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What does the future hold for MLP cons?

Discussion in 'Conventions Discussion' started by Loganberry, 10 February 2016.

  1. Loganberry

    Loganberry Element of Custard

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    With the news that this year's BUCK will be its last, there's been some discussion about what the future pony convention landscape might look like, especially in the UK. This thread is intended as a place for that to be discussed without the need to focus on one specific con.

    I'll kick off by giving my personal view: I very much hope that nobody will try to "replace BUCK" with something on the same scale in 2017 -- because they'll almost certainly fail. Bluntly, if the guys who've run it since 2012, with the huge experience and contacts they've built up in that time, have reached the end of the road, then why would anyone else do any better? I've seen one or two wild comments in places like EQD comments that show zero realism -- things like "Oh, we can just set up a new con and get Tara Strong/Weird Al/whoever to come!" It doesn't work like that, I'm afraid.

    There's also the other blunt fact: the fandom is simply not as large as it used to be. When I look past the last BUCK, at 2017 and beyond, I can't see how the UK fandom will ever again be able to sell 1,000 tickets for an event at £100 each. It's just not going to happen. This isn't just a British phenomenon, either -- BronyDays in France has also finished. GalaCon is perhaps the only large con I can see happening in Europe in 2017, and I just don't think there's going to be room for another one on this side of the Atlantic.

    That all sounds negative, so here's a positive opinion: I think there could be a space in 2017 for a new brony convention in the UK. But not on BUCK's six-figure-budget scale. Those days are gone after this April. I'm thinking more like BronyScot (budget about £5,000) -- something more like that in the southern/central portion of the UK might be able to find an audience, given that BronyScot is in Scotland (well, duh) and a long way to go for southerners. Remember, a lot more places can accommodate 150 people than can manage 1,400.

    What would a new smallish convention need? Well, a sound financial footing (BronyScot is run by a limited company). Staff who have organisational experience on a bigger scale than a few weekly meetups. An accessible, sensibly-sized venue near inexpensive hotel accommodation. Community contacts (for guests, vendors etc). PR staff who can answer tough, searching questions convincingly without getting ruffled or disappearing. Low ticket prices. Not antagonising Hasbro. Many, many other things besides, but that's a start. And if you want a con in early 2017, you need to be seriously thinking about it already.

    I don't have any links with BronyScot, but the fact is that they and not BUCK are the model you should probably be looking at if you have it in mind to set up a pony convention in the UK in 2017. As I said earlier in this post, the days of the massive blow-out ponystravaganza are passing, and BUCK 2016 will be the last of that type of convention in Britain. You can either pretend otherwise and end up with a great big mess, or you can be realistic and end up with a smaller-scale success. I know which would be better for the fandom.

    (I know I haven't mentioned UK PonyCon, but that's a very unusual convention -- multi-gen and long-established before bronies were even a thing -- and as such I don't think it would be a particularly good template for a brony-centric event. Yes, it's a very good convention, but it's also a bit of a one-off.)

    So... those are my inexpert thoughts. What are yours?
     
  2. Wonderbolt

    Wonderbolt Honorary Pony

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    I think UK pony con could pick up the slack and become the biggest con in the UK as it has a larger fanbase coverage (with the pre gen 4 fans and collectors) and is generally more affordable, moves around the country more and has been well received in the past

    Secondly I think the fandom could use bigger comic cons like the MCM comic cons to organise informal meets there, whist they would not have control of the con so to speak, its still a good place for fans to gather and discuss things and pony cosplay and merch is quite common at them.
     
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  3. Irregular Apocalypse

    Irregular Apocalypse Follo teh oranj hoers ...

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    This was a thought I had, too - general concensus seems to be that one of the reasons UKPonyCon sold out last year was because BUCK didn't happen. What I do know is that I had a massive amount of fun there, met some really cool people and the only thing that would stop me going again this year would be either the con being in London or me being dead. I went knowing that it wasn't a 'brony' convention and enjoyed myself - it has a charm of its own and I'd hate to see that changed.

    Ultimately, I don't think that 'single fandom' conventions the size of BUCK are sustainable in the UK - matters aren't helped by things like venue hire, insurance and whatnot being ridiculously expensive (been there, done that, got burnt by it). It's sad, but unfortunately it's true as well. I think that BronyScot could go some way to filling in the void left by BUCK without necessarily emulating it (I'm on good terms with a couple of the BronyScot organisers and they know what they're doing)

    There's been a lot of hand-wringing, and rightly so, but ultimately these things come and go - something will fill the void left by BUCK, it'll just take time. Meanwhile, the organisers of BUCK have every reason to be proud of their achievements.

    Seems to me that medium-sized events like BUCK LDN might be the way forward, although it'd be a pity if they only happened in London.

    Oddly enough, I'm considering organising something along those lines for MCM Manchester ...
     
  4. Wonderbolt

    Wonderbolt Honorary Pony

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    Great minds think alike!
     
  5. furryears

    furryears Pony

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    Personally i think that this is the end of the peak for bronies, you will soon see the fan base get less and less. I dont think it will completely disappear but the numbers will keep reducing. When the hype started a few years ago, bronies was new and something different and attracted alot of press (mostly bad). But whilst it made news it attracted more fans.
    After BUCK goes I personally think you will see a better attendance at the smaller conventions for a few years, but it will return to business as usual. You might get another BUCK equivalent if a new gen of MLP is released but not until. If you want to fully understand what will happen just look at other fan bases of the past like Trekkies and you will see a trend. They never die but they never get anymore fans till the next gen gets released.
     
  6. Loganberry

    Loganberry Element of Custard

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    Oh yes, I completely agree with that. As I said, it's a one-off as far as cons go -- but a very enjoyable one-off. I just don't think it's a good template for anyone planning a new con, precisely because it's such a one-off.
    Emphasis added by me, since it matters enormously. If you don't have that, you get... well, My Little Convention, and that's bad news all round. I suppose what I'd selfishly like to see would be two BronyScot-style cons, the original in Scotland and something similar in England/Wales. (Run by someone else, though, and at a different time of year.) I think that could be sustainable, though that's merely a guess.
    Honestly, I don't think it will happen, at least not where pony is concerned. The whole brony thing is one of the most remarkable pop culture phenomena of the internet age, and it's probably asking too much for lightning to strike twice. Maybe it'll happen to another fandom, but probably not ours.

    What I do think is likely is that, once future gens appear, G4/FiM will gradually take its long-term place as one of the many strands that go to make up the wider MLP fandom. That, of course, puts UK PonyCon in a very strong position because that's what that con does already. Still, I do think that a G4-specific con is still feasible while it remains the current gen -- hence my feeling that a second BronyScot-size con isn't necessarily out of the question.
     
  7. Recurrent Trotting

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    I'd be behind a BronyEng.. BronyLon...BronyScot-not-in-Scotland style con - I liked its intimate feel and dedication to celebrating ponies. How/why any group of people would do such a thing is beyond me though considering how tricky and similar to herding cats it seems to be :p and even the people who do a decent attempt and fail miserably are still great in my book. No fan attending a con can ever be 100% certain they'll get what they bargained for anyway (even if the event flops you still supported a fan thing!).
     
  8. Irregular Apocalypse

    Irregular Apocalypse Follo teh oranj hoers ...

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    The good thing about BronyScot is that it's fairly obvious where it's going to be - realistically, it'll either be Glasgow or Edinburgh. Once you move south of the Border things get a little less clear-cut - one of the things I learned is that in terms of location there's no way you can please all of the people, all of the time. A few things were tried, including alternating between 'north' and 'south' (eg. York and Portsmouth), before finally settling on locations which were approximately in the middle somewhere but still had decent rail links. People still moaned about it, but that's people for you.

    I think UKPonyCon pretty much nailed it, location-wise, with Leicester - East Midlands airport is fairly close (some of the Scottish mob flew in, if memory serves) and the rail links are pretty good too (for me, change at Sheffield - job's a good'un). Accomodation was a bit of a crapshoot because there was a Rugby World Cup match the same weekend, but if that hadn't happened then it would have been even more straightforward.

    Manchester is a good location too, for much the same reasons - good transport links, and a relatively easy to get to airport. The downside, as the BUCK organisers evidently found out, is that any venue remotely near the centre isn't going to come cheap (it was mentioned in another thread that hiring EventCity was £20k less than Manc Central :eek: ) and as a result attending won't come cheap either - BUCK weekend is costing me around £500 before the swag budget gets taken into account. BUCK is my 'big' convention for this year - next year it'll likely be GalaCon.

    The one thing that would stop me going to a 'national level' con is having it in London - sorry, but given the costs involved getting and stopping there, even for a long weekend, just make it unviable. Imagine if GalaCon was held in, say, Berlin - you can bet the costs would skyrocket (not the best example, but the first which came to mind)

    At the risk of stating the bloomin' obvious, BUCK appeared in the right place at the right time - being a brony was a Thing and they were able to tap into that, hence attendances of 1000+ - 3-4 years down the line and things have settled down a bit, leaving us loyal, happy few gallivanting in the universe of pastel equines. The 'critical mass' just isn't there any more - maybe it'll reappear if/when a new gen appears or when the movie comes out. Time alone will tell - in the meantime, we've got BronyScot to take up the 'brony con' mantle and UKPonyCon for everything else. It's not ideal, but then we don't live in an ideal world.

    As I have mentioned already, I think the forseeable future lies in 'medium scale' events like BUCK LDN - sort of a halfway house between a large pub-meet and a small convention, attracting maybe a couple of hundred people and some vendors. UKPC and BronyScot seem to follow this model and it appears to be working pretty well for them. Restricting such things to London would be a big mistake, though - have similar (additional) events in, say, Leeds, Manchester, Bristol, Cardiff or wherever and I think they'd work pretty well. Heck, even 'fringe' meets at MCM would work pretty well.

    My two-bits worth - my days of organising things are long gone for various reasons (I'm more than willing to help, but won't get involved in the nuts and bolts of things), but that shouldn't put people off stepping up to the next level, just make sure you a) know what you're doing, b) have easy access to people who know what they're doing and c) both of these.
     
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  9. Wonderbolt

    Wonderbolt Honorary Pony

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    I think part of the problem has been event organisers have always thought to big, they felt that they have had to have a large venue and guests ect. If they had a smaller venue they could save so much more money and do we really need to have guests.
     
  10. Irregular Apocalypse

    Irregular Apocalypse Follo teh oranj hoers ...

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    If you're running a medium-sized event then guests would likely fall into the 'nice to have' category - anything bigger and guests are pretty much a given, I think. However, like everything else, getting guests costs money. Sometimes it's a lot of money - case in point: the 'main' guest at MCM Manchester will be Peter Davidson; it probably cost much less to get him to appear than it would, say, David Tennant or Matt Smith.

    It's all about managing expectations - that is surprisingly tricky business.
     
  11. Cloudane

    Cloudane Element of Mostly Excessive Verbosity

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    Having thought and worried aplenty about this in the last couple of days I've come round to the thinking that the conventions haven't necessarily had it just because BUCK has. With the greatest respect and gratitude towards the BUCK guys, aside from it trying to be better than can be feasibly maintained long term, Mav et al were clearly jaded back in 2014 the first time its future was called into question (really hope that's not taken as an insult. I'd be jaded after working 2 jobs for this long too and it never showed in the events themselves one bit, but it showed in things like the hiatus announcement and forum communications) and I just don't think that's really changed. They wanted to do this for everyone else because they're lovely people, and they did a brilliant job (as I'm sure BUCK16 will be), but it seems weren't enjoying doing it (understandably. I couldn't do something like that myself. One job is enough.) The hiatus was meant to try and rekindle their love for it and find a better business model while still trying to run the same massive convention and well... obviously didn't work, neither financially nor in reducing the stress of organising it.

    It's probably true that the demand isn't there now for something this big either though. Don't know about others, depends how far away they are and what they do for accommodation, but it's like £400+ out of my salary each year as well. I wasn't ready to stop attending them yet (don't know when I would've been! I snapped up this year's tickets before they were properly announced) but it does get more difficult to justify each year when people in my life want to do new things, maybe want to attend some sci-fi cons etc. For many of us it'll have been more justifiable early on when it was still new and still at the "big bang" stage than now when they've been 1-3 times already, have rooms chock full of merch already (bad news for vendors) etc. I don't think the fandom's dying, but it's no longer expanding at "birth of a universe" kind of rates like it was in 2012, so we don't have the number of wide eyed newbies we used to, experiencing new things and starting their merch collections.

    It's also a population that's already "growing older", as silly as it sounds after just a few years, because when I started out it was almost all guys in their late teens and early 20s, with the party animal tendencies that go with it. It's not a fad, clearly, and is more diverse now in age and gender - but there have been "fad aspects" to it that I think drove the massive glitzy party-hard conventions.

    What I think we'll see is smaller and less glitzy stuff like BronyScot (I hope they don't take that the wrong way, as it was super cool :)) and other smaller and more traditional conventions in those good ol' hotel rooms. BUCK was always unusual. It blew me away the first time I went (almost literally. Bridgewater Hall is very airy!) as every other convention I've been to for things (mostly computer things) has been a gathering in a hotel conference room with a few tables and a projector. I remember even just simple little things like going into that massive auditorium when Laserpony was on and thinking "goodness, this alone is something I'd have paid at least this money to come and see". It's "what could pass for a huge national event, run by a few guys on actually quite a small budget compared to how it feels".
    The feeling of suckage comes from knowing this is the last time to experience the sort of "premier league of Brony conventions" at least without going to the US or maybe Germany but it comes from it being so darn good. Unsustainably good. I'd like to have fish and chips and chocolate cake every day, and that's not sustainable either. It's a lifetime memory though, easily. Also I know other things that have gone but had extremely successful one-off reunions 10 years later - something for BUCK Events to mull over maybe - year 2026, Bridgewater Hall (loved BUCK14, but BH has that nostalgia factor), Pride weekend - let's do it ;)

    Heh, tell you one other lasting memory: coming out of Bridgewater Hall in 2013 and having a massive group hug next to Tom the rock. Can we get away with all just meeting in Manchester for a hug once a year and hang out with Tom? Can we be in the papers for "the community that travels from all ends of the country and beyond every year just to meet up for a hug"?
    If dedicated pony conventions do fade I think they'll always play a big part in other "geek/nerd" type conventions like the Comic Cons etc. But then I look at something like Blake's 7, which is an obscure sci-fi that had a cult following in the late 70s and early 80s. Still has conventions today. http://www.conventions.org.uk/redemption/links.html We will probably end up leaving the "massive epic glitz and glam stuff" for your multi-purpose cons and expos, which is where they'd normally be expected to be. MLP just had possibly never-seen-before levels of initial hype.


    I think it's alright. Too much of a good thing can desensitise you to it. Ending now, I want more, and will have fond memories of it forever.


    US cons seem to be doing well still. Not entirely ruling out Mohammad going to the mountain...
     
    #11 Cloudane, 11 February 2016
    Last edited: 11 February 2016
  12. Loganberry

    Loganberry Element of Custard

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    I think there's a good deal in that. I'm sure a lot of it's because of BUCK, and people thinking that that's a normal size for a pony con. It's not: it's way bigger than you'd expect, and far larger than anything most fandoms get close to. As @Irregular Apocalypse noted from another thread, BUCK moving to EventCity saved £20,000. That difference on its own is about four times BronyScot's entire budget! :eek:

    As for locations, I think another trap people fall into (again, partly because of BUCK) is the idea that a pony con must be in a huge city -- and huge cities tend to be expensive, even when they're not London. I think it might be more sensible to look at second-rank cities/large towns with good transport connections. UK PonyCon did this with Leicester, and it worked well. I don't know for sure, but I'd bet that Wolverhampton venues would be cheaper than similar places in Birmingham city centre, and Stockport would be cheaper than Manchester city centre.

    Also, @Cloudane's point about the fandom growing older is relevant, since (generalising wildly) older fans are probably less likely to want to stay in hostels and travel by Megabus. I think any new con would need decent rail connections, as well as a reasonable supply of budget hotel accommodation nearby.

    Of course, this is all pie in the sky as things stand. Sadly I don't have the ability to run a convention for a variety of reasons, and it may well be that nobody who does will be able or willing to do so. If so, then it won't be the end of the world, especially if BronyScot and UK PonyCon continue to be successful. But there's no harm in dreaming. :)
     
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  13. Silver Broom

    Silver Broom Tireless Traveller

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    I know it's not the main point you were making, but as an aside, Berlin isn't actually that expensive, partly because it was separated from West Germany during the Cold War. Germany's industries are spread across multiple cities: the most expensive is Munich, but even that doesn't come close to London prices.
    And of course, Berlin is home to Brony Fair, which had around 300 attend last year.

    Conversely, location expense is one reason Brony Days moved away from Paris to Nantes last year (although this made it more awkward to get to which is why I didn't go).
     
  14. Wonderbolt

    Wonderbolt Honorary Pony

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    Finding such a location may pose something of a challenge however even smaller citys/big towns can have poorish rail links unless your coming from London. (If we take Stockport as an example London to Stockport is a simple trip but if you were going the other way say Glasgow to Stockport you would need to make 2 or 3 changes).
    I think one of the greatest challenges is the way the UK is set up with poorish transport link outside the biggest cities and also as mentioned above by @Silver Broom the exuberant prices big UK cities can command (due to being seen as desirable and having the better transport links) compared to continental Europe (and I would also guess the US is much cheaper but that may not be the case).
     
    #14 Wonderbolt, 11 February 2016
    Last edited by a moderator: 11 February 2016
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  15. Loganberry

    Loganberry Element of Custard

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    I think that's unduly pessimistic. After all, I had to change twice just to do Kidderminster-Loughborough (where my hotel was) for UK PonyCon, a much shorter distance than Glasgow-Stockport. Even if you have a con in central London (which won't happen, for cost reasons) then people will have to change trains. Given the number of people who happily travelled to Leicester, I really don't think something like changing at Manchester for Stockport is likely to be a deal-breaker.
     
  16. Cloudane

    Cloudane Element of Mostly Excessive Verbosity

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    The place I'd have really struggled to get to was MLC's original destination of Norwich. North-West to far South-East is an extreme journey and costs an amazing amount on the train. It's not often I get to say "London would be much easier" :p
     
  17. Mavromichali

    Mavromichali BUCK 2016 & BUCK LDN

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    I think the posts above mine have hit the nail on the head.


    The fandom figures that I have from places like Derpi or Fimfic show a plateau in growth over the last year or two; and as has been pointed out, these are people who are getting older, making changes in their lives (university, moving out, getting a job etc) and who are generally less invested in the fandom than they were previously.


    A friend of mine outside the fandom, but in general geek culture, pointed out that being a brony is kind of accepted these days, and so because there is nothing to fight for, complacency about it has set in. We may see an increase in the wider community taking a partial interest in MLP, but the days of the die-hard fans who will buy a 20% cooler ticket 6 months before the event are gone.


    It's also worth mentioning that the costs increase every year. We've had to do some serious finagling to keep costs down just to maintain the same ticket price as 2014 (one of which was changing venue). [2014 tickets were £80 for the Con and £20 for the SSC, as they are this time]. The UK just isn't set up for anything other than small conferences (sub 1000 people) or massive expos with sponsors and vendors paying hundreds or even thousands for a spot.


    The UK brony scene has always revolved around music. This precludes a lot of venues. Most clubs in the UK can't fit more than 1000 people in them. I think only 3 or 4 hotels in the country can, but they can't take the weight of the equipment we hire and there's noise issues. Most conference centres are not only sub-1000 capacity but have fixed seating in their largest rooms.


    It takes over 9 months to plan a convention, and it requires up to 100 people. We've had less and less staff apply each year since 2013. This puts added pressure on those who are involved. We're missing key staff in teams like PR which has impacted our ability to converse with our attendees through social media. BUCK means having a 16 hour day for 6 days a week for 9 months solid because as soon as you get home from work, then BUCK work starts. We're all worn out. Me personally, I have worked BUCK full time the last 2 years now, and my own finances are pretty much wiped out now. It has also seriously damaged my health to the point where I now may require major surgery. It is important to realise that these things will impact your welfare both financial, time-wise and health-wise.


    The big Manchester meets no longer run. I don't think the Leeds/York ones do either. The LDN meetup also stopped last year, and only ran for November's Season 5 finale because BUCK offered to help pick up the slack with the 2 guys left who were willing to carry on. BronyScot appears to be doing okay so far with their 'large meetup / small convention' style of event. I'm not sure how well this would transfer to England because of distances and transport connections between the major population centres. We've struggled to get Londoners up to Manchester when it's just a single train or bus journey away; let alone anywhere else. Likewise accommodation is also an issue as only the major cities have hostels and cheap hotels. Even EventCity has been problematic here because the nearest hotels are mid-tier. The cheaper hotels and hostels are in the city, which is a bus-ride away (yes there are buses before and after the con, directly from the venue to the city: £8.60 for a day ticket).


    I think that we're more likely to see UK PonyCon take up the slack, but even they are finding out that once the numbers increase you're dealing with venues that can be less than helpful. I'm not sure what we'll see happen with the fandom, but we've seen lower response in ticket sales, lower response in volunteers and a lower response in community members offering to run workshops and events. A trend like that cannot be ignored, and I think that the time of the large scale pony event is now done.


    This is the last BUCK. Please don't be complacent and think that others will support us in your place. We still need your support to run it, all the way up to the day of the event (we sell a big chunk of tickets the week before); and our ticket extras pay for half our costs: we rely on your generosity in making this happen.


    Now is the time to pull together as a community for one last hurrah, before considering what the future may bring.
     
  18. Cloudane

    Cloudane Element of Mostly Excessive Verbosity

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    Ironically I have a thought that this might revive some of the smaller meets. Or maybe not, if all the Twilight types have spread their wings and no one has the time/skill/desire to run them. But just thinking when the big conventions tail off, there will still be people wanting to meet up, with a bit more money from not saving up for a big event. I never went to the Manechester meets for example, with the reasoning of "well I'll be there later in the year for BUCK anyway"

    Yikes... don't think anyone would've wished you to harm your health in all this :( That's more important - best wishes for your recovery
     
  19. Loganberry

    Loganberry Element of Custard

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    Thank you for giving us all a dose of hard-headed realism from someone who's been through it all, which most of us have not. In particular, it's very sad that your health has been hit so hard by this, and as @Cloudane says that's far more important than anything the rest of us might be chatting about here. I certainly join him in wishing you all the best there.
    For what it's worth, I did think quite hard about whether to hold off on starting this thread until after April. But people were already starting to debate the subject in the "The End of a Chapter" thread, and it was clear that waiting two months to discuss such things wasn't realistic. Better, I feel, to have things discussed in a separate thread like this than in the BUCK thread -- which deserves to be allowed to be focused on BUCK, BUCK and more BUCK.

    But yes, you do make a fair point. I can't go to BUCK myself (many reasons, some personal, not all financial, none complacency) but I certainly hope that many, many people do and that the con is indeed "one last hurrah". Basically, I want to be sad that I couldn't make it. So as I've said all along: if you can go, do it.
     
    #19 Loganberry, 12 February 2016
    Last edited: 12 February 2016
  20. Boring Ugly Pink Earth Pony

    Boring Ugly Pink Earth Pony The Laughing Mare

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    With regards to BUCK "replacements", another potential source would be if enough organisers from the anime con scene were interested. The big names in the anime scene have proven experience in running cons of all sizes at a fraction of the price of BUCK.
    Sadly, I don't think there's as much interest that I'm aware of from the committee level positions in those cons, so I'm not ready to get my hopes up.
     
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