San Diego Comic-Con tickets sold out in seven hours, leaving fans spent

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It didn’t take that long for tickets to this year’s San Diego Comic-Con to sell out after they went on sale yesterday — but it did seem like an eternity for those who spent four+ hours hitting the F5 key in hopes of getting through.

The ticket site — run by indie ticketseller TicketLeap — went live at 9 am PST and immediately slowed to an excruciating halt — it never technically crashed. Those who persevered through fail screens eventually got tickets — by about 6 pm EST, 3 pm PST, all tickets were gone. We’ve already reported some of the bitter reports on Twitter, but this really does seem to have been a year of massive frustration. The TicketLeap site took more than 35,000,000 hits during the ticket buying process…allowing for 100,000 tickets sold (let’s say), that’s 350 refreshes per person, but who knows how many actually TRIED to get on. No wonder that Isotope responded with the “FailFrog:”

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TicketLeap CEO Chris Stanchak has posted more metrics and some suggestions for those still hoping for a ticket:

In 2009, it sold out after 6 months. In 2010, it sold out in 2 months. On Saturday, Comic-Con International 2011 sold out in 7 HOURS (200x faster than last year if you’re keeping track). Needless to say, the demand was unbelievable, reaching a peak of 403,000 page requests per minute (6,700 a sec!) and a total of more than 35 million total page requests throughout the day. But while the event sold out in record time and the system never actually went down, things didn’t go as smoothly as we hoped. We are sorry for the frustration our system issues caused on Saturday and we are working hard to answer all of your inquiries. Here you will find the answers to the most common questions regarding ticket sales for Comic-Con International, and we are working with Amazon Web Services to release a more detailed technical analysis later this week for those who are interested.

This is only a bit earlier on the calendar than tickets sold out last year, but obviously the schedule this year was highly…compressed. Various comic-con fan sites are already filled with plans from those who did get tickets to march straight to the ticket office at this year’s show to get 2012 tickets — where presumably you can line up for hours the old fashioned away instead of the modern way of sitting in front of a computer all day.

The saddest tweets to read were those from people who have been going for years…and got shut out this year. It’s the hotel thing on a far larger scale — it used to be your playground but no more. While we’re not ready to “blame Twilight” as so many did, to state the massively obvious, the ticket demand is not from comics fans but from pop culture consumers who want to be able to attend the equivalent of the Oscars/Super Bowl/Cannes/Sundance. Nerditry has little to do with it.

There were also out and out meltdowns, like this:

WHAT THE EFF COMIC-CON?! I HATE YOU AND YOUR EFF’D UP REGISTRATION PROCESS! I WAS FINALLY GONNA GO AND YOU F**K UP! THANKS TO YOU, I THIN I’LL STAY A COMIC-CON VIRGIN. . .


Yes, yes you will.

As for What Should Be Done, everyone has an idea. Long time attendee Tom Galloway suggests embracing the lottery nature of things…

First, admit 1) above and make the process an actual lottery. While the idea of passing out scratch tickets in every comic store or putting Wonkaesque “Golden Tickets” in random comics (although that does open up revenue opportunities via sponsorship deals; “Five thousand Comic-Con tickets can be found in this month’s issues from TYG Comics!”) is fun, what makes more sense is to do a modified version of how Travel Planners tried to do last year’s hotel registration. Namely, people submit their basic information, and at a certain time a program randomly selects a certain number of winners, either for con or hotel registration. It emails the winners, and they have a day or two to respond at a site, using a sent password, with credit card information and the like. Repeat until out of registrations/hotel rooms. Ration out winners at a rate the system can handle.


it isn’t clear how ANY website can handle the inundation of 33 million hits in one afternoon, but clearly the Con needs to look at the way other big-box events are handled. Our own Matthew Fabb observed in the comments here:

TicketLeap was using Amazon’s EC2 system, which as a web developer I’ve had some experience with. You can easily set up additional servers for a day and then take them down. However, the more servers that they use, the more expensive it gets for TicketLeap even if they take them down the next day. They obviously did not set up enough servers and despite all the previous tries still continued to underestimate the size of the crowd. They should have went with their biggest estimates and then added additional buffer to that. Unfortunately, going too big means cutting into their profit margin.

I’ve seen many fans on Twitter and online say that they don’t care about paying additional service charges to go through TicketMaster, they rather do that than have to deal with the chaos seen today, taking many hours of refreshing to get through and get tickets.


The Ticketmaster option does seem anathema to the egalitarian nature of Comic-Con, and we would never endorse putting more money into their mercenary hands, but sitting in front of a computer for four hours just to give up in tears isn’t the best way to handle things either.

Unmentioned in the massive media coverage of all of this: what does it mean for the COMICS. While dedicated comics bloggers stick by their story of having a great COMIC-con with Gillian Tamaki and Milo Manara last year — something that will doubtless be possible this year as well if you ignore all the Other Stuff — the fact is that they — AND The Beat — are coming from a rarified place. Not to be a dick, but we already have our press passes. We can afford to be relaxed about just getting in.

But what about the casual comics fan? Is there any point in even trying any more? If you want to see Cameron Stewart or Eric Drooker (to pick just two names from the fantastic guest list) wouldn’t it be easier to go to Wonder-Con or TCAF? If you want to see these incredible once in a lifetime movie panels, SDCC is your only shot — there are a dozen amazing shows filled with wonderful cartoonists. While SDCC is dedicated to the comics part of its mission, the people who want that once in a lifetime experience watching Zack Snyder make jokes on a Superman panel are going to be more motivated to sit in front of a computer than the reader who wants to meet Jamal Igle. (No offense to Jamal Igle who we love talking to.)

Getting into Comic-Con is a daunting process. But it’s perhaps fitting that the tickets went on sale the day before the world’s biggest single-day media event, The Super Bowl. How do those tickets ever get sold, anyway?

Those still smarting from getting shut out of a Comic-Con badge can take comfort, perhaps in reading the comments of, say, Australian Justin Bieber fans:

# candy kaveberg says today i tried so hard to get the justin bieber tickets because he is my idol and is amazing.i got my mum to call all day and me and my friends would try and call during lunch and recess to try get tickets. i was so upset that i couldnt get them, because i am crazy about him! it would be my dream to meet him, i was just wondering if you guys were giving away any more tickets? because it would be my dream to go his concert.

# ozge says OMG, I LOVE JUSTIN BIEBER SOOO MUCH, SUCH A HUGE FAN OF HIS, I LITTERALLY CRIED WHEN I HEARD THE NEWS!!!!!!!!!!!!! LIKE OMG. i want V.I.P TIXXXXX

# bridget mcmullen says

the general public tickets come out on the same day ive slept 6 months on the floor for justin! best day ever, is the 13th of december

i started sleeping on the floor on the 13th of june, that day all i thought is what is something i can do for justin so i have now been on the floor for nearly 6 months and i have to do this until i meet him so im hoping theres a way i can do that i dont know how to get backstage passes or VIP :(
someone please help?

# ashlee blight says
it would be sooooo amazing to meeet justin bieber. you have no idea.
so many girls say they love him, but they dont know him properly.
you cant just love someone without meeting them, 
you love his talent.
i really really like justibn and if i ever got to meet himm. or just hang out for one day, omg<3


Okay, feel better now?
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Comments

  1. I have to take issue with this comment, “it isn’t clear how ANY website can handle the innundation of 33 million hits in one afternoon.” The biggest problem with TicketLeap saying they got 33 million hits is they are not including their definition of a hit. If they are using the commonly held definition that states a hit is anything called from a web server to a person’s browser (and I believe they are), then this number really gives us NO idea how much traffic they really saw. Take this page I’m commenting on, for example. This page alone would count for 50+ individual hits. That counts every image, background, HTML file, php file, include file, etc. 50 is not an ungodly number, either — many pages have 200, 300+ hits per page. So, 33 million hits? Really not that many hits once you do the math. 33 million hits does not mean 33 million people. Citing hits is a really bad way of gauging traffic, but an easy way to impress those who aren’t familiar with the terminology. For instance, CBR averages more than twice that many hits every day and has seen upwards of four-to-five times that amount during incredibly high traffic periods.

    Secondly, having 15 years experience with Web hosting and working with high traffic clients, I know it’s absolutely not impossible, nor is it rocket science, to have a Web site stay up and online with heavy load. There are so many options — many OUTSIDE using AWS which, in my experience, can have scalability issues that other content delivery networks do not — that can be used to ensure up time. Ultimately it all comes down to a matter of cost and how much you’re willing to spend, but we’re not talking about 100s of thousands of dollars to handle a single days worth of high traffic.

    According to TicketLeap, it sounds like the problem wasn’t a lack of available servers or bandwidth, but an error in the way their programming was to function. That’s a palce where TicketLeap needs to look long and hard at their code, the way they scale at times of increased load and what sort of fail safes they can put in place. It sounds like TicketLeap has some serious work to do to ensure their clients they can handle loads like was seen this Saturday. What happened Saturday absolutely doesn’t have to happen.

  2. Like I’ve said, and like people who know than me have said, the obvious and simple solution is a lottery, not a bigger pipe and more digital clerks for the land rush.

  3. Hey, I was quoted in the Beat. :-)

    To add what I said, it sounds like from TicketLeap’s blog that they added more servers as things were melting down but they still hit a bottleneck. Just a guess, it could be the way they were accessing their database wasn’t able to scale with the numbers.

    That said, I think Jason A. Quest is right that there should be a lottery system. Or as some others have suggested separate tickets to Hall H. As beyond Twilight, many are attracted to going to see the big Hollywood production.

    Although I admit among the various comic book panels, I would like to see Joss Whedon speak. I only wish I had chosen a year to go to SDCC when he wasn’t ramping up for the Avengers movies, but just say talking about his plans for future Buffy comics.

  4. ~chris says:

    > But it’s perhaps fitting that the tickets went on sale the day before the world’s biggest single-day media event, The Super Bowl. How do those tickets ever get sold, anyway?

    That didn’t go well either.
    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/video/nfl/2011/02/07/020611.angry_fans_super_bowl.mov.SportsIllustrated/index.html

  5. NO on the lottery.

    First come, first served, as it is in a great many situations where limited availabilty/great demand occurs: Movie times— but I WANTED to see AVATAR/TRON/HP 7, Pt 1 on Opening Day! FML! … Concerts— why CAN’T I get into that Sold Out acoustic Bruuuce/Coachella/Lang Lang recital??
    OMFG!
    … Restaurant reservations— what do you mean 8pm Fri Nobu/Sat lunchtime Chuck E. Cheese is UNAVAILABLE? uberFAIL!

    Just imagine THOSE business setting up a Lottery System. Or imagine them even considering it.

    As a “long time Comic-Con attendee”, I’ve seen the signs around ’02, ’03, when SDCC numbers were HALF of what they are today— and I adapted by learning to buy my next year’s passes at the Sun of the current one! I feel sorry for the “people who have been going for years…and got shutout this year”… but I can’t help but think that they could’ve very easily have avoided this situation. ESPECIALLY if they were there in the last 4 years of the Con, when ALL passes were Sold Out BEFORE it had begun, had gone through the yearly mad scramble for passes, and seen the exponential growth in the crowds filling up the Exhibit Floor.

    If instituting a Lottery System won’t work in distributing those 6k ‘Golden Tickets’ for Hall H presentations to the already-attending
    SDCC’ers [see previous Hall H advice columns in this site]— what are the chances that a yearly Comic-Con System would be LESS problematic?

    I think the solution is merely to ride it out: 3,4 years tops, after Hollywood has exhausted all the Big Two/Three? properties for the silver screen, the EW and other Pop Culture coverage will ebb, and the gen/pop interest in “Comic Cons” will then fade away… And SDCC will return to just catering the most hardcore devotees of their specific ‘Comic Art, Films, Science Fiction’ fandoms.(Maybe even including some TwiHards who’ve been ‘converted’ into being Comics fans through their experience at SDCC?)

    Till then, I’ll keep attending. And continue
    on getting my next year’s passes AT the Con.

    /Praemonitus praemunitus

  6. wayne beamer says:

    Ed: It’s wishful thinking to believe that Comic Con will lose its lustre and get back to “what it was,” if for no other reasons than the fact that it’s a relatively cheap, painless and increasingly necessary “evil” method for media companies of many sizes near and far from Hollyweird to promote and sell their stuff and for a increasing number of folks who cover pop culture to find and report on it in one place. If you need any more evidence of that, reread Heidi’s “not to be a dick…” paragraph. I don’t begrudge them that access… They just don’t want or need to care about the rank-and-file comics fan anymore.

    This pop culture world is a much bigger place. Embrace it or walk away…

    The sad part is… If it were merely as easy as going to another comics show, that would be all well and good. To expect the nearest Wizard World show closest to me to feature Milo Manara as a special guest, however, is ridiculous.

    Like I said in an earlier thread, SDCC can’t be called Geek Vegas with any affection any longer. Geek Super Bowl, for all the good and bad that entails, yeah.

    Again, I’m just surprised that the SDCC folks never figured out how to manage change so that their customers’ interests — customers being attendees –were protected. We know who SDCC’s customer base is now. It ain’t us.

  7. Ed, comparing SDCC with a movie at your neighborhood cineplex is ridiculous. Sitting in line ahead of time is part of the fun for the fanatics at those events, so theaters indulge them, and set up extra showings to accommodate them. Or are you seriously suggesting that people queue up early in San Diego to buy tickets?

    Oh, wait. You are. Sorry, but telling people to deal with the land-rush by just buying their tickets even earlier is either completely failing to understand the problem or just outsider-go-away fanboy insularity at its worst.

  8. ~chris says:

    Registering at Comic-Con for the next year’s Comic-Con has worked out for people like me and ed (no, we are not co-owners of a pizza parlor) who go for the full 4 days….

    But what about people who go for 1 day? A friend who has done just that for the last 17 years, who goes only for comic books and who avoids the hassles of hotels and Hall H, wasn’t able to register this year.

  9. I would hate the idea of a lottery system. Plus, it reminds me of that short story by Shirley Jackson.

    I say we should just throw a lot of money at Jonah Weiland so the servers don’t mess up next year.

  10. Wayne— I think you’re right: maybe it is just wishful thinking that SDCC will go back to a reduced state from the heights of the last couple of years’ maxed-out capacity (if not to “what it was”)… I probably was just wishing for a fantasy-Future where I’ll be able to walk down the Exhibit Floor without feeling like I’m in a crowd scene from THX 1138/SOYLENT GREEN.

    I suppose too, that the rise of OTHER “Comic Cons” can’t help but underscore the status of SDCC as THE “Comic Con” that spawned them all— for all the hopeful expectation that the Nerd/Geek population will be ‘bled off’ to attend those other Cons, the lure of SDCC will remain. Resulting in even GREATER
    competition for those future SDCC passes from those Nerds and Geeks who’ll want to go to San Diego to experience it for themselves (if just for comparison’s sake)?

    So yeah: even with the planned expansion of the Convention Center, SDCC’s Exhibit Floor will most likely be the traffic clusterfuck
    as it’s been for the last 4,5 years… dammit.

    Jason— So you don’t agree with my “SDCC ~ Movie Theater times” comparison… so, how about the others? What do YOU do when you’ve been ‘Sold Out’d of a desired Concert show or a Restaurant reservation? Rant and rave about the circumstance, I imagine— make preparations to avoid the circumstance in the future, I suppose?

    I’m sorry, but getting SDCC passes is not a guaranteed right. As with all thing that are Supply << Demand, there'll be those that 'win' and get what they want, and those that'll 'lose' and won't. With those that DO who manage to luck out and get what they want forever outnumbered by the ones who DO NOT…

    If my happiness in successfully securing my SDCC passes while others have not seem to you "just outsider-go-away fanboy insularity at its worst"— sure, I'll cop to it. Because this "fanboy" took the needed steps to guarantee my securing of those passes, sorry.

    Now if only those complaining would likewise cop to the inability to accept the inevitable result when Limited Supply meets Overwhelming Demand. Opening Day movie showtimes, special-event Concert dates, primetime Restaurant reservations [and "Limited Edition" comic books, "Convention Special" action figures, s/n
    1st editions hardcovers, etc. etc.]— you know, sometimes you just can't get what you want. Rage, moan, bitch about it on twitter: but then SUCK IT UP. The world DOES move on,
    cineaste/concertgoer/foodie/would-be SDCC'er
    "entitlement" mindset or no.

    ~Chris— Yeah, SDCC just selling 4-Day passes for next year's Con at the current one is a problem just as you describe. Why buy a 4-Day
    (5 if you include Preview Night) when you could just attend one? My brother had to 'eat up' 2 of the days when he couldn't attend last year's— but wanted to get into Preview Night and bougth the full 4 days anyways.

    Maybe SDCC can resolve this buy making One-Days available for sale along with the 4-Days
    there at the Con…

    /enjoying these sweet, sweeeeet SDCC '11 grapes

  11. o The Beat: Great coverage of the whole situation. We are doing our best to handle all issues that resulted from Saturday. And, we appreciate everyone’s feedback and patience. Here are some updates since the posts and information you above…

    With regards to the Isotope Fail Frog post, there has been update to their post: http://isotopecomics.com/index.php/san-diego-comic-con-getting-you-down#post-2164

    In James Sime’s (Isotope’s) own words: “UPDATE: This was posted in the heat of an industry-wide meltdown with the intention of bringing a few more smiles to the day, and I gotta say, TicketLeap ended up really coming through. Four days later I’ve spoken to literally hundreds of people about this and every single person I talked to got tickets. Every single one. Including the people who asked me for buttons! Ok, so the four day passes sold out immediately (they always do) and the site’s servers were chugging for a while… but unlike the previous two attempts by other companies… these ticket-selling folks did their jobs and are getting all of you folks and all of us folks into Comic Con this year. Also if you check the comments on this very post (link above) you’ll see that, instead of sending their lawyer my direction telling us take this post down and not to send these buttons out, they were actually very cool about taking a little teasing too. A company that delivers the goods and can also handle some negative press with style? Color me impressed! That’s about the most Success Frog the comic industry has ever seen. Nicely done, TicketLeap!”

    With respect to the technical details and whether or not we had enough server capacity, the fact that we scaled up so much (64 servers to be exact) actually exacerbated the problem that we exposed. So, we ended up scaling down the number of servers down to solve the problem during the rush on Saturday. And, that was the only reason we were able to sell out the event (or even a single ticket) on Saturday.

    Here’s the technical write-up: http://ticketleaptech.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/well-that-happened/

    Here’s an article by GigaOM discussing the technical aspects of this cloud computing issue: http://gigaom.com/cloud/scaling-down-saved-the-day-for-comic-con-sales/

    I know it’s little consolation to hear these explanations after the fact, but hopefully it provides a little more insight into that situation and what we’re doing to resolve any outstanding issues.

    -TicketLeap

  12. Holy paperwork, Batman! Comic-Con has been operating in La Mesa for five years without a business license: http://patch.com/A-hLH7

  13. For those who didn’t get in, here’s a recap of 2011:
    http://www.myteentopix.com/2011/08/comic-con-2011.html

  14. griffin lundeen says:

    If there are cancelations can we purchase tickets for 3 days?

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