Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Gen Con Event Registration Process: A Few Observations

Today was the big day...event registration day for Gen Con.  At noon eastern time, the floodgates opened and everyone who really wanted to make sure they got their events descended on the registration servers en mass. Apparently there were some 3000 or more wishlists submitted right away, and I have to say that for the sudden load the process went fairly well overall.

This year, the wish list process was fine tuned quite a bit from my understanding.  I participated in the test, and while things looked promising there were certainly a few improvements to be made.  By the time the wish list function and event catalog went live last week, they fixed all of the issues I saw. While they certainly could use some more browsing options on the event catalog to make it more friendly and useful, I was able to find what I wanted in plenty of time and fine tune my wishlist.  The way scheduling occurred, when you submit your wishlist it was put in a queue in the order in which lists hit the registrations server(s).  One can argue about the fairness of this until the cows come home, but honestly someone is always going to feel that they got cheated due to their personal circumstances.  I, for instance, had to work today.  In order to submit my list at the correct time, I had to arrange with my supervisors to reschedule my lunch so I would be sure to get to an area I could access the internet in time to be ready to hit the button at noon (a Panera Bread in my case). I was lucky that I was able to do this. Do I think that this was unfair? No. It's just how things are, and it makes it fair for the widest possible group of people. One point to the Gen Con staff for the submission method...It meets the needs of most people.

Back to discussions of the wish list.  This year, instead of having the True Dungeon and TerrorWerks events scheduled first followed by everything else, everything was submitted at once. They decided this year they had a method and the capacity to handle the load.  True Dungeon is very clearly the most difficult event to get in to. While they are taking more people per run this year (and I believe they added runs) it's still way too popular to accommodate everyone.  This made organizing your wish list important if you wanted to get a True Dungeon event.  To create a wish list, you browse events in the catalog, and add events to the list by requesting tickets.  You can get tickets for yourself, or you and your friends.  You can chose to schedule the event with the most tickets you can get, or only if you can get all the tickets you request.  Also, if an item higher on the list conflicts in any way with a lower priority item, the lower priority item is not scheduled at all if you manage to get tickets for the high priority event.  The list is processed from top to bottom when it gets to the front of the queue.  Knowing all this, my strategy was to put all my True Dungeon events at the top.  I picked three different times I wanted (first choice on top).  Within these 3 time frames, I picked 2 combat, 2 puzzle, and 2 dragon runs because I could do this with them all overlapping. I sub ordered them combat, puzzle, dragon.  Doing it this way, when my list hit it would try to process all the TD items in my favorite time slot first, from most desirable to least desirable format. As soon as I got a ticket in that time, all the others past that would be rejected because of overlap.  It would then process my next favorite time slot the same way, and finally my least favorite time slot.  I figured this was the best way to get into a True Dungeon game.  I also made the first run in the whole show my first choice figuring some people would not even be at the con yet so I would have the least competition for that time.  Past my TD events, I placed a TerrorWerks run on my list, followed by 3 Pathfinder events that were a part of a series. The rest, I just ordered most desired to least, and had no overlap. I figured any time that I didn't get a desired event I could try for something later, or leave open for the exhibitors hall and open gaming.

When I hit my submit button at noon plus a second or three, it looked like it was proceeding, but did not return a place in the queue. I was too patient here. I should have resubmitted almost immediately, but I let my browser chug for 4 minutes instead. When I finally got smart and hit the button again, I was 1500th in line.  That's just how these things go. I was depressed, but what can you do?  The queue then seemed to freeze up at about 1471..PANIC! Thanks to Gen Con's responsiveness on twitter I was soon comfortable that even though my browser wasn't updating, my list was still in the queue. Sure enough, after about 20 minutes of trying to get a status back through the flood of requests to the server I was rewarded with a cart of tickets.  My strategy certainly paid off.  I got one True Dungeon game in every one of the time slots I'd tried for (2 puzzle, 1 combat).  I also got my TerrorWerks and everything else I wanted. The only thing I didn't get was the first game in the Pathfinder series. That was kind of a bummer, and a quick search showed me I wasn't going to get a replacement unless I wanted to play the games out of order. I'll just suffer through missing the first round. It's a small inconvenience for an otherwise flawless registration process. I had a huge hole in my schedule, so I went back later and added another event to partially fill the hole (Tower of Gygax...a classic I hear :) ). Now I have good times to visit the exhibitors hall, and for food, and open gaming. I'm happy with how it's turned out.  I had no issues with paying for my purchases within the two hours that my tickets were held in my cart. I rejected 2 of my True Dungeon tickets, deciding to free them so others would get a chance rather than me taking multiple runs.  Also, they're expensive so this saves me some money.

I really have to applaud the Gen Con staff for the way this went.  Overall it was pretty smooth.  There may or may not have been better ways to architect the solution for this registration, but what they did worked pretty well.  Now I just kick back, and try to wait for the next few months until Gen Con arrives.  I may go stir crazy. :)

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