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GenCon Registration 2009: RUBI System = Best Reg So Far

This will be my 10th GenCon (I started in ’97, and missed ’98, ’01, and ’08), and every year for the past several years registration has been a whirlwind of testicle-smashing pain.

Not this year.

It started off looking pretty shitty — the site’s interface for event searches, and especially for sorting, sucks. Without gencon.highprogrammer.com [1], my group would have had a much poorer reg experience. And I whined about event reg all morning on Twitter [2].

But as it stood, after the expected five minutes of chugging at 3:00 pm EST, we had a good experience overall. We tag-team registering for four people (with two of us on the phone, buying tickets), which makes things more challenging — but we still got 3/4 of our events on the first pass.

By 3:15 EST, the server was moving much more smoothly — nothing was timing out, and while progress bars filled slowly, everything worked nicely for us. That was unexpected, and I know folks behind the scenes were working hard to make that happen (see the Gen_Con Twitter feed [3] for more details).

With some pre-planning (a three-tiered, prioritized list of events) plus the use of High Programmer’s sortable listings, we were able to round out our schedule with events that sound like fun — and wrap things up by 3:31 EST.

In 2006, after my worst GenCon event reg experience ever, I wrote Peter Adkison Hates Us: An Open Letter About GenCon Registration [4]. Peter responded [4], and I found 2007’s registration better, but still fundamentally unacceptable [5] — 90 minutes is a loooong time.

I missed GenCon ’08, but I’ve heard there were issues. I expected issues this year, but finishing in 30 minutes with a good event list — and the added challenge of registering for four people — makes me a pretty happy camper.

There’s still room for improvement, but mainly on the interface and sorting fronts; the system needs to allow you to sort by start time, as well as perform other basic, Excel-like operations. In terms of server performance, though, I don’t expect much more than what I got this year — which is pretty awesome.

I can’t speak for anyone but myself, and I didn’t reg for any True Dungeon stuff — I’m sure people had a wide range of experieneces with event reg this year, from better than mine to much, much shittier. But I wanted to give credit where credit is due: this was solid.

Nice work, Peter, coincidence [6], and the rest of the GenCon registration team. Improve the usability of the site, keep up the server performance and backend — and thank you for a good registration experience.

For our readers, how was your registration experience? We’ve been sounding off in real time in the comments on Phil’s article, RUBI’s Big Day [7], but I thought I’d open this one up for post-reg discussion.

4 Comments (Open | Close)

4 Comments To "GenCon Registration 2009: RUBI System = Best Reg So Far"

#1 Comment By DNAphil On April 20, 2009 @ 5:56 am

I have to agree. While I did have some problems in the first 12 minutes, after that the system was much faster than any of the previous years. I also really liked the Watchlist feature, and the ability to buy tickets for everything on your watchlist all at once. I also liked that you could buy tickets for friends, and that the schedule showed you where you had conflicts when you looked at other events. All in all, RUBI was a big improvement over past systems.

But on one bit of criticism, and this is meant to be positive. With a few years of online registration under their belts, the GenCon registration team, knows what the initial volume of transactions are going to be in the first 15 min of opening registration for both True Dungeons and the rest of the events. Efforts should be taken to scale the system up to handle that level of volume. While the system seemed to recover after 15 min, those first few minutes after the opening of registration felt like years past.

So, in your post mortem analysis of the 2009 registration, please set a goal for next year to scale RUBI to handle more than the volume of transactions in those first 15 min.

Otherwise…good job, and far less painful than years past.

#2 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On April 20, 2009 @ 9:26 am

Anyone can criticize (and if the internet proves anything, they usually will), but it’s a rare individual who will publicly praise something they once criticized. As a Gen Con attendee who has to deal with both the frustration of registration, and the (well earned) complaining from the users, I think your series of “registration reviews” is an example of how to provide solid feedback, both negative and positive.

Your article above (and your previous ones) expresses my sentiments exactly: This year’s registration was the best ever, and by a goodly margin, but there’s still room for improvement.

#3 Comment By Patrick Benson On April 20, 2009 @ 11:04 am

It is an improvement, yes, but it is still not a good system. Maybe I’m just being too harsh because of my profession, but a good system doesn’t slow down during the high impact periods. And a good system wouldn’t require that I go to another site in order to search for information about Gen Con events.

Yes, it is better. It still isn’t the gold standard and Gen Con should be at the gold standard. A for effort, C- for the site.

#4 Comment By Alan De Smet On April 27, 2009 @ 1:10 pm

Wishlists were a great addition. You could fill your wishlist before registration when things were relaxed. Then during the crush you could log in, mash two or three buttons, and it tried to buy one of everything in your wishlist. Not perfect if you need multiple tickets for one event, and while it let you try for conflicting events the fallback system was crude (you got the lowest numbered event available, later conflicts were dropped). Still, a serious step forward.

I have some sympathy for the scaling problem for the initial crush. Gen Con is, relatively speaking, a little company. Scaling up your entire system what I’m guessing is an order of magnitude for 30 minutes a year is hard for anyone.