(My) PAX East Experience
Penny Arcade Expo East 2016, was held this past weekend (April 22-24) in Boston Ma. And this is just my impression of the event, asking the rhetorical question, “Is PAX for you?”
Selling out very quickly, PAX is a very sought after event for its celebration of games and gamers with various halls showcasing upcoming tabletop, console and computer games as well as holding conference panels, music concerts, free play areas as well as classic gaming rooms. The expo takes place over three days, which truthfully is needed if you want to attempt to see it all. This is much like Disneyworld for gamers. With long wait times to get a few minutes of demo/beta play of soon to be released games and content, you cannot experience the entire event in just one day. Specifically if you want to see panels that are being held throughout the day, which some require waiting in line hours for due to the popularity (I waited an hour and a half just to be dozens of rows back during the Acquisitions Inc. live Dungeons and Dragons play).
So is the wait worth it? Yes and no. The wait to sit in the full gaming rig made up for a Rally Racing game (Sebastian Loeb Rally Evo) was very much worth the wait since I will most likely never own a professional gaming chair (which was also on display from DXRacer), or the massive 16-foot T-Rex that the team at Ark: Survival brought along with them made the wait worth it. But then there were times that I was in line to play a game and gamers around me in line had to leave so they could rush off to a panel, having spent too much time in line instead of time they could have been roaming the show floor. Again, this was a huge reason that you need to attend the event all three days so you can strategize the show floor.
The Panels have been a large part of PAX’s four shows a year. But I felt (and have read on some forums and from other PAX goers) that this year didn’t have the most exciting of panels. With conferences hosted by “celebrity” Twitch/YouTubers, I wasn’t too thrilled with the majority of the panels. However there were other ones that drew my attention, such as “Adventures in Game Writing” which was a conversation with panelists who have worked on giant AAA titles or the wildly fun PAXAMANIA or Kaiju Big Battle. The downfall with this, is that some panels overlapped with others, and again they were spread out over the three day weekend. This exposed the real issue with PAX panels for me, the fact that the schedule of the panels isn’t released until a week to two weeks prior to the Expo. Committing to one day, two days or all three days needs to be made as soon as the passes go on sale months prior and without knowledge of even the title of a panel let alone the hosts. Though if you aren’t going for the panels then this isn’t too much of an issue.
Compared to an event like a Comic Con, regardless of the location and size of Con, PAX was very much more about the attendees. Almost every game developer I talked to offered water to make sure everyone was well hydrated, and if you passed by the Bucking Couch (gamers sat on a large couch that was a red cushioned version of a mechanical bull while trying to beat the previous high score of gold rings collected in Sonic the Hedgehog, which was hysterical and a blast to watch) you could grab some free Totino’s pizza bites, among the food trucks outside and food court inside the building as well. At most Conventions I have gone too, about two-thirds of the way through the day my legs get tired or my phone is about to die or I am swamped with swag. PAX once again is there for the fans, with bean bag chair lounges, charging stations and even an AFK Room to get away from all the chaotic-ness of the halls and take a moment to collect yourself from a panic attack. All these features, which I used and was very glad to have since the expo is a very long day(s), and is something I would love to see at every Comic Con. To me, Comic Cons feel more about showing off and not about celebrating. There are even tables set aside for free-play tabletop games where strangers can sit across from each other and explore the Castle of Strahd (Dungeons and Dragon’s newest adventure).
One rule I found partially funny, but very much appreciated, was that PAX did not allow “Booth Babes”. Male and female hired models or cosplayers to stand at booths to grab attention by their revealing outfits. PAX guests, at least the hours and areas I roamed, didn’t seem to have too many Cosplayers, which I am confused if I liked it or not. On one hand, there wasn’t the hordes of Deadpools clogging up the aisles and alleys, but on the other hand it seems like people were only dressed as League of Legends or other obscure gaming icons. Comic Cons, again to me, feel more like a place for people to show off and the event becomes not about the main word in it, Comics.
Finally, the PAX Arena area was an audible and visual jaw dropping moment. The crowds of fans gathered to watch the ESL season finals of Gears of War and Rainbow Six as well as the invitational for Halo. Seeing Pro-Gamer battle it out on massive screens with full commentators and cheers and jeers from the crowd was very exciting. (Though I think I could take a few of the Pros down, as long as they don’t use their gimmicks to get kills). Located elsewhere, PAX held tournaments for so many games, listing them will make this article about my experience into more of a video game list.
So I bring it back to the beginning question, is PAX for me (you)? It is and it isn’t. I am very much thankful and glad I got to go play some World of Tanks and utterly destroy the other team (thus winning a free shirt), and meeting all the great indie developers and tabletop gamers (my true gaming passion). I was and still am very impressed with everyone’s business cards I managed to trade with. Nearly every one of their business cards looked like a card that belonged in a game and had that sticking memory that I will be sure to remember when I am going through my interviews and reviews. And just interacting with other gamers while there made it feel every bit the community PAX set out to achieve at its first expo. I would highly recommend any gamer go to a PAX show (East, South, Australia or Prime) at some point, any type of gamer such as; hardcore PC Gamer, the sociable console player, the average tablet or phone gamer and especially the tabletop/CCG fan. Will I go again? Just for the indie developers alone absolutely, but again you need to commit to the event just for the event itself regardless of who (games/developers/panels) will be there. And you need to understand you will be waiting in lines. You won’t be able to experience every booth and talk to every exhibitor unless you are there from show up to show down all three days.