Ever since Fun Publications lost the Transformers license and Hasbro decided to run their own convention, fans couldn’t help but compare what Hasbro is offering to what BotCon has given us in the past. Did Hasbro bite off more than they could chew with HASCON? Should have Hasbro let Fun Publications continue being the Transformers license holders for another year or two? Continue reading and you be the judge.
Debuting in 1994, BotCon grew into a fan-favourite institution even before being anointed by Hasbro as the official Transformers convention in 2002. So eyebrows were raised when Hasbro filed a trademark application on April 12, 2016 and gave us our first hint of the coming of HASCON. It was formally announced in October that year: “the Ultimate Entertainment and Play Experience“, featuring all of Hasbro’s brands including G.I. Joe, My Little Pony, Transformers and more. Was there room in the market for HASCON and BotCon to coexist? There might have been, but it didn’t matter – Hasbro withdrew the Transformers license from Fun Publications, and both BotCon and the Official Transformers Collectors’ Club found themselves staring into the mouth of Orson Welles.
A Hasbro-run convention sounded promising in theory, but the fandom had concerns. First and foremost, this lumbering behemoth had crushed the widely-loved BotCon, an annual pilgrimage cherished by fans for literally decades. And how much of an alternative would HASCON even be? How do you fill BotCon’s shoes when your attention is not solely focused on Transformers but divided between Ponies, Joes, Magic the Gathering, Nerf and even Play-Doh (seemingly the star of the show if the HASCON website
is anything to go by)? You probably can’t. HASCON may bring some quality stuff to the table – certainly they can throw a party that outdoes anything Fun Pub could afford – but will the Transformers experience for HASCON attendees survive being watered down by sharing the stage with Hasbro’s other brands? BotCon was an intimate affair, a gathering of family and friends driven purely by fans, motivated by the love of Transformers. HASCON, which one might assume is primarily a marketing tool, is not likely to be that.
Year after year, through both BotCon and the Club, Fun Publications (working with Hasbro, of course) pumped out an amazing array of toys, often based on the most obscure characters. Fans were offered an endless parade of characters and concepts that Hasbro would never dream of trying to push at general retail. And the wound is even more painful since Pete’s Robot Convention in June showed us the creative direction the Fun Publications team would have taken with the Titans Return toyline. Will HASCON continue to scratch those itches? It seems more likely that the void will remain unfilled, or lead some people to third party companies.
HASCON has lined up some spectacular guests for followers of their brands – Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Mark Wahlberg. Voice artists, toy designers, IDW creators. But for every Marcelo Martere or John Warden, there’s a football player or a baseball guy or a rapper. There’s a lot going on in HASCON’s head that doesn’t tie back very neatly to the brands they’re celebrating. And that’s okay, they can invite anyone they want, but will BotCon mourners get their fill of Transformers if Optimus Prime is competing for time not only with Twilight Sparkle and terrifying Play-Doh tubs given life, but also Stan Lee and Dude Perfect? HASCON’s guest list is packed with big names, and what those names tell us is that this is an ambitious convention that is indeed working hard to be “the ultimate entertainment experience”. Whether that entertainment experience satisfies fans who forked out their ticket money hoping for a weekend of Fluttershy or Dreadnoks remains to be seen.
And those tickets do require a big fork. Adults pay $60 for a single day, or $165 for the full three day event. And while the schedule features lots of great panels and performances, many of them require an additional payment (in many cases as high as $200) beyond the price of entry. And that’s before we get to the $642 VIP tickets.
And here we are in August. The convention is less than a month away – how are those ticket sales going? Discounted prices have started floating around, beginning with a promo code from Hasbro in July and now followed this month by a fifty percent discount through Groupon
and for fans of Transformers: Earth Wars
a $250 sliced off the price of a VIP package when preregistering with the promo code “BACKFLIP” (valid until 8/22). Really, Hasbro? Backflip
? Maybe there’s nothing of note happening here, discounted tickets are hardly unheard of. But maybe Hasbro is feeling some of that skepticism their fanbase has been putting out, and maybe slow ticket sales have given them that message more firmly.
In a few weeks we’ll know whether the inaugural HASCON is a success. But more importantly, we’ll know what else it is: is it a convention for toy collectors that shines with its unprecedented access to Hasbro and their brand teams? Is it a blandly generic entertainment con for people who like celebrity autographs and overpriced meals? While it can’t be what BotCon was to so many people, I’m sure it will give people a chance to forge new memories. But hopefully those memories extend beyond asking people “Why is Flo Rida at this Nerf convention?”. Join the discussion and let us know your thoughts here in our forums!
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