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Modernizing MarsCon
Posted Mar 8, 2010 - 10:03:24

A Happy PictureSo as most of you know, I was at MarsCon this last weekend (the one in Minnesota, not the one out east). I'll be posting my full report on the event later this week, but I wanted to talk about a few things before hand that weren't about my own weekend: MarsCon needs to Modernize.

Before I get started, I want you to understand that I love MarsCon. It's the only science fiction convention I still fit into my schedule. I've been helping run the No Brand Con room party there for years because I love being at this convention.

But MarsCon's attendance has been dropping off these last few years. The estimate I heard about this year's attendance was only 500 (Edit: I was corrected in the comments, Attendance was 727), which is much smaller than it's been in previous years. The attendees are also aging, with far fewer new folks coming in. Let's face it, I'm twenty-nine years old, and I'm at the young end of the spectrum. I'm used to running conventions where people my age are considered "The old guard," so it's strange to be the kid again.

That said, I want to give some advice to MarsCon on how they can attract a newer, younger crowd without abandoning the awesome identity they have. So, with my love of them in mind, here is my unsolicited (and likely unread and unwanted) advice:

  1. Redesign the Website
    This is the easiest thing to do. The MarsCon Website looks like it's ripped straight from 1998. This is the first impression potential attendees get when they look you up, and when your website looks that antiquated people assume your convention is. A modern design doesn't just signal professionalism, but also makes people feel like they aren't going to end up at a 6 hour "Blake's 7" lecture.

    (And yes, I love Blake's 7, but even most of MarsCon's attendees haven't watched it these days.)
  2. Offer Day Passes
    I don't mean the reduced rate weekend passes that they do now -- but genuine, actual day passes. People under the age of 30 are, for better or for worse, poor. There are many college students who would love to go to MarsCon, but who can't justify a $60 weekend pass. Offer a $20 day pass, and suddenly more people are going to want to come.

    Take the No Brand Con people for example. I have never gone to the Convention Proper at MarsCon because, well, I'm poor as dirt. I show up, run a party, and pretty much never leave the No Brand Con room all Saturday. Why? Because I'm there for one day, and I can't justify spending the (reduced rate) $40 for one day of a convention.

    So rather than spend my Saturday shopping in the vendor room, or going to panels... I sit in a hotel room, browsing the web on the dreaded-ethostream wireless, and pretty much end up being bored until the party that I'm running starts.

    I am not the only person who does this, and I can think of more people who would have come with if day passes had been available. I know that I could have gotten at least 10 more people registered myself -- so as a con that needs to attract more people, it's something to consider.
  3. Change your Volunteer Policy
    Okay, so the whole "Register and then we'll reimburse you for the future!" worked great fifteen years ago. Except that it didn't. I've never liked this, and let me tell you why. You're adding a barrier to volunteering which will prevent a good percentage of people from helping your con. That aside, when someone volunteers, often they bring friends who then pay to get in. It expands word of mouth, and gets more people in the door. Someone might volunteer to try out your con, and then pay to go the next year.

    There's a reason grocery stores give out free samples.
  4. Highlight the content which will bring in younger people
    Now I am not proposing that MarsCon change any of its programming. While things like Anime draw in a younger crowd these days, if MarsCon tried to become an Anime con, it would be a disaster (and kill what makes MarsCon, well, MarsCon). That said, MarsCon does have programming that would attract newer people.

    For instance, Table Top Gaming has a presence at MarsCon which doesn't get enough press. Targetted advertising in gaming stores highlighting this content would attract people who would enjoy parts of MarsCon's already existing programming.

    And if I recommended anything be added to their programming that isn't there now, it would be the addition of a Video Game room. Your existing attendees will love it, it will bring in new people, and more and more it's being seen as a standard feature at any convention.

Now all of this is just my own opinion, and I'm not speaking on behalf of anyone but myself here. I love MarsCon and I want it to succeed in the long run. I'll post my full report on my experiences later this week (likely Wednesday or Thursday) even if I have to forgo the stick figure cartoons.

As the con season is in full swing, this weekend I'm going to Anime Milwaukee - which will be a very different experience... and I expect to feel old again.
- Traegorn

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Trae, I love all of these suggestions!  MarsCon is DOWN THE STREET from my house and I don't go.  Why??  DAY PASSES!!!

That said, I do know several people on ConCom for MarsCon and I will pass along your suggestions.  I can't make them listen, but I can and will tell them!
Well, y'know, I have been doing this for a while. :P

Many scifi cons are dying or have already died because they aren't able to draw in a new generation.  The anime cons are a whole new generation -- many of which have attendees who actually don't care about the Anime part and are going just for the Table Top Gaming/Video Gaming/Parties/Boffer Fighting/Costume Contests/Geek Comraderie that they offer.

I would never suggest that a scifi con change it's core programming, but as they also offer most of these other things... it makes no sense to me that this large portion of Anime con attendees aren't showing up to the Scifi cons as well.

MarsCon would do well to focus on this demographic, as well as promoting it's party floor which is by far the best I've seen at a convention this size.
I think the demographic is a huge issue here.  I'm originally from western Iowa and in the late 90's pretty much the entire reachable con scene seemed to dry up.  So for anyone up-and-coming you went to the anime cons to get your fix.

Oh and day passes, but that's something that all cons need to implement.  It's not a matter of affording it that's my issue, it's that many times I can't be the whole weekend so it gets hard to justify spending $80 for a single day.
wow,  you weren't kidding about the website.  Yeesh.  A webring, even.  Webrings aren't an issue in and of themselves, but as a prominent feature of their main page it's kinda silly.  The thing is replete with HTML 1.0-style blue links with no content framing via css and tons and tons of white space.  If I didn't know any better I'd say that I had designed it, and that's not a compliment.
You guys are being too harsh on their website. They only need to add frames and embed a MIDI of their theme song and they'll be just as modern as any other tripod or geocities website out there. 
Nothing can beat the secret No Brand Con website.
I had never heard of blake's 7 till this blog... Now I actually would like to see it...
Yeah, 2 and 3 are precisely the reasons I wasn't able to go, this year.  The money was just too tight to be able to justify it, even with off-site crash space that would have been free.  I even wanted to do volunteer work and that would have been the reason for me to go (can we say "costuming programming?"  I knew we could!).  But with a week-long camping trip to Mississippi, a massive costume project for Costume Con, and two other conventions in the next two months to which I am already committed, I just couldn't swing the $60 it would have taken to get in.

I know that sounds lame as hell, considering I just bought a new laptop, but that was an emergency basis when my old one suddenly died.  I have a small emergency fund, but convention trips do not constitute an emergency.  My life needs laptoppage.

These are all good points and I welcome them all. I am also glad those who made it to Marscon 2010  enjoyed themselves for the must part. A few points, we had 727 people this year, not our best but up there. We do offer day passes and in fact I am wworking out plans to try to add special at the door prices for those in college, police, and Service men.  if you have any other comments or hints email me directly at

again thank you for attending and having fun.

   CL RiversBey                             

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