Many people attend conventions, but have you ever thought about how the whole show is put together? Never actually been to one? I won’t go into all the specifics, but here is some basic outlines about the show floor, followed by an attendees likely experience.
Exhibitors pay for square footage on a showroom floor (demo, exhibition, show, booth, hall, etc). This can also include temporary floorspace such as a theater room that is used for highlighted events like keynotes, interviews, or release information.
But 90% of many con-goers time aren’t at these side events, but on this main floor.
Through magic and project managers they figure out where to put things. Like on this map!
Then, the booths have to be set up. From word of mouth exhibitors get a day (“or so”) set-up time before it is open to the public. The longer they have, the more expensive it would be to rent the whole hall for the organizers. 24 hours probably seems like a lot of time, but when there is so much traffic coming in (literal traffic, trucks, buses, and trailers get driven in to unload or be part of the expo) you have to wait your turn if you need to bring something big in. Like the set-piece/photo-op above. I’m told that PAX exhibitors have from 8AM til midnight the day before, barely 2/3s of a day.
Now, it gets complicated. If you know you’ll have a big line (free tee-shirts, someone famous manning the booth, or you have a well known property) then you need to work with con staff on setting up lines. Improper lines will lead to crowding and traffic-jams, and this leads to threats from the fire-marshal. Yeah. They can shut down a con because too many people are there. (“too many people, why not limit the tickets??” trust me, they do, but there are counterfeit tickets roaming the floor)
So, as an exhibitor you queue lines in and around your booth. Maybe you plan for them! But usually the guy next to you doesn’t so you have lines crisscrossing and making a hell of a confusing layout. Sometimes ducktape or painter’s tape is used on the floor to mark off lines. Other times they get fancy and have felt-rope partitions similar to those at a movie-theater or at the airport. No matter what, generally the line will extend onto the show floor.
As an attendee, you have to accept that you’ll need to wait around if you want to play/see/do that thing. You might be in line for a quick 15 minutes (HA!) or more likely an hour or two. All day for the massively popular ones. Check your streetpass, rest your feet by sitting on the floor (if a con-staff member doesn’t require you to keep standing due to space issues), chat with people around you!
One of the perks is being able to see the creativity of fans who dress up as characters, not for pay but for fun an attention. Cosplaying takes a lot of effort, and brings something special to a con.
Shuffle forward, wait. Shuffle forward, wait. Make friends and they’ll let you leave the line to bio-break. Return the favor and hold a spot. Eventually make your way to the front, see the demo, play the thing, say hi to the person for a short 5-15 minutes of activity. Then rinse and repeat.
Sorry, I know that sounds terrible, and when you think about it, it really is. Pay to stand in line, pay to be advertised to, pay to be in an area with insufficient A/C and catch whiffs of the occasional body who has too much odor.
But there are perks, and that is why most people interested in conventions put up with those issues. You get to meet the creator of the thing you love, you get to mingle with like-minded people, you get to be part of something exclusive (even if PAX has 85k or SDCC has 125k attendees, there are at least that many people who genuinely would trade spots with you in an instant). I’ve been to some cons that didn’t do anything for me and I wouldn’t go to, others I’d go to on a free weekend but wouldn’t stress if I didn’t get tickets, and then others (PAX or SDCC) where I’ve put too much effort and stress to make sure I could attend. Hell, I knew I’d enjoy SDCC so much that I planned on sleeping outside for it.
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