Events: HasCon 2017 Report & Review
Full Disclosure: As required, BWTF is disclosing that HasCon provided Ben's World of Transformers with a Press Pass to this event. However, it was not used for the purposes of this report. You can read the details on this here.
Before diving into my report, I believe it is important to frame my perspective. I am an Old Skool fan who attended Botcon from 1997 up to the last one in 2016. My experience with conventions goes back much further into the 80's when I used to attend Creation Star Trek Conventions with my mother. I also attend conventions like New York Comic-Con and Heroes and Villains Con, so I have a fair amount of experience being a convention attendee and reporting on them. What this means is that there is a large portion of HasCon that was not aimed at me as those parts of the con were aimed at various groups including Dungeons & Dragons players, Magic: The Gathering players and My Little Pony to name a few. A distinct portion of the convention was targeted to Transformers fans for sure, but it became clear fairly quickly that I and many of my contemporaries were not the intended audience for a large section of this show.
This was more apparent if you reviewed the HasCon guest list which included former baseball players, singers (such as Daya) and NERF trickshot specialist Dude Perfect. This is not to say that those guests do not add some type of value to the show, however fans of Transformers were highly unlikely to be interested in those guests (base don feedback I heard before and during the show). Meanwhile, an iconic Transformers guest such as Sue Blu was never even listed on the HasCon guest list and some Transformers guests only attended panels but were never available for fans to meet.
Quite simply, this was not and will not ever be Botcon. And in order to appreciate this show for what it was, I had to struggle to keep this in mind all weekend long.
Given that somewhat somber note, it is important to stress that for the demographic that HasCon was targeting, they hit the mark brilliantly. HasCon 2017 was held at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence. This is a large venue where everything from concerts to hockey games are held. The gigantic space afforded the organizers the luxury of literally creating a self contained fantasy world of sorts. The entire main exhibition hall was broken up into several sections, each one focusing on a brand. In many respects, this was like a gigantic version of Toy Fair. The great part about having so much space is that it allowed each brand to create a unique experience. The NERF area had a gigantic, inflatable maze that kids could run around in while blasting away with their weapons. The My Little Pony area had everything from photo ops to a boutique where you could have hair extensions put on. Meanwhile over at Furreal Friends there was an area that allowed you to frolic with dozens of the fuzzy toys.
On the more scifi/fantasy side of things, there was a large Magic: The Gathering presence that took up significant amounts of space on the main floor and another floor. Dungeons & Dragons also took up significant space for photo ops and a table where instructors were on hand to teach you how to play the game. Of course, I would be remiss in not mentioning the Star Wars and Marvel areas which were right next to each other. The Marvel area not only featured toys, but gigantic dioramas and costumes used on the feature films. The Star Wars area had toys, sure, but they also had two life size replicas of Rey's Speeder and Luke's Speeder. Meanwhile, functional Droid replicas of R2-D2, BB-8 and R5-D4 were around for photo ops. Star Wars also had an incredible diorama set up that encapsulated the original trilogy using 6 inch Black Series figures.
Saturday was the busiest day of HasCon, and that day saw a ton of kids with their parents. There were points where you could barely walk because there were so many people in the way. Getting photos of display cases was tough because so many people were crowded around them. Almost every single section had some type of play area set up and i do not think any were empty. I heard lots of laughter, appreciative exclamations and kids begging their parents to take them to the next cool thing. Kudos to Hasbro for designing an experience where I do not believe it is possible for a kid to not have a great time. If you are a parent who wants to take your kids to a unique, fun and mind blowing experience, this was it.
The Transformers area was very impressive. Fans who have attended past Botcons or even Toy Fair will be familiar with the layout of display cases featuring the latest toys, but this was much more than that. Here is a breakdown of what the area had to offer:
- Both the original Barricade and Bumblebee cars from the 2007 film were on display. Barricade had Frenzy sitting in his passenger seat!
- A giant "Transformers Prime" Optimus Prime statue for photo ops.
- A giant wall of "The Last Knight" artwork, also for photo ops.
- A "Vault" area featuring Hasbro's own samples of G1 products in glass cases and a series of grey models along with unproduced prototypes.
- A game area where you could play the various Transformers mobile games.
- A movie viewing area with a large screen that played the Transformers films in sequence. Also provided were comfy bean bag chairs to sit in for viewing.
- A big mock up of "Rescue Bots" packaging so you could take a photo looking like you were a toy.
- A "Rescue Bots" display area with several tables of Rescue Bots toys for kids to play with.
- A "Robots in Disguise" display area with a screen playing commercials for the toys on loop. Nearby were "Robots in Disguise" toys to play with.
- A stage for autograph signings and giveaways.
- The "Generations" and "The Last Knight" display cases featuring current and future products.
- Two large dioramas, one focused on "Generations" featuring Fortress Maximus versus Trypticon and the other featuring "The Last Knight"
- An area focused on the "Allspark Tech" figures currently in stores.
- Several glass cases featured props from the live action movies. These ranged from weapons to bags to license plates and even papers full of information (such as Cade's arrest warrant!).
- A "licensed product" area showing off clothing, bags, books and more.
To help fans navigate through this area, visitors were given a card with six sections to be stamped. This guided you from section to section so you got a bit of the experience from beginning to end. At the end you were given a series of cards featuring artwork by several designers on the Transformers team. This was a fun and smart way to help usher people through the experience.
As you can imagine, I was especially impressed with the "archive" display area. Fans do not often get to see grey models of action figures and unreleased prototypes in person, so this was a wonderful opportunity. Also seeing several G1 figures mint in package or on display in a glass case was amazing. Takara Tomy has done similar displays in the past at events in Asia, so it was great to finally see a show in the United States get similar treatment.
In terms of the Transformers exhibition area, the team absolutely nailed it. They covered a wide range of potential interests (from G1 to movies to "Rescue Bots") and there was a ton of eye candy. Team members were on hand constantly to take questions and unlike Toy Fair where you only had a handful of the team on hand, this event felt like the Transformers team was there in force with members involved in almost every aspect of the line's development. A truly impressive showing.
There were some fun Transformers panels including a first look at stills from the upcoming "Titans Return" cartoon and a wonderful panel that focused on women and their role in bringing Transformers to life. It featured several members of the Transformers Hasbro team but Sue Blu was also in attendance. "The Last Knight" panel was a bit awkward as both Isabela Moner and Mark Wahlberg were late to the panels (in Wahlberg's case, he was there for all of ten minutes). My favorite panels were the smaller, more intimate ones that were reminiscent of the days of Botcon.
As a VIP attendee, I had access to several special events. These ranged from a special "The Last Knight" panel to seeing Sue Blue be inducted into the Transformers Hall of Fame. The VIP events were a very mixed affair. There were some amazing highs. Seeing Peter Cullen, Frank Welker and Sue Blu on stage together was a truly uplifting moment for a Transformers fan. Getting to see old photos of Yoke-san at Takara's offices during the 80's actually got me emotional as I realized I was being given a unique window into the early days of the Transformers toy line. Seeing the grey and wood models of G1 Galvatron was absolutely breathtaking for this Old Skool fan. Getting to see the first reveals of several "Power of the Primes" figures was also fun. Earlier in the day, I had attended the Hasbro HQ tour and it was an absolute blast. We were not just shown old prototypes and artwork, but we were also taken through the process of how a toy starts with a basic sculpt, 3D printing, deco and much more. It was a fascinating look behind the scenes that not many fans will ever see.
One of the best parts of the VIP package was the VIP lounge. There, you could go to relax, charge your phone, eat some snacks and if you went at the right time, you could hang out with some of the guests. I would have preferred all the guests make an appearance at one point or another, but this did give me the chance to take a photo with Sue Blue without waiting on line and impress Yoke-san when I told him about my collection!
However, there were several aspects of the VIP package that were not ideal. I will go more into these issues below in the "Room for Improvement" section, but one example was the Hasbro HQ tour bus being forty five minutes late. My group had to ask about ten employees before someone went to get us help to figure out what was going on. Another odd and disappointing issue occurred at the VIP dinner where some fans walked away with multiple prizes while others received none. At the same dinner, VIP fans were only given two drink tickets each, which were required not just for alcohol but water and soda as well.
Room for Improvement
There is a saying that "No plan survives contact with the enemy." and this seems doubly true for conventions. Every convention, whether it is Comic-Con or a Creation Convention have their issues. HasCon was no exception. This section is not a bashfest. The idea of this section is to provide honest feedback and ideas for improvement as an attendee and customer. Given the sheer amount of issues I encountered, I have decided to focus on the four "big ones" from my perspective.
When the ticket prices were first announced for HasCon, to say many people felt sticker shock would be an understatement. Single day tickets were $60 USD for adults and $30 for kids (3-15 years old). In comparison, San Diego Comic-Con tickets range from $40 to $60 a day. While HasCon was a fun convention by any measure, it hardly measures up to the absolute media blitz and variety of events available at SDCC. HasCon's VIP badge was $600 but you had to pay extra for events such as the "My Little Pony" dinner and you still had to pay to get into certain sessions of Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. If a package is truly going to be "VIP", it should have included these items. Indeed, towards the mid-summer, the two Transformers events that were originally two separate events were merged into one, and then eventually folded into the Transformers VIP package. This did not happen for the other brand dinners however.
Many people I know who were loyal Botcon attendees for decades decided not to go to HasCon simply because they felt priced out. In the past if you spent $800 (VIP + a dinner before they changed the package) you would at the very least get a boxed set of exclusive figures and attendance to events such as seeing the Transformers love action film in a theater with other fans or attending a tour at Paramount Studios (along with a dinner party). Clearly they were not alone as weeks before the event, a Groupon and coupon code were released that gave almost 1/3 off the prices.
My suggestions for this issue go in two directions. Either lower the prices significantly, or better advertise ahead of time what people are getting for their money and be sure the events and/or products being offered are worth the price of admission.
Consistency on policies
There were often moments during HasCon where it felt like policies or decisions were being made on the fly. Some of these happened before the convention, others occurred during the con. For instance, there was a couple I met who purchased VIP tickets early on and added the $200 Transformers package. By the time the convention came around, that package was part of the $600 package so they were out $200 each. Requests to have this returned in some way were denied. In my situation, I purchased the $600 two weeks before the "Backflip code" situation and efforts to have the $250 discount given back to me in some way were met with denials. Meanwhile, I met two other VIPs who were in the same boat - and they both did get the $250 back. Needless to say this is less than what you would expect of "VIP" treatment.
Another example of policies being made on the fly involved the HasCon exclusive items including "Titans Return" Arcee. When the VIPs were originally let in (an hour before the general audience) we were told we could purchase 4 of each HasCon exclusive (SDCC exclusive leftovers were limited to 2 per person). However, after standing on line for an hour, that number was reduced to 2 because they were selling through product "too quickly" (or so a cashier told me). Not only was this quick about face disappointing, but it mostly affected VIP attendees who had paid extra to get in early. It would have been a better idea to let those who were in line originally go with the 4 limit, and then cut off the line when the general public came in. Note: By Sunday afternoon around 4PM there was still a giant stack of Arcees and Optimus Prime power banks against a wall and the staff did not seem concerned about them running out.
VIP Package Inconsistency
When registration for HasCon was announced, it was revealed that VIP attendees would be receiving a "gift bag". When you spend $600, you build up a certain expectation of a gift bag. Gift bags were tailored by brand, so a G.I. Joe VIP received a different bag than a Transformers VIP. When I picked up my VIP bag, to say I was profoundly disappointed would be an understatement. There were several items standard to the convention (a HasbroToyShop gift certificate for $100, a cap, a program, a pen and a keychain) and then a few exclusive items. There was a hardcover comic book reprinting issues of Marvel and IDW comics. There was a postcard sized print signed by Peter Cullen and Frank Welker. There was also a set of exclusive pins featuring the faces of characters like Optimus and Windblade. And...that's it. No toys at all. Some toys were given out at the Transformers VIP dinner, but due to the way they were distributed, some fans walked away with multiple toys while other fans had none.
In heavy contrast, the G.I. Joe VIP package included the SDCC exclusive Missile Command Center playset, a package art portfolio set featuring prints of artwork from "Real American Hero" toys. If you attended the dinner you were also given other items such as an additional set of figures. You can see photos of the swag from both the gift bag and dinner here via Hisstank. Many Transformers fans I spoke to were highly disappointed by this disparity between the brands (G.I. Joe fans, in contrast, were ecstatic).
If you are going to use the term "VIP" for a segment of your customers, they need to be treated as such. You cannot have one group of VIPs receiving more than the other. I would hope for future gift bags the various teams would talk to each other to ensure their offerings have some level of parity with one another so no fans feel cheated.
Fans go to conventions to spend money. Some save all year round for it. Go to New York Comic-Con, a Star Trek convention or even some Foodie events and one thing people look forward to is shopping. However the dealer's room outside the main exhibitor floor was a sad affair. Mostly consisting of dealers focused on card games, there was only one dealer with vintage toys and he had about...maybe fifteen Transformers figures and that was it. This aspect of the convention seriously needs to be expanded to attract the general fan population.
As a family friendly event for kids, HasCon is a runaway success. I cannot imagine kids attending and not having the grandest time of their lives and going home happy and exhausted (much to the relief of sleep deprived parents). Hasbro managed to create a magical wonderland using their brands as the foundation. The Hasbro staff was extremely friendly, helpful and courteous. The Transformers area in particular was spectacular and offered more than I had expected. I would be lying if I said I did not have a really good time at HasCon.
All that said, you can tell from the suggestions above that there were plenty of issues with the convention. Some of them can be explained away as "This was the first HasCon", but others were confounding. I also do not feel at all that the Transformers VIP package was worth the price (I might feel differently if I was a Joe fan). I look forward to the future of this convention and I wish Hasbro the best in this new endeavor.
Panels, Photos & Information
- HasCon related tweets
- First Photos & Schedule
- "Power of the Primes" display
- "The Last Knight" Diorama
- "Transformers" Exhibitor Area & "Generations" Diorama
- Transformers VIP Dinner Toy Reveals
- Transformers Archive Display
- Movie Props Display
- Hasbro Brand team interview
HasCon Related News Items
- Official "Power of the Primes" HasCon reveal photos
- Machinima "Titans Return" Cartoon Information & Images
- "Earth Wars" Volcanicus Reveal
- "Power of the Primes" Official Toy Images
- "Power of the Primes" Artwork