hours of volunteer labor for the convention as a labor of love, and more power to them. I appreciate that they love this con so much that they are willing to devote that much time to it. But don’t point to it as an excuse for why your ship cannot steer itself. That dog, as the local phraseology goes, just don’t hunt.

    As for the hotels, it is not their job to police the convention, plain and simple. It is the convention’s job to do that. And they quite simply cannot, given the current structure of the convention.

    I myself was harassed almost to the point of violence on a number of occasions, as was my partner and our friend who accompanied us. Because there is no convention control, instead it is a free for all that I believe the hotels have encouraged. they make their entire year’s booze budget in the Labor Day weekend. That’s right, the money to buy all of the booze for the entire hotel for the entire year comes out6 of the congoer’s pockets. And with the insane limitations they are placing on getting rooms anymore, you can see what they are up to. “We’ll be happy to let you parade around and drink and eat here, but having too many of you stay here 10 to a room isn’t working for us. Instead we will rent the rooms out to football fans and the like who will make this a hostile environment for you and take your money as well.” Win/win for the hotels, but certainly not for the congoers.

    That hostile environment is not just for those in costume, either. It takes many forms. Walking around in plain clothes I still had to put up with verbal assaults and snide remarks and crude come-ons from idiots who ordinarily would never be anywhere near a convention, but yet here they are… and Dragon*Con finally got around to doing something about it. By Sunday night. Way to close the barn door after the fire, kids.

    Standing in line for four hours to pick up your pre-registration badge is just plain bullshit. I mean, really, what kind of operation is this? You can lessen that wait to three hours if you want to pay full price in cash. What is this, a drug deal? I heard people bragging that it only took them an hour and a half to get their badge. Really? That’s a bragging point? And how does all of that time spent on line waiting to get your badge make for a more interesting and fun convention. You sure do get to know the people around you in line, sure, but honestly, I’d rather do that where I can occasionally choose to sit down or be in air conditioning.

    So all in all, yes. Dragon*Con needs to put on its big girl panties and decide to grow up, because really, 2008 made me leary of the experience, 2009 convinced me that I shouldn’t continue to support this con, and 2010 has sealed the deal for me. If they want to keep salivating over how much more money they are making while putting seemingly less and less effort into the convention, I think we just started to see the tower begin to crumble under its own weight and just how far it is all going to fall is up to the management… but seeing as how their refrain is to blame the volunteers, the people who toils and sweat for them out of love of the experience and devotion to their friends, I somehow doubt that this is going to get any better.

    I’ll look for changes, but not hold my breath. And if nothing changes then I think next year I will find something else to do with my weekend on Labor Day.

  36. This was my third year attending Dragon*con… and it was the worst. I stood in line for 5 hours to pick up the badge I had paid for almost 6 months ago. It was a nightmare to reserve a hotel room (and there were only three of us in the room.) We usually stay at the Marriott but were unable to secure a room there this year due to the “personalized website” that was “designed to better facilitate the reservation process” and ended up staying at the Hyatt where the beds are awful. We found out on check-out this year that the Hyatt is also going to do the “personalized website” next year.

    I will admit I’m not a hard-core costuming fan. I only have one costume (RE Centurion) and I like to watch the panels in my pajamas from the comfort of my hotel room. I did stand in line to get an autograph from one of my favorite authors (Sherrilyn Kenyon – amazing) but wasn’t able to get another because Cherie Priest only did one session. This year’s experience was almost as bad as the trip to San Diego for Comic*con last year. I will never go there for that again. I’m seriously considering whether I will schlepp to Atlanta next year.

  37. As a DC Tech*Ops staffer I’ll point out a few things that might clear a few heads:

    1/ Security is chronically understaffed. Think about it: who wants to stand at a door outside of an event checking badges- especially if they wanted to check it out themselves? Manning was, as I understand, only fifty percent of requirements- and most of those who signed up were no-show dirtbags who simply got their free badges and split. (Yes, I have a right to be pissed off at them- many of us put in well over the twenty-five hour requirement because of both necessity and the dirtbags.)

    2/ Dragon*Con is in the hotels, and will not move from the hotels, because of the desire of the Powers That Be to provide for twenty-four hour programming. The Georgia World Congress Center and the other venues mentioned have a hard 11PM cutoff time, and there’s little nearby to keep the party going after the venue’s security forces kick everyone out. Comic*Con, by comparison, is immediately next to both the San Diego Trolley (for a quick Tijuana run, if they’re under 21) and the Gaslamp Quarter (party central for San Diego’s over-21s).

    3/ Dragon*Con works hard to provide for all manner of related interests, whether seemingly timeless like Star Trek or Star Wars or the current Steampunk thread within Alternate History. Since DC follows the fans rather than trying to set the trends (like ComicCon) it’s hard to know just how much interest one track or another will generate. Even within tracks there’s really no way to gauge just how many people one actor/author/artist will generate over others within the genre.

    4/ Short of calling out the National Guard (who, incidentally, provided many attendees over the years) mundanes are going to get in. So long as major football games are scheduled the same weekend of Dragon*Con their fans are going to get rooms downtown. As such, they get a front-row seat to the center of the action. We’re just going to have to deal with that.

    5/ This was the first year of pulling in the Westin, and the third for the Sheraton. Bugs are still being worked out in both detached venue hotels (trust me on this- I worked the Sheraton), but other than “Why did X actor get the big, half-empty ballroom while Y actress only got a track room with a hundred people getting turned away?” I’ve heard no major complaints from paying attendees.

    Every convention is a learning curve, and we bust our ass all year figuring out how to keep it together. However, I want to ask all of those who wonder why doesn’t Dragon*Con bring in professionals this: are you willing to pay higher ticket prices so the *Con can afford to hire people who are less likely to understand *Con-goers than those of us who volunteer because we love it so much? Almost to a man we who volunteer for *Con do so because of our own inner geekiness; we understand where the attendees are coming from. Can you imagine the same coming from some team the work is outsourced to?

    1. Scotty I love the part where you say “Every convention is a learning curve” because it’s so true of everything in life, you just can’t predict how events will unfold. That’s particularly exciting when it comes to Dragon*Con… you just never know what the “big thing” will be from year to year and it’s always “electric” when you’re there to experience it. My thoughts are that a lot of little changes can make the event better, not one big change made for the sake of appearances. OH and thanks for the work you do at ‘con!

  38. Did not read all the comments – so likely this has been stated.

    Having attended for many years, the number of gate crashers is the same but the type was a bit different. Some I think has to do with the recession. I actually saw quite a few gate crashers (adn knew some too) who came *in costume* only to party with what I am sure you would consider appropriate con attitudes. they had day jobs or simply could not afford tickets so they missed the panels and other goodies, but didn’t want to miss out entirely in the atmosphere. I cannot nay say this too much.

    But, and this is huge, don’t discount changes in the city. With the addition of the SEC kickoff, the last few years have had an extra amount of redneck non-geeks wandering through. And, frankly, the hotels want their money too so they don’t see a reason to separate the two. As such, while the con specific events are taboo, the halls are not. Similarly, (and because it is a holiday weekend) other events like NASCAR and the Pride event have brought in non-Dcon attendees. Atlanta has the luxury of being an airport hub for many carriers so I only see more conventions and events overlapping and this problem will only get worse.

    As you noted, *a* solution would be to move away from the hotels. However, that would have a different effect of making it more commercial, less spontaneous and frankly soulless (as you stated). I would prefer to avoid this myself.

    So, the best suggestion I have is to try to contract the con – specifically try to ensure that DCon can sell out the entirety of the hotels and make the events less spread out. This allows more enclosure – but at a severe price. I mean, have some day events spread out, but try to make overlapping times (like the football kickoff) a bit different. Ask the hotels *not* to play the game to encourage the non-con attendees to head to a bar out of con. Some subtle but serious hints could help.

  39. It was my first year and I had an amazing time. I don’t have much to compare it to except small conventions like Gatecon and NEFANX. I stayed at the Hyatt and didn’t have any issues with the maids.

    It may be evolving or changing but as a newbie, I thought it was amazing. I plan on coming next year.

    1. Hollie, don’t let my ennui about Dragon*Con affect your enthusiasm, I *love* that you enjoyed the event so much – a lot of my friends who are relatively new to conventions had a great time… glad you did too!! :D

  40. Lot of bashing DC but this is my 12th year of doing the single day ticket on sat (I haven’t yet found a reason to do all 4 days but that’s me) anyway this year they did change how you get single day tickets and it was by far the fastest it been done! Any other year we get there about 7:30 and it would be 11 before we got a badge. This sat we got there at 7:30 and had badge by 9! So thank you dragon con for making it Easter and fast for us single day goers!

  41. For me the problem with Dragon Con is that everyone at the top tier of the convention is so comfortable in there positions there that they don’t care anymore about the show.

    I point at Gaming as an example. Its gotten smaller and smaller every year. There are no gaming guests anymore for panels and the only time Open Gaming on the bottom floor of the Hilton appeared to be well run was at night. I was totally shocked by something that happened to a friend of mine on Friday Morning in that room, then sat and watched as the three people who run Gaming at night for Dragon Con took endless amount of verbal abuse for it. They by they way are the guys that suggested the individual be there and his fans and customers tore into these volunteers like they had decided to throw him out themselves.

    This got worse. As the most senior of the three of them, who I have grown to like and respect for basicly cleaning up the area at night was berated for HAVING AN OPINION about it by Phil Collins who runs Board Gaming in front of everyone in the room. I was four tables away and clearly heard him say to Rob “If they don’t like what we did F them!” and then threaten to ban him from staffing the show.

    Rob by the way.. is a 16 year D.C. volunteer who works for several game companies as a Rep and is an established guest panelist at several other smaller cons in our region. He did not deserve that treatment and it shocked me to see him put in that position. The only person I saw that needed to be banned from the con was the guy with no tact saying F me for being angry at having my friend treated like garbage by convention heads and then destroying the show for a guy who had been taking verbal abuse for someone elses decision all weekend over it.

  42. I’ve been going to DragonCon since 2002. This year won’t keep me from coming back because I love seeing my friends, but two things in particular really bother me. One is the pre-registration line. I know they have had problems with counterfeited badges but surely there is *some* way to prevent this from happening. If they are going to encourage the continually larger crowds, they are going to have to do something. When exactly will enough be enough? 4 hours is – what about 5? 6? Even 2 hours shouldn’t be acceptable. Something has to change with their system.

    The other was the amount of inappropriate behavior in the hotels – I don’t know if it is fans or non fans causing it, but practically being under lock-down Sunday night was weird. I had a friend nearly have her badge confiscated (actually, it was torn off her body) merely for stepping out of an elevator that contained rowdy, drunk people. She wasn’t one of them. She and our other two friends were merely trying to get back to their room late at night. One of the friends was a lawyer and some other bystander had a video camera running, so things got resolved – but that’s not acceptable. Guilt by association with strangers is not good – especially when the elevators are already so sporadic and crowded, even late.

    Speaking of elevators, two other friends actually got their breast and butt grabbed while in an elevator, by guys who were drunk. Also not acceptable.

    I don’t really know what the solution is, but every year the drunken rowdiness gets worse. It’s fine if people want to have a good time – but harrassing other people (or causing innocent people to be harrassed because of what is going on around them) is not good for anyone.

  43. This was only my third Con, so I can’t really speak about experiences from “back in the day”, but I sincerely love this convention, and want to see improvements made so I can enjoy it more.

    One thing that has always concerned me about Con is how difficult it is to volunteer. I would be happy to put in a few hours over the course of the Con (and I know many others would, too), but there’s no way in hell I’m flying all the way to GA to work 25 hours over the weekend. A free badge is no incentive for me to volunteer, either–I’d gladly pay more than $50 to *not* work that much. Another volunteer organization to which I belong runs major (week-long with thousands of attendees) events by having a volunteer raffle–the hours you volunteer are exchanged for raffle tickets, and the vendors provide raffle items (and the vendors that provide items are given perks for their trouble). Honestly, I don’t even really care about the prizes, I’d just love to be able to work just a few hours to help out the con without devoting my entire freakin’ weekend to it.

  44. I think the most profound issue is that of Scale. Everything else is to be expected. Nerd culture is bending in with pop culture in a new way and there’s going to be uncomfortable cross over.

    Reading a lot of this is making me queasy. I was a yearly Dragon Con attendee from 1993 – 2005 and then again in 2007. I’ve been heading down to San Diego for Comic Con from LA for 2004 – 2010. So I’ve had time to weigh the two.

    Everything they say about SDCC is true. It’s massive, unfocused on genre, corporate, impersonal, decentralized after hours, the lines are long and the crowd is obscene.

    But it also runs like a Swiss watch. Two levels of polo and windbreaker clad professional security stand between you and the con floor, you walk through with your badge facing out and you’ll never be stopped, only slowed to make sure you’re actually supposed to be there. One year the line for professional pre-reg badge pick up ran into the two hour mark (this is before the con opened Wednesday evening). The next year a mailed barcode was sent to you, the year after, emailed. Comic Con as an organization saw a failure and they moved swiftly to fix it. My SDCC badge pick up in the barcode era has maxed out at 15 minutes and most of that was me fumbling for confirmation sheets and ID.

    Sounds like D*C is running up against similar issues. For a time onsite reg was the bear, which really, it always will be. For years I shot past the cattle pen of onsite reg to the pre reg where I would often be the only person for pick up among four open windows (that alone is a warning flag) This four hour wait for pre reg I’m reading about is unacceptable for a 23-year-old con. The year is 2010 and if there isn’t a barcode system for pre reg that alone is baffling.

    At this point and the size of the con being what it is a volunteer security force is absurd. Even years later I have a vivid memory of a lone nerd, all 130 pounds of neckbeard, ponytail and kilt trying to corral a ballroom based only on his headset and sense of entitlement. The fact is that things one day are going to go pear shaped.

    They’re going to get a Whedon-level guest, they’re not going to handle the crowd, they’re going to open one door before another and it’s just going to go bad. Then when the liability gets too scary the next year they’ll have windbreakered professional security like Comic Con and then it’s done.

    My best answer for the way to fix DragonCon? Force the scale back. I don’t know the numbers, but if it seems like there are 15% too many people then sell 15% fewer badges. Put a cap on it and then sell it out. People who have always gone will miss the boat but that’s only because they weren’t paying attention. If DragonCon is too big it’s not impossible to make is smaller.

    1. Match, I just posted a reply to Grim, a track director, that it might be good to look into the Best Practices (hate that term so let’s call it “Steal Ideas” instead) from other large conventions. Your experience with registration at Comic-Con is an example of something that “we” should be doing (note how I, the non-volunteer, says “we?). I daresay there are at least a dozen other very brilliant and very easy ideas that could be implemented by the ‘con. From some of the things I’ve read on LiveJournal it seems that there were more than a few sexual assaults and damage to the hotels. I cannot imagine that these hotels won’t band together and demand that the convention step their own game up a notch. I would certainly pay a little more if it meant a return to a controlled environment.

  45. Look, I’ll speak only for myself. If you want to engage someone in a discussion about what can be done to improve/speed up/whatever things about Dragon*Con. I’ll listen. Sure, I’m only a track director. Sure, I’m not in the position to wave a magic wand and fix everything, but if you’ve got ideas, I’ll listen to them and see that they at least get introduced to the right people if your idea has a reasonable shot at working.

    My track’s website is and there is a contact form there which will get your ideas sent straight to my inbox. This being the week after con, I’m freaking exhausted and I go back to my day job tomorrow, so don’t expect immediate replies, but I’ll do my best to read and respond to everyone who has an idea for making Dragon*Con better. I’ll do my best to see that good ideas make their way to people who can make real decisions and effect real change at the convention. It’s all I can do.

    That said, I know that many tracks, including my own, have a panel (usually on Monday) where we solicit and encourage ideas for improving things at the convention. I’d recommend going to those and telling the directors what you think. The “Powers That Be” *do* listen, but there is such an avalanche of data that it takes time to process it all, and it is rather easy for things to get lost in the shuffle. It happens at the largest corporations in the world, and it darn sure happens at fan run conventions like Dragon*Con.

    1. Thanks for posting Grim. First off, thanks for all the hard work that you and your team do to make your track (and hence Dragon*Con) possible. I couldn’t begin to guess at all the things you have to deal with to make things happen, but I suspect that most of it isn’t fun. I hope that people share their ideas with you and everyone up the line. I would personally need a month of strategizing to figure out what to do… but my first thought would be to research the Best Practices of large conventions, including Comic-Con. I may email you when my own world of work slows down… (I had to work Monday of Dragon*Con)

  46. Firstly, I love Dragoncon. LOVE it.

    I do see problems. Been attending for 4 years now. First of all, the change in the ticket lines is absurd. I preregister and I still have a 2-4 hour wait? Most of which is spent shuffling back and forth in line waiting to get close enough for them to call the letter of my last name so I can move to the front of the line. It’s stupid. WAAAAAAY to much inefficency.

    Security. I have worked security at clubs in my younger days. I have been in charge of a staff of security in a 20,000 sq ft building that would have crowds in excess of 15,000 people. The security at Dragoncon sucks. The only place it has a presence at all is outside the dealer rooms. No one is around to keep unwanted hands from under skimpy costumes or verbal abuse from occurring by the non-fan element.

    You may have been off with your guess of 200 volunteers at DC, but I would say you are actually pretty close to the mark on the amount of volunteers who actually work with the attendees. Who cares how many audio visual volunteers DC has? No one complains about crappy Dragoncon TV no do they?

  47. ok, I read the artical and I agree with most of it, I was only to come to dc 2010 for saturday only, I just went back to work and this was the best I could do, I love the fact that they added the sheraton, I only had to waite for 2 hours for my one day pass. I do believe there is a lot abuseing the not buying a ticket thing, it totaly sucks I spend that much money just to go into the dealers room, that was all I had time to do, oh wait I did go see rocky horror saturday night “totaly what I remembered” I noticed the downsizeing in costumes this year what a shame, but I will admit the reason I came was to see my friends that work for the hyatt. we party our asses off. Hopefully all the party crashers might come back next year and join in the fun. as for me I plan on going the whole convention next year, as long as I don’t get laid off, as for facebook, I added a friend this year because I seen her post about dragon con, saturday night she sent me a message and we met to go to rocky horror, if not for facebook this would not of happened. so even though facebook has its downfall it has it benifits too. ok I have rambled on for a long time, just go and have the best time you can we are what makes dc worth going to:)

  48. We all began as non-fans at some point. We grew into our varying fandoms. I have no problem with non-fans showing up… because… sometimes… they leave being fans.

    DragonCon is also aware of the scale issue and has in fact started to cap number of big guests so we’re not packed 20 times over with big named guests. Much like reptiles we grow to fit our environment and the consensus as far as I can tell is DC has reached the limits of it’s environments.

    I think people are protective while also being nostalgic for the good ol days. I remember a DCon where you could hang out at the bar in the SINGLE hotel with big named folks… No more… People protect what is dear to them and why shouldn’t they. But at the same time, everything changes as it must. Fandom certainly. And that certainly trickles down to newer generations of fans and their passions. So… this certainly isn’t MY con anymore… but just like Doctor Who while my Doctor will always be Tom Baker, I can sure as hell enjoy Matt Smith.

  49. DragonCon has a ton to learn from their “Hollywood-shilling black sheep cousin” Comic Con if they don’t want to end up as a precautionary tale. Like many cons and and gatherings Dragon Con gets many defenders from their track programmers and dutiful volunteers. Those people put in untold hours of prep and execution to be painted with the brush of “amateur and not ready” when the people who shelled out pre reg money and drove from parts unknown to be put in a cattle pen and then finally directed to a window designated by last name to then have a volunteer waddle over in a huff to just hand over a pre-printed badge.

    Still, much props to D*C if they still do their fantastic 4Day badges, those things were(are) gorgeous, awesome art for your weekend, not just black light sensitive paper.

    But there’s more philosophical and existential questions that D*C has to ask itself. And, hell, this may just be the changing of the times. My ’96 D*C gave me quality time on a smoking deck nearly alone with upcoming filmmakers Mosier and Smith. Couple of years later it was dinner banquet seated at a table with Harry Knowles and his dad while Anthony Daniels acted as head waiter.

    I’m certain those times are way, way gone. But the hunger for bigger names means bigger and more diverse crowds. If I went back next year I can promise that I’d rage against the dying of the klingons. Oh yes, the times when klingons were the default setting of DragonCon.

    Again, nostalgia creeping. It’s hard to say no to fandoms, Lost, new V, steampuck, anime, Transformers, dot dot dot Twilight.

    So DragonCon. Open your doors and let the new breed in or slam it shut, tighten up the schedule, hold registration tight to only a set amount and then see you in another decade.

    [edited by Drew with apologies to Match]

    1. Apologies Match, I had worked a 12 hour day when I got to really read the comments and there were a LOT of replies to read through that night – yours was one of my favorites and I wanted to reply to it – I just looked at the wrong info when looking for a name to address you with. Very sorry :(

  50. Sounds to me like everyone loves the good parts of DC, so lets just pay more. I know – we’re all roughing it, some more than others. If you want to make this con a priority, and of higher standards, let’s push ticket prices to $150 to generate the necessary con funds that will be required to pay staff. And why outsource? How about we start paying the volunteers that are so cool, awesome, and understand us? (I bet they’d show up to punch time cards)

    Also, what’s all this crap about Comic Con, anyway? It’s as though that’s the only other con in the world. Let’s examine E3 (60-70K attendees) and CES (140K attendees) to get some “big girl panties” ideas, and quit comparing ourselves to another sci-fi/fantasy convention that many of us DC’ers clearly don’t care for. ;)

    And yes – for those wondering – I will be channeling my ideas to the appropriate people. We all need to do that. This conversation, BTW, is excellent. You are all very intelligent and insightful, which is why I keep coming back to read more comments.

  51. I grew up on shows like Star Trek, Transformers, Voltron and movies such as Star Wars, Legend, Dark Crystal, Flight of the Dragons, The Last Unicorn, etc… So from an early age sci-fi and fantasy have been my favorite forms of entertainment. As a teen I fell into anime and absolutely LOVED it and typically my wife and I attend anime cons. But 2 years ago a friend who shares my interest in other fandom’s highly recommended Dragoncon to me and so we attended in 2009 and now again in 2010. Now I have to say seeing Stan Lee is a dream come true but it seems like the awesomeness of Dragoncon comes at a price. The crowding is pretty bad and the attendees are the rudest I have ever encountered. The Anime cons we attend always seem to have a great sense of community as I am sure Dragoncon once had. It seems to me that Dragoncon has outgrown the ability to act as a large family but instead is much like an amusement park where individuals just rush around trying to wade through the crowds and fight the long lines. Once again I think DC has lots of fantastic things like several cast members from Firefly which I was very excited to see but I only wish we could have attended several years ago as I believe it would have been more of the con experience I was hoping to find. I do think The advertisement has something to do with the influx people since even in my hometown in upstate SC the news has had some DC coverage for the last 2 years (mostly look at the freaks in costume). I don’t know what the answer is just really sharing my perspective as a DC noob who mostly attends Anime cons.

    Oh, and we always dress up for anime cons, often in steampunk gear, but have decided to wear every day clothes to DC due to the immense crowding and extensive walking…

  52. I’ve worked at a lot of cons over the past decade, from lowly volunteer capacity all the way up to senior leadership (departments: marketing, registration, events, security, tech, videography, video rooms, consuite). The reality that most folks miss is that if something is broken, it takes time to figure out how to fix it.

    Dragon*Con “runs” for 5 days out of the year. The other 360 are all guesswork as to wether or not the ideas being brought to the table to serve as a solution will actually work. And, some times it takes more than a few years to dial in the precise solution. What makes this particularly difficult for a convention the size of Dragon*Con is the stakes are higher, plus with a constant growth curve a solution that began implementation 3 years ago might have just been fine tuned in time to no longer be applicable.

    That’s the sad reality of running conventions. And it’s a difficulty that is only increased by having an all-volunteer workforce. Professional convention services do their jobs day-in and day-out, and are able to constantly fine-tune and adjust their practices to the needs of their clients based on experience.

    I say none of this to create a valid excuse. But I applaud folks like Sabrina Pandora for not jumping to conclusions, even over the course of 3 years. I also applaud the folks that aren’t trying to hold on to past memories of the con. You can never recreate an awesome con experience. We’ve all tried, and unfortunately the best memories and times at a convention are always always always the most unexpected, and unplanned for. If you go in to it expecting to have a great time, bring the right combination of liquids to drink, and most importantly have the right people around you, you will always have a good time.

    2 – 5 hours of standing in line at registration aside, of course. ;-)

  53. For me the problem with Dragon Con is that everyone at the top tier of the convention is so comfortable in there positions there that they don’t care anymore about the show.

    I point at Gaming as an example. Its gotten smaller and smaller every year. There are no gaming guests anymore for panels and the only time Open Gaming on the bottom floor of the Hilton appeared to be well run was at night.

    [PC] On behalf of the majority of the Board Games Staff I take exception to that statement. Board/Open Gaming ran exceptionally smoothly this year. This year we hosted a North American Catan Championship that is sending our winner to GenCon Indy to compete for a trip to the World Championships in I believe 2012. Once again our Star Fleet battles attendees participated and earned rated Ace status for the 2nd year in a row. Munchkin Gauntlet and Dominion Tournaments were also held.

    I was totally shocked by something that happened to a friend of mine on Friday Morning in that room, then sat and watched as the three people who run Gaming at night for Dragon Con took endless amount of verbal abuse for it.

    [PC] There was no issue with 2 out of the 3 staffers that run gaming at night. One staffer was pulled aside for what i saw as a performance issue. As the Board Games director the entirety of what happens in Board Games falls to me. When my second or i come down at 3 or 4 in the morning and the staffer in question is no where to be found or the other staffer is swamped while he is chit chatting i take exception. This staffer also took it upon himself to to comment to another staffer and a Dragon Con guest on how badly a situation that he had no knowledge of was handled.

    They by they way are the guys that suggested the individual be there and his fans and customers tore into these volunteers like they had decided to throw him out themselves.

    This got worse. As the most senior of the three of them, who I have grown to like and respect for basicly cleaning up the area at night was berated for HAVING AN OPINION about it by Phil Collins who runs Board Gaming in front of everyone in the room. I was four tables away and clearly heard him say to Rob “If they don’t like what we did F them!” and then threaten to ban him from staffing the show.

    [PC] I would comment more but I stand behind what i said at the time primarily because I have all the facts and unless my leadership decides to release them i will leave it at that.

    If anyone has any comments or suggestions please don’t hesitate to contact me at boardgames [at] dragoncon [dot] org.

  54. Since I have been to both SDCC(comic con) and Dragon con I think it’s important to distinguish that these are two completely different cons. It is hard to compare the two. SDCC is a COMIC con; yes it offers multimedia panels and booths. Dragon con is far less of a comic con IMO as it seems more of a fantasy/Sci-Fi/Steam punk/other con.

    If you want to compare them, then you have to except that SDCC has far fewer things to fix than Dragon Con has done right (speaking this year).

    1) Con Pass system for DC is archaic and must be updated
    2) Dealer rooms are packed before the attendees make it in there
    3) Constant panel changes and cancelations- not even updated on the TV screens
    4) Clearly both cons have outgrown their current facilities. SDCC has addressed it and is currently looking at other avenues after their contract is up. As for DC, having attendees Leave one hotel to go to other(s) is absurd. for many reasons, hard to control coming and going of actual attendees….Attendee frustration of learning the layouts of 5 hotels.

    I will also say that no fan has the right to say someone is a “non-fan” if they choose not to dress up. We all have different personalities and we should all appreciate each other for being there and supporting the con.

  55. Good article. I was discussing several of these points with my bud Richard Hatch (who’s obviously been there for years) and we pretty much agreed that the con is getting MASSIVE and needs to switch gears a bit.

    I don’t think Dragon*Con is broken. Far from it. I think its growth is testimony to how our particular interests and genres are growing, becoming more “socially acceptable” and really… look at how POWERFUL our particular demographic is. I’m fond of saying “You don’t see a “Romantic Comedy con, for instance”.

    The invasion by outsiders, however, is problematic and needs to stop. They don’t understand what we’re about and in typical fashion… simply choose to drink, heckle, and annoy those of use attempting to enjoy ourselves.

    1. Funny you should say “romantic comedy” Derek… I have a little something that Richard might actually be interested in reading sometime… been getting some interest on it lately.

  56. Very good points.

    My first year at D*Con I walked into the registration room on Thursday night, waitied about two minutes, got my badge, and left. That was 5 years ago. Now the shortest wait I’ve heard about was 1 1/2 hours. With CNN saying there were 30k pre-registered, there has to be a new method. Either have people broken up into alphabetical lines much earlier on, or better yet don’t alphabetize at all! Don’t pre-print anything. Have ten booths each with a computer and printer set up. Print badge stickers right then and there, first come first serve, with a copy put into a binder for people to sign. This would eliminate the people changing their last name to Zod in order to get through the line faster. ;-) Also would make people less upset at watching volunteers with empty lines just sitting around twiddling their thumbs.

    I agree with too many people gawking at the “weirdos in costumes”. It did feel uncomfortable at times, which D*Con never was for me before. I also agree that it’s time to get some professional help. The volunteer staff does all it can, but it’s still limited.

    Get more panels on DCTV. Maybe add another channel of it? This would cut down on people waiting for big panels. I did all I could to watch from my room if there was a chance. As much as I enjoy the energy of being in the room live, if I have to skip panels beforehand to wait in line it’s not always worth it. Also, figure out ahead of time where each main room is going to have it’s line and train the volunteers on it, rather than having people line up, be told it’s okay, and then moving everybody around. It’s frustrating to get comfortable and then be shoved outside into the heat for two hours. I’d also like it if they enforced the no lining up more than an hour ahead of time rule listed in the program guide.

    Although my boyfriend and I very much wanted to get to the Alternative History track panels, getting all the way to the Westin and back wound up being a factor we didn’t want to deal with. We’ve yet to figure out where the Westin even is, and never went there.

    I, like so many others, am finding it hard when asked what my favorite part of the con was – because of a lackluster experience. Waiting in lines has overshadowed the fun of Doc Hammer running around his panel with funny theme music or the MST3K crew with their hillarious Cinematic Titanic viewing. Seeing as I spend at least $400 to fly in and another $1000 for a hotel room, it’s getting hard to justify going back. I still love it, though, and it makes my heart ache thinking of not going.

  57. I think the original article makes a lot of good points.

    I think it’s unfair to judge people for being in costume or not. I didn’t go in costume due to the fact that I had to travel a distance and had no place to change or freshen up throughout the day. Judge the people who don’t buy badges. Judge the ignorant jerks who just go to cause trouble and be rude.

    Overall I had fun at the con. I didn’t let the lines or the crowds dampen my mood too much. It’s a convention, it’s become the standard. If you honestly think you can just walk in at the time of a panel with a popular guest and get a seat, you’re nuts. Maybe for the smaller fan panels, but not for the celebrity guests.

    They definitely need some kind of organizational upgrade in a few departments:
    1. The pre-reg line? It. Does. Not. Work. D*C is the only con, big or small, where I wait 3-4+ hours to pick up my badge. I realized the entire holdup is because each person has to split into a line at the end according to the letter of their last name, then flip through the binder to sign their name. This doesn’t work because the J K Q V X Y Z lines were empty, and the lines for A M N S T were probably very very full.

    They either need to split up pre-reg to A-M at one location and N-Z at another location (even if it’s 2 separate ballrooms at the Sheraton). Or they need to split up the lines alphabetically as soon as you enter the ballroom, then be quick to help out and split long lines into the empty/short lines. The name pages are in binders, have volunteers split them up! Have the Will Call guy help! Anything.

    It seemed to me that once I got up front, there was one guy working and 3 staffers just milling about. That pisses me off, after waiting in like 3.5 hours. They even sent around a volunteer who asked me how long I had been waiting, to which I said “An hour and 15 minutes”. He seemed shocked.

    Maybe they could start using a barcode system like they use for most other events. I understand it would be an investment to upgrade the system, but how much longer will people tolerate standing in line for that long on Thursday? There’s absolutely no benefit to pre-registering right now. You wait longer than the people at Will-Call or who buy On Site.

    I also kind of wonder if having a limited amount of tickets could help a little bit. While I don’t want it to restrict people from going, it may help keep the population down at least until they get adjusted to the huge volume of people who go.

    2. They need to fix the line situation for panels. Rarely did staff know where the line was. I didn’t want to be in the wrong place nor did I want to cut in line. If I asked a staffer where the line was, mostly it was a vague, “Oh over there.” I was waiting in a few lines where we got moved several times. That’s annoying and inconvenient.

    3. They really need people in place to politely tell people not to stand around in bottleneck areas. It’s so annoying to be going through someplace narrow and crowded like the dealer’s room, only to stop dead in the aisle because somebody decides to just stand in the middle of the aisle and socialize. No photos in places like the Hyatt poolside steps. Keep walking at the top of escalators. I got cursed out for bumping into somebody who got to the top of the escalator and STOPPED. It was like a row of dominoes. People are going to keep coming up the escalator and bumping everyone unless the person in front moves!

  58. I find it amusing that some of the same people that will waiting in line for 2-3 hours for a 2-hour movie or show up the night before for a video game release are going to complain about a 2-4 hour wait for a 4 day event.

    Who complains about crappy DCTV? you probably did at least once and not even know it. All of the cameras in the room used for the video close ups are handled by DCTV, which has a very small sub staff under TechOps..

    A lot of the volunteer staff are event professionals and are often working 50-60 hours of the weekend to be sure things go as well as possible.

    Non-attendee issues were significantly worse this year, than previously. A convention wide lock down to badges and key cards may indeed go in to effect next year.

    The sexual harassment was bad this year, and some of that blame goes to the hotels for making alcohol so freely available all over the hotels. No excuses for it, but it does make you wonder about how society has shifted that people think it is okay to do things like that.

    DragonCon not including load-in and load-out runs about 80hrs. So volunteering for 24-27 hours, is not that big a bite out of the total running time of the convention.

    AS has been said before, if you have a real issue with how things are done, contact D8con about it, the staff wants the feed back or better yet join the staff and fix it. If you just want to rant becuase you feel entitled please don’t waste the bandwidth as it helps nobody.

    Finally, you the fans that attended often do not help things. When you get in the staff’s faces and berate them for trying to do there job becuase you can’t get in to a panel or stop one in the middle of the reg line to complain about how long it is taking all you are doing is making the wait longer the next person, or stressing out the staffer and making everything worse for everybody.

  59. Here’s my honest question. Why even bother buying a pass? Honestly, I attended like two panels. The rest of the time was spent milling about having people take pictures of my costume. The panels I wanted to attend were either canceled or moved around and only piss poor word of mouth got me correct info (no, the daily fliers did not contain the info).

    Next year I’ll go in costume and not buy a ticket. No one was checking badges at any of the hotel entrances. Why should i pay for something that the other 50k people that have no interest in the scene but just came down to gawk, dont?

    Well I either wont get a badge or simple just wont go again.

  60. This is my 4th Dragon*con and my best one yet. Perhaps this is due to my own (more positive) attitude coming in, but other than the truly awful pre-reg line I experienced none of the problems mentioned here. Only freindly, funny people in elevators (including Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu) and no harrassment issues, even walking back from the Westin to the Hilton at 1 am alone. I would second the idea of improving the crowd situation in the dealer rooms – longer hours or more space or something.

    I just wanted to put in a positive note!

  61. I’m pretty much agreeing with you on all the points, I actually got to meet you after the parade, I’m the guy inside Cardboard Cylon. Thanks for inspiring me to go towards cardboard and tape as a medium BTW.

    I don’t really mind waiting for the badge, I have a phone loaded with games that keeps my distracted. But there has to be a better system than pulling the sticker out of the book. Maybe some sort of computer set-up where we scan our pre-reg cards, sticker is printed out, and then we put it on the badge. Maybe just mail the badges out to us, I’d even pay an extra fee for that.

    The non-fans really wasn’t a problem for me. The weirdest thing that happened was some guy asking for my badge or room key so he could get into the Marriott. I need here someone yelling “nerds” in a crowd, but I brushed it off because I saw some guys dressed as the Alpha-Betas from Revenge of the Nerds and assumed it was them. I did hear stories, especially from a lot of women, about certain behavior from the non-fans. The hotels are not going to keep them out as long as they buy rooms, but maybe limiting it to just the ones with rooms there will help a little. I think that next year, having each entrance checked for badges or keys will be standard.

    The Dealer Rooms, especially the basement one, was packed to the point where you couldn’t move freely. Since badge holders are the only people who can get in, I assume that this is just too many of us.

    Maybe there should be a cut-off of some sorts. Only allow so many Pre-Regs and Day Passes.

    1. Ah my old friend the Cardboard Cylon! :) – you just made me crack up because I was one of the ones walking over the bridge between hotels yelling “Nerds” from the inside of my cardboard armor!!!! LOL!! – I suppose that my “performance art” as leader of the cardboard troopers may be too subtle for some as a lot of my brothers and sisters in sci-fi nerddom didn’t crack a smile at my playful self-deprecation of my own nerd status… but I did see one or two of them grin a bit ;)

  62. I yelled it a few times at my friend for his choice of ringtone, it does need that insane, way over the top, fake anger behind to work right.

  63. I can’t believe the amount of people who still defend Dragon*Con and get butthurt when it’s compared to other pop culture conventions. We’re not trying to hurt or kill D*C, you ninnies. To the contrary, we’re dissecting its burgeoning issues and putting forth ideas to fix and improve it.

    … And well, look at this:

    That’s (possibly) one problem one its way to be solved at least.

  64. Thanks for the link Carl, Joseph texted me about this news too!! I’ve posted a new article about it and am VERY excited about 2011 already!!

  65. Ohhhh, Evan. You wonderful person, you. Thanks so much for illustrating so much of what is wrong with how we feel about Dragon*Con. Let’s dance a little, you and I, shall we?

    I find it amusing that some of the same people that will waiting in line for 2-3 hours for a 2-hour movie or show up the night before for a video game release are going to complain about a 2-4 hour wait for a 4 day event.

    Um, sweety? I don’t pay $700 for a hotel room and then $100 for the movie ticket and then what, an easy $100 on food and lord knows how much on costumes and booze to go see a movie. Really not the same experience at all, and comparing the two is really not the best of ideas. Yes, we are a people who will show an amazing devotion for what we want. No, that does not validate the amazingly amateurish way that registration is currently handled. Yes, we are complaining. And we’ve a darn good right to, because it has needed to be fixed for some time now. It is 90 odd degrees out there on a sidewalk wrapping around a building with traffic whizzing by as we slowly shuffle along, not sitting in a lawn chair waiting for the box office to open. But more on this later.

    A lot of the volunteer staff are event professionals and are often working 50-60 hours of the weekend to be sure things go as well as possible.

    Yes, yes they are, and bless them for it. Again, they are the heart and soul of the con. Personally I would rather they be paid for their efforts instead of the profits from the con going to the what, 8 people who actually draw a paycheck from this organization. Last time I checked, if they are putting in that kind of overtime it would mean a serious paycheck in real life. Heck, if they were union it would be crazy. I’d rather see enough staff available so that they would not have to work as much and have more time to enjoy things like eating and bathing and sleeping occasionally.

    Non-attendee issues were significantly worse this year, than previously. A convention wide lock down to badges and key cards may indeed go in to effect next year.

    Noticed that, didya? Yeah, us too. And on Sunday when the lockdown started suddenly there was a whole lot less harassment. That lockdown would go a long ways, but it still won’t stop the jerks who have room keys. If the convention is big enough to fill the hotels, then why not let it FILL the hotels and thus it is a matter of the hotels being completely con badge only? Oh, right, they don’t want to do that because many of us are just too darned hard on the hotels, so they’d rather rent the rooms to other people and just take our money for booze. So really, that solution will impact the problem somewhat, but it isn’t a solution that will solve the problem. Nice that you recognize that the problem exists, though.

    The sexual harassment was bad this year, and some of that blame goes to the hotels for making alcohol so freely available all over the hotels. No excuses for it, but it does make you wonder about how society has shifted that people think it is okay to do things like that.

    Yes, it was bad. I’m a big girl and I was genuinely concerned for my personal safety more than once, and that’s not counting the number of odd hands that found themselves on my boobs or my butt. While I read a lot of folks not really noticing it, try it from my side of the fence, kids. Yes, some of the blame COULD go to the hotels, but they are providing booze like they always have, so that hasn’t changed a bit. Sure, we could blame society… or we could blame the convention. Hey, I like that last idea… after all, we paid to be here and expect a certain safe climate to roam around and enjoy ourselves without being terrorized or abused by the adult versions of the high school jocks who stereotypically terrorized us in our youth. Or having to worry about being molested because we’re obviously asking for it in those outfits we wear.

    Perhaps some accountability for that harassment could go to the convention in your eyes? Because we’re edging up on a very big issue here, and the actual reason why I felt the need to single out your post and reply here… why your particular response was just so absolutely perfect. So to summarize, you’ve pointed the finger elsewhere on this issue… let’s continue, shall we?

    DragonCon not including load-in and load-out runs about 80hrs. So volunteering for 24-27 hours, is not that big a bite out of the total running time of the convention.

    Um, it is to me. Some people don’t view their volunteering time as a badge of honor. They view it as time they would be willing to put in that might help out some overstressed staffers. They don’t want a full time job on their vacation- which is what that certainly sounds like to me- and there is no compromise offered by D*C. Again, I appreciate and respect the people who do love this con that much and are that devoted. But if you are going to demand all or nothing, then you are not really going to get the same results as having a more flexible system. Again, we find you defending the status quo.

    AS has been said before, if you have a real issue with how things are done, contact D8con about it, the staff wants the feed back or better yet join the staff and fix it. If you just want to rant becuase you feel entitled please don’t waste the bandwidth as it helps nobody.

    Uh huh. And now we’re getting somewhere. Here’s that winning attitude!

    Sweety, do you think that we haven’t contacted the D*C staff? You’d be wrong. For the most part, that contact is met with a defensiveness of which you have just shown a classic example, or it is simply never replied to, and if pursued, it is usually shuffed off and blamed on the demands of a large convention run by a volunteer staff, who have real jobs and cannot be bothered with every little email of some disgruntled fan.

    Y’see, if we just guesstimate, there are 30,000 people who preregistered this year. That’s a million and a half dollars at fifty bucks apiece, right? And then the other, say, 30 thousand that paid full price… let’s say that generated a mil anna half as well too. Just to ballpark it. And then there’s the cost of a tables in the dealer’s room, and the gouge taken off the credit card sales down there and… golly, this adds up pretty quickly.

    In short, there is a LOT of money flowing here. And a paid staff would mean that those people’s full time jobs would be to fix these problems. But yannow what? If that happened, then they would also be able to be held accountable for all of the problems, and it is just wayyyyy easier to blame the volunteers and keep the money- it really is that simple, sad but true.

    And if staffers do point out that there are problems and do try to work within the system, guess what? They usually get replaced by someone more tractable. Someone who doesn’t complain. Someone who will say what is wanted to be heard, who will say “Yes, we can do more with less, yessir!”

    I don’t rant because I feel entitled, sweetness. Thanks EVER so much for that particular bit of high-handed judgement. I rant because I am a customer with a whole herd of complaints, and whether you feel that they are valid or not, if you take a moment to look around you here, I am not by any means alone.

    You can choose to defend your organization by pointing the blame elsewhere or you can choose to start listening and dealing with the problems like professionals. But don’t imagine for a moment that I’m just some whiny child who feels as if life isn’t fair and that she wants better treatment because she’s a super special snowflake with an opinion and an internet connection. I’ve been at this longer than you might imagine, and I know a thing or two of which I speak.

    And if we wanted to be on staff, we would BE on staff. We prefer to enjoy this convention as congoers, not as staff, and that is our choice. We should not have to join the staff to fix what is wrong with the convention- supplying intelligent feedback should be enough, to my mind. But again, thanks ever so much for that high handed and lofty deflection. You are truly a credit to being part of the problem.

    Finally, you the fans that attended often do not help things. When you get in the staff’s faces and berate them for trying to do there job becuase you can’t get in to a panel or stop one in the middle of the reg line to complain about how long it is taking all you are doing is making the wait longer the next person, or stressing out the staffer and making everything worse for everybody.

    *Cough* Really, this one takes the cake. After you’ve worked so hard to deflect any blame from the convention, then you are going to blame US? Beautiful. Absolutely magnificent. Bravo.

    Tell you what… make the reg line 15 minutes long with a modern system and we won’t complain about how long it takes. Keep people politely and apologetically well informed about why they cannot get into a panel or just anticipate the crowds appropriately and it is doubtful that we will get in your face. It probably won’t exacerbate the situation nearly as much, and if such situations stress out the staffer, then perhaps they need not to be so overworked. Or perhaps they need to be better prepared to deal with the customers.

    But hey, if we the fans are the problem, then I imagine that we can fix that. How about if you were to have a convention with no fans at all? Wouldn’t that just be super swell! Think of how grand that would be… no complaints, no lines, no hassles, everything would go smoothly…

    Oh, except that then there would be no convention at all.

    But then, it sounds as if that’s the solution that you’d prefer. It’s certainly the one that you are working towards with the words and attitude that you have displayed for us here. Are you truly indicative of the majority of the staff, I wonder?

    I do indeed wonder.

  66. My biggest gripe by far is the dwindling comic book artist alley. They used to help out local published artists in the comics field by allowing them a table to show their wares, with the addition of the toys and “pop art”, along with the promise that the artist alley was expanding, this has become a thing of the past.

    I was a guest for 6 straight years, and with the addition of the new programs, suddenly, I can’t get a table anymore, and this has happened to several other creators that I know.

  67. This was my 9th D*Con, only missing last year to complete a solid 10 in a row. I have worked several years at the con, as a staffer for both a track room and at the Art Show. That said…I was not harassed, but I know my friend was. I ended up having to snag a room from someone else in the Hyatt because we could not get a room in another hotel. I hate the Hyatt, and go to great lengths to try and avoid it. The elevators were better than years previous, but still rather shitty.

    What is with the situation on the hotels? It’s almost not worth going just because it’s near impossible not to have to travel a long way to a room if you aren’t in the host hotels, and there’s no way in hell I’m going to cosplay if I have to walk may blocks just to get to the con.

    Every single year I email whomever is in charge of volunteers and suggest that they allow previous staff/volunteers the ability to work half time, and get a discounted badge. My message is either ignored, or I politely get told there’s no way they will do that. Why exactly not? I just read one of you mentioned people took badges and never showed up. Well, I would love to volunteer again, but I don’t want to travel 700+ miles to spend my entire weekend checking badges.

    I agree with a lot of the original post, but I personally had other complaints. I witnessed firsthand some of the GUESTS of the con bitching about the bullshit incidents they had to endure. That’s a fantastic sign! Maybe they shouldn’t be screwing over the people who bring in the crowds? I won’t be pointing out those individual problems, but the con knows what I’m talking about. One of the reoccurring themes seemed to be telling people they were guests, then limiting the cap of guests to 400, and then when someone got here, they apparently weren’t a guest anymore but had no idea. Great organization there. A $100 badge for free was apparently too much to give out to a professional.

    I know there’s always going to be big problems when dealing with a con that has grown far too much in just about five years. However, I don’t think it’s all bad. Adding more hotels is a good thing. Crowds certainly seemed dispersed this year. It is sad that you have to travel so much to see anything, but thems the breaks! They also have had the temporary bars in the Hyatt for a few years now, as I remember them in 2008. I think this is a fantastic idea. I want a drink, but I don’t want to spend tons of money buying lots of alcohol.

    That said, I’ve heard lots of ridiculous things about how the con is making money and where on earth is it going? I’m also starting to wonder.

  68. To start off, I’ve been to Dragoncon for 10 years so I’ve seen a bit of the growing pains. I don’t know all the answers but maybe we could work together help.

    For those of you unfamiliar with other cons, there’s one in Indy that has similar attendance – GenCon (the largest gaming con in the US). They run things a little differently.

    They do send out badges as well as have will call and I don’t think I’ve ever waited as long as for Dragon. I don’t know what the solution is to our current long wait, but there’s got to be some help out there. I will be writing to offer some suggestions – like only 1 book with 2 pages per list of names (one sheet to sign, one with sticker) so it’s easy for the staff to find names and not have to hunt thru two different books. And yes, Gencon uses computers versus DragonCon’s books.

    Also, Gen Con events have been hosted in several hotels over the years – so I’m used to walking between events. It does add a bit more hassle (especially with elaborate costumes and impossible shoes) but if we did it here – ppl might actually get to “see” the large star panels. For instance, I went to the Westin for a Firefly panel. I arrived shortly before the panel was to start, waited for the “line” to end and got in. There were several hundred seats left over too. The next Firefly panel was in the Hyatt in Cent II/III – and it was shut down before the end of the line because they didn’t use the entire ballroom unlike at the Westin. Also, the clear the room policy is getting way out of hand. Guest Panels aren’t an hr anymore, we’re lucky if they are 40-45mins because it takes 30 mins to clear a room and then let ppl in single file. This has to change.

    For me, Dragoncon last year was the worst. I couldn’t get into any guest panels because the lines were too long and the space too small. I hope they use every ballroom in the “major” hotels to solve this problem. If tracks get more ballroom/track room space, more ppl can go and enjoy themselves.

    I usually enjoy this con, but it *is* a balancing act between costuming and panels. But that is my choice and my decision. If I want to wear 2 costumes a day, then I don’t get to go to panels. And the less time I can take pics, but then again, that’s why I hope to find pics on someone else’s site. And I did miss alot of my reg crews this con, but that is because I was changing cos’s way too much. I felt like if I wasn’t dressed, I wasn’t right. But part of me is getting used to the idea of dressing in a cool con-like tshirt and going out to see ppl, take pics, chat and be ok with not being in cos all the time. Enjoy the con around me and not be “under pressure” to dress to meet everyone else’s expectations…

    Also, I don’t have an Iphone, but a middle of the road device, so I wasn’t getting online and only texted when I needed to find ppl.

    I’m hoping this con can move forward and take suggestions to become a wonderful place to visit. Just my sun-“shiny” outlook

  69. This is a great discussion. I’d like to thank the writer and the majority of posters for keeping the conversation intelligent.

    I and my husband are Eternal Pass holders. It would seem to me that Eternals, at least, could receive their badges through the mail ahead of time. After all, the con has our home address invitation, and of course most Eternals plan to attend.

    I think this year’s con was great – I especially loved the Quantum Leap panel – but the behavior of some of the con goers was poorer this year. I think that all the crowding in the dealer’s room and parade really got to people, and caused some to behave in ways they might not have in years past.

    For instance, the majority of fans are great about letting little kids sit on the curb during the parade so they can see. I love taking wee ones to watch the march, and have been doing so for years. This year was the first year big grown-ups got in front of little kids and blocked their view. These were not “gawkers” or football fans. These were badge-holding DragonCon goers with giant cameras who decided to walk out over the curb and block the view of little kids in order to get their perfect pictures to post on the internet. When my view wasn’t blocked by someone’s butt (I was sitting on the curb with the kids because I’m responsible like that) I could see the same bad behavior up and down Peachtree Street. When I did ask someone not to block our view, he asked “How am I supposed to get a good picture?”

    Similar poor behavior by con-goers could be observed in any overcrowded space, such as the dealer’s room. People just aren’t as likely to be nice when they’re feeling squished. Introducing small kids and new people to fandom through the magic of the parade and costume watching has always been a highlight for me. But some better crowd control is needed. Badly.

    I think the volunteers and Con staff do the best job they can, and work really hard. I’ve volunteered in years past and I know how much time and effort is put in to the con. But at this point, the party has gotten too big to handle without bringing in more paid help.

  70. I’ve been 5 years so far and all these posts have hit home for me. Some of the die hards killed it for me this year, at the parade they were in front of everyone very tall people, would not let some children sit at their feet to see. said that the kids were in danger of being hit by the vehicles in the parade……these were older kids 6 or 7, ok….then one woman tried to get by them in front and they started yelling at her to get out of their way to take pictures. This woman started screaming at them because they were so rude and non con like. 10 minutes later these women called over a friends child to sit under them on the curb. and several people just looked at them, and wanted to say “aren’t they in danger of being run over”? many things like this killed it for me this year, i could not get into very small panels at the least, i missed 4 in a row walking for miles it seemed.
    it took me 3.5 hours to drive to atlanta from knoxville, and i stood in line for my badge a little over 4 hours. It was a good con but not the great i remember.

  71. The original article was very well written, but I have not read all of the replies. My biggest gripe of the con occurred late Friday night/Saturday morning. Some friends and I were leaving the Marriot to return tot he Hyatt. We were stopped by a staff member who told us we had to clear the atrium level. No problem, we’re leaving anyway. We were then told we were not allowed to use the bridge and would have to go outside and cross the street, with no explanation whatsoever other than a “fire marshal code” had been broken.

    As we crossed the street, we could see others using the bridge. Perhaps they had crossed from the Hyatt and got turned around. Also on the street, I saw a Lt from the Atlanta Fire Dept. who said he had nothing to do with clearing the Marriot; that the Fire Marshal was not involved. Okay, staff, stop hiding behind the Fire Marshal, we can smell the BS.

  72. I wrote some of the following a few days ago, and some comments above echo things I would have said and other announced changes negate some of it.
    I think this was a good article, but there a couple of things I want to point out:
    1) Pre-registration will hopefully be solved by the bar codes.
    2) Non-fans: People presume the football fans are there because they’re trying to get rooms at the con rate, but have you ever asked one what they’re paying? Me, neither. Have you seen football fans in the Hyatt, Sheraton or Westin? I did take a quick glance at the website for the Chick-FIl-A Kickoff classic and it took just three clicks to be on a page where I saw that the official hotels for the Chick-Fil-A Bowl are the Marriott Marquis and the Hilton. So I think it’s more likely the football fans are there because they’ve either presumed the team hotels are the same for both games or accidentally ended up on the hotel page for the wrong game.
    3) Too many attendees. The con has added two hotels in the past 3 years in order to have more larger ballrooms to hold big panels and late-night parties. However, most of the action is still in the main three hotels, e.g., the dealer/exhibit halls, the walk of fame, etc. Even if your main interest was one of the tracks at the Sheraton or the Westin, it wasn’t announced until very close to the con and most people would already have rooms at the other host hotels. The two new hotels are also a couple of blocks away and not connected through the tunnels. I don’t really know what the con experience is like for a gamer, but the stereotype is that they are just doing gaming and not spending a lot of time doing other things at the con. It would make more sense to move them to another hotel and expand the dealer room, exhibit hall, art show, etc. into the space.
    4) Volunteer system is inefficient. I heard numerous stories of departments being short, especially security, because people signed up for the FREE badge and then never showed up for shifts. A simple solution is to make volunteers pay for their badge and then reimburse them when they’ve fulfilled their obligation to the con. People who have volunteered in the past could get some sort of break on the initial badge cost. I’ve volunteered at several cons with similar policies. This year at SW Celebration V was the first time I did enough shifts to be reimbursed. You could give additional perks to volunteers who did shifts beyond the number to be reimbursed.
    5) Blood Drive – First, let me say that I fully understand the need for blood donations. However, the placement of the blood drive this year was terrible. It severely impeded the traffic going between the Marriott and the Hyatt. Plus I felt like the people were aggressively in my face about donating this year much more than in any previous year. I don’t recall where it has been held in previous years, but it needs to move back there.
    6) Signage – There were lots of signs for track schedules and “Line forms here” outside rooms and some covering what was in each hotel, but very few signs directing you how to get to the other hotels or listing the following 6 tracks are down this hall, etc.
    7) Parade – there doesn’t seem to be any security at the parade. Anyone can walk along the parade route and there were a lot of people on Baker Street. There’s also no place for people to go at the end of the parade at the back of the Marriott. It was MUCH better when the parade ended in the front of the Marriott as there’s a lot more room on the lobby level.

  73. 1. I’ve been going to D*C off and (mostly) on for years. I was a staff member or volunteer for some years. This was the WORST year ever as far as enjoyment. An ugly little secret about working at D*C is this: the 24 hours total required of volunteers is often a lie. What I mean is that your actual hours on a track that has long hours can be more like 10-14 hours every day. You better love your programming, because it’s likely all you will get to see. It’s not a surprise that volunteers are getting harder to find. At least in previous years, you could still see a few costumes, and hang out and socialize for a little while without being shoved around in a crowd so dense, it was sometimes hard to keep your feet. This year it was impossible.

    2. If you are working the con, you are engaged in crowd control, more or less, inside or outside your programming room. There are problems, and that’s understandable. But, if you have an issue, you can bet that 3 out of 4 people with walkies or headsets can’t help you cuz they don’t know how. No one in regular track programming is given numbers to call for issues or problems.

    3. Most of the attendees on the fan tracks are okay, in my experience. We don’t have many problems at all. But having to push your way through the crowds in the “upper rooms”, and dodge vomit and people vomiting is just flat ass disgusting. This is the first year I had that “pleasure” and also heard about it a lot from others.

    4. This year, there were more badgeless people than I have EVER seen, ever. I’m sorry, I used to costume myself, BUT, we always had to be able to show our badges, including at much smaller events than D*C. Get over it. Either have your badge on, or have a companion who has your badge as well as their own, both visible. Obnoxious fans or obnoxious sportsfans or obnoxious frats, it makes no difference. Assault is assault, no matter who does it; and this year it happened to multiple women (and men?). Take a minute and look at the Live Journal posts under Dragoncon. Having a badge visible keeps people from being anonymous, and anonymous people engage in more obnoxious behavior. It is D*C’s responsibility to ensure the reasonable safety of their con-goers.

    5. Moving at least part of the convention to the World Congress Center is not a bad idea, and it doesn’t have to make D*C soulless. Major media events could be moved there, and large concerts/performances before closing time. Spread the rest of the programming/concerts/dances out in all the hotels. Put the cash bars inside the event rooms, and require badges for entry. Spreading the people out will help with the anonymity factor (see above).

    I don’t wish for the “good old days.” But throwing out everything from that time, especially the sense of camaraderie, of being in a place with real people who have some similar interests, should not be the answer either. I agree we should get our faces out of our phones and notice the people around us.

    I just wish for some sense that D*C gave a damn about anything other than making money. I also think the hotels don’t care. Both D*C and the hotel’s attitudes seem to be that if 500 of us at a time don’t go back, they will replace us with 500 other people. Sadly that’s true. But I think that D*C is on the verge of becoming a shell of what it once was, not because of the size, but because “management” doesn’t care enough to change it. Remembering that D*C is a profit making corporation, maybe they need to think about paid con-goers as their customers, and not like beggars who are lucky to be there.

  74. I’ve read all the comments and want to add my own.

    This was my family’s 4th year in a row at Dragon*Con. We have two teenagers. This year, we brought two additional teenagers with us. We’ve always stayed at non-con hotels, getting the rooms through Hotwire or Priceline and have never paid more than $70 a night. This year, we paid $55 a night for the Marriott Courtyard, across the street from the Westin.

    We head back to our hotel at dusk each evening, so we miss most of the drunken partiers. For us, there are two Dragon*Cons: regular and “Dragon*Con After Dark”. However, we were verbally assaulted mid-day by elementary school children (who appeared to be members of a youth sports team, with adult chaperones), yelling out “nerds” and “geeks” as we walked by them. Very sad.

    This is the first year I can recall very little badge checking. The only time our badges were checked was when we went into panels and “walk of fame”. I guess my biggest recommendation is that badges should be checked on escalators and stair and elevators, on floors that don’t have bars/hotel lobbies. I saw far too many non-badge people roaming around, trying to get in where they shouldn’t.

    BTW, the site below distubs me:

    Read the comments. It’s all about “come to Dragon*Con to see the freaks” and “just come to people watch/don’t buy a badge because you don’t need one.”

    My positive is: find out how the Stargate panels are run, and copy them. The mega panels are incredibly well attended, well managed, and the people in line are nice, kind and courteous. The Stargate track room is friendly and open. In addition, the Stargate track earns the most money for charity during the con, raising over $27,000, alone, for Lupus.

    BTW, if I was running the Star Trek track, I would be embarassed by how little that track did that was not self-serving. Just for the sheer number of celebrities, that track could have certainly “given back” with some form of charity event.

    My one biggest complaint of the Con: the volunteers at the Westin. Whoever was running the 8th floor should be demoted. The Firefly and Harry Potter (Phelps twins) panels on Sunday at the Westing started very late because of horrible crowd control, and the guy on the microphone spoke more to the crowd as they moved in, than all the other panels we attended combined. We wanted to gag the guy.

    We weren’t big fans of the two hour pre-reg line, but we made it the first panel Friday morning at 10:00 AM, so can’t complain too much.

    We went to all five hotels during the four days we were there. We know we’ll be hoofing it, and are mentally prepared for walking the hills. We loved the new walk way between the Hyatt and Marriott. Boy, did that help a lot.

    We plan on coming back next year, to celebrate the 25th year of Dragon*Con. I just regret not buying our 2011 memberships while at the con.

    Thanks , Drew, for your post.

  75. wow 0_0 i had no clue the amount of non badges. that is very scary fact and i agree with your points dont you think it should expand to greater sizes (they are large now) before we begin only badge area or other methods i think these problems should be acted upon in 2-3 years but have to be fixed but the worst in my opinion is ones not here for the con (football fans) i have nothing against them until they walk be all drunk and yelling random absentees at ppl but there is not much to do about that.

  76. Thanks for the article, I’m researching attending conventions. I’ve never actually been to one but I find the insights interesting. I would hope I wouldn’t ruin it for true fan/geeks if I ever get up the guts to go to one. (I’ve been perusing the Polaris (Toronto Canada) Con site excessively!) I don’t know if a bigger event or a smaller one would be better for going it solo, which is what I’ll have to do. I love my friends, and I love my sci fi but they don’t love each other! (lol) Thats not completely true but I’m the only one who has “Attend a Convention” on their top secret bucket list. ;) .

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