Everyone is blogging about Gencon this week, talking about their experiences and what they did, so I thought I would take a different tack, and write about a realization I had when I got home from the convention. I still had quite a bit of money left in my wallet. In fact, I realized that I had spent less than $100 at the con! Here’s how I did it, and how you can too.
I’m going to leave travel costs out of this discussion because they are the least flexible and most variable factor in the cost equation. I live about 9 hours from Indy, so I had a viable option to either drive or fly, but for those coming from the West Coast, Canada, or further East than me, flying was more or less the only option. Ignoring travel costs puts everyone on the same playing field cost-wise; once you’re at the convention, we all have the same opportunities to spend money (or not). I also trust that most people already know how to reduce travel costs – look for flight deals, fly on odd days, carpool, etc. I realize that travel can be one of the bigger costs to attending Gencon, but it’s hard to make an argument for driving with four of your closest friends to someone who lives in southern Texas. Once you’re at the con though, here are everyone’s costs: badge + hotel + food + events + stuff = con cost.
Step 1: Get a free badge and hotel room
This is the big one for me. I believe the 4 day badges are about $60 (though I can’t say for sure; I didn’t pay for mine) and a hotel room will run you about $160 if you split it with three other people. If you want a room to yourself, you’re looking at closer to $640. I’m assuming $160 per night for four nights, though again, I didn’t pay for my hotel room, so that’s my best recollection from my research before the con. How do you get a free badge and room? Volunteer. I volunteered to run Living Forgotten Realms (LFR) events through Baldman Games, though I’m sure there are other volunteer opportunities that garner free badges and rooms. In order to net a free room, I had to DM 7 slots, which equates to 2 1/3 days of the con. That leaves roughly a day and a half to do whatever you want, plus any “midnight madness” that you happen to participate in. For those of you debating whether it’s worth it to give up so much of your free time, allow me to present some of the other perks of volunteering:
- I did not wait in the line that went around the block to pick up my badge – I simply went to WotC HQ, and picked it up – took less than 2 minutes.
- I did not have to call around to find a hotel that still had rooms available, even though I decided to go to the con in June.
- On top of the free badge and hotel room, WotC provides DM swag – I got the new Neverwinter setting book, three packs of dungeon tiles, a large ogre mini, 2 promo “booster” cards for the Legend of Drizzt board game, and 25 packs of fortune cards as a thank you for judging.
I should also note that judging, for me, was not drudgery. I did it for the free room, but I also did it because I enjoy being a DM, and I enjoy showing players a great time at the con. Judging for a free room and badge is not a viable option for you if you think DMing is a chore. Neither you nor your players will have a good time, and no one wants that.
Total Savings: $220 – $1,000 (or more) (not counting DM swag)
Step 2: Bring Your Own Food
Eating out costs a lot of money, even when you only do it once in a while. When you’re doing it four days in a row for every meal, the costs can add up quickly. I myself enjoy three squares a day, plus snacks at 10 and 3. So here’s what I brought for food:
- Instant oatmeal (I heated up water in the room’s coffee maker)
- Sandwich fixins (there was a fridge in the room)
- Granola bars
- Adult beverage supplies (rum/coke)
- Water bottle
I did not totally forgo eating out during the con (though I could have). I simply gave myself the ability to avoid it if I so desired. Since my room was less than a 5 minute walk from the con, sometimes eating a sandwich was not only wallet friendly, but time friendly as well. For those of you who fly, I suppose bringing food seems more daunting, though the only thing on my list there that may or may not survive baggage handling is probably a loaf of bread. There are other options. Be creative.
Total savings: $95 (assuming $115 to eat out vs. bringing $20 worth of food)
Step 3: Play for Free
I suppose that should say “Play mostly for free.” I’m not against paying for events, it’s just that there’s so much pick-up play and “learn to play” going on at the convention, I don’t see a reason to pay for a lot of events. Pick one or two things that you really want to do, and buy tickets to them. Then, leave some breathing room in your schedule and hit the dealer’s room to learn a new game, or find a pickup game of something you’ve never played. You may just meet some cool new people. Monitor Twitter the week before, as people are constantly planning pick up play for the con. As an addendum to that, I would add “when choosing events to pay for, figure out your dollars per hour.” For example, every afternoon I would walk by the True Dungeon on my way back to my room. “How much does this cost?” I asked one of the groupies with her box of treasure tokens. “$38,” she replied. “EACH time??” I said incredulously. “Yes.” Now, I get that this is something that’s really cool to try once, but I understand that there are some people who come to the con to go through it multiple times. That, to me, is just craziness. For $14 less, you could play LFR for 15 hours straight. And I’m sure that there are other events that have a similar price point. Again, I’m not discouraging people from doing the more expensive events, just encouraging awareness towards the idea of “dollars per hour of enjoyment.”
Step 4: Buy Stuff on Sunday
This is a tip I heard from several sources a few days before the con. Towards the end of the convention, the vendors in the dealer’s hall are more inclined to cut prices in order to unload inventory before the con ends. You’re more likely to get something at a discount on Sunday morning than you are on Thursday afternoon. I would even go so far as to suggest requesting a discount on items you want to buy towards the end of the con. It’s called “haggling,” and while your D&D character may be really good at it, it’s something Americans have lost a knack for. If haggling is not something you’re comfortable doing, hit up some yard sales the weeks before the con to practice. You’ll be dealing in small amounts of money for things you probably don’t really want with people who are expecting haggling. This is a great way to practice.
So let’s look at how to do Gencon for about $100:
Food: $35 (assumes eating out once plus morning coffee not from Fourbucks)
Events: $28 (assumes 3 rounds of D&D, which is one full day of gaming)
Stuff: $37 (don’t forget you’ll also get judge swag for judging)
Really, the exact numbers are adjustable – spend more on events and less on stuff if you don’t really see anything at the con you’re interested in. If you like to eat out, practice your self control and save money on stuff by just browsing in the dealer’s hall. And of course, you could always spend more if your budget allows.
Going to conventions can be expensive. There are a lot of costs involved, and they add up quickly. However, I think the key word is “can” add up quickly. With a little forethought and planning, attending Gencon doesn’t have to be something that takes all year to save up for. It’s up to you!
How about you? Would you be willing to make sacrifices to go to Gencon on the cheap? What other cost saving measures did I miss?