At some point you've probably looked at a convention and thought:
"Why does that cost so much?"
This is particularly the case at a convention like Gen Con where you pay for your badge as well as your events. Well, I've recently started volunteering with a convention, I've been running events at Gen Con for a few years, and I looked into what it would take to run an event myself. Let me tell you what, my friends, I have thoughts on this subject.
A - Shit is expensive
B - Sustainability
C - No one gets paid for their time
a - Shit is Expensive
There is a lot more that goes into a convention than just reserving a location. Think about all the little things: tables, chairs, table cloths, water, cups, signage, merch, advertising, website, badges, badge holders, lanyards, printed schedules, walkie talkies, AV equipment, cables, projectors, shelves, hand carts, storage, transportation, staff. Everything costs money. If you want to know more about what all goes into a con, volunteer at one. There are a lot of hidden costs to con running that people probably don't even think about. There are things I haven't even thought about. Everything costs money. And a lot of that money has to come upfront. You can't just throw all of that on a credit card and hope your event makes enough money to break even. Not to mention for cons beyond a dozen folks will probably involve contracts for the space rental, and possibly other things too. Do you have a law degree? Too often hotels and conference centers get confused about what the needs are, or something last minute happens to throw a wrench in the deal and the convention runners get boned on deposits and things. It's important to remember when you look at the final price of admission to a convention, you are paying a very small fraction of the total cost.
B - Sustainability
There's also this idea that conventions make money. Now, sure, some of them do. The big cons that have been around since the dawn of games are certainly for profit ventures. However, for smaller local conventions, they tend to be a labor of love, making about enough money to get things started for the next year. This means that to get a convention started someone has to pay for all those little things that add up to a few thousand (or more) dollars. Then after the convention they have to see if they've made enough money to recoup their expenses, and then what's left over has to get reinvested into starting next year....
That's hard. Especially because there are no guarantees. What if it snows that weekend and no one shows up? Well, you're out that money. What if the convention does really well one year, then tanks the next? Well, you're out that money. What if you see an upward trend and expand, but then things fall through? Well, you're out that money. Because smaller conventions aren't run by big mega corps, they don't have as much flexibility in absorbing losses, so things get planned conservatively sometimes.
B - No one gets paid for their time
I'm going to talk exclusively about Gen Con for a moment. I run games at Gen Con. My prep time for my one 4 hour game session at Gen Con this year was over 15 hours. I had to make up the 8 characters, design the encounter, make up contingencies for what to do if I didn't have a full party, and then I had to make sure I had everything printed out and packed up. At the convention I had to arrive early to make sure the table was set up and ready. I ran for about the 4 hours. I had to collect the tickets and turn them in.
I charged $14 a ticket.
Yes, that's a lot for a 4 hour game when most of the time people don't make money off of them. But for 15 hours of prep plus 30 mins of onsite prep and post game work, plus 4 hours of running the game, I was paid $3.59/hr.
All of those people not charging money for their events are putting in just as much, if not more work, and making $0/hr.
I charge for every event I run. Period. I put in a lot of work. You could argue that I'm getting a free badge and that should be enough. I disagree. We drive up on Wednesday, so that's 9 hours driving, each way, 4 nights hotel, 5 days of food, paper and ink to print out all the necessary materials, plus all of my prep time... yeah, I deserve to be compensated.
About 6-8 weeks after Gen Con, I get a check. That money compensates me for my expenses like food, tolls, gas, and accommodations, but after everything is paid for, I really don't get compensated for my time.
So why do I do it?
Because I love it.
GMs and Event Organizers are doing this because they love it. The love to share their games and their passions with other people. This is a labor of love - but that doesn't mean people should take advantage of that passion and demand free stuff.
Now, talking about something other than Gen Con. A huge amount of work for small cons comes from the volunteers who really want to make the con happen. These people drive multiple hours, do conference calls, dedicate their free time and energy all year, just to make sure other people get to play some games and go to some panels. It's hard work for little thanks. I'm fortunate that the folks I work with a BFG are so nice! They make me feel valued and appreciated. They also respect my boundaries when something is more taxing than I can handle. Not all con organizers are so kind. I've heard absolute horror stories about companies abusing their volunteers to the point where the volunteers don't even get to enjoy the convention. And why do people keep volunteering? Because they love the games.
If a convention costs money, then it's probably for good reason. Be appreciative to the staff at these cons, and recognize that they are doing this because they love these games - these fandoms - these movies - whatever the theme is.