This year’s Gencon was my second year attending. My first year, the decision to go was last minute and a few factors kept me from having a very good time. This year, I decided that i was going to make sure and enjoy myself. One of the ways I did that was by participating in Gencon’s VIG (Very Important Gamer) program. A few of the Gnomes had done the VIG before, and I’d heard good things about it from friends.
What Is The VIG?
The VIG program, which began in 2007, is a special tier of badge that gets you your Gencon badge, plus a few sweet extras. To read Gencon’s page about the VIG, go here.  So, what all does the VIG get you?
- 4-Day Badge – It pretty much goes without saying, but the VIG program gets you your 4 day badge.
- Choice Of Hotels – Every VIG is GUARANTEED one of their top three hotel choices in the Gencon housing block. If you’ve ever been to Gencon before, you know how quickly the housing block fills up. That makes this benefit #1 on the list. Want your hotel room to be in the Marriott, right next to true dungeon? Want to get a suite at Embassy Suites so that you can pack in a lot of people or have room to lounge around? Want to make sure you are right next to the convention center? Being a VIG you definitely can. The price of the hotel isn’t included in the VIG badge, but the guarantee that you will get a hotel you like is.
- VIG Exclusive Events & Raffles – There are a few raffles for merchandise that are open ONLY to VIGs. In this year’s raffle were tickets to True Dungeon, Terrorwerks, Hickman’s Killer Breakfast and a game of Inspectres with Peter Adkinson, just to name a few. Aside from raffles, there were also a great deal of games that were open ONLY to VIGs. There were demos of Munchkin Fu, A Game of Thrones, Castles & Crusades, Dawn of the Dead, a behind the scenes tour of Gencon and of course the VIG Mixer. I didn’t make it to many of these VIG only events, but I did make it to the VIG mixer. I love conventions for their ability to let me ask ANYONE “How’s your convention been so far?” and be able to strike up a conversation. The VIG mixer was a great chance to do that with other gamers and people in the role-playing game industry. For me, it was only trumped by the White Wolf after party as a networking event.
- Early Exhibit Hall Access – On Thursday only, VIGs get in 1 hour before the exhibitor hall opens up to regular attendees.
- VIG Lounge – One of the greatest benefits of the VIG program was the VIG lounge. Located right across from the exhibitors hall was a whole room that was open only to VIGs. It had free drinks (soda, water, and coffee), seats and couches that you could rest on, a private registration area with no lines, tables so that you could game and Gencon volunteers hanging out that would answer any question you had. I started every day at the VIG lounge and often came back to it between events.
- VIG Swag – Some of my group was annoyed at the skimpiness of the Gencon swag bags with their regular badges. I have no such problems with the VIG swag.
- A great canvas VIG bag
- A VIG badge holder
- A VIG pin
- A small red Gencon dragon toy
- A Gencon t-shirt
- A Gencon poster
- A Gencon water bottle
- A copy of the 4e Monster Manual 2
- True Dungeon Tokens
- A hardback book by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
- A World of Warcraft Mini’s Game Booster
- Magic The Gathering Booster Packs
- Settler’s of Catan playing cards
- A Yu-gi-oh playing surface
- Dealer’s Choice: The Complete Handbook of Saturday Night Poker
- Family Business, a mafia card game by Mayfair Games
- The Spoils starter kit, a card game by Tenacious Games
- A Settlers of Catan sticker
- Crystal Bead Earrings
- Anything else you see in this picture that I haven’t already mentioned:
Photo Courtesy Kurt ‘Telas’ Schneider. 
- VIG Companion Badges – I think this benefit was the one that I made the most use of. As a VIG, you are able to upgrade 3 companions to VIG companion status. They can go to the same VIG events, get into the lounge, and make use of a lot of the VIG extras. The only thing a VIG companion doesn’t get is the awesome swag bag.
- “Members Only” VIG Forum – Gencon develops a great community in its forums, and they’ve got a special one set aside just for VIGS. I can’t maintain a forum presence to save my life, but Kurt is a member of the Gencon VIG forum. From talking to some of the VIGs, I think it might be worth checking out. It sounds like a great place to keep up connections you’ve made at Gencon and to plan for next year.
- Reserved Seating For VIGs – Many of the large events, such as the Costume Contest and Hickman’s Killer Breakfast, have reserved seating for VIGs. Spaces up front and no waiting in line to get them.
I can’t really say enough good about the VIG program. It greased a lot of the sticky gears that I encountered last year and it opened up a lot of new avenues for me this year. Providing the continued benefits to VIG companions, I know that at least one person in my group will be a VIG every year we go to Gencon.
But wait, there’s more! Thanks to hanging out at the VIG mixer, I was able to talk the Director of the VIG program into giving me a quick email interview about the VIG. So here is a bonus Johnny’s Five.
Johnny’s Five – Five Questions and Answers from Rachel Araucto – Director Of the VIG Program
John: I personally loved being part of the Vig program this year. What were your thoughts on the success of the VIG program this year?
Rachel: I and the rest of the Gen Con Team are very pleased with how well the VIG Program was received this year. We had more Exhibitors involved this year, more swag for the VIG Packs, a larger, more comfortable Lounge, and more VIG-only events available than in previous years.
John: What is the best benefit of the VIG program, in your mind?
Rachel: It seems to me the biggest benefit is the separate housing block, since Gen Con housing goes so quickly during the first day of badge registration. The downtown hotels are often “sold out” within the first hour of registration, so having a separate block of rooms already set aside for people interested in the VIG Program is, in my opinion, the biggest benefit.
John: I know you mentioned some changes from previous years to this years VIG program. What changes, if you can talk about them, are in store for next years VIG program?
Rachel: We’re currently plugging away at our post-con work for Indy 2009, so it will be a few weeks before we begin discussing changes for 2010. To be honest, I strove so hard to improve upon the program this year that I suspect we won’t have much room for changes over the next year, but I hope to make a few refinements so things run more smoothly. All feedback from the VIG Survey (which will be posted sometime in the next month or so) will be reviewed as it was last year, and we will smooth out as many rough edges as we can for next year.
John: What was the reason the VIG program was started?
Rachel: The VIG Program was started as a customer loyalty rewards program designed specifically to attract and retain Gen Con customers by offering special perks and an increased level of customer service – all of which ideally contribute to an enhanced Gen Con experience.
John: Finally, every article we write here at Gnome Stew has something to help out Game Masters. What benefits does the VIG program hold for Game Masters to improve their games?
Rachel: To be honest, I don’t know how the VIG Program can help GMs improve their games, but being involved in the program can certainly give any GM a fun, new experience.
John: I agree on the fun, new experience. In my mind, meeting with the designers at things like the VIG mixer and being able to get into more games while at the convention can help expose GMs to different ideas and ways of play. Meeting other gamers in an atmosphere like the VIG lounge also helps a GM initiate conversations and make contacts.
So, that is the VIG in a nutshell. What do you think? Is the VIG something you are likely to do at next year’s Gencon? Were you a VIG this year or last year? VIG or not, tell us about your Gencon experience.