“I just want to go shopping”…
“I’m not here to game.. I just want to hit the flea market and vendors”
“I don’t need a badge, I’m just here to…”
Having just come back from probably one of the cheapest gaming conventions of any size in the United States of America (HISTORICON 2011), and having worked the desk there, it still amazes me to read the caustic criticism conventions get online for not letting people in for free just to (quote) “just look around”. On the Miniatures Page, the be-all and end-all for miniature wargaming arguments, there was an after-action thread on HISTORICON which actually took HMGS (who puts on the show) to task for not letting a thread poster in for free, because, presumably, it costs HMGS nothing to let him shop, and the vendors benefit by his free shopping presence. And by extension, our economy gets stronger, increasing the tax base, more people are back at work and America’s position as a leader of the free world is assured well into the current millennium. Perhaps I’m drawing the analogy out too far there, but you see the main point of the poster’s argument: I should get in free, because I won’t cost you anything and I’ll spend my money and make your vendors and flea market guys happy.
Yes, we had a few of those. I witnessed one encounter. One gentleman (whom I thought bore a passing resemblance to the late Satanist Anton Lavey, no sinister connection intended by the comparison), burst into a loud invective when the Front Desk staff attempted to charge him a 25 dollar day pass.
“Twenty Five Dollars.. to walk around and Shop?? REALLY?? TWENTY FIVE DOLLARS!! I don’t believe this! We’ll I’m here. You got me. But I won’t be back next year! This is my laaaaaast HISTORICON!!”
“I’m sorry, sir, I’ve been working this front desk for fifteen years and we’ve never had a free walk around and shop pass at HISTORICON. I apologize for the inconvenience”
(snarls and tosses money) “Just… give it to me” (stomps off)
I know this seems improbable, but I’ve experienced far worse.
Let’s examine the notion that a person who walks in and just “shops, doesn’t game, visits the flea market, maybe” actually costs nothing to the people running shows. The answer is, for anyone who looks at a balance sheet, is usually no. Every person attending a convention represents a potential cost. IF the people running the convention are paying a facility cost (the price for renting the physical space and services) then each person attending a show is presumably being charged an entrance fee– a portion of which is intended to contribute toward convention expenses and facility costs involved.
There are some exceptions– a facility might cost an organization nothing (e.g., donated space). A facility may be cheap enough so that free admission is seen as an act of good will and good public relations (and easy to write off). A guest may be in a special category (special guest/targeted PR market/minors/spouses). Exhibitors might be bearing all the costs of the convention with their fees (this type of event is usually called a trade show, not a convention, and even though many of those charge entrance fees). And so on. I don’t doubt that free admission convention badges exist, but that does not change the essential calculus.
Someone, somewhere, has to pay for that badge.
In truth, I have never walked into a convention involved in a non-technical, non-professional niche hobby (such as model railroading, stamp collecting, miniature wargaming, comics, movie memorabilia, etc. etc.) for free, just to walk around. Not ever. It’s quite possible there are smaller events that are more “clubby” than “general admission” in nature and they might allow people in for free (example, a game event from a gaming club that has already charged dues that covers the gate), but such an event couldn’t be very large. We all get back to the basic math of someone having to pay for the place.
HMGS, the organization that I belong to that was running HISTORICON, is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to the teaching of military history through the mixed medium of miniature gaming and educational seminars. Note that Non-profit does not equate to “losing money”. It is perfectly acceptable for a non-profit to charge for an event to cover the expenses of putting on the event itself. And it’s not even considered ruthless profiteering if there is a surplus left over after the show to help continue the organization’s loftier goals, as long as the organization continues to pass its financial audits and obeys the law.
Most gaming conventions are established to meet the needs of the community and most gaming conventions are commercial endeavors. If I were to walk up to the gates of, say, ORIGINS GAME FAIR and ask “I just want to walk around and buy things.. I don’t need a badge” , I fear the laughter would be loud and long, right before they called for security to escort me out. And their published information testifies to this.. there’s not a “walk around badge” in site.
Doing a quick survey, here’s a few other conventions that would give you a craggy look if you asked them to just let you in to walk around and shop:
Most of these webpages underline or highlight or bold the text covering the basic notions I have been talking about. You need a badge to get in, and badges cost someone money. This is not an unrealistic assumption to make, as no business is in the business of losing money, at least at a notional level. Even a non-profit business. If one can’t afford the fee, than perhaps it’s time to reassess the cost of being in a hobby.
And yet, this “letting me in for free just to look around pass” perception persists, year after year. And year after year, it’s the same old arguments.. “Why not a special five dollar I just want to shop badge, then?” And so on. As far as HMGS is concerned, most people who attend over a day are usually there for a mixture of reasons, and shopping is only one of them. Walk-ins, first timers, day shoppers and the like are charged something because the costs are spread out over ALL attendees, including vendors, full up weekend attendees and day trippers. There are many ways of structuring fees and this is perhaps the least onerous of them. Don’t believe me? Go get a one day ticket to WBC in a few weeks.
If I were king of the world, maybe there would be a way to let everyone in for free, and to have vendors and exhibitors and flea markets and special guests and such. Of course, being king of the world makes it easy to ruthlessly intimidate hotels and convention halls to do my bidding, because, you know, I’m King of the World. For the rest of us poor schlubs, we’ll just have to economize the best we can. And let’s try to understand the bigger picture before we complain next time, eh? Good gaming!d