The above image is from 2004, when I-Con was in full swing. This is what I-Con 32 looked like yesterday.
Saturday at I-Con
When I heard I-Con was coming back after a five year hiatus, I made plans to attend. I’m a big fan of the con, having attended more than twenty of them over years.
Sadly the con was not in it’s traditional venue at SUNY Stony Brook. I-Con 32 was being held at the Brentwood campus of Suffolk Community College. Still, I wasn’t going to let that stand in my way so Saturday morning my daughter and I got in the car and off we went.
That’s where we ran into our first problem. I’ve never been to the SCCC Brentwood Campus and I’m not at all familiar with it. The directions page on the website had only the Google map embed. There was no indication of where to actually go to get to the con. But I figured we’d drive to the campus and there would be plenty of signs to tell us where to go. I figured wrong.
I drove in the main entrance, which seemed like the logical thing to do, and there were no signs. We drove around a bit and still there were no signs. I almost turned the car around and wen home, but we were already there so I figured I’d park and walk around a bit. Luckily, we spotted a couple con-goers and they directed us to the HESC building where the con was being held.
We finally find the con and I plunk down seventy bucks for the memberships, Saturday only for me and a kids ticket for my daughter, and we make our way to the gym. I’ll, for a few seconds after crossing the threshold, I felt like this was truly I-Con reborn. I saw cosplayers walking around and rows of dealers’ tables and I was transported back. But soon I realized it was just a fugazi. There were not even two full rows of dealer tables. A lot of the people seemed to have come to the con dressed at empty seats.
We walked the couple rows of dealer tables. Then we made our way to the kid’s area to check out the “Free Play” time. The kids programs were being held in “Space C” on the gym floor. Space C turned out to be a small area, walled off by curtains with four tables jammed into it. There were no staff there running programs, just a bunch coloring books and crayons on the tables.
We had some time to kill before the panel we wanted to go to, so we walked around some more. The gaming area was pretty much empty. There were a lot of games on the schedule, but I didn’t see many being run. We got a snack and watched some boffer fights for a while.
We decided to give the kid’s area shot again and check out the “Nerdy Puzzles” program. Again, no staff in Space C and apparently “Nerdy Puzzles” was a few boxes of Star Wars jigsaw puzzles left on the table.
When it was time to go to our panel, I noted that there was no map, sign or other indication where the room was. Again, we took to wandering around and found the hallway with the classrooms where the panels were being held. The signs on the rooms with the individual schedules were all printed in small type, necessitating me to maneuver around people in a crowded hallway so I could get in close to read them.
After our panel, there was nothing else on the schedule that looked interesting, so we walked around a bit more and left. All in all, we spent about four hours there.
It does feel a little churlish to complain about the results. After all I’m sure the con organizers did their best.
Complaints and Excuses
From reading the reactions on Facebook, a good number of people seem to feel that the content delivered by the con did not warrant the price of membership. I don’t care so much about the money. If my $70 goes toward making a better con experience down the road, I’m OK with that. I’m mostly just disappointed in what was delivered.
Here’s a response from the I-Con powers that be about the complaints.
I get the problems they had and I’m sympathetic. But the bottom line is, things weren’t run well and there just wasn’t that much to do. And no matter what your reason is for that, it just doesn’t matter. If your customers are unhappy with your product, it’s not the customers who are wrong.
As for, “If you build it, they will come”, there’s a term for that. Buyers are liars. If you’re relying on that to bring people to your event, you’re already starting out in a hole.”
Next year, in Jerusalem
So, what’s the plan for next time?
I’m not going to ask for my money back or anything. I was happy to see the con back and I’ll go next year (or whenever) for I-Con 33, if there is one. But it’s clear to me that they were just not ready to run a Convention of this magnitude. A lot of things, not having to do with money, just were not done well.
I expect there was a lot of institutional knowledge that was lost in the five year hiatus. There’s no substitute for actual experience.
Given the money issues and other problems, it’s not clear that I-Con has much of a future without the beneficence of SUNY Stony Brook. Maybe the con can return to its roots and run a somewhat smaller con, bigger than the little hotel cons, but not the big con that I-Con used to be.