How to Budget for Gen Con

DISCLAIMER ALERT! I don’t know the future or what Indianapolis plans to do each year. I know that hotel prices go up continuously (this year I’m seeing a lot of rooms much higher than $500 per night), and meal prices will follow. This is meant to be a ballpark estimate. Please consider this a baseline, and assume you’ll probably need another 10% to 25% for safety.

Before I answer the question, I wanted to dig into it a bit. Gen Con is becoming increasingly expensive every year. When I first went in college, the badge was $60, there was no line to buy one, and the tickets were all preprinted and there wasn’t much competition to get them. It was an easy convention to attend.

That has changed dramatically in the last few years, and now a very conscious decision must be made whether or not to attend Gen Con. Game Masters I work with frequently discuss before registering events how much it will cost and whether they can afford it. Gen Con makes a lot of things GM friendly, but it is still very expensive.

If you’re planning to attend, here are some thoughts on historical prices and my rough estimates on what it might be this year. I would strongly suggest building in a significant buffer when you budget, since it’s still early and prices tend to go up rather than down!

If all goes well, you’re sacrificing a month’s rent/mortgage at Gen Con this year. Believe me when I say it’s worth it. There is a lot to be had. You’re surrounded by your fellow gamers and you have a good chance to meet some of your favorite game developers or industry celebrities. It’s a blast.

But you must be prepared to do this. If you’re not, when you get home you’re going to feel it.

Attendee Badge = $100

This goes up each year a little bit. If you GM 70 player hours (number of players x number of game hours), Gen Con will reimburse, but not until after the convention. If you are looking to save a bit, I would recommend GMing one day. You would get reimbursed and contribute to the convention.

Meals = $250 ($50 per day)

I know there are hotels that offer free breakfast, but dinners are expensive. Bringing snacks to draw out the time between meals will save you money at the convention, and time to enjoy yourself. If you think you can go with 2 meals a day, budget for $40 each day. But do not skip meals entirely!

Hotel Room = $800 to $2,000 ($200 to $500 per night)

Depending on if you’re in the attendee hotel room block or had to get something on your own, hotels go from plain expensive to donating a kidney expensive. This can be somewhat mitigated by finding roommates. In fact, Gen Con prices assume room occupancy of 4 and has a housing forum on their website to help attendees find roommates.

Travel = $50 to $600

Another big spread. But it depends if you’re close enough to take the bus or train or if you must fly. From most Midwest cities, you can drive, take Megabus, or an Amtrak train. These are all affordable and fast. However, if you’re further out, you’re looking at a flight, and during the summer apparently people really seem to like the Midwest.

Driving = $50 gas + $40 per day parking (from Chicago)

Megabus = $30

Amtrak = $60 to $200 roundtrip (from Chicago)

Flights to Indianapolis = $600 (from West Coast)

Event Tickets = $100

During Gen Con you have about 66 hours of game time available. Gen Con’s metric is roughly $1 per hour at the gaming table. So, assuming you sleep roughly 4 hours each night, are there all 4 days, and some events have started charging more, assume roughly $100 for events.

Vendor Hall = $0 to $500

The last question, and one that hits me every freaking year, is the Vendor Hall. How much should I bring? As someone who is easily pressured into buying stuff he doesn’t need, I tend to show up with cash and try and keep credit cards out of it. Why? There have been years where you see the vendors standing on their tables trying to get a Wi-Fi signal for their credit card readers. Also, using credit cards slows down your day. You’re already doing it for meals and other necessities where you have time. In the Vendor Hall, you could spend days just walking it, you don’t want to stop and wait for the credit card reader. Finally, using cash limits you and makes you stop and think about if that is really what you want to buy or if you want to save for something else you’re hunting.

Honestly, I try to have enough on me that I know I can buy something for my kids and a few premier or exclusive things for me and that’s it. Remember that most of what you see is either already available at your local game store, online, or will be soon. Most vendors have a list on their website about what they will have with them that is rare, so really this is the time to hunt the second-hand bins for that out of circulation book or miniature, or to grab the convention only product your favorite company brought with. Once you do that, you’re probably out $200, so have enough cash left for Saturday night and Sunday when a lot of vendors are willing to make deals in order to avoid packing it all back up to take home.

Total = $700 to $2,000

If you’re going to budget for this each year, you’re looking at putting away anywhere from $60 to $170 per month, every month, to attend.

Please comment on your own experiences with how much this costs! If you have your numbers from different parts of the U.S. or overseas, please don’t hesitate to drop me a message and I’ll add them here.

About Mike G

Mike co-founded MAMS Gaming in 2012 to provide a great gaming experience for players and GMs at Gen Con. This has led to organizing GMs and networking to provide a great play experience.
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