Can't speak for the others.
Yeah, for my group of 18 people the latest we got was 6:45 EST. There could have been less people though since they moved it up a couple weeks from previous years.
Something definitely changed from last year. I believe a ton more people were slotted into the 12:00 to 12:30 slots.
My theory is that Gen Con is busier on years when it starts earlier. A lot of schools start early August, so July 31-August 4 might be early enough that more people are able to take their families/kids.
It was the exact same time last year. The slots were closer together this year.
Slots closer together would be my guess between this year and last.
As to VIG, I think that they would be a much smaller part of the housing block that the Gen Con staff, the exhibitors and all their staff. In the last 10 years the exhibit hall has expanded also, that takes room from the housing block pool before normal attendees see it.
If I had to spend 10+ hours a day in the hall, on my feet, I'd want a room close by to take a break, shower, or just relax, and so I could also maybe do some events in the evening.
Gen Con pretty much sells out every year, so the few people that won't attend because they can't get a downtown room are not a factor in vendor sales.
Yep, I played in some late night and overnight games with vendors who wanted to get some gaming in themselves.