So Saturday I went back to BayCon, the local, (nominally) science-fiction writers’ convention in the Bay Area.
Two years back I wrote It’s not you, it’s me…ok, it is a little you, but it’s also a little me, a post about the state of BayCon as it applied to me.
In that post I said that BayCon would probably be my last and, really, it more or less was. I didn’t do 2014 because I had other plans at the time and 2013 had left a fairly sour taste in my mouth (no one, especially volunteers, should have to pay to work). The only reason why I came back to BayCon this year was that I was begged by my friend Louis of FLARE that they needed bodies and he would appreciate it ever so much if I came back. My resistance to his puppy dog eyes failing, I agreed and picked up a swing shift on Saturday night.
More or less my opinions from 2013 haven’t changed.
First, let me say that also includes my opinions regarding the hard working staff of BayCon. This year BC was chaired by my long-time friend Sally Rose and Kathleen (who I don’t know) and the theme was Women of Wonder. Bill Hay, someone long-involved with BC, made some pretty kick ass decorations around the hotel with these stations dedicated to Women of X, whether that’s aviation, science in general, military, cinema, science fiction/fantasy, whatever, with pictures of notable women and brief snippets of why they were cool. I have heard rumors that there were some staffing hiccups that did make things more difficult but I thought they all did a good job.
I also didn’t have to pay to work, so that was a nice change.
That being said, there need to be some major changes at BayCon.
While I did see some younger kids there, the overwhelming majority of people seemed to be 30+. The con needs to get in the younger kids for all the reasons I mentioned in the other post.
Similarly, the attendance seemed low. I don’t know if it was low or if the hotel they were at is just bad for that image (it’s a big hotel with lots of convention space so people seemed even more thinned out).
Not just me but lots of other people have said that the con needs to do a couple of things:
1. Change location. The venue isn’t favorable to the kind of con that BayCon is. The size of the hotel makes everything more spread out which means its harder to build a sense of connectedness (that you’re actually AT a con). Lots of people have complained within earshot of me that this hotel isn’t that good for parties. I have to wonder how much of that is viewing the past through rose-tinted glasses but if people are complaining then it isn’t meeting their needs.
2. Change the date. Honestly, BayCon won’t be able to compete with the other two big cons that weekend, Fanime and Kublacon, at this point. They’ll never be able to steal back the people that find those cons more intriguing because they’ll never be able to play at that level; both of those cons pretty much specialize and cater to their demographic in a way BayCon never would be able to. Throw in Clockwork Alchemy nabbing the steampunk crowd (however big that is) and you’re left with a much smaller slice of the young person pie. Which also sounds like something that Dr. Lecter might cook up to cap off a dinner party.
A sub-note to this, many people have complained that if BayCon changed weekends they’d lose a day of con. This year BayCon effectively lost a day due to the hotel’s scheduling and contractual obligations and I have to wonder just how many of those people are really missing the small amount of programming that happened on Monday.
3. Programming. I have no idea of how the panels were so I won’t comment on that but I will comment on a discussion that was going on shortly before the start of con. The tl;dr is that there was a charity event at BayCon, a “slave auction” held by Klingons, that was a long-standing staple of the con that was asked to not happen this year because, unsurprisingly, selling primarily women, even for charity, doesn’t really jive with the whole trying to honor and recognize women of wonder theme. Of course people lost their minds. I was not one of them; even if you’re acting sketchy for charity, you’re still being sketchy, and when the MC complains that without the slave auction he’s going to have no where to be skeezy at, the sketchiness kind of outweighs the charity aspect IMO.
Regardless, several people made the comment that BayCon has lost a lot of staples that made it what it was and they haven’t been replaced. Years ago BayCon had a thriving costuming community and did a Masquerade/costume contest that was well-attended and had a lot of participants. That’s gone (although it was replaced with a variety show this year which seemed well-attended). Slave auction (however you feel about it), was gone and (IMO) I wouldn’t be sad to see it stay gone. Several of the very popular parties, while not done by the con, are also gone.
The con needs to figure out a way to integrate with the attendees to help create “after-hours” programming/events that people would enjoy. The con also needs to start, I think, directly interacting with the attendees to find out what they want. One of the people on the BoD mentioned that another Bay Area con, PantheaCon, sends/sent out surveys to attendees to find out their feelings on the con. Maybe BayCon needs to do that.
That’s pretty much it. I will say this, there is a LOT of talk about how people can save BayCon and that says two things:
1. That people know, or at least fear, that it is in need of saving. Never a good thing.
2. That people want BayCon. That they care enough to speak up about it (whether they then do anything more than that is a different thing entire) and that’s something.
Whether or not that happens I don’t know. With the same people, ultimately, in leadership who have always been there I don’t know how much change will actually come about.