Things I Think About Cons: Registration, Size and Culture

PAX Prime opened up for selling passes on Wednesday, and my social media lit up with people talking about it. I’ve had some feelings and thoughts about cons for awhile, and the conversation I’ve watched on Twitter about Prime this week prompted me to share some of them. There are some broad ideas folks have been discussing around me for years concerning cons, and I want to highlight them.


I see reg concerns get broken down frequently into these three concerns.

  • Price
  • Timing
  • Wait times

Price can be prohibitive towards enabling people to attend. I’m a freelancer, and the reg fees for some cons I love, like GPNW, make me swallow a little. I will also gladly and without complaint pay that fee, because the experience is worth it to me. It is a personal and cultural experience, and compared to other conventions, the cost for GPNW isn’t a kick in the teeth. I’ve never gone to GDC, because that cost for me is too big a barrier for entry. I also don’t work for outlets that would be eligible for a press pass, making GDC a non-starter for me. If I can’t find the money, I can’t go. I’ve never found the money for GDC.

Timing is rough. Depending on convention size and general draw, the window for getting a con badge can be months, or it can be mere minutes. I’ve never had a serious problem getting a pass to a convention due to timing, with one exception.

PAX Prime.

PAX reg is brutal because it sells out so quickly. This year, the rate badges were selling were matched with a new kick in the teeth. Registration opened within days of filing taxes in the States, which may gut the ability of many freelancers to attend (myself included). It also unintentionally privileges people who have the money for reg right now, because the window to reg for PAX is so short. If you don’t have the money or credit card room, a number of “civilians” (people not speaking, exhibiting or performing at a convention) get left in the cold. Now that I’m living in Seattle again, I’m not as sad about not being able to reg this year as I could have been. I can go across town, meet friends for dinner off-site, enjoy some quality time, and then go back to my place to work. Or sleep. I hear people do that sometimes.


Size and Culture

You hit a certain critical mass of people in attendance at an event, and it’s just too big for me to wrap my mind around. It’s diffuse, and as someone who’s primarily a gamer in respect to table games, that adds to the cultural disconnect for me. Emerald City Comic Con, which I attended this year, is also huge. I’m happy it was my first Comic Con, because I’m certain SDCC isn’t something I could handle. Just too big. Way too big. So when you get to a certain scale, I feel disconnected from the experience. It feels more like wandering around a really big, weird mall.

I see people try to punish each other about the debate over “when is a con too big.” In respect to size and culture, I want people to hold onto something: neither is inherently superior. They are, however, things we must all keep in mind as individuals. If a small con drives you nuts, go to a big one! Rock that weekend. If a big con freaks you out and leaves you gibbering, go to a con whose size you can do well in! The current absolute limits of my own ceiling for amount of people are Norwescon, ECCC, and GenCon.

I actually do the best at GenCon, of those three. It’s a lot of people, but I feel like I have control over when I have to dive into a big crowd. I feel like there’s more spaces to retreat to, and I find it easy to be a civilian there. It has a dizzying number of cherished friends in attendance, and I make new ones every year. ECCC has a lot of friends, but it’s big and over stimulating for me.

Norwescon is a con I love, though I’ve actually never attended as a civilian. I’ve sold books at NWC, modeled in the runway show, and done panels there. It’s purely a work con for me. They  take impeccable care of their panelists and pros, and I felt like being a panelist there comes with a pre-loaded sense of camaraderie and community. There are other things about culture, positives and toxic elements, but I’m going to go over those a different day.

Today, what I talked about were things on my radar right now. If you’re part of a con’s staff, these are things to always be in dialogue about. That dialogue isn’t going away any time soon.

What are your criteria for deciding to go to a con? Does the reg process, size or culture influence those decisions for you? Have you ceased attending cons and started going to others because of negative/positive experiences?

About l

L is a freelancer currently working as a writer, editor, journalist and game designer. She hauls a suitcase decorated in stickers as she blogs, travels, and tours. She makes her home in Washington, California, and wherever the tour stopped last night. You can follow L on twitter (@lilyorit )

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