Who am I to criticize Denver Comic Con? The organization has changed a lot in the 4 years from inception, including removing founders, hiring and firing executive directors, and so much more. More importantly, I’ve played many roles inside and out of the convention since it’s inception. I started with a press pass in year 1 (e.g. capturing this video), then I was media as one of the official photographers in year 2. By year 3 I was on staff in charge of the official media team (photographers/videographers) and also part of the overall communications team. Due to various reasons, I chose not to continue as a volunteer for DCC in year 4 and purchased a 3-day pass and was an attendee like any other, without any special privileges.
Hopefully that’s enough to convince you that I have some credibility in regards to the following critique. Now, I think there are some things that DCC is doing right (e.g. kid’s corral and educator day), but after this year the excuse of “still learning” is no longer viable and lessons should be learned before the general public loses faith in the event.
Be Proactive with Live Streams
This year they finally added 2 monitors and some speakers to the Main Events Queue room so that those waiting in line for the next event wouldn’t miss out completely on the event they felt they had to skip (happening behind the shared wall) just so they could attend the next event. However, I don’t remember them being there on day 1, arriving on day 2, and intermittently working throughout the event (mostly audio failures). There also was no such solution for the overflow queue upstairs. Work with the convention center and get this solved; people deserve to see things in real-time, even if the room is full.
Don’t Allow Substandard Audio/Lighting in Main Events
I get it, the convention center and their union run all of those services. However, two important events this weekend made we wonder why the hell someone wasn’t up their butt about getting shit done right instead of just sitting on their hands. Situation 1) Manu Bennett wanted to see his fans and talk to them personally, so he used THE ENTIRE STAGE to stand in front of people who asked questions. He was in darkness for the first 20 minutes because nobody bothered to turn on the stage left lights. Finally they did, but he moved to stage right and was in darkness for another 20 minutes before the moderator had to ask him politely to stay in the light (this should never happen). Situation 2) Sean Astin had to ask twice in the first 10 minutes for them to turn off the spotlights so he could see while not interfering with the cameras. DCC Staff should be monitoring quality.
Vacuum Between Queues
People walk/talk/eat in the queue room for up to 75 minute waiting to get into their preferred panel. That means that they sit down. By the middle of the first day that carpet was not looking good. There are a few minutes between that room being cleared and people filling it again, so pay up and get someone to vacuum it clean in those 10 minutes in-between those moments.
Rooms are Full from Fire Code, not Laziness
At SXSW, when a room is full, a small queue is allowed to form outside (with a video/audio presentation outside the doors) so that when individuals leave the room, others may enter and fill their seats. It has no impact on the presenters (see #2 about them not being able to see), yet DCC decided that once a session started, regardless of room status, that nobody new was allowed in. This is ridiculous, rude, and left a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of attendees. It’s not the volunteer’s fault, they are just doing what they are told; DCC needs to own up to this poor decision and allow rooms to fill after panels have started.
Gaming (or E.D.G.E.) Needs a Room, not an Open Hall
People running games were going hoarse trying to communicate with the players. More importantly, those game creators that were trying to teach games are suffering from the effects of noise on learning. Pop Culture Classroom can’t be ignorant on this fact (that would be more problematic) so I can only assume DCC is cheap and doesn’t care about attendee experience, only their monetary contribution to PCC. Secure a gaming room for the event to better facilitate learning and fun.
Don’t Hide Guest Cancellations
I didn’t find out about Karen Gillan’s panel being canceled till I arrived late Saturday morning. I actually just scrolled back through Facebook posts and couldn’t find the announcement. I know the panel was still scheduled when I downloaded guidebook the evening before.
From year 3 I learned that sometimes DCC knows about cancellations prior to them releasing that information, strictly because they don’t want to hurt sales or whatever other horrible excuse they have for a lack of transparency. Just stop this. I’ve seen numerous examples of this lack of transparency and shady bullshit to turn me off from the organization, but this is such an easy thing to fix… assuming those in charge actually want to do so (I’m doubtful). Attendees are adults (and parents) and deserve to know upfront about cancellations, scheduling changes, and more as soon as possible. Treat them like adults and they’ll trust you more.
Stop Taking Advantage of Your Volunteers
Most nonprofits have annual Galas as the major fundraising event each year, but the gross revenue generated is a single digit percentage of what DCC generates for PCC. Yet these one-evening events feed real meals to their volunteers, sometimes more than one. Some even make parking arrangements. Either way, DCC needs to have more than bananas and potato chips for their volunteers who are donating so much time and energy to the event.
Furthermore, previous years overspend on hotels was too much, but this year’s spend on practically nothing is worse. The city of Denver and RTD would love to have a bulk purchase of fare passes, not only to offer a steep discount to DCC, but also to alleviate the strain on traffic in downtown. Volunteers should be granted these RTD passes so they can use public transportation to travel to the con. Don’t make volunteers pay in time and money. Furthermore, your high-skilled volunteers (official media) deserve better than the downgrade they received this year. Their services are worth hundred’s of dollars a day, yet they were given no extra perks (and had to beg for an extra 3-day pass) and DCC failed to budget anything to make their lives easier and improve the turnaround for photo and video during the con. (I could spend a long time on this topic, but I’ll move on).
Renaming Things Doesn’t Change Them
Four years running and I feel like there is little new to see. It’s all been done before. The newest attraction was the iron throne from Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire which had a massive queue… it was plastic, so get 3 of them and some backdrops so people could do their photo-ops without losing so much of their time. The amazing effort and work of the 501st, Lego folks, Umbrella, and so many more make the event special, but adding things like WETA last year gave repeat attendees something new to look at during the con.
Cosplay is an Attraction, so Give Cosplayers Something
For cosplayers, the act is pure joy for them. For others, it’s advertising. For non-cosplaying attendees, these individuals are attractions and a major part of what makes the event feel special. I would guess that for many people, photographing and interacting with cosplayers is a net amount of time equal to or greater than their time attending panels. Encourage it! Offer drink coupons or con bucks to those that show up in cosplay. Does this add some cost and logistics? Sure, but would the weekend be as special if they weren’t there?
Two Days and Less Holidays
Main Events had doubled-up guests on different days. That’s some serious lack of diversity and frankly, day 3 attendance is always lower, especially when you are competing with a national holiday and the Bolder Boulder. If DCC wants to raise more money for PCC, then trim it to 2-days (Sat/Sun) and increase the single-day ticket price (maintain the 3-day/2-day pricing). There are numerous weekends that don’t conflict with a holiday that can be arranged with the convention center since DCC is a highly preferred event by the convention center and the city of Denver, so choose the weekend more wisely and drop that third day.
600 Hours of Bad Programming Sucks
The programming team works super hard, but more times than not, I find that attendees of the numerous panels walk out feeling unsatisfied with the competency level of panelists. People deserve better and there should always be less panels than there were applications for panels (this may be the case already, but if so, not enough of a difference). This puts even more work on the programming team (I’m sorry), but it’s important that people feel like they are getting real value. Soliciting feedback about panelist and panels after they are completed is a critical first step in capturing information about the panels and panelists DCC deserves and those that shouldn’t be presenting.