[SDCC] San Diego Comic Con, the geek Mecca

Last week, Arb and I were in San Diego along with 150000 of our closest geeky friends to attend the annual fan fest which is San Diego Comic Con. (Alas, no pictures since I lost my camera out there somewhere.)

I’ll be writing more about the con this week, including posts on individual game-related panels and demos (inc. SWTOR and Guild Wars 2) as well as some posts about the exhibition floor and events going on outside the convention centre, to try to give a flavour of what it was like out there.

Although there is a sizeable gaming presence, it’s just a small part of the whole event. The heart of Comic Con is still with comics, just about, but the film and TV industry run the largest and most popular panels.

Another site sums up their favourite of the film and TV panels based on popularity. I think judging on popularity may be a mistake, because we found that some of the less hyped panels were at least as entertaining. But I did hear that the Game of Thrones panel was very good (I was at the SWTOR panel which was at the same time.)

The convention that ate San Diego

San Diego is a delight, I’m glad we arrived there a couple of days in advance so that I could see what it’s like when not completely taken over by Comic Con. The weather is gorgeous (warm and temperate), it’s by the sea, the public transport is great, it’s clean, people are friendly, and it’s not too big. There is plenty for tourists to see and do, and you can get to Tijuana on the trolley bus if you wanted to poke your nose into Mexico as well.

But wow is it ever different once the convention opens!

It isn’t just that there are posters everywhere, hordes of geeky tourists, and that every restaurant and shop in the area has a poster up saying that SDCC fans are welcome. HUGE posters line the sides of hotels near the convention centre – and when I say HUGE I mean they take up half the side of the hotel. The trolley stop closest to the con was rebranded in comic typeface and speech panels. Everywhere is busier, and as you get nearer to the convention centre, the con tends to spill out onto the streets. There are booth babes handing out badges and fliers, carts selling food and produce, and stands/ tents/ hotels taken over by companies such as Sega, Bioware, Marvel, etc so that they can run their own events, parties and demos outside the convention centre for all comers. It gets loud. Everywhere. All the time.

Even on the convention floor, individual stands host Q&A sessions or events at different times or days: for example, I saw Stan Lee being interviewed at the Marvel Stand.

The inevitable queuing

Comic Con not only has a huge number of attendees, but it’s pretty much accepted by all comers that there are too many people for the size of the convention centre and the size of the event. It was on everyone’s lips to wonder how much longer they can continue holding the con in San Diego purely for this reason. Still, this didn’t stop us from doing any of the things we came to do – the exhibition floor was navigable, I didn’t have any major problems getting into gaming panels or playing demos, although the reason I didn’t try the SWTOR demo was because I didn’t fancy queuing 2.5 hours to play a 15 min demo. Props to Bioware that others did, though.

CBS reports in more detail on the future of Comic Con.

One of the side effects is that there is a lot of queueing. We got a first taste of this when we spent 5 hours or so queueing just to pick up our (pre-booked) tickets on the day before the con began. Tickets including preview night access for next year are already sold out.

One of the other ‘features’ of Comic Con is that they don’t clear out the panel rooms (which vary in size from a bijou 250 up to the vast 6000 seater Hall H) between sessions. So if there is a popular session scheduled for the afternoon, the only way to guarantee getting a seat is to be in there all day. And if the panel is really that popular, that means getting in queue early in the morning, just to be sure. Oh yes, the queues also start way before the convention centre opens.

So if anyone was wondering why we didn’t go to the Game of Thrones panel, that’s the other reason why.

Swag: not just a 4 letter word, it’s a way of life

When you pick up your comic con tickets, you are also given a huge and mostly empty bag. Why was this, I wondered. It’s for swag, said Arb knowingly, as we decided whether we liked the pictures on the sides of our bags or whether we should get Arb’s friend (who is apparently good at bag trading) to try to trade them in with other people for ones we preferred. I decided to stick with the Arkham City one.

Swag comes in many different flavours at comic con. You can pick up a fair amount by just wandering around the exhibition floor. In particular you will acquire badges, postcards, bags, free/ preview comics, fliers, and posters just by sticking your hand out as they’re being distributed. I also picked up a couple of t-shirts that were being given out by gaming companies after you had demoed one of their games.

There’s more strategy needed for a maximal swag grab, as some stands only give out swag at specific times of days, or give out different swag at different days/ times.

Swag can also be achieved in panels, and I saw some being given out to people who asked questions in panels. Other panels gave out swag to all attendees, such as the SWTOR pre-order codes given out by Bioware, or the very stupid hats given out by the cartoon network.

Some swag can be grabbed outside the convention centre too, such as the inflatable omniblades at the Bioware Base, or the angry birds badges that I saw being given out on the street by people in angry bird costumes. Or the really nice posters and captain america 3D specs that we were given at the cinema when we went to see Captain America.

My personal favourite swag was:

  • the educational comic about Tesla and the Chicago World Fair, illustrated with lots of pigeons
  • Dragon’s Dogma T Shirt
  • omniblade
  • Captain America poster from the cinema, which I’m going to get framed

It was the best of days, it was the worst of days

We (as in europeans) tend to have a view that Americans are really good at organising things,  especially when the things are also large events. SDCC really bore this out for me. Yes, there was a lot of queuing, yes there probably were too many people there for the size of the event, but all the staff I spoke to either on individual stands or as part of the convention staff were polite, helpful, and professional. Events happened at the right time in the right place, bang on schedule.

I don’t know if I would go again, although I’d certainly go to other (smaller!) cons but we had a fantastic time.

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15 thoughts on “[SDCC] San Diego Comic Con, the geek Mecca

    • See, I’m not so sure about gaming conventions. My experience has just been that the scifi/comics/fan cons are a lot more fun, whereas gaming cons tend to be huge halls full of demos.

      • I’ve been to PAX (now PAX Prime) and it’s not your typical gaming convention. There’s just a lot of opportunities to just play games of all types. For example, when I went they had just about every console you could think of set up, from the Atari 2600 to XBox 360, and you could just play. There was also an exhibit hall for demos if yo like that. I’ve heard there’s a pretty big following for tabletop/pen-and-paper RPGs now as well.

      • If I wanted to go to a tabletop/RPG convention, there are still better candidates than PAX (like DragonCon or even GenCon).

        I’m not trying to diss PAX since I’ve never been, but is it really more than some large rooms with consoles/ PCs set up for people to queue around to play on? I think Eurogamer kind of put me off that type of thing.

        (Also not so interested in supporting Penny Arcade because I thought their reaction to the dickwolves thing was … dickish.)

  1. Great writeup (shame about the camera). SCcc is quickly making it’s way to my top “places to go before I die”- ehhh places. Just like Meth, just to try it once!

    Looking forward to your GW2 & Swtor panel writeups (although it would have been awesome if you had tried both games out, I’d really love your take on them. Ahh well, can’t get everything.)

    • am writing up flashpoint sloooowly throughout today, with naps for jetlag.

      Spinks got to watch me play the flashpoint so most of our not-queuing for swtor was informed by me having an hour of playtime set aside for the saturday night.

  2. I am SO envious! The con as such sounds quite amazing (albite overwhelming), but the fact that it’s placed in San Diego, with its wonderful beach and general atmosphere makes it even better. What’s there not to love? Oh, I got it… The total price for the adventure… Anyway, it was a wonderful appetizer, looking forward to hear more about it.

  3. Not standing in line 2 and a half hours for the Swotor demo?

    Sometimes, I doubt your commitment to gaming, I really do.

  4. My reader says there is a post from Arbitrary about his experiences with TOR but the site is saying it doesn’t exist.

    “(hey, I was ranged dps, that’s like part of the job description)”
    Rise of the Bounty Huntards!

    Mouahaha.

  5. That sounded fun, although I’m not much of a big crowds type of guy. Definitely prefer quieter surroundings and good company. I do kinda regret not going to the Comic con back in the day when it wasn’t quite so huge.

  6. Science fiction conventions have existed for generations in the US, and have spawned similar activities in other fandoms. There’s a deep, deep pool of experience to be drawn on for organizing these activities, and to serve as feeders into more professional fan cons. Europe has had fan conventions too, but I get the impression not nearly the same number.

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