Sunday, March 23, 2008

Why Are Obnoxious Lines Tolerated?

This weekend, Anime Boston 2008 is going on at the Hynes Convention Center. My husband and I were downtown Friday and Saturday and strolled over a few times to check it out. We did not pre-register for this event and fully expected to have to stand in line to register and obtain convention credentials. What I didn't expect was a line that was more than six hours long at 3 pm on the first day.

Clearly, I wasn't going to spend that kind of time in line when the NCAA tournament was going on and there was a perfectly good barstool at Champions with my name practically written on it. However, we were curious as to what exactly was going on with the lines at Anime Boston 2008. A wait of over six hours for people who had not yet registered was ridiculous (especially in a “cash only” operation, as this was). What we found out was even more disturbing. The people who had pre-registered and who had, as a result, already paid for their admissions, had to wait more than three hours to get their credentials and get in the doors. There was a three hour wait for people who had already paid for their admission! We walked to the front of the line to see exactly how long the line actually was (OMG it was long) and to see what was causing the ridiculous wait times. (I don't work anymore, but somehow, you can't quite beat the consultant out of me).

The Anime Boston 2008 promoters only had 6 computers in the registration room and each person in the huge line had to register themselves on one of them.

Are you freaking kidding me? We spoke with the staff person who was standing in front of the registration room and he said that they only had six computers for registration. He acknowledged that the line was long but then added that he thought that the line was moving “a lot faster than last year.” WTF? That's your benchmark? So you sucked last year - and this year you think you suck just a little less - and you declare a small victory? Wow.

We watched some basketball at the bar and then went back at 8 pm and even though registration was supposed to be open until 10, they weren't letting anyone that was unregistered into the Hynes Convention Center. The two men at the door claimed that the convention exceeded fire safety codes and too many people were in the building. When pressed, one admitted that the line for registration was still very long and since registration was closing at 10 (in 2 hours) they weren't letting more people onto the end of the line. In all seriousness, as the one security person told us that stuff about fire safety codes, people were streaming out of the convention center. He (one security guy) was supposed to be scanning the credentials of all of the people who were walking into the convention center, but he missed at least a good 30% of the ones that walked in with us. I somehow doubt that they truly had a handle on how many people were in that building at that moment.

We bumped into the assistant treasurer of the con in the elevator of the hotel on Saturday morning and asked him about the registration situation. He acknowledged that it was far from smooth but that they had a few more computers for Saturday and he'd hoped it would go smoother. We took a peek. Fail.

What I found amazing was that the people in line - many decked out for the occasion in serious Anime attire - seemed to have no problem standing in line for 3-6 hours to get in. The only people who even looked befuddled by the situation were the parents who accompanied minors as chaperones. When I found out that the reason for the lines was that the promoters were completely inept and had a less than mediocre registration process running, I pretty much gave up. Why would I want to hand over $50 for weekend admission to a convention run by jokers? Apparently, there were thousands of people who found this treatment acceptable. It's actually similarly run at a lot of conventions like this one. That's sad.

If I was an exhibitor at Anime Boston 2008, I would definitely be miffed that hundreds and hundreds of potential customers were spending many hours of their day sitting on the floors of the second floor of the Hynes Convention Center instead of inside the convention itself throwing around their currency. That's not even taking into account the many people who showed up with the intention of attending, who left as the line was ridiculous.

Would I have been a little more interested in waiting in a crazy line if I hadn't just been in Tokyo earlier this month? No, not even a little bit.


toddjordan said...

Wow. That is sad. I've worked a couple of sci-fi conventions before and that sort of wait is unheard of. I'm with you; take the names, take the money, put it in later.

Maybe pulling the guys at registration aside and getting them on track would have been a good intervention. :)

I miss going to cons until I read something like this.

My son is going to his first con in St. Louis, coming up this weekend. Hope he fairs better.

PrisonerInMySoul said...

seriously, quit complaining and preregister. lesson learned.

btw, the line is partially their fault, but mostly it's the fact that people who don't prereg are an unforseen number that they can't estimate.

apology from them can be seen here:

Hooeyspewer said...

Todd – we actually tried to tell the staffer at the door that there was a much easier way to accomplish all of their goals, but he was pretty defensive. It was a little amusing actually. Thankfully, the organizers are not as defensive as that particular staffer as they issued an apology for the mess. I hope your son fares better at his first con as well.

Thanks for the posting the link to their apology, PrisonerInMySoul. Kudos to them for acknowledging the debacle and not pulling any b.s. regarding the reasons for the issues they encountered. Clearly, there was more than enough reason to complain about the lines judging by the response to their apology and the fact that they had to issue an apology such as that one at all. Thankfully, they are listening to the people who take issue with what transpired and are ready to make changes for 2009.

Frankly, I am glad that I did not pre-register for Anime Boston 2008 because the wait times for people who already registered and paid was 3-4 hours on Saturday. That’s unacceptable – regardless of how much fun you are having in line. The organizers definitely had a good idea of the volume of attendees that were expected as they have attendance numbers for every year that the event has been held – approx. 11,500 people attended in 2007.

This was a matter of the organizers not seeing the forest for the trees. It’s 2008 – there isn’t a good reason for such a poor use of technology. It’s nice that they have it, but when it hinders the actual goal of collecting admission dollars and managing crowd throughput, you are doing something wrong.

They seriously could have had 4 colors for credentials – one color for each day pass type and one for the weekend pass. Colors would help the uniforms at the door with their job. Each color card coded to expire on whatever day it is appropriate. If you’re worried about people selling their credentials to others when they exit, make people write their names in Sharpie markers on the card & match that to their ID. Done. Hand over cash – receive card – you’re in.

There’s really no reason the organizers need your personal information if you’re paying cash at the door other than to populate some mailing database. If they really wanted this info, they could have just handed out optional paper forms and scanned the information in later – using OCR, etc. to pull the data off of the sheets.

Dan Mosqueda said...

Call me crazy, but what about just saying "give us the $50, thank you, here's your name tags, don't lose 'em"? I don't go to these types of conventions, just the occasional auto show. I wouldn't wait 30 minutes, seriously.

I do go to the Space Symposium every year here in the Springs. I can't recall these issues.

God bless geeks, I love 'em, but they can't be left in charge of this type of thing.

And I'm afraid it is not tolerable to be anything but polite and express comments with the utmost of respect for Hooeyspewer. That is simple. Nobody is sweeter than she is.

Sprite said...

You tell 'em! Wow .. that's just insane. Like you, I'm not a fan of massive disorganization or just plain stupidity.

Danacea said...

The sci-fi con I was at over Easter was chaotic - but high-spirited and fun. Registration was delayed through no fault of the organisers - but spirits remained undampened by plentiful sugar, toys, humour and updates. Disorganisation happens - it's what you do next that counts!! Hope you had fun :D