Sunday, 26 March 2017

Five years in the fandom, part 2: looking ahead

Yes, I know about the Brony Dance Party situation. Can't think of anything much to say about it now, though, so I'll wait to see what transpires. On to the promised forward-looking and generally quite optimistic post. :)

Not so long ago, I made this post which mentioned some of the things that I'd experienced during my five years in the My Little Pony fandom. In today's post, I'm going to look into my Mystical Orb of Fate's Destiny and talk about where I see the fandom going from here. I'll be concentrating on stuff that affects me, so there won't be a lot about gaming or plushie making.

You may have noticed that I've added the "uk-specific" tag this time round. That's because there are several areas where the American experience is not fully shared by those of us on this side of the Atlantic. Conventions being the obvious example, but there are several more that I'll touch on. Not in huge detail, as I don't want to drag on, but as always comments are welcome!

More past the break; this one will be longer than last week's. It remains spoiler-free, however!

Sooner or later, we will get our very last piece of canon G4 content. Now that S8 is all but confirmed, this certainly won't happen for a while, but it's coming. Some people will leave the fandom at that point; I can't see any way around that. More will drift away as time goes on, and the rate of production of new fan works will slow. Eventually EQD itself will probably call it a day.

At that point, those who are left will probably be the fans who won't ever really leave. Everything I know about myself leads me to think that I'll be among that group. The question is whether I'll be pushing forward by writing stories and going to social events, or whether I'll simply retreat into nostalgia, watching videos of old episodes and remembering happy times gone by. I'd like to think it'll be the former.

Before that happens, though, we have at least one more season (and almost certainly two), a feature film, several Equestria Girls specials, more IDW comics, more G. M. Berrow chapter books... you get the idea. I have my concerns about the show itself, given the up-and-down nature of S6, but I'm optimistic enough to think that we still have plenty of entertaining content to come before time is called.

That leads me into talking about the social scene. Meetups seem to be undergoing something of a revival in the UK, and I'm delighted about that. There are now half a dozen regular meets in the Midlands alone, and in many months it would be possible to attend one every single Saturday. The combination of our smallish fandom and compact geography makes these events viable and flexible enough to prosper.

I think these small-scale meetups are likely to continue for quite a few years yet. A group consisting of six or seven people is more than enough to make an enjoyable meetup, after all. These gatherings may gradually become more about meeting friends than specifically about Pony, as indeed some already have—but I'd like to think that there'll always be a place for our silly plushies and pony-stacking games.

There are, of course, social gatherings much larger than meetups. Where conventions are concerned, we've always been different from the US: there has only ever been one full-scale brony convention in the UK, and BUCK is no more. Getting four iterations out of an event that size in this country was a real achievement, even if it was only possible to make ends meet by selling the most expensive standard-tier MLP con tickets in the world.

We're now left with just two. BronyScot, a fairly small event that does fine things with a limited budget, and UK PonyCon. I can't say much about BronyScot as I've never been. UKPC is of more direct interest to me, especially because of its unusual nature. This is an all-gens con that long pre-dates G4 – and, subject as ever to finances and people being available to staff it, may long outlive this generation as well.

As the G4 fandom gradually shrinks, I think an event like UK PonyCon will be well placed to accommodate it as a large slice of the wider Pony pie. There are still a substantial number of G1 people around, fans of a toy line that hasn't been current for years, so why shouldn't we share that longevity too? At some point, Hasbro will move on to G5, and that too could slot easily into the UK PonyCon family.

Of course, even if UKPC continues far into the future it probably won't maintain its current size: I certainly can't see 500 people going to a pony convention in 2030. It's a pretty scalable event, though, another thing that counts in its favour as far as sustainability is concerned. A UK PonyCon with even as few as 100 attendees could still be an awful lot of fun, and it would still be a different world from the average meetup.

A related point is that because we've never had the vast network of big cons that the US does, we may not feel its loss as keenly. Every largish American convention seems to have informal social events for fanfic writers on a scale that we over here can only dream of. Because we've never had them, they won't leave a void – whereas in the US, those who've attended them regularly will doubtless feel quite some sense of loss.

Moving on, what about merchandise? This is another area where the UK experience differs from that of our American cousins. Other than at cons or meets, I have seen one adult openly wearing MLP stuff "in the wild". Our geek shops have largely decided that selling ponies to adults is no longer worth the floor space. For a year or two now, it's been more rewarding to go to Toys R Us than to Forbidden Planet.

Actually, this area of Pony is better over here than it's ever been. We can still only buy some things (eg the Fan Series) at sky-high import prices, but time was we'd have been lucky to get Guardians of Harmony figures or the EqG Minis at all without paying hideous prices on eBay. And we even have one up on the US in that Tiny Pop provides the show on free-to-air television. (Okay, cider references permitting...)

Put all the above together and you'll see that I'm pretty optimistic about the future of this great fandom. I think anyone desperate for it to remain the sprawling giant it is even now will be disappointed – but so will anyone who hopes it'll all retreat into nothingness. Partly because that wider MLP umbrella exists to shelter under, I think we FiM fans will find a community for us pretty much forever. Yay.


  1. I will stay with this series until it's end, no matter what happen, i guess it's a blind loyalty, and will lead me to suffering if the show detoriorate. I love the show and it's an one-sided relationship.

    1. Yeah, I'm in for the full ride, too. I'll be here even beyond its end. :P

  2. The lasting aspect of being in this fandom for me will outdoutedly be the friends I've made. Particularly those who I share other interests with in addition to MLP (such as Robot Wars, or steam railways).

    I agree with the sentiment that when the show has had it's run, pony meetups will morph into just a group of friends hanging out, who happen to bring pony plushies with them. To be honest, the Trottingham meet I attended yesterday felt a bit like that already. We are admittedly still in a hiatus.

    My fondness of the show will never go away. This recent period of my life would have been significantly different without it. But the degree to which I participate in activities relating to it (buying merch, watching episodes, following fan content) will most likely fizzle out after a few years.

    Still, there are plenty of stops for this train to call at before it reaches the end of the line. Season 7 (and 8) will give us plenty to chew on.

    1. Oh no doubt, the friendship aspect has indeed been magic. (*cough* Sorry.)

      A few of the Leicester meets have felt like that too, I think, and maybe Wolves as well. On the other hoof, the Cannock meet I went to had lots of talking about MLP stuff, and as you know Worcester does too.

      I do think specifically pony meets will be around even after the end of the show. We have the example of the G1/2/3 fans to show that there should still be some people active in the fandom long after the show ends. Granted, by that time there probably won't be really regular ponymeets, but I could definitely see occasional events being organised for a few people to meet up and chat about MLP long into the future.

      I really don't know for sure how long I'll stay actually active. Probably longer than most people, because that's just the type of person I tend to be. I could see myself still going to UKPC (if it exists) in ten years' time, and doing so for pony first and foremost – again, a bit like the G1/2/3 fans do now.

      Plus, of course, G5 could be absolutely anything! It has a huge mountain to climb to be as much fun as G4 is, but you never know. :)

  3. I'd be slightly surprised if EqD lasts through the end of S8, at least in its current incarnation. It'll hit an effort/reward barrier at some point, and few people are more passionate than Seth, so I don't know that he'd find someone willing to maintain it.

    I'm with you in that I'll still have find memories of the show and probably watch the old episodes many years from now. I'll occasionally reread some of my favorite fanfiction, and I'll definitely give any new gens a try. But in terms of getting together with other fans? Not really. I only interact with others through fanfiction, and once there's no longer a continuing source of inspiration or much of a ready audience, I won't be interested in participating. I only go to BronyCon because it's close enough for me to commute, but even then, as more of the people I'm interested in seeing decline to attend, then there's not much reason for me to go, either. I just like to attend and serve on writing panels; I don't have a general interest in going to celebrate the show as a whole. But when G5 rolls around, that may rekindle. We'll see.

    1. Speaking of G5, I do find it interesting how many people are still around from G1. You will get that with any major toy/show property, of course, as there are plenty of devotees to Barbie, GI Joe, Transformers, and whatnot going back decades, even when the TV show aspects of them were low quality. (GI Joe is one I loved as a child, but when I rewatch it now, it really is a terrible show.)

      So I had only been vaguely aware that there was any pony content since the original G1 run, and I didn't realize the stuff through the 1990s and 2000s wasn't still G1. I've seen a little of it now, but I never saw any of the G1 episodes, so I can't compare them. But as a lot of people know, there was kind of a Renaissance in the 1990s of companies realizing they could make kids' cartoons accessible to adults as well. A lot of people like to claim the real golden age was back in the days of things like Looney Tunes, Flintstones, Scooby Doo, etc., because they were great shows that people of all ages liked, and so long as they enjoyed the silliness of them, I agree those were good shows, but they really were limited to just the silliness. For me, Batmsn: The Animated Series was the one that broke the mold and was entertaining to all ages, with the action and simplified morals that would appeal to kids, but it also took a darker tone and dealt with some subtly deep issues that would appeal to adults. And that's become the norm now. I think a lot of shows almost unconsciously aim for this all-inclusive audience nowadays, and MLP:FiM is a good example. Look at all the things they put in S1 that only adults, possibly even grandparents of the target demographic, would understand. Just as one example, the Benny Hill music that plays during the chase scene in "A Bird in the Hoof." Just the silly tone would be fine for kids, but kids wouldn't have a clue what Benny Hill was, much less recognize the music, and it would even predate lots of the parents. Add in all the references made by background characters, episode titles, and the like. And all that S1 stuff was put in there before they even had a clue how much of that older audience they'd attract.

      Then they assumed they could do the same thing with Care Bears a bit later, and it flopped.

      Well, they suffer the same inability to read minds as we all do. If I knew which stories to write that would get 10k views each, of course I'd write mostly those, but predicting audience tastes is fickle. That said (insert obvious caveat about my not even knowing G2-4 were a thing, and which occurred during this "enlightened" era of cartoons), it's a lot more likely that G5 will achieve that same thing, since that's the philosophy behind producing cartoons now. I'm not surprised it's possible for a cartoon to have this big and this broad a fandom, and it's happening more and more, so I think G5 stands a good shot of making it big.

    2. I'd be slightly surprised if EqD lasts through the end of S8, at least in its current incarnation.

      That woke me up! Given that I'd imagine S8 will end in autumn 2018, that moment may well be only 18 months away. Even from the outside, though, it is pretty clear that Seth is the key.

      I just like to attend and serve on writing panels; I don't have a general interest in going to celebrate the show as a whole.

      This ties in with what I said about the Transatlantic difference, I think. UK cons, even BUCK, have never been in the same league as BronyCon in terms of their guest lists.* I'm pretty sure Blueshift is the only author with general name recognition that I've had a personal conversation with. Those who want that sort of thing have always had to go to the US, or at least to Germany for GalaCon. UK cons have focused more on celebrating the show in general – so I suspect the fall-off in numbers from our already lower base may be gentler than for the mega-cons.

      * Okay, BUCK's Summer Sun Celebration concerts did attract a top-notch line-up, but not the con itself. I think G5 stands a good shot of making it big.

      (This is in reply to your whole second comment.) All that is encouraging, and I hope you're right. Since I suspect I am the sort of fan who'll stick around even if/when Fimfiction etc go under, I expect I'll still be taking an interest whenever G5 is announced. I don't envy Hasbro and whoever's engaged to do it, though. Inevitably, it will be compared to its predecessor at every turn in a way that no previous generation has been. I do know (thanks, UK PonyCon!) that G1 fans were very divided when the first G2 toys came out, but that was in 1997 when online fandom was in its infancy.

      insert obvious caveat about my not even knowing G2-4 were a thing

      Given that G2 had no animation beyond a rather bad PC CD-ROM, you can probably be forgiven on that one! :P

  4. I think the show is already on its way out, though this might just be a combination of personal projection and reading too much into the declines of your last post. As soon as numbers start diminishing, the execs will probably reach for the ax, simply because this is ultimately a buaineaa and the incentive is largely on getting and keeping the numbers. I doubt there are many more seasons left in the show.

    As for myself, I think my interest will outlast the show's length easily. I'm already indulging in a pick-and-mix approach to the episodes, so the dangers of it becoming a franchise zombie are less of a problem for me unless the ratio of good episodes to bad ones becomes extreme. Even earlier seasons have episodes I readily overlook if I think I'd enjoy the distilled result a lot more.

    Besides, for every fic I put out, there are at least two more behind the scenes, waiting for serendipity to give them a moment to shine. And I keep thinking up more. The show's a creative fountain for me. Throw in the AU tag, and I think I could settle in for the long haul quite independently of the show's long-term future.

    Of course, I hope the show has a good and long future, but one has to be pragmatic...

    1. What matters to Hasbro is surely toy sales much more than viewing numbers. FiM has always been a great big toy advert, after all. As of now, there seem to be more G4 toys in the shops than ever, which I take as a good sign regarding Hasbro's continuing interest in the current generation.

      Let's say we get eight seasons in the end. That'll be nearly 200 episodes, which outstrips anything the execs could have expected back in 2010. It's more than I expected, come to that!

      Even earlier seasons have episodes I readily overlook

      Same here – I do make sure I've seen every episode at least once, but there are certain eps (yes, "Baby Cakes" again!) that I leave in the tin for people who like that flavour to pick up.

      Besides, for every fic I put out, there are at least two more behind the scenes

      ...! Your productivity levels when it comes to ponyfic really do amaze me. There aren't many people I've come across who publish that often – without producing garbage, that is. Even if I were a top-line writer, I don't think I could manage more than one a month or so.

    2. That's a good point I honestly hadn't considered. I don't keep in touch with the merchandise side of things, so that alone could keep it going for another few seasons. Although now I'm wondering if that would make a better case for G5, since companies love reboots and remakes to keep a franchise going.

      Yes, it still surprises me how far MLP:FiM has come as a show. So many hours of pony goodness! :)

      No comment on "Baby Cakes", but I will add that, to complicate things, some episodes put me in a bit of a bind when it comes to figuring out how much I like them. "The Crystal Empire", for instance, combines ideas I really like (the Crystal Ponies, Sombra's air of pure evil, Twilight's and Spike's nightmares, Spike the hero, Celestia's and Twilight's casual use of dark magic) with ideas I really dislike (reducing a civilization-level threat to a personal test, the way Cadence just keeps the empire at the end, the OTT characterization at times, Sombra's lack of real development).

      :) Thank you for the lovely compliment, though I must say such productivity is not usual for me. Besides, it's far, far easier to come up with ideas than to follow them through. :(

      (Also, I apologise for "buaineaa" in my first post. I honestly have no idea how that slipped through the net.)

    3. You could still find leftover G3 (or even G3.5) merch in the shops when I entered the fandom in 2012, so I suspect there'll be the same overlap whenever G5 appears. Of course, it's going to be an immense challenge to create something that's as successful as G4 has been!

      Sombra was criminally wasted; he could and should have been so much more. Thank Celestia for his Fiendship is Magic comic, which did a lot more to develop his character in one issue than the show managed in 44 minutes.

      Besides, it's far, far easier to come up with ideas than to follow them through. :(

      Don't I know it! My "possible ponyfic ideas" document has enough in it for 30 stories at least, but I doubt most of them will ever see the light of day.