To be honest, AX is less interesting every year. It's still got elements of fun -- we swap war stories with other members of the press corps, chat with friends we see once a year, drink and listen to indie bands, but it's no longer the center of the year. It's a behemoth, and we dread it.
And it's hard to express how sad that is, how much we've relied on enjoying AX throughout the years. We worried, we pushed, but ultimately the boondoggles and mismanagement overwhelmed the bright spots. (And there are bright spots. That's the worst part, in some ways.)
But what can we do? Offer advice and hope. We'll be back, after all.
First, AX: again we had half-empty venues. Not even Pornograffiti managed to fill their space, and they were in Club Nokia! We've said this before, but apparently it has to be said again: Your first goal is to keep main events filled. Otherwise you have fiascos like Morning Musume and Gackt. These acts are lured by the idea of playing to a large and receptive American audience, and you owe it to them to deliver. Charge for tickets if the venue will fill. Charge for better seats or improved access. But fill the hall.
A corollary: a filled smaller venue is better than a half-filled large one. It pains me to sit in the musical performances and to look around and see the hall barely half full. I can only imagine how the guests feel -- they expect a a room full of people cheering for them, only to come out to a half empty venue. It's even worse when there are multiple musical guests, one after another, and half the audience leaves after the first act, leaving the room even emptier for the follow-up group.
This isn't as big a deal, but we'd also like to single out the handling of press photography as especially terrible. For whatever reason, AX's staff determined that photos could only be taken from one's assigned seat. This would have been tolerable if the seats weren't all the way back in the wings. It was a shortsighted policy, and it led to bad coverage. Better coverage might lead to some of that army of cosplayers thinking "hey, we should check out the events!" Just a thought.
Main events aside, the Exhibit Hall ("dealer's room", to us, but whatever) wasn't terrible. It was crowded -- a mixed blessing, but overall a good thing. I heard multiple dealers say that this was their best AX ever, and that's honestly pretty wonderful.
The one major complaint I have is that the layout could have been better. There were a bunch of bottlenecks where the aisle width changed, and this made walking around difficult. We wouldn't complain at most cons, but AX is supposed to be professional, and this sort of layout issue is bush-league.
The other layout-based problem was that the artist's alley arrangement, with seemingly endless rows dividing off the space from the main body of the hall, made it very difficult to reach the poor artists at the back. After fighting through the crowds, it was difficult to muster the strength to get through the choke points at either end of the row. It was difficult to even know they were there.
But it wasn't all negative experiences. I really enjoyed the photography space provided in the convention center. When I first heard about it, I envisioned random backgrounds with one or two props. I was not expecting whole room-size sets with large, elaborate props. And it wasn't just one set -- there was a classroom, complete with chalkboard and desks; a bedroom with bed and stuffed animals; even a torii gate with blossoming sakura trees. The sets provided a much-needed relief from the industrial look of the Los Angeles Convention center. And they were inside, in the air conditioning. Marvelous.
Another good point was that, while the registration lines looked hellishly long, snaking back and forth three or four times under the southern walkway of the convention center, the longest wait I heard about was 2 hours. Two hours, for that number of people, seems nearly miraculous. And they were even in the shade most of the time. Pure luxury!
Now that we put it into words, the major problems seem tied to the ridiculous monetization efforts -- but it's not just the money. We buy our badges, and we like to think that we're getting fair value for them. Surcharges erode that belief, especially on fan-based events like the Masquerade. I'm fine with premium concert seating, but there are limits.
On the other hand, whatever you did to registration, keep doing it, and don't get complacent. Try to find areas to improve it so that the maximum wait isn't two hours out in the Los Angeles heat. And definitely bring back the photo sets. I liked that.