5 Things I Learned Registering For My First Gen Con (And What I Would Do Differently)

This year, my family and I have decided to attend Gen Con. For me, I’m interested in the variety of writing events offered (they even have a chance for you to present a small sample of your writing and get critiqued, for more info see http://www.genconwriters.com/). My kids are interested in the RPGs and are planning on loading up on dice, miniatures, and other fan gear. My wife, ironically the extrovert between us, is willing to come along for the ride, but is a little nervous about the hordes of people. Signing up for the conference was an experience in itself, and I learned several things.

1. Gen Con is big. Really big.

This whole endeavour started when my kids asked to attend a local Comic Con. Both of them are D&D fans and were disappointed by the lack of role-playing vendors. A quick google search said that the ultimate version of what they were looking for was Gen Con. Over 60,000 unique visitors last year. Wow. It’s enough to make the introvert in me go running for the hills.

2. Booking occurs in stages.

There are three main parts of Gen Con registration: the badge, the hotel, and the events. Badge pre-registration opens early (January 29th, this year). There’s no hurry to jump on this immediately, but the badge is a prerequisite for pretty much everything else and pre-registering gets you a discounted rate ($90 vs $120 at the door for a four day pass). Gen Con has hotel rooms blocked for the event and they can fill up quick. Really quick. Housing registration opened February 12th this year, but my family and I didn’t decide to attend until this past weekend. Not only was all the Gen Con housing full, but all downtown hotels are completely booked, and several of the ones outside the city as well. By Monday morning, Hotels.com reported an 87% booking in the Indianapolis area. I’d hate to see what it would be like if you decided to drop in on the conference on a whim.

Events come next. This year event registration opened noon yesterday (May 28). I was surprised by how many events were free or only a nominal charge. You’ll want to pre-plan what you want because . . .

3. Events fill up quickly.

I started signing up for events only a few hours after they opened and many were already sold out. True Dungeon and many RPG sessions (even Eclipse Phase and Cthulhu) were already gone by the time I looked. If I do the conference again, there are a few things I will do to help ensure I get what I want. First, if you are travelling with family (or even friends), use the “friend” option in your Gen Con account. This allows you not only to book events for yourself, but for them as well at the same time. Second, do your research. Not all events are created equal. Most events contain a link to the organization running it and if you are looking to do something, like book a 4 hour D&D session, you’ll want to make sure it looks professional (one event had a video of a wookie belly dancing, but we decided to pass on that). Also, a simple search for popular events will give you some ideas for things you didn’t even know about. Last, use the wish list in your Gen Con account before event registration opens so that you have all of your events click-ready.

NOTE: One thing I’ve also learned is that tickets for $0 events may not ensure your spot since staff don’t always check them at entry. Maybe I’ll get to watch the sold-out taping of Writing Excuses after all.

4. Don’t forget parking.

Unless you get downtown housing, or your hotel provides a shuttle, you’ll want to prearrange your parking as well. There are third-party sites like http://www.parkwhiz.com/
that let you reserve spaces or you can purchase parking as an “event” from Gen Con directly. I did the latter, but, like other events, the 4-day parking was sold out already and I had to get 5-day pass even though I won’t use all of it.

5. Thirteen and up is the magic age for kids.

My children will be 12 and 14 at the time of the conference. As we looked through events, we were disappointed to see that the vast majority were 13+. Workshops and RPG’s had few offerings my daughter could attend. If we hadn’t promised them already, we might have waited one more year.

Overall, we’re excited about the trip. It gets us family time and gives the kids a unique experience, but also gives me the chance to get some writing education and hopefully make some connections with the scifi/fantasy writing community. No, I will not be wearing a costume. Are any of you going to Gen Con this year? What are you most interested it?