Silicon Valley Comic Con 2016 Review

Silicon Valley Comic Con was a raging success. If you read our preview, you’d have seen we were already optimistic. We’ll discuss the weekend in dept. The good, the bad, the different. And recommendations about the future.

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The Good.

Production value

Just so much better this time around. After Silicon Valley Comic Con took over for Big Wow, they put so much more resources into making it feel like a high quality comic con. The website looks professionally made and updated. They also had a native IOS and Android App to organize all the scheduled events. The registration room was large and organized well. There was a line outside to get into registration, but I’d like to think that was due to the unprecedented demand of the event. They knocked it up a notch by implementing a modern RFID badging system. Yet it wasn’t without its flaws.

The show floor also enjoyed a bump in production value. From decor to floor arrangement, you can tell a lot of thought went into how the event coordinators wanted attendees to travel the show floor. There was a large section just for celebrity autographs and photographs. Also, I feel like there was a significant increase in staff both paid and volunteered. Great job by them all. The panel rooms were also high quality. Nice stage, great lighting and large and clear video screens. There wasn’t a bad seat on the house. Except for it’s size, the quality of the panels were just as good as San Diego Comic Con panels.

Panels

The panel content was also high quality. Their main events were the Back to the Future cast (including Michael J. Fox), Jeremy Renner, Stan Lee, William Shatner, Tim Miller (Deadpool), Nichelle Nichols and Nathon Fillion. This is a great line up considering C2E2 (Chicago’s Comic Con) was taking place the same weekend. Local Adam Savage also made several appearances. Some of the new types of guests included Kara Swisher, Steve Wozniak and Palmer Lucky. They and other technologists had a significant presence on the show. They’re definitely one of the best and unique aspects of the Silicon Valley show.

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An Evening with William Shatner

 

Gaming Center

I was surprised on how organized and busy the gaming center was. They had several retro arcade games, rooms for tabletop and video games. It wasn’t fancy or anything, but I love how they catered to this community. Also, it was really full. So there’s definitely demand. It’s just a small gesture I can appreciate.

 

Cosplay

Cosplay was big this time around. Cosplayers from all around the area showed up by the hundreds. It’s not a true comic con unless you have cosplay. It helped that there was a big cosplay contest on Saturday evening.

Artist Alley

Artist Alley was actually split up into two sections, each at the end of the main convention floor. It seemed they split up the small press and professional artists from the indie artists. Always nice to browse around looking at all the neat creations. Even though there were 2 sections, I could see expanding artist alley a bit more.

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Classic artist alley

 

Comics

Last but not least, the comics. It seems there are plenty more comicbook booths on the show floor than last year’s Big Wow. It is a ‘comic’ con after all. It’s nice to see that the emphasis on comicbooks in this show is still strong. My fear is that with its growing success, these booths may not be able to afford future spots. I’m sure the organizers know they need to stay true to the spirit of comic con.

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The Not So Good.

First, I’d just like to say that this is the best comic con in Northern California hands down. The issues I mention below isn’t so much to criticize the event, but rather to hopefully allow event planners to improve on future iterations. And possibly make this show one of the best comic cons in California. Luckily this is Silicon Valley so iterating and improving is in our life blood.

Registration

Let’s talk about registration. As an attendee, you must first register to receive your RFID bracelet. As large as the registration floor was, there was still quite a line outside. I’m not sure if there were any technical difficulties or otherwise, but when I went to lunch around 1:00pm, the line to get into registration was probably at least 2 blocks long. And that’s to get into the building. At this point, there’s about 4-5 hours left in the day to enjoy the show. Perhaps attendees of previous Big Wow events never encountered such long lines and weren’t prepared for it. Hopefully there were lessons learned on both sides of the event.

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Line outside to registration is at least 2 blocks long
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Long but moving inside registration line

 

RFID Bracelets

In theory it should work great. Everyone badges in, everyone badges out. No badge swap hacking. Unfortunately, the 5 seconds it takes to badge in multiplied by the 1000 guests trying to get in at the same time results in massive lines. Also, everyone must badge out. The line to badge out wasn’t as terrible as it was to get in, but folks still ended up bunching up making it that more difficult to leave the venue. Towards the end of the day, I noticed you no longer had to badge out. Good on them.

I don’t mind the event coordinators implementing the RFID badging system. They have a right to protect their event from badge swapping or otherwise. It also allows them to hire less people to check badges. Though I’m not sure by how much more because each Growtix terminal had one person manning it. If they continue to implement the RFID badging system, I’d recommend removing badging out. It seems like too much trouble for both the attendees and the event coordinators. What if someone forgot to badge out? Are they really not going to let him back in? The RFID chips are already permanently attached to our wrists. It seems removing them and giving them to others without breaking the bracelet is a lot of work.

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Friendly Growtix staff before the rush
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Long lines to badge in

Autographs and photographs

I didn’t personally get an autograph or photograph. But from what I’ve heard, there were massive waits. For big tickets such as Stan Lee and Jeremy Renner, you were put into groups. Then the groups would have set times to get in line. Seems to work in theory, but it ultimately ended up being a long wait anyways. What should have been a 30 minute to an hour wait ended up being doubled at least. I think the issues had more to due with the unprecedented demand organizers weren’t prepared for.

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Celebrity row

 

The Refreshments

Or lack thereof. From my observation, there was only one refreshments area inside. I know there are a few food booths outside the convention floor. But the single refreshments area inside had an insanely long line. At one point the line was the entire width of the main floor. I’ve seen other shows tackle this problem by implementing several eating options. Food trucks, hot dog carts or more food booths outside. Perhaps completely removing the existing refreshments area on the main floor is a good idea. Not only will it not block traffic, there would also be more room to add more event tables. For attendees, it’s probably quicker to grab some grub a few blocks from the convention center outside than to wait in that massive single line.

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Yes, this is the line for refreshments.
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Extremely limited seating

 

Back to the Future

This is the first time I’ve heard of requiring attendees to pay extra for a panel. Tickets are already $50 per day (excluding preview night). I’m sure the Back to the Future panel was very entertaining and fun but I’m not sure it’s worth the extra cost. Let’s just say at San Diego Comic Con, I paid $55 for a Saturday pass which included everything. This includes the Star Wars panel with all the Force Awaken’s cast and director. Oh, also they had a free Star Wars concert and light sabers for all the panel attendees. Just saying…

The Different (and good).

App Alley

They had about 2-3 rows dedicated for ‘apps’. They ranged from battery charging services to the Pancake Bot. Silicon Valley is not stranger to app type conferences, but I like that the show added this section that makes it uniquely a Silicon Valley thing. Some of the apps were also catered to artists and writers, so they weren’t completely random. I’d love to see new apps every year for developers to showcase their work. I’m just hoping the apps are relevant in one way or another to pop culture, comics, writing or the arts.

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App Alley
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Pancake Bot rules!

VR Zone

They also dedicated a large area on the main convention floor for Virtual Reality. It was mostly software companies showing off their application, but there were about 4 booths in which you can try out a VR headset. The demand for this was insane. The line was too long for me to wait in. However I love the concept. And it seems several attendees did as well.

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SVCC line simulator
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VR zone uber busy

 

Focus on Science and Technology

Perhaps other shows had some sort of science fiction or technology related panels and exhibits. But the Silicon Valley show made it a big area of emphasis. Several panels were dedicated to science and technology. With big names coming out from everywhere. NASA and Google engineers came out. Adam Savage hosted several panels. Of course Steve Wozniak participated in a few panels himself. Even Kara Swisher came out. That’s how you know how serious they were to cover technology.

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned before, this is the best comic con in Northern California. I believe it has the potential to be the best midsize comic con in all of California. For those wondering, I believe Long Beach Comic Con, Comikaze and Wondercon have both higher quality and production value. It’s not really a competition. Us attendees both local and remote benefit either way. But it’s been a while since Northern California has had a great comic con. Since Wondercon sold out and moved to Anaheim, us bay area natives have been waiting for its replacement. I believe it’s arrived this past weekend. And I can’t wait for next year.

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