GenCon badge registration opened on Sunday, so today I wandered over to GenCon's new virtual registration digs and signed up. While I was doing so, I ran across something intersting: an offer to purchase a 'VIG' pass instead of the regular 4-day pass. The kicker: the VIG pass costs $500.
I was intrigued, and wanted to know more.
After finding the page that describes the VIG program, I decided to do a mental calculation to see if it were possible that the VIG pass would make any financial sense at $500. Here's what you get:
- A 4-day pass to GenCon.
Duh. If the VIG pass offered less access than the regular 4-day pass, nobody would even consider it.
- A specially-designed badge holder.
This is described as 'a mark of distinction', and to a degree it is. If you simply order the 4-day badge and have it mailed to you, you also receive a clear plastic card-holder and a thin rubber cord with which you can put the holder around your neck. (Here's a picture of the late Gary Gygax modeling the classic, no-frills GenCon badge holder.) There's nothing strictly wrong with the no-frills holder, but folks who attend GenCon regularly tend to eventually gravitate toward a more rugged, permanent type of holder which also contains storage space (basically an extra pocket, which is more useful than you might think). Since it's theoretically an item which the general populace won't have access to, I'll give it a small bump in value.
Sub-Total = $88
- 10 complimentary generic event tickets
If you've never been to GenCon, the entire process runs on tickets -- tickets are used to determine how many people will be allowed into a given event, and you need to pay to get the tickets. (Never having been an exhibitor or game master, I don't know how the money trickles back to the people running the event, if at all.) If, however, someone buys a ticket and doesn't show up for an event (which means there are no specific event tickets available), the game master for the event can allow you to join in if you have a sufficient number of 'generic' tickets to cover the event cost. Because of this, unless you already have your entire GenCon planned out in detail, it's generally a good thing to have generics on hand to facilitate spur-of-the-moment gaming opportunities. The downside is that you probably will have extra generic tickets in your pocket when the convention is over.
In 2007, generic tickets were $1.50 apiece, while in 2008 they cost $2 a pop. I'll assume the price of generics isn't going up again this year, though there's reasons to think that they might.
Sub-Total = $108
- VIG Mixer with Peter Adkison
Probably the least compelling bullet point for me on the list, though I can see possibly showing up if there's nothing else going on Thursday night; after all, there will be food.
Peter Adkison was one of the founders (probably the most significant founder) of Wizards of the Coast; Adkison left Wizards some time after the company was purchased by Hasbro and eventually bought the rights to GenCon, creating GenCon LLC to run the convention. For some, the opportunity would probably be huge: a chance to ask Adkison about what it was like to run Wizards, how GenCon LLC navigated bankruptcy (and recently emerged from it), to sign a treasured copy of "The Primal Order", WotC's first-ever product.
I'm on the fence. I will admit, though, that even though I'm not excited about the opportunity, the thing still has some financial value. Since you can purchase a 'guest ticket' for $35, I'll put the value of the free invite at that level as well. (And for that price, I hope the appetizers, at least, are complimentary.)
- VIG Lounge
Possessing a VIG badge gives you access to a private VIG lounge with a number of amenities:
- VIG Will-Call
Pick up your badge and show bag without having to wait in line with 500 other gamers. Though in all honesty, when I went to pick up my badge and bag on Wednesday night for the 2008 show, I didn't have to wait at all.
- VIG Event Registration
On the other hand, registering for events in a special line where no more than 100 people have access at any given time? Huge potential time-saver.
- VIG Coupon Book
The main show bag contains a coupon book with some money-savers for general convention-goers. In order to be a 'value-add', I'd have to imagine that the VIG book contains vendors who aren't in the main show book, and possibly also contains larger discounts from vendors who are in the main show book. Depending on who's in the book, this could be of tremendous monetary value, though I have to admit I can't remember actually using any of my regular show coupons in either of the two years I've attended.
- Complimentary beverages
Possibly the biggest item on this list. A 20-oz bottle of Coke from a vendor or machine in the Indianapolis Convention Center during GenCon is a $3 purchase. I could easily see myself saving nearly $100 just from the convenience of not having to buy Coke.
On the other hand, my gut tells me that the service will have some flaws (most likely issues with keeping beverages stocked); so I'm going to go with a very conservative monetary value here and hope that the organizers will dazzle me once I'm there.
- Free Wi-Fi
This is also a bigger deal than you might otherwise think. You can get Wi-Fi service within the convention center, but only by paying the local service provider's $10 a day fee (or spending nearly that amount for a month-long period of access you'll only use for four days). Given that I expect to get free Wi-Fi at whatever hotel I'm staying in, that means bringing the laptop will again be filled with win, and at significantly less expense than last year.
- Possible promotional items from exhibitors, etc.
The program page makes it very clear that swag is not guaranteed and will be based on availability, which means basically 'don't count on this'. On the other hand, I suck at bagging swag at conventions, so anything that creates the possibility for me to bring back cool stuff for the guys who couldn't go to the con is a plus. Not a huge plus, mind you, but a plus.
- Concierge Phone Service
Meh. I have an iPhone for this.
Value (mainly from Wi-Fi and beverage service): $100
- VIG Reserved Event Seating
We're moving heavily into the realm of VIG benefits where the value of the benefit is more along the lines of convenience or opportunity. Because of this, it won't always be easy to assign a precise dollar value to the benefit. (Technically the Adkison mixer also qualifies, but the guest ticket helps quantify a price in a way that other items farther down on this list aren't quantified.) Nevertheless, something difficult to quantify in money terms isn't necessarily valueless.
For instance, one of the guys I'll be going to GenCon with is a fan of Hickman's Killer Breakfast, an event sponsored by noted fantasy author and game designer Tracy Hickman. He generally shows up an hour or so before the event itself in order to ensure he gets a decent seat -- though there are only so many tickets sold, the seating is first-come, first-served, and the closer you are to the action, the better.
Well, VIG's will get reserved preferential seating, available up to 15 minutes before the start of the event. What's a half-hour or more of extra sleep, prep time, what-have-you worth?
On the other hand, say it's worth exactly $7 to you. That brings us only up to about half the cost of the VIG package in total value, unless some things on this list are far more awesome than I anticipate.
There are a few other advantages: the page describes VIG-exclusive events (not just the Adkison mixer) which might be worth checking out. Also, there's a special block of hotel accommodations that have been reserved specifically for VIG members, making it possible that signing up for the program will, for the first time, allow me to get a room within walking distance of the convention center. That's not an inconsiderable benefit.
Lastly, the most intriguing part of the program is the ability to purchase $100 VIG Companion badges. The main benefit of the Companion badge is access to the VIG Lounge, which we've already estimated as being about $100. Plus the Companion badge acts as a 4-day GenCon badge, which means the Companion badge might be the best value at the convention. (Conversely, it might mean that my estimation of the value of the Lounge is wildly overstated -- see my concerns over the beverage service, for starters.)
On the whole, I feel the VIG Badge is a worthy gamble, and have signed up for it to give it a whirl for at least this one year. More reports as events warrant.