Friday, August 14, 2015

Op-Ed: Ghosting

NOTE: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the California Conventions Blog.

The view from the Sacramento Convention Center 2nd Floor Terrance, before they restricted access to this spot at the Winter 2015 show

With SacAnime Summer 2015 on the horizon, one has to look back on a key move that SacAnime staff set during the Winter 2015 show: restricting access to the 2nd floor to only people who had a badge and a wristband. In past shows, it was easy access to this upper area which contains not only the terrance and the outside Art Wall where all the gatherings are held, but other convention events like main panels, TCG, and Cafe Hoshi.

The two associates that covered Sac Winter 2015 for the CCB, Robbie and Ray, noticed the change pretty quick and were constantly asked for badges and wristbands when accessing the esclators/elevators/stairs to that 2nd floor (to which Robbie responded, "press members didn’t get wristbands"). I noticed the change as I attempted to access the 2nd floor but never got to because I didn't have a badge and wristband.

There are a couple of reasons behind restricting access to the 2nd floor. One potential reason was that the Homestuck crowd at the Summer 2014 show had "trashed the Art Wall located on the 2nd Floor Terrance" and as a result access would be restricted to curb chances of an event like that happening again. (This reason hasn't been proven yet and will probably not be.) This does lead to a more "logical and logistical" reason of why they restricted access: to curb traffic caused by ghosters.

"Ghosters" are a term for attendees who do not buy a badge but roam the convention halls like they're paid attendees. From big conventions like Anime Expo to small conventions and conventions in between, like SacAnime, have to ask this big question about how to deal with ghosters.

For me, it comes down to three major factors between the difference of not having to pay and having to pay:
  1. Your position relative to the convention itself
  2. Your dress attire (cosplay/non-cosplay)
  3. Your activities during your visit

The first factor can be a bit dicey especially when talking about conventions that purely happen in hotels such as Anime Los Angeles up until 2015 (which was one of the reasons why they moved to the Ontario Convention Center, to allow those who would had ghosted because of the attendance caps back at the Marriott to buy their badges without threat of of a cap). But for conventions that happen at a convention center, it's a little bit clear-cut.

[Editor's Note: I will have a seperate Op-Ed for ghosting at hotel conventions later on. There are a ton of factors that will take some time to draw up, which is longer than drawing up factors at a convention center convention.]

If you're at the hotel purely to hang out with friends up at the hotel room and/or picking them up to take them off-site, then you shouldn't have to pay to get a badge. The reason for that is that even if the hotel has convention activities (for example, the Sheraton Grand at SacAnime hosts the gaming room, panels, and video rooms), the overall space is shared with another business. Technically, you're conducting business with the hotel by visiting their guests and not the convention itself.

But as you get closer to the grounds that holds the actual convention, the more you should probably consider buying a badge. However, even that distinction can be difficult depending on the designation of the convention center space. Places like sidewalks and outdoors areas are considered to be public property but once you get inside the area could either be public or private. I'll draw examples between the Sacramento Convention Center and the San Jose Convention Center, the home of FanimeCon. When I went to the San Jose Convention Center in the fall of 2013, we were able to walk in, hang out inside, and explore the renovations & additions without any trouble because the center was open to the public. Some of the doors were unlocked for us to peek into (such as the 2nd floor ballroom that would house Artist's Alley) but others were not. But on the other hand, most of the time the doors to get inside the Sacramento Convention Center are either locked or blocked off. This has the feel of private property.

The second factor is your dress attire. Some people like to cosplay and hang out the public areas that is close to the convention site to either hang out with their friends or to do photo shoots with photographers without ever buying a badge. In this case, you should probably consider buying a badge. But if you're in street/casual clothes, even if it has anime/video games on it, you can get away with not buying a badge because I can that same attire anywhere else, it's just a coincidence that I'm right next to a convention dedicated to anime/Japanese media/Japanese culture.

The third, and last, factor is your activities during your visit. This goes hand-in-hand with the second factor, since cosplay and/or photo shoots that occur right near the convention site should warrant a badge, but visiting friends off-site or taking your friends off-site should not warrant a badge. Your distances between what is on-site and what is off-site can vary depending on your definition and feel for the convention area.

Overall, there are many ways to determine whether or not you should buy a badge. When in doubt, support the convention and buy a badge because those sales go towards paying off that show and setting up for future shows. Without those sales, the convention cannot suffice and will fold. If you're in the area with friends visiting those who are at the convention, support the local economy by dining out or having drinks in the area. I may had not bought a badge when I went to the Winter 2015 show but I did go out to Shoki Ramen that night with my friends and contributed to SacAnime's presence in the downtown Sacramento area.

- Matthew

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