2019 Singapore Events Critical Review

After attending quite a number of events in 2019, I want to write a few impressions and opinions down before my memories get hazy. This post will cover most of 2019’s anime, cosplay, game, doujin & Harajuku events, plus Asia Dive Expo.

DISCLAIMER: All opinions expressed in this post are my personal opinions only. For example, I am very cheapskate price-sensitive. I will also be a lot more critical and less positive than the invited media writers, since I’m writing from the perspective of a customer rather than a guest. Many people will beg to differ, after all, everyone has different priorities and preferences for events.

Some criticisms regarding 2019’s events

1. There are signs that major brands / tentpole exhibitors / anchor tenants are cutting back on event attendance and budget.

  • No Disney sponsorship or official booth for Star Wars Day and Singapore Comic Con (SGCC) even though they had Episode IX coming out.
  • Good Smile Company and Bandai Gunpla withdrew from Anime Festival Asia (AFA) in 2018 and are now represented by local distributors Asobi and Sheng Tai respectively. This makes a difference, because activities like the $1 DIY Nendoroid face plate are GSC exclusives and the distributors won’t have it.
  • Decline in PC and console videogame booths and content at Gamestart continues from 2018.

2. Some events showed warning signs of too little or low quality content.

  • Late announcement of guests and exhibitors. Unlike other people, I don’t believe in buying ‘early bird’ tickets based on faith. If the organisers have the content lined up already, why don’t they announce it earlier? The exhibitors and performers could do with the extra few weeks of publicity. This would also attract fence-sitters who are undecided about attending the event or have other options for that weekend.
  • Few “big names” in terms of guests or exhibitors.
  • Increasing area devoted to peripheral or unrelated exhibitors e.g. food & beverage.

3. Price increases and splitting up content in order to charge extra for add-ons e.g. AFA putting anime movies into a separate room, rather than screening them in the Stage area like in past years.

4. Annoying habit of announcing event content very late (less than 1 month before event date). Why should organisers announce their content early?

  • There’s no reason to wait until everything is finalised before announcing. This is not a printed brochure, websites and social media can be updated any time.
  • Most exhibitors and guests would have confirmed their attendance months ahead of the event date, not a mere 2 weeks ahead. Exhibitors need to pay a deposit to reserve their booths. Guests will need time to apply for permits, then book their flights and hotels. Once they have confirmed, organisers can do the announcement.
  • More and longer publicity for their exhibitors and guests. Exhibitors are paying the organisers, so they deserve more than just a few weeks’ promotion. Invited guests are taking time to appear at this event in a small country with a small audience, rather than a bigger event elsewhere, so they deserve better promotion too.
  • Attendees will often be deciding whether to attend this event or go for other activities / overseas trips. If the Singapore event is good, people from nearby countries (e.g. Malaysia or Indonesia) may want to attend too. If the content is attractive, attendees will reserve their weekend for the event. For overseas attendees, they need to book flights and hotels, so an early decision is essential. If the content is announced too late, some potential attendees will have made arrangements to go elsewhere.

Individual event comments


5 – Love it, wish I’d gone in earlier / stayed longer
4 – Will definitely attend again
3 – OK, but cost-benefit analysis required before I will attend again
2 – Mostly a waste of money/time, but I got some small benefit out of it
1 – Bad experience, wish I hadn’t attended at all

30-31 March 2019: Anime Garden

Overall: 4/5 Recommended
Plus points: Free event, concert, movie screenings
Minus points: Outdoors, no shelter, long walk from MRT station or bus stop

Second iteration of Gardens By The Bay’s (GBTB) anime event, after the first event in 2018. This was organised by the people behind AFA (Anime Festival Asia).

This is a rare, completely free event in mercenary Singapore, where organisers love to charge for every little thing. Most likely because it’s paid for by Sands/GBTB, there were plenty of invited guests: overseas cosplayers and professional J-pop singers (one even had back-up dancers). The 2+ hour concert and movie screenings were also free. Most free events in Singapore do not have the budget to offer such high-quality content, so I hope that this event will continue to be held in the coming years.

However, due to the budget being spent on the guests and other content, this event is held in an unsheltered open field. I guess we can’t have everything, erecting a roof would cost a lot of additional money, and indoor event spaces might increase the cost by 10x.

10-16 April 2019: Bedok Mall Anime Matsuri

Clashed with my boardgaming night and Asia Dive Expo, so I did not attend this event. Anyway it was a very last-minute announcement, less than 1 month ahead. There were some signs of cost-cutting, as the same 2 anime movies were screened repeatedly on alternate nights for the 1-week event, instead of a different movie every night.

11-14 April 2019: Asia Dive Expo (ADEX)

Overall: 4.5/5 Best event of this year
Plus points: Very large event, fully packed stage schedule, high-quality content and high-profile invited guests announced way ahead of time.
Minus points: Many stage schedule changes at the last minute with no updates online or on-site, “lip service” conservation efforts.

This year, ADEX was extended by 1 more day to a total of 4 days, Thursday to Sunday, proof of its success. This annual event has been running for >20 years, so they have a good track record and are able to invite loads of overseas guests, professionals and other speakers and presenters.

The exhibition booths also sell well: for the past few years, ADEX has posted its guest/speaker list, exhibitor list and preliminary floor plan at least 3-4 months ahead, updating it to add guests and exhibitors every few weeks as needed. In fact, the 2020 floor plan, with 80% of the exhibitors confirmed, was posted in December 2019! Compare this to every single anime/cosplay/game event, where exhibitors are not announced until 1-2 weeks before the event.

After the praise, now for the criticism:

  • The stage presentations and screenings followed neither the published schedule on the website, nor the schedule posted at the event site next to the stages. I did not get to see the documentaries nor the presentations I wanted, because they were either rescheduled or cancelled based on the organisers’ whims, with no announcement of the changes at all. No wonder the stage seating area is so sparsely filled, because there’s no point in planning to watch anything, it’s completely random.
  • Despite the “plastic-free” theme, there was little effort made by the organisers and exhibitors to enforce good practices among their staff. Dozens of bubble tea cups in plastic bags were visible at various booths. Very few staff brought refillable water bottles, even though free water dispensers were provided at the event. This “lip service” conservation really smacks of hypocrisy. See my previous post for ADEX 2019.

4-5 May 2019: Star Wars Day

Overall: 2.5/5 Small event for Star Wars fans only
Plus points: Small and cosy, everyone here knows each other
Minus points: No Disney/Lucasfilm support, so it’s a really tiny event

May the 4th is finally on a weekend, but after the big-budget 2017 event at Gardens By The Bay, Disney / Lucasfilm / Sands / other sponsors are no longer funding Star Wars Day. This year, it’s is back to being a small gathering of fans in a community centre hall, with content contributed by private individuals. Since there wasn’t any big sponsor, publicity for the event was also limited to a few Facebook posts by the fan groups, and most people didn’t know about it.

4-5 May 2019: Doujin Market (Doujima)

Overall: 4/5 Largest dedicated doujin and artist event
Plus points: Layout improved considerably from 2018’s overcrowding
Minus points: Under-used stage / presentation area

After seeing the crowd in 2018, where it was almost impossible to browse the booths because the walkways were so packed, and they had to close the hall because too many people were inside, I was considering skipping Doujima 2019. However, the organisers have allocated more space to the walkways and stopped trying to cram in an excessive number of booths, so the situation has improved a lot.

There was a stage area for talks and presentations, but it was quite under-used, since there wasn’t a continuous programme of talks and the audience didn’t fill all the seats. This amounts to wasted space inside the hall. I recently met one of the organisers and he said that the stage area would be removed in 2020 to give more space to the booths.

1-2 June 2019: Creative Market

Overall: 3/5
Plus points: Free event, lucky draw
Minus points: Venue, limited number of booths and activities

Original work always faces a challenge in attracting buyers, as it lacks an existing big fanbase. Witness how the various doujin markets and artist alleys always have 70% of the product range based on the 10 most popular series. The event location made it even harder to attract buyers, as it was almost impossible to get any walk-in traffic or passers-by. That’s how I managed to get 2 lucky draw prizes with only 1 purchase: there weren’t many buyers.

The organisers need to bring in more booths and customers by lowering booth rental prices and doing more publicity to attract artists/exhibitors and visitors. They also need to do more workshops and hands-on activities at the event.

8-9 June 2019: Little Island Fur Con

Interested but did not attend due to high cost of tickets ($60+). Venue rental is always costly in Singapore. I’m considering attending one of the overseas furry conventions in 2020 e.g. Thaitails, FurryPinas, FURUM, which are cheaper and have more content / larger attendance. Flights and hotel will cost extra, but I can combine it with a holiday.

20-21 July 2019: Cosfest XVIII

Overall: 4/5 Largest free cosplay event
Plus points: Free event, plenty of space
Minus points: Misbehaviour

The longest-running cosplay event in Singapore is always a must-go. In 2019, the sales booths were expanded to outside areas, leaving more space inside the hall for the audience. Also, the Downtown East venue has more affordable food options compared to other locations.

However, the behaviour of some attendees caused problems: vandalising booths and harassing people. If this continues, future events may be more strictly regulated (pre-registration, ticketing) and some venues may not want to host events.

27-28 July 2019: Anime @ North West

Overall: 3/5
Plus points: Free event, concert
Minus points: Poor location

This event obviously has a considerable budget to invite so many overseas guests, but it’s not used well. Last minute announcement for the event, so attendance is not as good as it could have been. The allocated space is quite small, only the size of 2 classrooms. It was almost impossible to get any walk-in traffic or passers-by as it was in the corner of the 2nd floor of the community centre.

In future, if organisers pay money to bring in singers and cosplayers from overseas, at least give a bigger and more prominent space so you can get your money’s worth and reach more people.

3-4 August 2019: Campus game fest

Overall: 2/5
Plus points: Free event, hands-on for games
Minus points: Limited content, mismanaged lucky draw

Walked in briefly only. It’s mainly dedicated to competitions, with some areas for people to play games. I have never understood the point of paying to watch other people play games. Where’s the fun in that, if you don’t get to play it yourself?

There were opportunities to hands-on play games, but there was a limited number of PCs / consoles. Certain hardware items like Beat Saber controllers were down for recharging every few hours. This limitation of videogames compared to boardgames is discussed further below.

The score is lower because I was scammed into staying until 8+pm, since they said lucky draw prizes had to be claimed on the spot. Instead, if the winners weren’t present, they kept the prizes aside, instead of re-drawing. Those of us who stayed late felt very cheated by this.

5-6 October 2019: Starfest

Overall: 2.5/5
Plus points: Free event, dance competition, toy photography tutorial
Minus points: Very small event

Last minute small event with limited publicity, the sales booth area was very small. Note to dance performers: Youtube dances and stage dances are different things. On video, using a fixed camera and tripod, dancers need to stay in the frame, so they just stay in one spot and dance like playing an arcade game. On stage, there’s a big area available, so if you stay in one spot and don’t move around, it’s very boring.

12-13 October 2019: Gamestart

Overall: 4/5 because it’s free entry, otherwise 2/5 if I had to pay
Plus points: Free entry for cosplayers, tabletop boardgame and RPG section
Minus points: Continuing the videogame decline I noticed in 2018. Lack of major exhibitors. Late announcement of content.

In 2018, most of the videogame content was mobile games, hardly any PC or console games for the ‘dedicated/hardcore’ gamers. The large PlayStation and Xbox booths have been missing for the past few years. Major publishers like Blizzard and Ubisoft are no longer exhibiting. 2019 was no different, the only major gaming exhibitors were Square Enix (FFVII Remake), FIFA, Bandai Namco (mostly competition), Disney/Marvel (more of IP provider rather than game developer), Cyberpunk 2077 (showing trailers only).

Possible reason: Cost of videogame exhibitor vs boardgame exhibitor.

  • Videogames: expensive hardware, $300++ per console / PC / portable gaming device / mobile phone, max 2 people can play.
  • Boardgames: under $100 per game set, usually up to 6 people can play.
  • Tabletop RPGs: under $200 for dice, grid, a few miniatures and content books, and these are often supplied by GMs or experienced players. Usually up to 6 people can play.

Strangely, I saw very few attempts by videogame exhibitors to sell their games (on the spot, pre-order, online download e.g. promo codes or discount), DLCs or get people to sign up for an account for mobile games. The booths only did demos, just spending with no revenue.

The escape / puzzle game room took up a lot of space but seemed not to be very popular, probably because there was an additional charge to play it. Wasted space again.

Perhaps the new organiser can bring in more videogame exhibitors in 2020 for Gamescom Asia. Otherwise, it’s about time Singapore had a dedicated tabletop gaming event. There should be enough interest from boardgamers and RPGers combined, and hosting costs are much lower, as noted above.

26-27 October 2019: Yokai Festival

Overall: 2.5/5
Plus points: Free event
Minus points: Very low attendance

2018’s Yokai Festival was quite popular but unfortunately, not in 2019. Attendance and guest list were severely affected by Jewel Changi’s 砸场 (see below), school examination period, and competition from loads of other Halloween events on that weekend. I went there briefly only because it was near Jewel Changi.

26-27 October 2019: Alter Ego Cosplay

Overall: 3/5
Plus points: At Jewel Changi, the most hyped location in Singapore for 2019
Minus points: Tiny event space, very limited content

This was announced after Yokai Festival but drew a bigger crowd, because of its venue and larger budget to pay for overseas guests and cosplay contest prizes.

Continuing Anime @ North West’s practice of spending money but not using it effectively, the event space was crammed into a tiny patch on an upper floor. The stage was only about 5m x 2m size at most. When asked for directions, Jewel Changi’s staff seemed to be unaware of this event. If you’re going to run an event, at least try and promote it to people who are passing by.

29 November-1 December 2019: C3 Anime Festival Asia

Overall: Not rated, as I entered by borrowing a friend’s wristband, and didn’t spend much time inside
Plus points: Still #1 in terms of number of exhibitors and content
Minus points: Price increases, late announcement of exhibitors, splitting off content in order to make more money

If you have limited time and money, I would still recommend AFA, as it still has the largest space, most exhibitors and guests.

Following my principle of not paying to enter events, I have only ever bought AFA tickets for the concert. I treat the daytime exhibition and day stage as ‘extras’. Since ticket prices went up again in 2019 and I wasn’t specially interested in the artistes, I borrowed a friend’s wristband to enter. A few booths had clearance sales with good bargains in 2019, so I didn’t leave empty-handed.

TIP: A lot of the Taobao / China-produced items are overpriced. The $20 “lucky bags” usually contain <$10 worth of merchandise, and many items feature fan art used without the creator’s permission. The $20 wooden swords will be selling at $10 or less on Sunday night. Don’t get cheated.

However, there are some issues:

  • Floor plan / exhibitor list only released less than 2 weeks before the event. Completely zero information before that.
  • Splitting off content in order to make more money. Anime movies were screened in a separate room with an extra charge, rather than screening them in the Stage area like in past years.
  • Last-minute stage performer registrations (unpaid performers / volunteers), which may indicate that they cannot get enough guests to fill the time slots.
  • There was an unpleasant smoke and oil smell from the food booths because the hall ventilation is not designed for cooking.
  • There was a karaoke competition at one of the booths (not the stage), so it was very painful whenever someone loudly tried and failed to hit a high note.

7-8 December 2019: Singapore Comic Con

Overall: 4/5 because I won free tickets, otherwise 2/5 if I had to pay
Plus points: High profile guests from USA
Minus points: Expensive ticket prices, long queue outside to redeem wristbands

SGCC (formerly STGCC) continues to cater to the higher-end market in terms of their exhibitor and artist alley offerings. I entered only because I won free tickets. A lot of wasted space at the tabletop area, there were many tables but the card game and miniature tournaments did not fully occupy them. A lot of wasted potential content in general: no Disney Star Wars booth and the Bushiroad booth only promoting one game.

I would recommend this event only to those looking to meet famous comic artists and get autographs. The only other way to see them is to fly to the USA. Otherwise, $20+ is too high to pay for what’s inside.

28-29 December 2019: EOY

This used to be a free event. I stopped attending after they moved to Suntec and started charging admission. The ticket price is around 2/3 of AFA, but the hall space is only 1/3 of AFA.

Various even-numbered months: Harajuku fashion walk

A bit clique-ish, organisers and regulars don’t bother to talk to newcomers much and welcome them. You just sort of follow the group around. Everyone sticks with their own group of friends. I just attend because it’s an excuse to wear my gothic & punk clothes. Absolutely not wearing any lolita fashion due to the heat. I constantly wish for a night walk, the usual 4-6pm timing is ridiculous in this tropical weather.

Last thoughts

Perhaps I should stick to tabletop gaming for 2020. The price to entertainment ratio is much better, and the tabletop gaming community seems more friendly and welcoming. They certainly seem to be more mature and less prone to misbehaviour and pettiness.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting old and less tolerant of annoying youthful antics. Maybe it’s because the tabletop gaming community needs to attract people to actually sit down and play for a few hours. No players, no games. I find that I’m treated much better there and people are happy to teach newbies. Much less judgement, elitism and clique-ish attitudes than elsewhere.

1 thought on “2019 Singapore Events Critical Review

  1. Pingback: 2020: Reflections on the year of the plague | Mad Science Laboratory

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