By Danielle Cantrell
The first convention I went to was Sakuracon 2009, in Seattle, Washington. Regardless of the fact that many had pre-purchased their tickets to the event, everyone had to wait in the same 2-6 hour long line. For those of us who arrived at 7 am, the line was about two hours long, although there were lines snaking back and forth through the hall until the late afternoon. Not many people minded, since everything started around noon, and those who had been planning on attending the panels or taking part in any of the other planned activities had pre-purchased their tickets months in advance, and rarely spent more time than we had in queues. Those who had arrived early wandered around the massive Washington State Convention Center for a few hours, taking photos of other cosplayers and looking for friends in the 28,590 m2 area. Oz Comic-Con had a very different issue.
There was one room.
One room held every single aspect of the entire convention and the almost 40 thousand attendees (more than double Sakuracon's attendance) flocking to see Stan Lee, Patrick Stewart, or any of the other celebrities that were there over the two days. Ticket sales were cut off at about 10.30 am on the first day -- an hour and a half after opening -- and only started again in the early afternoon. On the second day of the convention, ticket sales were stopped for a few hours again. Many stood around in the lobby or outside the MCEC, taking photos of cosplayers who were too excited or too stubborn to head home after working so hard on their outfits. During each closure, Oz Comic-Con staff announced that it was for the safety of the people who were there. They failed to mention that they easily could have prevented this situation by planning more carefully.
The convention area contained three stages (which were barely divided by cloth "walls"), 103 booths including the artists' alley and photo booths, and the signing area, which was about the same size as each stage. The aisles were about 2 meters wide, all crammed full of cosplayers and pop culture fans ready to trample one another should an emergency arise. To get to this one crowded room, people had to wait in queues: one to buy a ticket if they hadn't purchased one prior, one to get a bracelet and entrance to the claustrophobia-inducing hall. There were two additional lines if they wanted signatures or photos with the guests of honor.
Even for those who weren't interested in getting any autographs or photos, elbowing your way through the crowds to see the products available at each booth was difficult enough. It was nearly impossible to get a good look at anything you might want to purchase. There was also quite a bit of maneuvering involved if anyone wanted to take pictures of cosplayers outside of the parade or competition, and if you wanted to take pictures of them while they were on stage, the lack of adequate lighting made it challenging.
In comparison, at Sakuracon 2011, the organisers had obviously learned from previous years. The lines were about two hours long for those who hadn't purchased tickets in advance, or around five minutes for attendees to pick up tickets that they had paid for ahead of time. It was a simple process, and no one was turned away. No convention should get to the point where they turn paying (and sometimes already-paid) customers away.
After the event, Oz Comic-Con's service didn't get any better. Instead of learning from the negative feedback that people were providing on Facebook, their PR staff deleted nearly every post that had any criticism of the event or event staff, only leaving comments on the single post they left on their Facebook page regarding the convention.
Ironically enough, the Oz Comic-Con website says the following: "Oz Comic-Con is run by a team with extensive experience over the past 12 years in organising and operating every aspect of intimate and expo style events. This team is driven to provide Oz Comic-Con attendees and guests alike with excellent service and respect, to ensure you get the most out of your convention experience."
Extensive experience would have led the team to realise that pre-sales wouldn't be the only sales, so they could have obtained a few more rooms in the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre to safely accommodate all of the attendees. Many of the VIP, Excelsior!, and Platinum ticket holders didn't get the signatures or photos that they paid for, and several of the attendees who had spent hundreds of dollars travelling from out of state ended up missing half of the convention due to poor organisation.
Luckily, this is one of the first Oz Comic-Cons. There's plenty of room for improvement, and hopefully, the organisers at Hub Productions will take the considerable amount of feedback that was offered to them (before they deleted it) and use it to improve their next events.