As a FilmBuff, you might have seen press coverage, maybe even ours, of the New York Comic Con (NYCC from here on out) and thought that maybe it will be worth your time to check it out. After all, the film studios seem to be increasing their presence at the show, and last year even featured a surprise visit from A-list superstar George Clooney on the Tomorrowland panel. You decided that you would wait and see what studios would be there this year, then buy your tickets.
If you did this, then you were a fool. What you needed to do was take yesterday off and be by your computer before noon. Maybe download a program like Check4Change that would, well, check for any changes to a particular website, because you needed to be in the Ticket Buying Queue (seen to the left, click to make bigger) as soon as it opened. However, anticipation would turn to anxiety as the time you spent in the queue ticks upward–5 minutes, then 10, then 15, then 20. Anxiety turns to anger as your connection to the page is lost and you get 404 and 408 error codes because the servers cannot hold the high volume. NYCC says these glitches would lose your place in line, but how can you be sure?
Luckily, after 40 minutes of waiting in the queue, you are finally allowed to purchase your tickets. Unfortunately, even though you entered the queue the moment tickets went on sale, you were too late to buy the $215 Special Access VIP you wanted. All other options are available, so you choose the 4-day package for $105 over the Ultimate Access VIP for $525 because, well, you aren’t made of money. You make your selection the move on to the next page, only to have the site crash again. You refresh and get back to where you need and when you are done and hit the next page button, it crashes again. It will crash during every stage of the checkout process. Thankfully, this does not affect you buying your tickets. You are able to complete your transaction. You will be able to attend NYCC.
If that seems like it was one of the most frustrating Internet buying experiences I ever had, it was. But I can’t actually complain. I only had to wait 40 minutes. Others had to wait up to three times as long and sit and watch as the tickets available to them dwindled. I didn’t get the tickets I wanted, but ended up with a cheaper alternative. Others had to cobble together a 4-day pass via the more expensive way of buying individual day tickets, if they got tickets at all. And the glitches during the checkout process didn’t cost me my tickets as it did other customers.
Genre fans are burdened with the stereotype of being self-entitled boors who whine and complain when things do not go their way. This makes it hard to take them seriously when something happens that is worthy of their ire and disdain, like the kind being displayed on in the comments of NYCC’s Facebook page. In this case, the ire and disdain is deserved and not just entitled whining about something not being fair. NYCC had similar problems last year during their tickets sales, only to a lesser degree. Yes, this problem is getting worse instead of better, and it is increasingly beginning to look like NYCC is becoming a monster its organizers created yet cannot control.
NYCC was big from the beginning. I was there the first year when the crowds got so big that the state police had to come in and instill a one in, one out policy. Expanding to take over the entire Javits Center helped that overcrowding, but that incident is where NYCC’s legend started, as a must attend show for people interested in pop culture in all its forms. And in the nine years since, the status of the con has grown. It says something that most all of the tickets for this year’s convention sold out on the first day, even though a grand total of 13 guests have been announced (2 Entertainment Guests and 11 Comic Book Professionals) and exhibitors and programming are months away from being listed.
This is all encouraged by the NYCC organizers, who fan the flames of fan desire by posting countdowns of the months and hours to any NYCC events all over social media. They build excitement for an event that is already a must-attend event. But they do not seem to be at all prepared for the frenzy their cheer leading creates amongst their fans.
You get the impression that NYCC knew it would be having issues with crashing. They mentioned it on the Virtual Queue pages I posted above. But they had no redundant system in place as an alternative. San Diego Comic Con had a smaller issue with system crashes earlier this year, and mostly with their member ID system (Unlike NYCC, SDCC requires that everyone who want to but a ticket sign up for a member ID. Many waited until the last minute to get one, and crashed the system). To alleviate this, SDCC started mailing out Member ID’s to members so they wouldn’t bog down the system. The Doctor Who convention Gallifrey One had a catastrophic system crash last week when they tried to sell tickets to their show. They instead implemented an e-mail system so fans could get tickets on a first come, first served basis. Ticketing for NYCC is handled by a company called ShowClix, who also handles ticketing for The Tonight Show and The Daily Show. They apparently had people on staff to take out malfunctioning servers as soon as problems arose. This was to ensure no one lost their place in line or lose anything put in their cart. From the complaints on NYCC’s Facebook page, the latter still happened to a number of customers. It makes you wonder if they were able to preserve places in line as they claimed either.
We might never know whether or not the server issues kept tickets out of the fans’ hands, but we do know something else that did–scalpers. NYCC tickets started showing up on eBay and StubHub almost immediately after the official sale of tickets began, all at a significant markup. Even as I write this, there are 318 listings for scalped badges on eBay, 598 listings on StubHub–all for at least twice the original price. That’s over 900 badges that could have went to fans, but instead went to charlatans looking to make a quick buck from a desperate customer base.
SDCC’s Member ID systems is their way to cut down on scalping. All NYCC has is a sternly worded sentence on their website stating that the badges are non-transferable. Typically, the organizers go out to these secondary markets to try and take down these auctions, but a lot of them are ‘Buy It Now’s” and the transaction might already have been made. And even though NYCC limited customers to 2 VIP tickets and 4 multi-day or individual tickets, I saw someone try to sell 8 Kids Day tickets for 12 times what they are worth. Server glitches are enough to make anyone angry. This kind of chicanery is enough to send someone into an apoplectic rage.
These are all problems that need to be addressed by NYCC, but they are also problems that have been plaguing the con for years and have not been addressed. If ShowClix’s servers can’t handle all of the ticket going on sale all at once, go back to the slow roll out of tickets they did in previous years. Perhaps instituting a member ID program similar to SDCC’s will help curb scalpers. Right now, they don’t have to do this. People will bitch and complain but be back next year to try their luck. But they should try harder to fix these problems out of respect for their loyal fans. It’s just the right thing to do.
UPDATE #1: NYCC has offered a statement on yesterday’s ticket sales. It does offer an explanation of what happened and an apology, yet nothing on how they will address these issues in the future.
UPDATE #2: Heidi MacDonald has done some digging, and discovered why NYCC doesn’t do much against scalpers buying tickets:
I did some digging around and was told by someone knowledgeable about the secondary ticket market that in New York State all event tickets must be available for resale. While New York used to have some of the most stringent scalping laws in the country, in 2010 they were loosened up to allow StubHub and their ilk to pretty much have free reign. So it may not even be legal to ban resale of the tickets.
So, outside of limiting the number of tickets you can buy, all NYCC can legally do in New York State is tell you not to buy off scalpers.