Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Gen Con 2014 Very Important Gamer Program Impressions

I was a VIG attendee at Gen Con 2014, and the one question I got asked more than any other at the show, more often even than “Where’d you get that awesome fez?” (Fez-O-Rama, of course), was “Is it worth it?”  I promised myself I’d make this post when badge preregistration was about to reopen again so I could share my impressions of the program.

Short version: the program is fun, but vastly overpriced and overvalued.  I won't be renewing my badge, and it will be returning to this year's pool.  (You're welcome.)  But I recommend reading on.

I’m glad I participated in the VIG program once – I don’t make it to Gen Con often and it was kind of enjoyable to be elite for a weekend.  Overall, I think the program has some things going for it, but there are two major caveats.  One, for $575 the program should be an overwhelmingly positive addition to the Gen Con experience, and when all is said and done it’s more what you make of it.  If you're not focused on it, it can be kind of a mixed bag.  Two, despite being targeted at the hardcore Gen Con attendee, I feel like they are the least likely to get the most benefit out of the badge, because they are likely too busy doing Gen Con things to take advantage of the benefits of the program.

My advice to anyone considering joining the program this year is this: only do it if you’ve got $575 to lose, and only if you’re willing to schedule your Gen Con experience around the VIG perks.  Otherwise, no, it’s not worth it.

I want to be clear that this is my impression.  I definitely met other VIGs at the con who would disagree with me.  I met one VIG in particular who was traveling from Calgary, Alberta, with his wife, two kids, and a trailer full of goods for auction.  He thought of the program as a virtual necessity, and I completely understand why!  But for me, someone who gets out to Gen Con maybe once a decade, and packs the experience as full of events as possible, I felt like the VIG badge was sadly surplus to my requirements.

I’ll go down the list:

Hotel Registration
The housing draw was still stressful, and I know some VIGs didn’t end up with downtown housing, although it is my understanding that the Gen Con folks bent over backward to fix that error.  I personally got a fantastic room, so close to the action it was practically in the convention center.  That said, it was not the nicest room any of my friends got.

Verdict: Point in favor, if barely.  I think I got pretty lucky.  I am sure housing draw is better for VIGs than it is for everyone else but it is still no fun at all.  Still, I know guaranteed (?) downtown housing is the biggest draw to the fellow from Calgary.

4-Day Access + Benefits
I don’t recall getting a badge holder, but there is a nice brass pin.

Verdict: Neutral; I wouldn’t have missed the brass pin (or badge holder).

VIG Lounge
Some of my VIG Companions reported getting real use out of the Lounge, and agree that it is a nice perk.  Personally I was on my feet the entire convention, running from event to event, and barely managed to stop in to pick up my swag bag.  When I was stopped, I was showering or sleeping.  If I had not had my entire convention planned out in advance, I think I would have been very grateful for the registration tables in the Lounge but as it was I did not spend much time there at all.  I did make use of the bag check on one occasion and was grateful for it, and the people working there were extremely helpful and pleasant.

Verdict: Point in favor, but be aware that the use you get out of the Lounge is inversely proportional to how busy you are.  If you’re participating in an event, you are by definition not sitting on a bean bag, surfing free wifi, and enjoying a complimentary beverage.

Exclusive VIG Pack (Swag Bag)
I think this is probably the most coveted thing about the VIG program, but I think for a lot of people that desirability will turn out to be an illusion.  The thing to remember here is that Gen Con is a multi-purpose convention.  You have TCG players, board gamers, roleplayers, wargamers – there’s a lot of overlap but there is also a lot of diversity.  The swag bag reflects that diversity.  I am all of the above to a greater or lesser degree, and even so 80% of the swag bag was nothing I was interested in.  This is completely understandable, but simultaneously pretty disappointing.  The best thing about the swag bag was the bag itself – the Gen Con canvas messenger bags are awesome.

Verdict: Neutral.  Free stuff is good, but when it ends up left in your hotel room to save luggage space or traded on Board Game Geek as soon as you get home it’s not a big positive.

Early Exhibit Hall Access
One hour on one day is no kind of early access to a space the size of the Gen Con exhibit hall.  I will admit that it allowed me to snag a copy of Dead of Winter, because I knew exactly what I was looking for and where it was, but you should expect to spend a good sized chunk of the early access hour in a queue that wraps around half the convention center.  The Gen Con staff did a great job at expediting this process, but we are talking about hundreds and hundreds of people.  Every VIG wants to take advantage of this perk.  There aren’t enough doors in the world.

Verdict: Point against.  I’m not saying that one hour wasn’t nice, but I’m also not saying it was anywhere near enough.

VIG Reserved Event Seating
Who are these people who can show up 30 minutes early to a slot at Gen Con?

Verdict: Neutral.  Better seating is better seating, no doubt, but I don’t know if it’s worth a half slot of sitting around.

VIG Mixer
I planned to go but was too busy to make it!  You should be sensing a theme, here.

Verdict: Can’t say, but it’s worth reiterating that getting the most out of your VIG badge means making time to do so.

$10 System Credit
I am trying to be evenhanded, here, but I have to declare that I thought this was a little insulting even before I paid for the badge.  I mean, what’s $10 into $575?  Less than 2%?  And in store credit?  I make it to Gen Con about once a decade, so this ten bucks is going to be sitting in my account for a long time.

Verdict: Point against.  If you can make the badge cheaper, make it cheaper.  Don’t do whatever this is.

VIG Exclusive Events
I had hoped to do the True Dungeon this year, and appreciated the VIG-only slots, but ultimately it didn’t make the cut.

Verdict: Point in favor; access to hard to get tickets is definitely the biggest selling point of the VIG badge.

“Members Only” VIG Forum
A lot like the regular forum, only with less people complaining about how hard it is to get a VIG badge. *rimshot*

Verdict: Neutral.

First Chance at a VIG Package for 2015!
I feel very strongly that this is bad policy.  I’m sure Gen Con has its reasons, but I don’t feel like creating an elite class is the right move for our community.  I'd rather see as many people as possible get the opportunity to have this experience and decide for themselves if it is something they want to pursue year-to-year.

Verdict: Point against, although it’s not really a problem with the program so much as a bad feel about the administration of the program.

VIG Companion Packages
My VIG Companions all agreed that their perks were a good deal for the $100+ they paid for the privilege.  I am glad.

Verdict: Point in favor, although you should note that $100 is a lot less to pay than $575.