With every passing year, San Diego faces more and more people passing through its streets. As attention for San Diego Comic Con grows, it attracts more people. In the old days, there used to be scalpers hanging the streets and people clamoring for a chance to get into the convention floor without a badge. Although CCI has taken measures like increased security and turning a badge into monopoly money in order to prevent counterfeiters from scalping fake badges to unknowing wanderers in the Gaslamp, the system isn’t perfect.

Instead, they have sought to adopt RFID technology. RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. It’s a tag that is attached to the convention badge that requires verification from its user before entering the premises. Other large conventions have started to adopt this practice including New York Comic Con, Silicon Valley Comic Con, Salt Lake Comic Con*, and CCI’s sister con to San Diego: Wondercon.

[SDCC Blog]
[SDCC Blog]
In the past there have been several pitfalls that I’ve encountered when RFID badges come into play. Largely they are a hassle, an extra step for attendees who might be rushing into the building to catch an event or to get into line. At a convention like Wondercon or New York Comic Con, in which there are multiple exits to a building that con goers can take the RFID system can become a bottleneck at popular tap in and tap out points.

With this year being Wondercon’s first experience with RFID and at a new location, the system was rife with loopholes. Several exits posed before escalators and other exits would malfunction, causing delays and ultimately volunteers and security would neglect the system in order to keep the crowd moving.

Attendees seeking panels within the Microsoft Theater were required to leave the main convention floor and walk across the street to tap into the theater and also proceed through security. Since SDCC frequently holds panels within the Indigo Ballroom at the Hilton Bayfront, the hotel adjacent to the convention, it’s realistic to expect another bottleneck point within the hotel itself.

However, unlike Wondercon, SDCC remains in a location that has been essentially armed to the teeth with security at all checkpoints, and adding the extra step of tapping for RFID is really just another step. At New York Comic Con, this process has also become much simpler despite the crowds who attend the convention.

Another problem arises with the inevitable fallacies of technology. At Wondercon, there were several cases of invalid badges that would not allow attendees to tap into the convention floor. While in most cases it could be a malfunction of the device used to tap attendees in, or a malfunction with the badge itself. At SDCC, where a person might be sitting in line all day to gain access to a panel or a signing or exclusive merchandise, being sent to the help desk and waiting for half an hour can not only ruin the experience but potentially cause an uproar.

The solution to this problem isn’t easy. It requires that security and CCI staff remain understanding and vigilant, while also providing some sort of “bathroom pass” should an attendee encounter a problem that requires them to step out of line to solve.

Essentially it all boils down to time versus security. For those unlucky attendees who have lost their badges in the past, there is seemingly no solution other than to purchase another badge. Without a guarantee that the lost badge isn’t being used, someone who might have made a mistake or had their badge taken would get the raw end of the deal. With RFIDs, it’s potentially possible to turn off lost badges making them inactive for tapping in and out of the convention. Each RFID chip is individual and therefore can be turned off and replaced.

[RFID Journal]
[RFID Journal]
In an attempt to cut down on counterfeiters and scalpers, this is a reasonable reaction from CCI. After being tested in other cons like Silicon Valley and Salt Lake and New York, Wondercon seemed to be their own official trial run. For those unfamiliar with the process, attendees who may have never encountered RFID use, this can be a jarring and potentially restrictive process for them. Here are some of our tips regarding RFIDs and badges.

  • Keep your badge ready. This shouldn’t be an issue for regulars. Security already requires people to have their badge held up and ready to see, now you just have to be ready to tap it as well.
  • Make sure to tap in AND tap out. This may seem like an obvious one, but during points of crowding and the busy hours, there is a potential to be missed tapping in or out. This can present a problem the next time you want to use your badge. The badge keeps track of your movements, so follow the rules and stay in line.
  • Secure your badge. Although the RFID makes losing your badge less of a pain, it’s still important to make sure your badge is secured, especially when you are exploring the floor. With crowds of people and pushing and shoving, it’s easy for your badge to be knocked off of the lanyard or taken off your body. Hook your lanyard into the plastic of the badge holder as well as the metal pin for extra protection, and hold onto it in crowds.
  • Aim for lower traffic areas. This requires some knowledge of the convention center, but if you want to avoid more lines and potential bottlenecking of the masses, walk down further from the crowds. All doors lead into the floor, some just are farther away from your goal.
  • Keep an eye out in the mail. Badges will be mailed to you this year, instead of you picking them up. So it’s your responsibility to keep it somewhere safe until the convention and make sure you have it before you leave for San Diego!

We’ve also accessorized this year with our own customized retractable reel ID badge holders from CorgiKohmander.

As far as our opinion on RFIDs, it’s a process that takes getting used to. But if it clamps down on problems like counterfeiting and gives those who waited and participated in the grueling process of buying a badge the exclusive privilege of attending the convention then we are all for it.

* Since we do not have attendees or press from SVCC or SLCC, we can not give an accurate opinion on the RFID situation that they have. Those with experience please comment below to further the discussion!

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