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October 26, 2011

NYCC: Too Big for its Boots?

Posted by on Oct 26, 2011

In some ways, New York Comic Con has grown up too fast. It’s the smaller sibling of the world known San Diego Comic Con, and so sometimes I think people still think of it as small. Except it’s not. It’s huge.

This year, NYCC took over the entire Javits Convention Center in New York City. There were panels running every day from 10am to 10pm, on topics from The Walking Dead by AMC to getting started as a budding artist/author. There must have been thousands upon thousands of people here (with some damn impressive costumes too).

The result? Madness. It took a solid 20 minutes just to cross the convention center from one panel to another. It was impossible to travel in a group because you get separated just like you would in Grand Central Station. The modus operandi is to agree on a destination and a time and hope for the best.

The story of NYCC this year is not the content or the previews of cool new things coming out (check out some of our other posts, there’s plenty of exciting new stuff happening this year). It’s the lines. They. Were. Everywhere. A line of thousands to get into the theatre to see Walking Dead and The Avengers. 200 person lines to play game demos on the floor that move at a rate of 4 people every ten minutes.  If you can’t do math, that means that if you get in that line you would stand there for at least 4 hours (accounting for attrition) before you get your hands on a controller.  Trust me, I waited in that line.

However, the biggest issue was the panels.  Four years ago, the Penny Arcade panel line formed an hour before the panel itself, and that was huge. This year, I sat in a line that was 100 people long, waiting for a panel on fantasy that wasn’t slated to start for another two hours.  I call shenanigans.

Hundreds of the thousands of souls anxiously awaiting admittance into the Walking Dead screening/panel.

For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to attend a convention of this kind before, allow me to give you a little background. Panels are typically arranged into “tracks” or topics by room. This means that a given room might host panels dedicated to comic books all day, while another will exclusively contain discussions about video games. This is primarily done to make things easier for fans, as those who are interested in one panel about comics in a given room will likely be interested in the other panels that room is hosting. It makes sense to not make fans switch rooms every hour (and add additional foot traffic to an already hectic convention center).

This idea is great in theory, especially when there’s enough space for everyone to get into anything they want. However, when you have a convention center with tens of thousands of people who all want to go to the same few panels, it turns out that it doesn’t scale well at all. Instead, what happens is that some super fans who badly want to attend a panel will show up to the room two or three hours early (like I did for the fantasy panel) and “camp out” through the next few talks until the one they are really interested in starts. Not only does this put those who want to attend a lot of different things throughout the day at a disadvantage in attending the very popular panels, it also means that those who wish to attend a niche panel that happens to be scheduled before a very popular panel will be unable to get in because of the campers.

They need to change this. They need to make people leave between each panel; to make this fair, they should better arrange the panels so that similar topics don’t go back to back. Not only will this force people to leave, but it should do a better job of making sure people aren’t interested in staying.

Let’s face it. NYCC is now huge, and it’s highly unlikely that it’s going to get smaller. So the people organizing and running the con need to act accordingly, and step up their game big time. Saturday was a complete zoo; some of us didn’t get to see a single thing the entire afternoon, and if fans (and press) can’t get into the events, then what’s the point?