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CONVENTIONS: Let's Talk About Lobbyconning

By 4:00 AM

I was very confused by a comment left on Facebook concerning a convention I work for. A potential attendee asked if the con would be "open" or "closed." No one really had any idea what this meant, until it was clarified: do you have to buy a badge to enter the convention space at all, or can you chill in the hotel lobby without buying a badge?

The practice is known as "lobbyconning," and I had never heard of it until within the last year or so. Essentially, rather than buying a membership to a convention, the lobbyconner just hangs out in the non-convention spaces of the hotel, seeing friends, showing off their cosplay, using Street Pass, etc. They see it as harmless and a way to save money.

Now, quickly up front. I have sped by hotels where a convention is going on to say hi to a friend. Like. If the con is in the area. Usually if I want to see a friend at a nearby convention I'm not attending, we go get lunch or something, or if I go to the hotel we'll meet for a drink in the bar or I go to their room. But if I'm going to see the friend, we generally leave the convention space. If I'm going to the convention to see the friend, I buy a day pass. Why? Because I am using the convention as a way to pass time with my friend, because it means they can still enjoy all parts of the con without having to abandon me for panels, and because dammit, supporting a con.

Now, I get that the con scene has changed. There are now corporations that do nothing but run conventions, flying actors out to sit behind a table and rake in their "garbage bags full of twenties" before heading home. That tends to be where a lot of people go, and those are expensive. Of course they are -- they have half the cast of Next Gen lined up against the back wall. Conventions like that, you can't usually lobbycon because they're in a convention center that you can barely get into without a badge check.

The ones you can lobbycon at? Tend to be smaller, fan-run events. Or, if a company does run them, it's a small business. If you were to skulk around the back end of a giant corporate con, they probably wouldn't notice. (Note: please do not take this as me encouraging you to do that because it's still rude.) But to "ghost" a con -- to take in the cosplay element, to potentially be getting access to public area vendors and artists, etc. -- you're actually harming the event.

Why? Let's break it down.

Lots of lobbyconners could be a safety risk.

Why do cons have attendance caps? Simple answer: fire hazards. Venues only hold so many people safely, so convention planners have to figure how many people can come into the space after accounting for hotel staff, convention staff, convention guests, vendors, and any rooms that might be otherwise filled. A smaller con with an attendance cap of 2,000 per day might be in a venue that can safely hold 2,500 before the fire marshal shows up to have words.

So what happens when tons of undocumented, unplanned for people show up? Well, if the con's hit its attendance cap and a dozen or so more people pile in, you're breaking the law. Now, a convention won't technically legally be held responsible for the extra bodies that aren't actually attending their con. But when the hotel sees a couple dozen Survey Corps members on Street Pass in the lobby, they're not going to just shrug and assume they're tourists.

In short: should you happen to lobbycon a packed event, you could get the hotel in trouble with the fire marshal, or you could get the con in trouble with the hotel.

You're sticking it to the wrong people.

We get it. Cons are getting expensive. Lots of cons upcharge: pay to get in, pay again to go to an exclusive panel with the biggest guest, pay a third or fourth time to even get to stand in line to buy an autograph. You're going to run into a lot of events that play those games, kind of like buying a theme park pass and then being told you need to pay $50 more to do anything but look at the rides.

Even small cons are having to up their prices. Getting guests that are big enough to get people to care about local cons, getting hotels that are willing to host, all things that mean that you probably will be paying anywhere from $80-100 (potentially more) for some weekend passes. And for what? you ask yourself. There's no guests you really want to see, you probably won't go to any panels, you're just there to cosplay and see friends. Besides, you just threw down about $500 to see your Favourite Actor Ever next month at a big con, so you can't afford it.

Look. If you don't like the guests or the panels at a con, don't go. Leave room in the hotel for people who do. Grab lunch with your friends another time. The people who feel it when you lobbycon are small cons.

If you love the camaraderie of smaller cons but aren't interested in the guests or panels, guess what? Pay anyway. Split a room with someone. Maybe be a gopher or volunteer to do a panel. The smaller cons are the ones that need the attendance numbers and income most, so they can afford to make the events better all around.

Honestly it's just super rude.

This is something people will be tempted to call a "millennial" mentality, but y'all don't get off that easy because God knows I've seen people in their 50s doing this. Thinking to yourself "I want to do this, but I don't want to pay for it" should not, if you're any sort of mature adult, be followed by the question "How do I avoid paying for it?"

If you do not want to spend money on something, then you don't want it enough. End of.

Similarly, "I want to do this, but I can't afford to pay for it," if it is not a matter of life and death (and conventions aren't a matter of life and death), should not be thought of that way, either. This isn't a fight for clean water or education. It's a bloody convention. And I love con life, too. But if I can't afford something? I don't do it.

People work hard to make these events as value-for-money as possible because they are fans, too. They want to give fans a good experience. And to show up at their event and demonstrate complete indifference toward a fair entry price... it's rude, dude.

(And if the price isn't fair? What are you even doing showing an interest?)

I know this will not convince everyone. There will be the "but I never get to see my friends except at this con," or the "but it's my only chance to show off my cosplay," or any number of reasons why your situation is different. But at the end of the day, if you are not going to pay, do not go to the event.

End of.

Start writing your rebuttals. You're not going to find a lot of conventions who are happy with you.

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  1. Thank you. This also hurts the vendors at cons where you can't get into the vendor room without a pass. I've been on this soapbox for years. Even reamed out my husband on social media over it.

    1. There's this terrible mindset now that conventions are there to be, like, tricked out of money. As I said in the piece, I understand the frustration with big cons, but these people shouldn't be taking it out on small cons. (I'm not saying take it out on big cons, either... but seriously.)

  2. So, here's one of the problems, from a con-runner perspective.

    Lobbies (and to some extent, areas in front of or around the the hotel) have to be public spaces so other guests can get in or out. There's really no effective way to screen these people out.

    Another problem is badge-swapping. I see this happen at really big venues, like comic-cons, who do all they can to prevent scalping and whatnot to the point they have RFID badges. But this does not prevent Person A from using a badge, going in to see vendors, then leaving, giving the badge to Person B, who does this, then when he or she leaves, giving it to Person C, and so on. That has been going on since I have been working cons in the 1980s. I was doing security in 1987 where we had an "infamous badge named Mike" that was confiscated at least half a dozen times, once even from a girl. Turned out that security had a volunteer who would take confiscated badges and give them back to his pals.

    I don't have answers. Running a very large convention, the "lobby loungers," especially photographers who might be seedy, were hanging out and there was little we could do but inform the hotel since our security didn't have dominion in public areas.

    1. Yeah, that's unfortunately why this has to be addressed on a "hearts and minds" level because you can't just BUY THE HOTEL for the weekend. A con I work for (the same one where this got asked about, actually) had an incident recently where two people swapped badges in full view of a badge-checker at a door.

      I think there are people who either just don't understand that This Isn't Okay, or (worse) they genuinely don't care. It sucks.

  3. I used to run panels on how to go to cons on the cheap about ten years ago, and lobbyconning never even occurred to us. It's such a shitty and disrespectful thing to do.

  4. They should offer hall-only passes tbh. I know a lot of people who would buy them to enjoy the experience without the panels/guests/etc.

    1. That's WAY more hassle than the money it would bring in. If you believe this then you've never tried to implement it. Many of those people would just ghost into guests, panels, etc. Many wouldn't understand the difference between a "hall badge" and a "everything badge".

  5. As someone who's been going to a particular con for I'm not sure how many years, I can't imagine doing this. I actually volunteer now and if you work a certain number of hours, you get in free the next year and honestly, you could hit the amount they want by working pretty short numbers of hours on each of the days AND you get to help the convention out.

  6. If you can't afford a badge then work for it. Most conventions will accept staff from people aged 16+. Some have a rule that you must be 18+. With this, though, at least the convention still benefits from your presence and as long as you show up for work, your badge (and sometimes your lodgings) are paid for.

  7. This has actually been a thing that's been getting on my nerves for the last couple years. As a staff member at a medium-sized con, I see people openly discussing 'Ghosting' on the convention's social media, looking for other people to do the same.

    If you just wanna show off you cosplay, pick a date, round up your friends, and go to a local park. Bam, no money spent.

    If you want the convention experience, please pay for it. That money isn't going directly into Scrooge McDuck's money vault - a lot of that money goes towards equipment rentals, permits, reservations, guest bookings, etc. Hell, most of the staff are volunteers at smaller cons, to keep costs down enough to make the convention interesting and fun enough to attract attendees in the first place.

    1. There is a small con that is held in my city each year. I volunteer to work with this con because it is a great cause, there are so many small vendors that can get to this con easily and inexpensively, and this group can't afford to pay for lots of staff so there are lots of volunteers. Some of the volunteers that work on the con all year get rooms. Those of us who volunteer just for the con-days pay for our own rooms, but all the volunteers get at least one meal ticket to keep them energized. Working a con can be exhausting and to volunteer for one is a labor of love for the group and the milieu. If you don't want to pay the fees, don't go. You hurt everyone that is legitimately involved: working, volunteering, vending, and participants paying the requested fees.

  8. From a con-runner standpoint, I am torn between the "OMG you're adding to the building occupancy" and the "well, if you lobbycon and everyone who's actually attending the con well you of their good time, then maybe you'll buy a badge." Such a fine, fine line.

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  10. Okay, a few thoughts here. I've been a part of several cons over the past 10+ years, and if I've learned anything, it's that the more you try to squeeze out of your attendees, the less attendees you will have. Cons are pricing themselves out of the market, and placing the blame on their audience. This doesn't work, and trying to 'crack down' on lobbyconning is just going to create animosity between the attendees and the con.

    Stop being mad at people who want to save a buck. I say this as someone who has volunteered 16+ hours at a con for my badge, and realized it wasn't worth it. Volunteering hasn't paid off for a while, and when you realize the hour-to-badge equivalent is sometimes less than $10 an hour, it's gross that conventions think this is an equal trade.

    I've also been in the position of a vendor, stuck at a booth when all the attendees are out in the hallway and can't come in without paying $50+ for a badge. If you suck the money out of the con with badge costs, your vendors suffer, and are less likely to return. Instead, the artist alley and vendor room should be open to the public, because the con has already been paid for that space by the vendors- Each table costs $200-600, and if you have a BIG vendor room (50+ unique sellers), it's absurd to expect you'd have enough foot traffic for all of them to make a profit if all your attendees are left broke just to get in the door.

    Conventions need to realize the changing times, and stop blaming their failures on a handful of people who have learned to "cheat the system". I saw this happen at a convention I've been going to for years that used to have an open lobby (and was often hailed as the biggest con in that area) and last year, decided to close it completely, you needed a badge just to step foot in the building. Attendance dropped, a lot. The vendors suffered, the artists suffered, and the con was a total snoozefest. You have to realize that more than half of the 'con experience' is a lively hallway. You can have all the best guests, panels, and vendors, but if your attendance is low compared to the space you occupy, it's going to appear boring, and that's the only thing your attendees will remember. That's how cons die.

    Cons need to stop picking on congoers, because the fact of the matter is that this is still a niche hobby, and they need to stay on the good side of every person who might want to show up, whether they can afford to this year or not.

    1. Holy shit, it took THIRTEEN HOURS for this to happen.

      18 years attending, staffing, dealing, and guesting at cons. Big cons, small cons, some as big as your head.

      I have been in every corner of the con world except security and medical. Cons wanting to receive money for services rendered is not 'picking on' congoers.

      I used to be a fansubber, and I used to live many years of my life riding the 'People who don't pay for shit are a bigger help than you think so stop shutting them down,' and that's the wrongest statement I ever believed for the longest.

      'Staying on the good side' of attendees means offering fair prices, safe venues, good guests, and helpful staff. Not letting them leech.

      If you don't want to pay, you don't want to go. End. Of.

    2. No, see, here's where you are wrong.

      Just because someone doesn't pay for a badge does not make them a leech, it doesn't make them a nuisance, and it does not steal anything from the con.

      If they weren't going to buy a badge to begin with, they aren't your target market, but the friend they bring with them might be.

      It doesn't take a lot to alienate a large part of your audience- Just kick out a popular hall-cosplayer and you've lost a dozen or more of their followers, who did buy badges this year but won't next year.

      Conventions are bigger than you. They are bigger than what you plan, and carefully place in that space. Conventions are a community, and if you try to prune it too harshly, you kill the tree.

      But that's fine, if you really think that eliminating those people from your con spaces is a good idea, go for it. See how long your doors stay open with that kind of exclusive business model.

      Also, shaming people for wanting to attend but not having enough money to do so just makes you sound petty and classist.

      It's not 'rude' to want to exist and enjoy a hobby just because you can't afford the whole experience. Why not just jump right to scolding people who don't buy VIP badges, while you're at it?

  11. "People work hard to make these events as value-for-money as possible because they are fans, too."

    This is definitely not true. These events rarely ever are "value-for-money". The organizers are often fans but their primary goal with running a con is to make big profit. Hence $12 hotdogs and $5 bottles of water.

  12. Kara, thank you so much for posting this. I came to conventions later in life and was absolutely shocked by "ghosting" at small and mid-size cons. People I knew with full-time, serious jobs turning up in the lobby two nights in a row to join convention attendees for dinner, hang out in the lobby (usually glomming onto panelists), and then go to the room parties. But, you know, it costs them. People in leadership positions in the community see this happening and quietly cross the freeloaders off their lists for positions of responsibility (such as guest liaison) at other conventions. So they aren't really ghosting -- they are, instead, highly visible assholes.