Back in 2005, I ranted about Gen Con's badge / event registration being, approximately, an unmitigated disaster. Well, it's been two years and not much has changed. Stupid mistakes were made. They were compounded by poorly thought out "fixes". Lessons from years past were ignored. Hopefully this year will continue the tradition of being a fun weekend in spite of Gen Con LLC rather than because of it. Welcome to Gen Con's 40th-ish anniversary.
The fun begins with Gen Con's main page, which proudly sports a "Register for Gen Con Indy" link. This link points to a page which does not exist. Not because registration is not open yet. Not even because the registration computer has crashed again. Rather, because someone typed it in wrong and nobody bothered to check. (The link was fixed somewhere between 12 and 48 hours after pre-reg went live.) The link is correct on other parts of the site, and it's a fairly trivial change, so I log in.
I want to buy a 4-day badge. There's a nice link to "Buy a Full Access Badge", and it even works! My choices are BDG00001 through BDG00005, corresponding to the 4-day, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday badges, respectively. Plus BDG00016, the for-gamers-with-more-money-than-sense super-badge plus cookie and jam. Why its game ID number ends in 16 rather than 06 is just one of many mysteries, though fortunately a harmless one. This über-badge was nestled between the Thursday and Friday badges, for no apparent reason. No sane sorting, whether by game ID, title, start date, cost, or other field, puts that badge in such a strange place. I can only assume that it was manually put between 02 and 03 as some sort of obscure joke. I decide I want BDG00001. There's a drop-down box for selecting the quantity of tickets I'd like to buy. Options: 0 or 1. I believe there's a UI element specifically designed for making 0-or-1 selections. I seem to recall it being called a checkbox. The options for quantity are 0 or 1 because Gen Con don't want you to buy multiple badges without setting up additional accounts for the extra badge holders so they can harvest more information about people. Yet you can buy a VIP pass, a 4-day pass, and the 4 individual daily passes, and they're perfectly happy. I don't know whether this is due to laziness, incompetence, or simply reflects the fact that Gen Con doesn't mind if you'd like to pay extra to get four one-day passes rather than give another name in order to buy an extra four-day pass.
I picked a 4-day badge, added it to my cart, and then was sent to the "View event catalog" page. Let's temporarily ignore the issue of why I would want to be on a page designed to help me find events for which I can't register for another 3 months. Instead, let's pretend I actually did want this page. Why can't I search multiple game types at once? Oh, I can, but I have to be careful to reload the page so there's nothing checked under the "game types" menu, and if I accidently check something I'm stuck? Well, that's certainly the right way to handle it! (The game types do bring up an interesting point though: what is the difference between a "BDG - Badge" and a "PAS - Convention Pass"? A Google search on the topic indicates that the phrase "convention pass" appears exactly once on gencon.com: on the event search page.) And what about finding all GURPS events so I can plan the rest of the con around them? Well, I get the pleasure of searching each day individually because the form automatically hits the Thursday radio button for me; there's no chance to leave those radio buttons untouched. Clearly I should ignore the official sources of information and use something a bit more useful like my friend Alan's Gen Con event database.
I'm not really interested in searching for events I can't register for, thanks. Why don't I continue? "You must enter some search criteria to improve the search performance." Remember back when I said I wanted to buy a Full Access Badge? When I was done with that, rather than take me to my cart, or even back to the registration page, the site sends me to a page where I can search a nearly-empty database of events I can't register for, which has a continue button that doesn't continue toward the only goal I've expressed any interest in completing: buying a badge. So I click Check Out to escape the endless loop. Yes, I want to check out. No, I don't have any coupon codes. Wait, $2.95 to mail this to me? Well, that's certainly friendly of them. Does this mean it will actually come to my house? Addressed to me? In a manner that the USPS recognizes as a legitimate address? Somehow I doubt it. Apparently that slash in "Badge/Ticket Shipping Fee" means "or" and not "and". Come back later to buy more badges and you're invited to pay it again. Classy.
At last, a badge! But wait, maybe you had some problem along the way and wanted to check the FAQ or refund information. Well, those point to 2006 information, even days after registration began. If you change the 2006 in the URL to 2007, you get new pages. Some parts of them have even been updated for this year, but most are simple copy-and-paste jobs from the previous year's entry.
Out of frustration, I headed over to the account management area, hoping for a reprieve from registration insanity. I'd like to change my account details. Some of the fields (name, email, phone, marketing questions, etc.) are in red, suggesting that these are required fields. They're not. The only required field is "Login", which I mentioned in the 2005 rant. This field starts out blank when you create a new account, but if you want to change any of the details of that account after creation, you have to fill it in. Just above the Login field are two boxes asking for your US ZIP code and your country (if not USA). Apparently this country and ZIP would be distinct from the ones attached to your mailing address. And distinct from the ones attached to your billing address. What an exciting life I must live to have three different ZIP codes!
After correcting my account details, I finish checking out. Gen Con helpfully sends me a confirmation email letting me know that my credit card has been charged $67.95, reflecting a $0.00 charge for event ID BDG-00001 (don't I wish!) plus a late registration fee of $0.00 coming to a subtotal of $65.00 (the new math), plus the afore-mentioned $2.95 shipping fee. Then, 11 hours later I get an email informing me that because they screwed up the hotel registration timing, they're canceling everyone's hotel registration and restarting it in 2 hours. Woe be unto he who already got a confirmation email from the hotel and thus reasonably thought he had a hotel reservation and did not happen to check email during the crucial 2-hour window, and therefore missed out on a hotel room since they sold out within hours. I'm sure the hotels are fielding more than a few irate phone calls over that gaffe. Since I did not make a hotel reservation, I can only presume that Gen Con blindly spammed their entire database of registered users to inform us of their potentially-tortious room cancellation decision.
Happy 40th, Gen Con.