I have seen good online ordering systems. While once rare, they are showing up more and more. I approve. A lot of the businesses with whom I spend money online don't actively try to discourage me anymore, and a few will even let me give them money without setting up an account first. I wish the same could be said of Gen Con LLC.
Gencon's registration and badge / ticket ordering systetm is the worst I have seen in quite a while. The stupidity starts right at the beginning, when I am asked to set up an account. There is no reason I should have to come up with and record yet another password just to give Gen Con LLC more money. But I did. I got back a confirmation email with my ID number, which as far as I can tell is completely irrelevant but might be interesting (presumably it records the number of unique individuals who've set up accounts), and a "Login" number (zero). By the time registration rolled around I had forgotten all this information so I referred to my confirmation email which included my login and password. I entered these at the website and was told my password was incorrect. Eventually I determined that the web form does not actually want my login number; it wants the email address I initially registered with. I can order badges and tickets and otherwise use the cart sytem without ever entering the login number I was sent.
Later experimentation revealed the purpose of the login number - it allows one's email address to be changed without affecting the rest of the login system. The login number defaults to 0. In order to make any change to the account, you must give it a login string different from 0 (and it may never be reset to 0 once changed), though nowhere on the site is this indicated. If you try to change your email address, as I did, an error message indicating that "you must enter a login name" appears, though a login name (initially "0") is already entered. Apparently the backend interprets that as a null and reacts poorly, even though the same backend sets it to 0 to start with. I changed the login to "1" and it works. Apparently nobody else thought of that. Once you change the default login, you must use that login and not your email address when signing in. This is a clear case of insanity. Why do something sane like set my login name to my email address when you could set my login name to 0, not let me use it, and include exception code to handle the case where my login name is set to an invalid value so I login to my account not using my login name, but then force me to use a login name later on? Clearly that's the preferred solution.
By this point, I'm annoyed and not expecting things to go well. I'm not wrong. First, I cannot buy multiple badges without entering in account information for everyone I'm buying badges for. Why does Gen Con need to tie each badge to an account? They certainly won't replace lost badges to the account holder; they don't ever check that badges are used by the original purchaser; they don't use the login information for any legitimate purpose whatsoever. If I lose a badge and ask to have it replaced, they're happy to tell me to my face that they think I gave the badge to a friend who can apparently afford hundreds of dollars in traveling and accomodations but balks at a $60 badge. Customer service clearly doesn't show up in their corporate vision. But back to ordering. Starting this year, I can buy multiple True Dungeon tickets. Yes, starting this year. It's a new thing to let me buy multiple tickets for group events (actually, just that one single group event) that I would obviously want to attend with friends. But if I order a half-dozen tickets for a particular True Dungeon time slot, I don't end up with one line in my cart that says I bought 6 tickets, I end up with 6 lines each saying I bought one ticket. That's particularly frustrating when I'm trying to coordinate 14 people buying tickets for both dungeon runs, two of which differ by only 1 number. The printed receipt enclosed with the ticket shipment suffers from the same problem. Clearly this system wasn't actually tested by real people before it was put into production.
Of course, in order to experience the joys of the braindead cart system, I had to suffer through Gen Con's inability to keep the site live. Every year the website gets hammered for about 30-40 hours after registration goes live. And yet every year Gen Con somehow fails to learn from the problems of the previous year, and does not provide beefy enough web servers and database servers to cope. It's an ad for Rackspace that everyone but the Con's webmaster can see from miles away. I spent over 4 hours with a half-dozen windows that alternately timed out or threw up errors, all trying to add items to my cart until finally they took the site down for a "database upgrade". When it reopened the following day, the site was a bit sluggish but worked. Perhaps that is the saddest part of this whole deal - they clearly had the ability to provision a functional web presence on the first day but failed to do so. The only bright side was that nothing disappeared from users' carts during the upgrade. The next day I discovered that many of the pages that errored out or simply stopped loading had in fact updated my cart, leaving me with hundreds of TD tickets to sort through to get back to just the ones I wanted. Hundreds of tickets, I remind you, all on individual lines.
While apallingly bad, that is an improvement from last year. Too bad they broke generic tickets while they were at it. Generic tickets let someone play events or rent games. They are usually used for events which you decide to play at the last minute, or which are already filled up and you're simply standing near the table hoping someone doesn't show up so you can take his or her place. Most people buy a bunch of generics to use throughout the con and refund unused ones at the end. Generics purchased during pre-registration have a bar code on them. This barcode ties into the account information and identifies the purchaser. This should make things simple. I should be able to stand in line with all my friends' generics and have them refunded, each to the purchaser's account. Instead, Gen Con decided not to refund tickets unless the purchaser stood in line to do so. The registration people claimed this is to prevent me from stealing someone else's tickets and refunding them. This is a rediculous assertion, as prereg generics are refunded directly to the purchaser's credit card. There is no way for a thief to get money out of them, yet Gencon repeatedly refused to refund the tickets unless the original purchaser stood in line and presented a badge and ID. This is a blatant attempt to get gamers to give up and leave that money with Gencon instead, and is an insulting way to treat the people that keep the Con and Wizards of the Coast in business. I specifically asked Stacie Balelo (contact information here) [contact info removed; no Internet Archive record exists due to robots.txt excluding all but 6 favored web crawlers; try email@example.com], Customer Service Manager and head of Gen Con event registration, whether I was being given the correct information by the temps manning the return counter, and she confirmed that I was. In other words, this is the result not some overworked and underpaid person misinterpreting instructions. It's a deliberate decision on the part of Gen Con LLC.
Regular generics, conveniently printed on brightly-colored paper to attract the thieves Gencon is so worried about, suffer no such problems and are refundable for cash.