New York Comic Con 2013: General Impressions

hisui_icon_4040 This year’s New York Comic Con felt a little more manageable. Last year felt like it was a convention cosplaying as scene from Soylent Green. This year was decidedly busy but not as overwhelming. You could conceivably go on to the show floor on Saturday afternoon and go from one end to the other in less than an hour without the offensive line of an NFL team escorting you. At the same time the content still seemed strong, the business in the showroom and artist alley seemed brisk, and major panels were still hard to go into. So the real question is why was this. How did the convention grow but everything seem less crowded?

narutaki_icon_4040 New York Comic Con is something I’m always anticipating; it probably helps that NYCC staff hype the show and make announcements for months before it is really on the convention radar. This year I had a bit of anxiety mixed-in since the 2012 convention was huge and packed, I was wondering what this year would hold. Would it be more crowded? Would I be able to get to the panels I wanted? What are the limits of the Javits space?

And the ultimate question for me: would NYCC be so big that I no longer enjoyed it? That was weighing on me like never before. And maybe because I was thinking about that so much, this year’s NYCC was able to pleasantly surprise me.

hisui_icon_4040It all comes down to the new “tap-in” system. This year the badges were mailed to everyone home and had RFID chips inside. You had to active the badges online before the convention. Then when you go to the doors there was a badge check and a little past that were people with PDAs that scanned your badge. They also required you to scan your badge on the way out. At first the main benefit of the system was it made it so you never had to flash your badge around inside the convention center. It also led to a minor slow down when leaving the convention but it was hardly a noticeable difference. I never felt like “OMG when will I ever be able to get out of here?”

So overall the inconvenience inherent in the system was minor and mostly negligible. It was certainly no more annoying that a regular paper badge system. But there was a far more important and noticeable tangible benefit to the new system.

I had heard that were was some kerfuffle about phony badges at PAX East. I did not think too much of it. I always heard conventions complaining about fake badges and badge swapping but I never really thought much of it. It mostly seemed like an excuse for places like Otakon to not have to mail out things before the convention. But my goodness the RFID system proved that was not just crybaby whining. The convention just seemed notably less crowded with the new procedures in place.

It was obvious by Saturday that I had severely underestimated how much of a problem this was. When the music and movie industry complains about piracy most metrics seem to counteract their distress so it is easy to assume this is a universal truth. But just walking around proved that there had to have been a disturbing number of people sneaking in. There is no way it was that smooth while the numbers were up from last year without the real change being the fact that there were now only paid attendees on the show floor.

I’m sure that there were other factors in play. No badge checks inside the building, increased show floor space thanks to completed construction, and good crowd management all surely plaid a part in the increased flow inside of NYCC but none of those factors was enough to make that much of a difference compare to what we saw. Lance Fensterman said that they caught a good deal of people doing shady things with the badges this year. That combined with people who did not even think to attempt such schemes is the only logical explanation for the massive difference.

The major controversy with the new badges was the unauthorized messages some people were sending out when they used their Twitter or Facebook accounts to register. It was not very obvious that using these accounts also gave NYCC the ability to send out message’s on your behalf and a great number of people felt a bit betrayed when they saw what happened. Thankfully by Friday morning that was already taken care of.

All in all there was nothing that I saw that showed an inherent downside to the new RFID chips. The whole social media scandal showed there is potential for abuse but it also showed that any shenanigans would not be tolerated as well. Therefore as long as NYCC and Reed Exhibitions continues to be a responsible convention I really hope that they keep this practice in place. The new badges made an insane convention far more manageable for mere mortals.

As a side note: This does make me wonder how much of this goes on at anime conventions like Otakon or AnimeNEXT.

narutaki_icon_4040 Last year, crowds were a major complaint what with interior and exterior constructions flubbing up everything from entering the building to traversing the show floor. 2013 saw a huge leap forward on this front even with a sold out show and the addition of a Thursday only badge available. I could breath throughout the weekend! Sure there were bottlenecks but even hitting the Show Floor on Saturday and Sunday did not elicit dread as it did in 2012.

Don’t mistake me though, there is still a frenetic pace to NYCC that I don’t experience elsewhere. In the halls, I am actually reluctant to stop to ask cosplayers for photos (would that others felt the same!). If there was an event you wanted to see, you had to be in line at least an hour before to have a hope of getting in. With that rule, I got in to every panel I waited for over the weekend though. Autograph lines seemed like madness over the entire four days. The Show Floor is simply too small to accommodate giant lines at relatively small and compact industry booths and all the people just walking around. There were no dedicated line spaces so swaths of people just wrapped around booths blocking traffic and access.

I can’t speak to lines for actually getting into the convention since we used a special entrance which functioned very well this year. However, the main line did seem better managed from my vantage point and my friends seemed happy with what they encountered. It took them only 15-20 minutes to enter the building each day. Also access to the Show Floor was quicker with more entrances open. Plus, the new badge system was a big factor in that as well since badges weren’t being checked in order to enter the various areas of the con.

The layout of the convention was similar to last year with one major update, Hall E which used to house multiple medium-sized panel rooms was turned into one giant second stage for major events. This was brilliant and I very much enjoyed my time in there. At con feedback the staff were visibly happy with the new room and said that it will definitely be back for 2014.

hisui_icon_4040 There were a nice set of conveniences this year that made everything a bit easier. Since I got a Nexus 7 for my birthday I was able to try the Android version of the Comic Con app this year. It was not the buggy affair it had been in the past. I can’t think of a time it ever crashed on me this year. The ability to synch it up with the show planner on the PC was a nice new feature. I could browse the site on my lunch break or before I would head out for the day at the con and just instantly update my schedule on to my tablet. As always it is a nice way to check what you’re going to do any day quickly. Also if you can’t get into one panel you can instantly figure out what you’re going to do next.

I only have four major complaints about the app in general. The first is that they still don’t have a grid schedule for the mobile app. Every once in a while I want to see what is going on in just one room for the day or for a specific chuck of time. If you want to camp out a panel it would be great to just be able to pull up a convenient chart of everything in that room. I suppose I could look at the grid in the con guide-book but I use the mobile app precisely because it lets me not have to carry around that book and then have to flip through it to find things.

The second was the fact that the PC app did not have the ability to select what guests you wanted to see. You could do that with the mobile app but not the PC app. Considering they added the synch feature it makes it even odder for the PC side not to have that option. The third was there were update messages on the app that told you when panels were canceled, moved, or added. A similar thing on the PC show planner would have been valuable to someone like Kate who does not have the mobile app. And the fourth was the PC app is still a bit hard to find and then navigate in general.

But these are all minor complaints. New York Comic Con still makes it amazingly easy to plan your con experience. I know that Reed Exhibitions listens to reports like this so I hope to see some of these changes implemented next year.

I did notice there were more charging stations than there were last year. This year you could choose from 6 different locations.  I never had to use them but it was nice to know you could sit down in the little areas around the show floor and plug-in a wide variety of devices into a charger just in cases your phone or tablet was dying. As someone who is often forgetful that is often a godsend. And they had little seats in the areas as well so you could take a breather while your item was getting back up to speed.

narutaki_icon_4040 Part of what helped me enjoy this year’s convention, aside from never attempting (or really wanting to go to) the main stage, was using the 4-day badge for all it was worth and taking a more leisurely approach. With multiple days it was easier to dedicate a certain extended amount of time to just one activity. At this point, NYCC is big enough that I feel for people with just 1-day, there is simply too much to explore in such a short amount of time. Heck, even with my spending all of Thursday on Show Floor, I still didn’t get through all the aisles and booths. So if you only had one day at NYCC perhaps you felt a stress that I simply didn’t encounter over the weekend considering all there was to do.

The Show Floor saw improvements thanks to construction being completed. Artist Alley continues to be a major destination that could be a convention all on its own. Comics both print and web were shown love. Video game continue to dominate the front of the convention. American cartoons were in abundance this year from the writers and voices of Adventure Time to DC animation (everyone saw that wonderful Superman short, right?) to a retrospective on the works of Alex Toth at Hanna-Barbera. While anime and manga events were mostly limited to screenings and industry panels, we still had the amazing Kazuo Koike in attendance along with Masao Maruyama among others. And of course live action continued to dominate the main stage.

This year’s convention also saw the arrival of two food trucks, oh happy day! As well as a pop-up eatery from St. Mark’s Comics across the street. Also Go Go Curry was delivering right to the convention all weekend so we couldn’t resist taking advantage of that as well. The NYCC experience is growing outside of the con and that is a very good thing for attendees.

hisui_icon_4040 Overall I felt better about this year at NYCC. I know several people I know dropped out of NYCC this year because the crowds from last year were so insane that they just could not handle the idea that it might be worse this year. Thankfully RFID badges let the number of attendees go up while keeping out a significant number of people with less than legitimate ways of getting into the convention. There were still all the normal traffic flow problems inherent at any large con where cosplay takes place. There were some good suggestions at con feedback on how to hopefully alleviate some of that congestion so hopefully some of that can be effectively implemented next year.  If nothing else this year made me far more optimistic about that happening.

Since most people reading this blog are anime and manga fans the question is if you should go next year. I felt like this year still had some great anime and manga related material. I did not really attend any but apparently the industry panels and screenings had to turn people away. Sadly it was the guest panels like events with Kazuo Koike that had empty seats. But I will talk more about that during the panels post. It is the sad feedback cycle of the hardcore fans assuming there is nothing there for them, so the events that are there are under attended, and then the convention assume no one cares. There is programming for anime fans. They just have to go to it.

Otherwise if your thought it was overwhelming it still is. This is not your small town comic convention. It is however all the spectacle of last year with much less of the person per square inch.

narutaki_icon_4040 This year’s NYCC as an event was much better run and instilled in my confidence for the future. While I feel I was more excited about individual guests in 2012, I found the entire experience of 2013 to be more pleasing. I noted that banners in the convention proclaimed NYCC the best four days of the year and I kinda agreed!

More New York Comic Con 2013 posts:

New York Comic Con 2013: Panels
New York Comic Con 2013: Show Floor & Artist Alley
New York Comic Con 2013: Masters of Animanga
New York Comic Con 2013: Our 7 Favorite Announcements
The Speakeasy #046: The Princess Bubble-tini, New York Comic Con 2013
New York Comic Con 2013: Podcasts

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