I keep cycling back to thinking about (and writing about) conventions.
This weekend, I'm at NorWesCon 40, and we had a conversation with the front desk clerk that brought a couple of things into stark focus for me, and I feel the need to share these things with you.
Conventions - by their very nature - want to succeed. And the most visible measure of success is their growth. Unfortunately, growth is not always a good thing.
Remember a while back when GenCon left the Lake Geneva area and went to Indianapolis? It's because the convention had outgrown Lake Geneva. There simply was not enough room to host everyone who wanted to attend. All of the hotels in town were full, all of the campgrounds and RV parks around town were full. There were long lines at restaurants and grocery stores and ...
I wasn't there at the time. This is second-hand. Either way, it was not a good scene. Conventions outgrowing hotels is nothing surprising. Hotels outgrowing regions, on the other hand ...
So they moved to Indianapolis. A larger city with more hotels and a reasonably large convention center. That appears to have been a good move, but GenCon has outgrown the convention center, too, and is now starting to expand into the stadium. Because it keeps growing.
They also tried to split things up by adding GenCon SoCal. But that wound up not succeeding, because vendors didn't feel like paying for two GenCon events per year, one of which involved a great deal more travel for many of them. This meant that GenCon SoCal was treated as a lesser convention by the vendors, which means that gamers also treated it as second-class, and so on. But it did slightly relieve a bit of the pressure on Indy for the first year or two.
PAX managed to expand without the same issue. There's PAX, PAX East, PAX South, PAX Australia ... and now PAX Unplugged, too. Which is a smart move, IMHO. Much as the various PAX conventions love having their board game contingent there, it's not an easy con for analog gaming folk, as video games are loud and flashy and showy. Which makes demos especially difficult.
NorWesCon has outgrown its home. It's at the Doubletree Hotel that is right across from the airport. There is plenty of very good food within easy walking distance, but the passing periods between panels are nightmarishly packed. Getting from one end of one particular hallway to the other is ... not good. It's just a solid crush of people. There can be a ten or fifteen minute wait for an elevator with space, too. When there are convention events going on that are in the penthouse lounge, that can be a problem.
"It's true," said the clerk who was checking us in. "We're not big enough for this convention. But where else are they going to go? Downtown Seattle isn't far, but it's triple the price, which triples the cost to attend. And that drops attendance back to the point where ... why did they move, anyway?" There are other hotels nearby with convention rooms, and theoretically the convention could expand into one of them - but that still increases the price and adds the need to run shuttles between the various hotels. And any price increase reduces attendance numbers.
Running the same weekend as NorWesCon is Sakuracon. Sakuracon is in downtown Seattle. Its pricing is about the same as NorWesCon's. Sakuracon used to be held in the Seattle Center, but outgrew it and is now in the convention center. When Sakuracon was just starting out, they worked out a reciprocal agreement with NorWesCon, so the two conventions honored one another's badges - which was a good idea. I sometimes wonder if the two should just work together a bit more. Host a shared convention space, honor one another's badges, and balance the cost of the convention center downtown in that way. I know I'd still attend ...
Of course, most of the cost of moving downtown isn't the convention center itself. It's the hotels for guests. Here in SeaTac, I live about twenty minutes down the road, and we still get a room here for the weekend due to lack of parking. And it's a nice retreat from home. If the con were to move downtown, I don't know if we'd get a room or not. Having a room is great when you've hit your limit of people and just want to hide for a bit.
Change is scary. Growth is scary. As a regular attendee, I just need to assume that the ConCom knows what they're doing and is willing to embrace change when it becomes necessary.