RFID: What Is It And What Can We Expect At SDCC?

Bending down to reach the WonderCon RFID scanner

WonderCon RFID Scanner

You may have heard that RFID is coming to San Diego Comic-Con this year. Your reaction is probably either “What’s that?” or “Uh Oh!”. Luckily we were at conventions the last two weekends, Silicon Valley Comic Con (SVCC) and CCI’s own WonderCon, and were able to see the technology in use.

Let’s start off with the obvious question, what is RFID? Thanks to wiki we can learn a lot of detail about Radio-Frequency IDentification, but basically it’s the use of electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects. You need a tag (wristband, badge, etc.) and a reader/scanner to read the tag. The scanner reading the tag will give a response based on the purpose of using the RFID system, such as whether one has a valid ticket to enter an event. Each tag has a unique identifying number so individual tracking is possible.

Now that we know the basics, let’s go over how RFID was used at both SVCC and WonderCon.

  • SVCC had one front (six in/five out) and two side (two in/one out and two in/out) scanning points. This worked since the convention’s exhibit hall and all the panels were in the same building. Once you scanned in you didn’t have to scan out unless you wanted to leave the con. WonderCon had two different areas (West Hall programming and the show floor in South Hall) with multiple access points for each. This meant they had to have scanners set up in a variety of places, which required you to scan in and out as you moved around the con. If you wanted to leave the exhibit hall and see a panel, you scanned out and then back in once you walked down the hall.
  • SVCC had wristbands you had to wear all weekend. WonderCon had badges on a lanyard. Both have their pros and cons, but Comic-Con International President John Rogers said at WonderCon Talkback that they tried having exhibitors use wristbands a couple years ago and got a lot of “blowback” so they won’t be using them for RFID.
  • Scanning at SVCC was a screen you pressed your wristband against and the staffer read their screen on the other side and gave you the OK to enter. WonderCon used a small monolithic stand with a small light at the top that turned green or red depending on your badge status. It also beeped, but it was the same tone whether the light was green or red.
  • Both cons required you to tap in and out — though at WonderCon, you didn’t have to tap out at the largest panel room, the Microsoft Theater, located offsite from the convention center.

Here’s a look at those two different systems:

The use of RFID has been growing at conventions over the last few years, with New York Comic Con and Salt Lake Comic Con being two of the larger cons now using it. Comic-Con International announced they would be using RFID at SDCC back in November and since then we’ve been wondering how it would work and, more importantly, how it would affect attendees.

We asked for thoughts on the RFID at WonderCon and here’s what some on Twitter and Facebook had to say:

RFID at WonderCon

RFID at WonderCon

RFID at WonderCon

RFID at WonderCon

RFID at WonderCon

The system obviously garnered a wide variety of reactions. Even people who thought the system worked fine at WonderCon don’t think it would go the same at SDCC.

Will it work the same at San Diego Comic-Con? Will they iron out the bugs? Will it cause huge bottlenecks? Will they raise the scanners?

We’ll have to wait and see on those. But one of the most common questions we can answer is ‘Why even use RFID?’.  John Rogers answered that question at WonderCon Talkback, and it’s very simple. They want to stop people using one badge to get multiple people into the con. If each individual has to tap in and out they can’t carry multiple badges back out to another group of friends waiting to get in. Having RFID also means counterfeiters can’t just print up a fake badge and walk in with a visual check from security. A badge to SDCC is highly sought after and CCI wants to protect the experience for those who rightfully paid to attend. RFID gives them a better tool to do so.

Overall, we feel RFID is a positive for Comic-Con. It will cut down on the cheaters and allow for clear entry/exit points of all venues. There will be some problems and bugs since the system is both new and dependent on the technology not breaking down at any point. In order for it to really work though, everyone has to do their part. Attendees need to use the system as intended. CCI needs to listen to feedback from WonderCon and, most importantly, keep the system up and running correctly using whatever means necessary so attendees aren’t negatively impacted.

What are your thoughts on RFID coming to San Diego Comic-Con? Let us know in the comments.

About James Riley

Photographer, Browncoat, Geek, Nerd.

  • Brent Stephenson

    I want to mention for those worried about initial exhibit hall opening at SDCC, it will be a non issue. The reason being the line to get in the hall is after the RFID gates. If your there early to get exclusives and what not, you’ll be scanned in and standing in line inside the security panels long before they open the doors to the floor. This is how it was done at WC.

  • Jm5150

    Why cant two people scan to go in, one stays, the other takes both badges, leaves, scans both to get out by acting dumb and a little slight of hand, then gives it to a friend waiting outside and they both scan to get in?..the staff at sdcc don’t really care. Ive had the staff INVITE ME INTO PREVIEW NIGHT when i didn’t have a preview night badge. Theres soooo many people the staff simply can’t keep up with everyone

  • Kerry

    Yes! And there’s also fewer entry/exit points, so there should be less scanning than at WonderCon in general.

  • HelloSweetie

    Hmm, of course, they’d also have to repeat the whole process to get back out.

  • Kim Munson

    Actually the SvCC situation was a little different than described, you had to tap in and out for the exhibit hall. Food, panels, and other activities were outside of the exhibit hall. For example all the panel sessions were downstairs near registration. Theoretically, if you went to SVCC and never went to the exhibit hall, you would never have to tap your wristband. It was a much smaller venue than LA, obviously, but it still meant tapping in and out six or eight times a day if you were going to panels and checking out the exhibit hall in between. LA convention center was so chopped up, I lost count of how many times I tapped in and out going from panel to panel.

  • That’s why SVCC used wristbands… I thought it was much better… you always have your wrist at the ready, can’t lose something attached to you, no chance of showing up with the wrong day’s lanyard… much better system.

  • Jennifer Luchsinger

    What is concerning is that Hall H has its own entry. You typically show your badge as you walk in the hall. It’s going to take even more time to load the hall with all that tapping in, and I can see people raising h-e-double hockey sticks if they stayed the night in line, only to have their badge not function at the front of the line; if that happens, the wrath of a geek is way worse than a woman scorned! LOL Adds more stress to an already stressful situation. The offsite panels may have the same type of issue-think about the Conan panel last year, where people were fighting theoretic pitched battles to get in. That’s a concern, too. SDCC is TWICE the size of WonderCon.
    I’m delighted I have a badge at all, but panels are why I attend. I’m not at all confident in SDCC’s ability to make this system work, although I agree it’s a great first step in keeping the badges legit.

  • Jennifer Luchsinger

    Fewer entry/exit points for the exhibit hall-yes. However, lines for larger rooms-such as BR20-are largely outside and run down by the Marina…again, if I got to the front of the line to enter the building and my badge didn’t work, I’d pitch fits six ways to Sunday if I had gotten in line at 4 AM-which is what I usually do. We’re talking about thousands entering all at the same time. There’s bound to be glitches. Has SDCC troubleshot any of this? Let’s just say it isn’t likely…so best of luck to everyone and may your RIFD badge work ever in your favor!

  • I didn’t have any problems with the RFID at WonderCon, though my five-year-old insisted on tapping his badge too, and was really disappointed that the scanner wouldn’t beep and light up like it did for the grown-ups’ badges. (He understood why, he was just disappointed.)

    Also: Any idea if there’s a recycling program for these things?

  • Jennifer Rose Roth

    How will this work for the deaf and disabled?

  • Kim Munson

    There were problems with the badges not working the first day of WonderCon, but by Saturday they had worked it out so the actual taping in and out went smoothly. I hope they learned from that for SDCC. It got repeative doing it over and over again, and it felt a little weird to be tracked everywhere. I’d like to know what potential privacy issues there are with these things.

  • Joe Abrego

    Last year I worked at SDCC as a Volunteer, mostly line management. My biggest concern would be all the exiting and reentering the convention just to move and navigate long lines. It was extremely difficult to keep track of everyone in line. There is just NOT enough free space in the convention to move attendees without having to exit and reentering the building multiple times just to get to a large panel. What happens when someone’s badge doesn’t work on reentry? I don’t want to be the one who has to deal with that.

  • flashlightbuff

    Im all for the RFID badges, but it does nothing to stop people selling their badges when they are mailed out. Rfid badges that require pickup on site and or one time activation showing picture ID is the best scenario to stop counterfit/resale.

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  • Danielle Taylor

    At Wondercon this only was an issue for the first few hours on the very first day- after that, I didn’t hear of any issues nor did I have to wait in any lines. They still have line guards and such to help if you encounter an issue, but there was like no issues or lines once things got going. It really made things smooth at Wondercon.

  • Danielle Taylor

    Well, they do not contain any personal data however I did read another article that explained that they are going to analyze the foot traffic from the use of these badges to improve lines and waiting times in the future…if they know certain times and certain halls suffer from certain fluxes, they can improve the system…but they can’t do that unless they track some data. 🙂

  • Danielle Taylor

    There is a light that changes color and a beep that sounds as well. 🙂 (At least there was at WonderCon)

  • Danielle Taylor

    So, from what I have heard, and having attended Wondercon too, they are not going to allow the regular line up at Hall H like during previous years. I ‘heard’ they were going to be scanning badges at a certain time and place that will basically hold your place in line for Hall H… These badges can prevent lines in general if they use them correctly. WonderCon was such a breeze, I really think this will be a huge improvement.

  • Danielle Taylor

    The trouble shooting at WonderCon (same company as SDCC) was impeccable. There were issues the first morning and within about one hour I didn’t hear about anymore issues for the rest of the Con. I think they have proven themselves just fine thus far to trust a little.

  • Jennifer Luchsinger

    While it’s encouraging to hear that WonderCon went well, again, the concern is that a)WondeCon was spread out across a larger area than the Anaheim venue; and b) SDCC is now even bigger and more spread out than ever. due to the addition of the new hall at the Marriot, and naturally all of the offsite events that do require badges for participation. Also, did the LA venue have a hall as large as Hall H? Did they clear panels? Again, size matters here, folks.

    The RIFD badges are a great step in the right direction-I’m curious to see how this affects how the exhibit halls and panels are populated. Will there be fewer people in the convention center, for all events, due to not being able to pass/carry large amounts of badges to/from waiting groups outside? It sure would be nice if a system were implemented where your place in a panel could be better guaranteed….and with better system than the wristband system implemented last year for Hall H. That was a logistic nightmare to navigate(worth it, absolutely, but still difficult.)

    I’m still very excited!Wore my SDCC shirt today and had at least 5 people in public come out of the woodwork to say that they wished they could go. So I’m delighted to have the opportunity, despite challenges which may be present. A positive attitude and doing your homework (thank you, USDCCB!) go s long way to contributing to s happy Con experience!

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