I’ve been to three gaming conventions (GenCon 2007, 2008, 2009) and played in a lot of games. The overwhelming majority of these have involved pre-generated characters with little or no customization. I usually have a blast with these. Obviously, with only a 4-hour investment, it really doesn’t matter to me what I play; I’d rather not waste time generating a character and be stuck with a 2-3 hour game.
Home campaigns are different. Many players feel that creating the character is part of the fun and get upset if they learn that the GM is creating the character for them, even if they have a small measure of customization.
On the other hand, GM-created characters have the benefit of enabling the GM to craft characters that better complement the campaign. Some RPGs even encourage this. The TSR Indiana Jones RPG assumed that one player would be Indy, while the Time Lord RPG assumed that the PCs would be one of the Doctors and his companions. Feng Shui and West End Star Wars offered slightly customizable templates (one could argue that original (A)D&D did this as well, as there was little to differentiate one fighter or thief from another beyond equipment).
I’ve created pre-gen characters for some of my campaigns with mixed results. Some of my players (usually the method actors and harried parents) prefer it, while others simply cannot get emotionally involved in a character that they did not create (a great Silver Age Sentinels campaign was cut short precisely because the players resented that I’d designed the mechanics of their characters for them).
So today’s hot button is this: How do you feel about pre-generating characters for your campaigns? How deep into character design are you comfortable with controlling? If you have used pre-generated characters before, how did your group respond to it?