Earlier this year I went to my first BotCon since 1997 and I took my two sons with me as I figured they’d really enjoy the experience. BotCon, for those that don’t know, is a Hasbro-sponsored TransFormers convention that takes place in different locations every year, usually during the summer. This year is was in St. Charles which is a near Chicago which was well within driving range and since the boys are old enough I figured this would be a great first “boys only trip”.
We arrived at the resort in St. Charles without incident and settled in. The next day we the boys got to experience their first BotCon and of course the first thing we gravitated toward was the vendor hall. I remember the vendor hall as being a place of wonder back in ’97 when I was a young man in my early 20s. Of course at that time, at least to my knowledge, there were really only two types of TransFormer figures. Those made by Hasbro who owns the rights within the US, and those made by Takara who owns the rights within Japan. There were no third party figures in those days. The closest you would get and that for some reasons sticks out in my mind is a version of the G1 triple changer Springer in a Spanish box.
Fast forward over a quarter century to the most recent BotCon and you’ll find that third party figures have been around for quite some time. They’ve varied in quality and value but overall have been reasonably popular. I had actually gone to the convention with the specific purpose of getting the third party version of Bruticus from Warbotron. However, when we reached the first vendor in the hall I noticed that there was a complete lack of any third party figure. That didn’t strike me as terribly odd at that point as I figured it was very possible that they simply didn’t carry any. However, as the boys and I continued to roam the hall, I realized that no one had any. When I finally asked one of the vendors about this they explained that the show had specifically stated that only figures directly from Hasbro or Takara could be sold at the convention. Third party figure sales were specifically banned and that if anyone was found selling them they would be asked to leave.
I was honestly somewhat taken aback by this stance. On one hand I suppose that I can see their point as this convention is very specifically sponsored by Hasbro to the point where they supply the convention with recolored figures sold as collectibles with reasonably high price tags. I feel no shame in pointing this out even though these $15-$20 figures generally get sold in sets where the breakdown is $40-$60 each mostly because I’m one of the crazed collectors that buys them anyway. However, in my mind, it seemed like a short sighted position to take as the figures do a lot to further the range of collectibles available. The money may not always be going to Hasbro or Takara but if I purchase a third part figure that represents some character in which I hold interest it does not generally preclude me from purchasing a similar figure from Hasbro. Especially since their normal figure prices are much less than the standard third party figure. Economy of scale and all that.
Mind you, several vendors had long since figured out how to get around this little restriction by holding private sales within their hotel rooms after the vendor hall doors had closed for the evening. In fact, my sons and I all visited one such room in which I ended up finding and purchasing my Warbotron figure. I even picked up a third party figure each for my sons and they enjoy them still. There was even a group that had setup shop in the hotel across the street from the venue and were simply using one of their conference rooms to sell their third party figures. All the restriction really did was make it more difficult for fans of the genre and specific figures to get what they wanted out of the convention while simultaneously making it more difficult for vendors to justify the need to represent themselves at this convention.
BotCon 2016 is happening in Kentucky this year and is also within driving distance but I likely won’t be going for a couple of reasons. The more honest reason is that frankly I’m likely to be broke and won’t be able to afford the trip but the reason I tell myself is due to the even more restrictive conditions put into place for the vendor hall next year. The folks who run BotCon are now stating that not only are you not allowed to sell third party figures on the vendor hall floor, where they have complete control, but you cannot sell or conduct room-to-room trading or you will be asked to leave the hotel. Frankly, this seems a little extreme as well as neigh unenforceable.
Honestly, with BotCon continuing down this trend 2015 will likely be my second and final year of attending the “official” TransFormers convention. The non-competition, anti-fan restrictions on third party figures combined with the rather amateurish way the convention is put together and run turns me off of the whole thing. I think the next convention I’m going to attempt to attend will be TFCon. This convention seems to be run by fans instead of having corporate backing but I feel that that will make it more enjoyable to attend even if I can’t get talked out of $60 or another redeco of an existing character.