Home Conventions SDCC '11 San Diego Comic-Con tickets leap to frustration; UPDATE: Four-day passes sold out

San Diego Comic-Con tickets leap to frustration; UPDATE: Four-day passes sold out


UPDATE: Four-day passes sold out about 4 pm EST. Single-day tickets are still available. For now.

To the surprise of no one, when passes for this year’s CCI:SD went on sale this morning at 9 am P.S.T., even the industrial-grade servers at TicketLeap were immediately hobbled. Sales have been going on all afternoon, with this the most seen screen:

However, hanging in and hitting F5 eventually gets you through if you are patient enough.

This is the fourth time that the con has tried to sell badges — the first two times resulted in total server meltdowns, the third was a test to see if TicketLeap could handle the stress.

Although there are problems — and Twitter has erupted with tales of woe and frustration–it appears that ticket sales are going through.

As of about 2:30 EST, TicketLeap tweeted:

@Comic_Con Four-Day badges are almost sold out. One-Day badges are still available. #sdcc

So by the time you are reading this, four days will most probably be gone bye bye and all tickets will be gone by the end of the day.

CCI organizers were obviously not happy with the slow progress, tweeting earlier over the span of about an hour:

We’re obviously not happy with this morning’s events. We are trying to find answers and get to the bottom of this.. While we know the process is slow and frustrating, badges are being processed and sold, so we will keep the site live for now. Badges are being processed at an extremely slow rate and, while you may receive a sold out message, many badge types are still available.

For fans, the process brought out frustration:


And the occasional joy:

Our take: Come on people, what did you expect? Remember when teenagers slept out overnight to get tickets to see New Kids on the Block? This is the digital equivalent and instead of a sleeping bag you get to sit in your comfy chair. While people are bagging on TicketLeap, we’re not sure there’s any way to sell something this desirable without a certain level of computer failure. You’ve got to want it to win it.

Next: Battle Hotel!

  1. Too much demand for not enough capacity and too few days.

    I wonder if they legitimately have considered spreading the show over two weekends? While there are problems and challenges with the idea, there are definitely benefits to it as well imo.

  2. The kick in the pants is this: Today was SDCC’s most successful attempt at selling tickets.
    And for those thanking me for giving you a reason to drink tonight: your welcome.

  3. Two weekends would be hell for the exhibitors. Having to be gone from home that much longer, and added hotel, food, expenses. For the publishers and talent, it’s more time away from the office and potentially more delays to getting their real work done.

  4. Until this year, ticket sales have never been a problem. Not even with the infamous Twilight crowd. (“Selling out to tweens”…hmm, who was reading comics back when this thing started?)

    The only reason it was an issue this year is that everyone felt like they had to pounce on the tickets immediately when they first went on sale, and the fact that the site collapsed under that effort proved to everyone that they were right.

    And now it’s going to be this messy forever until the convention loses popularity. Not because there’s too much demand, but because it’s all concentrated at the same time.

    Incidentally…doesn’t Ticketmaster handle events this size with highly-concentrated demand? I’m thinking stadium concerts and such.

  5. Ticketmaster has done well in the past for high demand. However, their fees are way too high. Expect to pay $20-$50 more for tickets if they go that route.

  6. @Kelson: My thoughts exactly. Is Tickmaster the only game in town for this type of thing? I hope not, since their convenience charge (Orwell would be proud!) is always ridiculous.

    But if I were sitting in front of my computer for hours, hitting refresh and crossing my fingers, I might think otherwise.

  7. They scared people into it. If the first attempt to sell tickets worked, they would have been available longer. With each failed attempt people got more scared. I have gone twice, last year and 08, now its not worth it. Too much of a hassle and moving it wont help, there will always be too many genre fans to fit.

    4 day passes will be made available like last year, a few weeks before the event when people return their passes. It makes sense to buy now and return if you cant go.

  8. @ Drew,

    As I said, there would be challenges to work out. One possibility might be in making one weekend more geared towards the traditional exhibitors and panels and the other weekend geared to the Hollywood types. So fewer people, exhibitors and organizations would feel it necessary to be there both weekends. Perhaps they could slow down, or shut down, the Con on a day like Tuesday to allow some exhibitors to leave and others to move in?

    Clearly the current situation is troublesome and results in fans of every interest being shut out. Perhaps a two weekend system wouldn’t ultimately work, but I think that creatively exploring this option, as well as anything else that might better the status quo, is worth at least some consideration.

  9. Well, after reading about SDCC for years, this is the first time I’m making the trip to go. I was after two 4-day passes, but any time I selected them I couldn’t make it to the next screen. I kept getting the over capacity message and then having to select two 4 day passes over and over again. After an hour and half or this, when they started posting messages that 4 day passes were too few to offer anyone, I went for individual passes for each day and after another hour finally got through.

    TicketLeap was using Amazon’s EC2 system, which as a web developer I’ve had some experience with. You can easily set up additional servers for a day and then take them down. However, the more servers that they use, the more expensive it gets for TicketLeap even if they take them down the next day. They obviously did not set up enough servers and despite all the previous tries still continued to underestimate the size of the crowd. They should have went with their biggest estimates and then added additional buffer to that. Unfortunately, going too big means cutting into their profit margin.

    I’ve seen many fans on Twitter and online say that they don’t care about paying additional service charges to go through TicketMaster, they rather do that than have to deal with the chaos seen today, taking many hours of refreshing to get through and get tickets.

  10. CONGRATS! to those who’ve managed to be online/get onboard/outlasted the green TicketLeap screen of Death to get their SDCC ’11 passes today:

    This day is called the feast of Comic-Con:
    He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
    Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
    And rouse him at the name of Comic-Con.

    He that shall live this day, and see old age,
    Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
    And say, ‘In July is Comic-Con:’
    Then he will strip his sleeves and show his scars.
    And say, ‘These wounds I had on Comic-Con tickets-selling Day!’

    As for ‘Hotelween’, and the scramble to secure walking-distance lodgings to the Con— once more unto the online registration breach, dear Nerds?


  11. Well, I had a 10 year run, I’m satisfied. I missed last year due to a family illness. Now I’m thinking Emerald City is looking pretty good right now even though it’s a lot further away from me.

  12. As an independent exhibitor, this bums me out. The kind of people who got the four day passes with preview night last year (the obsessives) are not the kind of people who buy stuff from me.

    However, 2009 was the perfect balance between big crowds and sales for me, especially on Wednesday. Now I get more folks on the days that sell out the slowest.

  13. I think more people will start going to the local cons, which even if they keep growing, aren’t nearly as crowded or hard to get into. Phoenix ComiCon is one of them, that is also not part of a national “tour”.

  14. This will look like a model of efficiency compared to the hotel reservations, believe me.

    HOWEVER, there is one simple solution to everything and would actually allow the organization to grow…

    move the damn thing to Vegas already.

  15. Note to the guy quoted in the article who had twenty-four (twenty-four!) tabs open – you’re part of the problem.

    It’s no wonder that the site is over capacity if people (and I say people, but I don’t think for a minute that this guy is the only one with multiple tabs or browers open) try and hammer the site. I wonder if the servers would’ve fared better if each person had only one tab open.

  16. You can add servers until the cows come home and it won’t make a difference if you software can’t scale with it. Based on what people are saying and the error messages they got it reads like a fundamental software problem rather than a problem of not enough capacity.

    Maybe the reason ticketmaster gets high fees is because crap like this doesn’t happen.

    What would have been worse: the tix are 20 percent more expensive or this. At least with ticketmaster there would have been a reasonable story to tell buyers rather than making them go through this.

  17. CCI XLII

    All the tickets sold out in one day. While customer service and frustration are valid concerns, CCI and TicketLeap really do not need to improve anything…the system worked.

    Comic-Con is now the Super Bowl. CCI must now expand the event outside the velvet ropes of the convention center to other venues, offering free (or cheap) events for the general public.

    How soon before we see sweepstakes? “Enter to win a Preview Night Pass!”

    CCI should also consider adding an extra day. Make Preview Night “Preview Day”. Then ossify that Wednesday as a regular day and make Tuesday “Preview Night”. Rinse. Repeat.

    Hope you all have fun!

  18. There is a one-word solution to this: lottery.

    If there’s a limited supply of tickets, and they can’t/won’t raise prices to reduce demand, the only practical solution is to allocate tickets randomly. Take pre-orders for a few weeks before the actual sale takes place, then process those orders randomly. This would eliminate the need for huge, expensive server farms for a few hours on that day, and eliminate the frustration of customers fighting with the system for a few hours on that day. Win, win.

    It isn’t a perfect solution, but with some common sense limitations built into the system, it can’t be “gamed” by scalpers any more than the land-rush approach can, and the “unfairness” of losing the lottery is less than the actual unfairness of losing out because you had to work during the sales window or you’re on dial-up or AT&T or whatever. SDCC can contact me if they’d like someone to explain this further, then I’ll win too; I could use the consulting fees. :)

  19. Preview Night can’t become a day because there’s a prescribed amount of time needed for tear-down and set-up between conventions. As it is Preview Night hardly opens on time because empty boxes and piles of merchandise are still being moved out of the aisles.

    People aren’t skipping school and work to get passes, spending thousands of dollars on airfare and non-refundable hotel rooms in the hopes of running into Stan Lee. CCI could solve this, some of the crowding issues and make a pile of extra money by selling separate passes for Hall ‘H’. It already uses a separate entrance. It’s like the Hotel California with people entering but never leaving. No one else can get in anyway. The people hoping to inhale the same oxygen molecules just exhaled by Robert Pattison from a hundred yards away would be happy. Everyone else might be somewhat bummed, but then they’ll be consoled by the illegal footage on YouTube uploaded 15 minutes later. The passes without Hall ‘H’ wouldn’t sell out until June.

    Meanwhile I feel for the CCI folks. Their inboxes must be catching fire today. Some of the rage expressed has been downright scary. They’re just trying to put on a massive festival of fun and escape for people and they’re getting death threats.

  20. And Bleeding Cool is now reporting that while the December test got a half million hits, yesterday they got thirty-three million.

  21. Thank god I pre-reg’d w/Preview Night at 2010. It was fun being a spectator for this, but c’mon, it’s ridonkulous.

    I don’t think that expanding the Con to two weeks is feasible in any sense due to the psychological wear-and-tear on exhibitors across all product lines — comics, TV, movies, games, toys — and especially for those companies/guests that also do panels. Plus, splitting up the media panels across two weeks — even if it were, say, something like TV panels one week, movie panels the other (as opposed to mixed, as it’s always been) — would frustrate the vast majority of con-goers who would want to see *both.* Virtually any scenario I can think of regarding splitting the Con up over two weeks just doesn’t work on any logistical level whatsoever.

    What I think is logisitically feasible but also presents some nightmarish dilemmas — nightmarish in the sense that it could be done without necessarily killing people — would be for Comic-Con to turn into a nationwide festival going on at six or seven-ish locations across the country simultaneously. San Diego would always be the main location, but you’d also have satellite conventions in typical metropolitan areas — Seattle, Orlando or Miami, Dallas or Austin, Kansas City, Chicago, Denver, New York. With headliner con-panels at each according to various considerations of appeal to the region’s demographics and satellite feeds to rooms at the other con sites. Clusters of comics communities (the Seattle gang, the Kansas City comics mafia that includes Matt Fraction, etc) could be headliners at their home locations. Additional TV shows could be added as headliners in non-San Diego locations, such as, say, Grey’s Anatomy headlining in Seattle and NCIS, with its strong following in the middle of the country, could headline in Kansas City. More comics dealers could stay local and therefore save on travel expenses. Some larger dealers might be able to afford to set up tables at two or more different sites. Company X could set up in not just its own home-town site of, say, Denver (hee) but Kansas City as well.

    Yes, because of how long in advance convenstion centers are booked, it would be a royal witch to find suitable places for the first few years. On the other hand, the first few years would be experiments to work out the kinks anyway, so non-prime locations for the additional sites might not be as much as an issue as it might look at first glance. But let’s face it: no expansion of any single convention center, much less the upcoming expansion of the SD Convention Center, will ever be able to even remotely keep up with demand for tickets. Thus, IMO, the con expanding to a multi-city, satellite-linked popculturapalooza is almost certainly the *only* alternative to contemplate.

  22. Eventually, movies will start flopping and Hollywood will lose interest followed by all the star gazers and sdcc will become something more akin to what it once was.

    Let’s not lose perspective and think it will be like this forever. This bubble will burst too.

  23. Drew: What’s that non-profit “mission” of SDCC again? ;)

    Rob J.: I like your idea very much, as it’s a bold, creative solution, but it also provokes a couple of thoughts about SDCC.

    1. We really don’t know who SDCC “serves” any more.

    Who does SDCC serve best? I think most of us can agree the system, as it’s currently set up, helps Hollyweird, major media conglomerates (of which the two biggest comic book companies are an intregal part) looking to promote their wares on a national stage, major toy makers and the media who attack SDCC like the sports hordes glomming onto the Super Bowl.

    The Super Bowl analogy fits very well, especially as it relates to the people SDCC doesn’t serve: Small pressers and countless creative folks of modest means who have been squeezed out of the picture through no fault of their own as well as fans who don’t have the flexibility to jump through all the hoops necessary to get there.

    2. They haven’t managed this success at all well, and that has surprised me greatly.

  24. Last year at CCI I saw panels featuring Carol Tyler, Jillian Tamaki, Larry Marder, Vanessa Davis, Peter Bagge, Gabrielle Bell, Moto Hagio, a gaggle of Immonens, Tom Palmer, Milo Manara, Emile Bravo and Jeff Smith, never waited in line in doing so, and avoided the tough dinner-time crowds by walking a whole half block to the east of the main thoroughfare, with the whole thing coming in cost-wise slightly less than I paid to attend the 1998 show, so there’s still a good and worthwhile comics show there even if I didn’t have money to buy original art from Alvin Buenaventura’s original art collection.

    The world’s continuing passion to see shitty trailers 12 hours ahead of the average dope on the Internet, be in the same room with very pretty, mostly boring people and, best of all, lord it over those who don’t get to do this is bigger than any one on earth could have realized. Harnass that energy and we’ll be on Mars by 2030.

    I’m not jealous of the problems facing CCI has in dealing with that particularly potent and slightly demented force of nature.

  25. Ticket Leap is a joke. Comic-Con is a major event and they should use a major provider not an ancillary player in the independent ticketing space. There is no need to use ticketmaster when there are other providers out there who could handle this kind of load. If i was Comic-Con I’d be pissed that these guys dropped the ball, espeically, after having previous experience and knowing EXACTLY what to expect. I mean, come on, it’s not like these guys posted some brand new product and were blown away that people wanted to buy it in droves. It’s a known quantity and there’s no excuse other than incompetence on Ticket Leap’s part.

  26. Wait… FIVE concurrent conventions at the same time? I don’t think Hollywood would be willing to send out that many publicists, interns, and sycophants at once.

    San Diego ranks 13th in convention center size.

    Move it to Vegas… Fans can take the monorail from the Las Vegas Convention Center to the Sands Convention Center.

    TicketLeap didn’t drop the ball… all the tickets sold in one day. Customer service… yeah, that’s a concern. The customer experience… yeah, it could use some help. But the system didn’t melt down like it did the first time.

    As for diversity… how difficult would it be to rent two hotel ballrooms and stage “SPX West”? Five dollars gets you in. Artists aren’t lost in Artists Alley on the main floor. Tables are cheaper. Lines at the bathroom are not as bad (perhaps have one reserved for the artists). It’s easier to navigate.

    (Sweet Kirby Crackle! The Grand Hyatt could host it’s own convention! Four different ballrooms! 125K sq.ft.)

  27. “Creator-Con” is already scouting out venues in San Diego. When on the calendar is TBD, but not at the same time as CCI, obviously.

    A nation-wide festival would end up being San Diego Comic Con plus a half-dozen tumble-weed strewn halls elsewhere. Everyone goes to CCI because Everyone is there. Everyone gravitates to the venue closest to Hollywood, and as Torsten points out, Hollywood is not going to travel further than it has to. CCI is what it is because Hollywood is just up the road.

    CCI staff are already pondering what happens in 2012, perhaps chatting with the Department of Defense about options. A lot depends on people’s experience at the 2011 con, a lot of them going for the first time. They’ve yet to learn the joys of Hotelween (best case scenario: the servers catch fire), and then… The Lines.

    The trick to enjoying CCI these days is to go with minimal, even pessimistic expectations. Having one goal in mind and only 6,500 chances available (or less for panels in smaller rooms) and 120,000 fighting for them is a formula for a pen stabbing.

    2012 will still sell out, of course. The “place to be” momentum is unstoppable. But I wonder if backlash might moderate the frenzy a bit. I’ve also heard that the last two Twilight films come out this year, meaning no presence next year.

    Or it could be Armageddon.

  28. Tom: A mutual friend of ours coined the term “Geek Vegas” as a more descriptive term for SDCC many years ago that became very popular in the pop culture lexicon.

    In light of last Saturday’s SDCC “sellout” — a word with many connotations — the moniker should be modified to “Geek Super Bowl.” It certain encompasses the growing spectacle, enormity and exclusivity of the event, don’t you think?

  29. Response to the statement in your article – “Our take: Come on people, what did you expect? Remember when teenagers slept out overnight to get tickets to see New Kids on the Block?”. Last year I bought tickets to Comic-Con two weeks after they went on sale and had no problems on my first attempt. I expected to have a similar experience this year. I don’t think ComicCon had that big of a jump in popularity in one year.

  30. If there’s anyone here who wasn’t able to get tickets, some companies are still running promotions for the Con– I know Radical Publishing had one going, but I think it ends pretty soon. The link to it is one their Facebook, here: http://on.fb.me/iTxP6R

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