One of the hardest parts of running a convention is the aftermath. There’s so much feedback, suggestions, ideas, and it is hard to keep track of them all. Once the convention ends, most staff are happy it is all “over”, but in reality it all continues for weeks after.

This year’s Castle Point Anime Convention (CPAC) was perhaps one of the best we have ever had, and, to be honest, if next year could be exactly the same as this year, I would be perfectly fine with that. The programming was great, the attendees were happy, and the emergencies and incidents were few. However, CPAC would not be where it is now if the leadership were content with the present, so I hope to reflect here on some of the feedback we have received, and where I am hoping to see CPAC 2016 be by the time my graduation comes around.

Are we reaching an attendance limit?

One of the biggest issues we had this year was crowding. CPAC really lives up to the reputation of the “ever-growing small con”. And the joke this year was that our head of operations had a wonderful skill of, no matter how many people enter a room, it is somehow always under the fire limit.

But in all seriousness, the new fire marshall decided to trounce around the con this year, raising hell left and right as expected. In the end we did a pretty good job of keeping our rooms in safe conditions and measuring attendance so that we did not breach any limits. However, that’s not to say there were some situations where we had problems with crowding.

Video Gaming Catastrophe

The most notable crowding issue was the video gaming room. Always popular, the room ended up having way too many people, and quickly became an operational hazard. Unfortunately, the video gaming room is difficult to relocate because:

  1. the furniture needs to be movable so it can be organized into stations for gaming;
  2. there needs to be many outlets for plugging in TVs and consoles; and
  3. it needs to be in the Babbio Center, since that is where all the video gaming equipment is stored.

We may have to give up on the third requirement, because the only room with non-fixed furniture bigger than BC-104 is the Bissinger room at the top of the hill in the Howe building. We have managed to stay out of the Howe building so far, but it may be time that attendees actually have to start walking up-campus for certain things.

In addition, an idea this year (that will most likely carry over into next year), was working with a company that brings in retro arcade machines. We are talking actual, huge machines that people can game on. They take up a lot of space, and will require an even larger room.

Bigger Panel Rooms cough Freddy Fazbear

Other than the standard large events, there were some panels that, despite our best guesses, were much more popular than we could have imagined. (Case in point is the Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria panel, which was placed in a 30-person room with over 100 people wanting to attend.)

This sort of echoes back to maybe moving into the Howe building, which has two or three larger capacity rooms. It will not help too much, but even one more room that can hold more than 40 people is helpful when scheduling panels that might be large.

The primary issue this causes is navigating the Howe building. Unlike the other buildings we are in, Howe is primarily office space, and we would have to guide attendees to the proper floors of the building where programming is located. We would have to designate staff to watch the stairwells for incidents, and perform crowd control.

Back to the Attendance Limit

Of course, there is finally the question of whether it has come time to cap our attendance. CPAC 1 was only 600 people, CPAC 2 was maybe around 900. Now, over these past two years, we went from 2,600 to 3,200 to a ridiculous 3,979 this year. Almost breaking four thousand attendees is quite the milestone, but I think we might be reaching a good breaking point.

That said, I do not think 4,000 is the limit, maybe something a little higher like 4,500 or 5,000, but at our current rate of growth, we definitely cannot support too many more attendees than what we have been seeing this year.

Nothing is set in stone, but at the very least a soft limit is probably going to be necessary for the next con.

1-day? 2-day? 1.5-day? …

Of course, every year we consider the same question everybody asks: when is CPAC going to expand into Saturday?

To be honest, this year was not good for the two-day con argument. Setup finished around 3am, and many key staff got maybe three hours of sleep (some getting that sleep on benches in the Babbio Center) before waking up to pick up the staff breakfast the next day. I can say without a doubt that next year’s CPAC will definitely not be a full-on two day.

One idea we discussed was something like a “1.5 day con”. On Saturday, or day 0, only certain events would be running, specifically: video gaming, card and board gaming, karaoke cafe, and video programming. In other words, it would be a light social-only day just for people who do not want to drive down just for a single day. Unfortunately, doing Artist’s Alley or Dealer’s Room on Saturday would be near impossible, having main events, i.e., guests of honor and musical events, would be cost prohibitive, and allowing Saturday panels would be difficult do to lack of available rooms (Saturday classes are a problem).

Whether we could even pull off this “day 0” idea is yet to be decided. If it does happen, it will probably just be a cheap $3 to $5 add-on to the normal ticket, since hosting the first day will not cost nearly as much as the second day.

Non-anime Content and Guests

One of the other suggestions we here a lot is recommendations for non-anime guests. Some of our more popular panels are actually not anime-related, e.g., Five Nights at Freddy’s, Homestuck, and Metal Gear Solid. Outside of anime, there is online comics, traditional graphic novels, video games, western animation, and more. The question: when does CPAC stop being an anime convention and become a ComiCon?

The question of the con’s scope is more of a philosophical one: why does CPAC exist? Does it exist for the sake of the attendees, attempting to fulfill their interests and provide programming they would go to? Does it exist for the sake of the staff or Stevens students, relating programming to what the people who run the con like working with? Does it exist for the sake of the anime industry, helping advertise and spread Japanese animation and culture? Or maybe some combination of the three? (Unfortunately, as the con chair, it is my job to try and get answers to these questions, and hopefully the answer is the right one.)

One interesting thing to consider is that a lot of our staff actually do not watch that much anime. Then why do they run the con? Coincidentally, some of our staff are involved with CPAC for the sole reason that they enjoy seeing our attendees have a good time, which loops back around into making sure the con fulfills our attendees’ interests. On the other hand, we also have staff that are invested in the anime industry, and would like to see it spread through western culture. Participating in CPAC is one way to help make that happen. Finally, we have staff that just watch anime, and like doing anime things and hanging out with anime people. (Naturally, most of these people are in our guests and industry relations department.)

One of CPAC’s defining characteristics is that it is a college convention. It is run by students. It is not a business. It does not make a profit. That it is why it is important to consider the interests of the staff, not as a replacement for, but in addition to those of the attendees. Because without the staff, there is no con.

(Things get even more complicated when you consider that C2GS, the gaming society as Stevens, and many other special interest organizations, help the Anime Club to run the con, and thus their purposes and goals need to be considered as well.)

In the end, I think non-anime guests and content are something to consider, especially since we already allow such content in panels. However, we need to be careful not to let the scope spread too wide, and try and keep programming on topic for the convention.

Onward to CPAC 2016!

There’s a lot that will need to be decided for the next year (starting with the date, of course), and it will not be easy. It will likely cause a lot of stress for our executive board and staff. However, with everybody always aiming for bigger and better, next year’s con will be at least as amazing as it was this year, regardless of whether it is a two-day con or whether we get non-anime guests.