A Newbie’s Guide to PAX

What is it with all the fuss about PAX?  I know it takes place up the road from me every summer, it sells out in a matter of hours, and it brings in an amazing variety of people, but until recently I didn’t know why.  What makes this show so hugely successful?  This lack of knowledge recently drew me to Seattle for my first PAX Prime show.

Being a research junkie, the first thing I did was try to prepare for my foray into the unknown by looking up some history of what the show is about. I found out the PAX show started in 2004and quickly became the largest gaming related show in North America.  The show did so well that PAX East started in 2010, PAX Dev started in 2011, PAX Australia will be starting in 2013, and PAX Prime 2013 will add a fourth day to the schedule.  This was interesting, but it didn’t tell me anything about what I was in for.  Just what type of show is PAX?
My research quickly led me to the official PAX Prime website but I didn’t find very much to help me understand why tens of thousands of people buy tickets for the show.  The feeling I got from the website was that folks who buy tickets already know what to expect so why should they hype things early when it isn’t necessary.  I heard the website used to have more information, but was recently redone, so it may be worth another look for 2013.  Next I turned to my coworkers.  Working in a very geek oriented field I know several folks who attend every year, and I thought some eyewitness accounts might prove beneficial.  Ultimately they conveyed emotion about the show but didn’t have much real detail.  Finally I broadened my horizons and did a Bing search for PAX and started to get an inkling of what I was in for.
I quickly learned enough to convince me I should jump through the hoops required to get tickets for the event.  PAX Prime sells out in a matter of hours and believe me, you don’t want to pay the scalper prices for tickets in the final days leading up to the show.  I saw $60 tickets skyrocket to well over $200 as opening day approached.  I am sure the PAX show brings a nice little bump to the Seattle economy, but the “private” ticket sales benefit the wrong people.   Luckily I was able to avoid this expensive and risky (fake tickets are sold) option for getting into the event.

As the show approached, I kept checking back on the website.  Finally I was rewarded with the list of all seminars and panel discussions.  Over the three days scheduled I counted over 225 individual sessions.  There were a huge variety of topics to be covered including game design, getting into the industry, gaming history, theology, board game tournaments, video game tournaments, arts & crafts, seminars aimed at whatever orientation you subscribe to and some I couldn’t categorize by their titles.  Sessions like “Beyond Wheaton’s Law: Being Excellent to Each Other” had an intent that was pretty easy to figure out, but what should I expect from “Nik & Dylan Crush Your Dreams 2,” or “No, the Monkey Should Have a Chainsaw.”  I planned which ones I was interested in attending and started laying out my schedule.  I embraced my geek approach to life while organizing my schedule, deciding which seminars to attend by putting them on a spreadsheet and adding points for categories such as timing, expected length of line, interest in the topic, level of conflict with other events and recommendations of others.  I believed myself all set for opening day and my excitement was growing.
Friday August 31st, “Show Day” finally arrived.  I got to sleep-in a little before getting up and heading into Seattle and I was able to take the train so I wouldn’t have to worry about parking.  After taking the bus tunnel from the train station into downtown, I turned the corner on Pike Street and was blown away.  Where had all these people come from?  I have attended shows in the past, but this was crazy.  I suppose my natural tendency to avoid lines may have heightened my response, but this was over the top.  There were thousands of people all heading to the convention center for the show.  There were people in costume, vendors from many different companies, people in a hurry, people taking it easy and people who looked lost.  The one common theme was lots and lots of people.  Since I didn’t really have any other options, I navigated my way through the crowds to where I could get in, went through the line and entered the show.
Once I made it into the convention center, I started making my way around the entire venue to get a broader view of what was going on.  The only word I could come up with was “overwhelming.”  In the main rooms there were huge screens (huge as in over 20 feet wide) for different games, massive signs, larger than life statuary, custom motorcycles, pickup trucks, medieval architecture, and even an airplane suspended from the ceiling.  From the main rooms (and there were several of them) I made my way to some of the other areas of interest to me.  I scoped out the location of rooms where I wanted to attend different seminars and panel discussions, found where specific games were being played, and finally found what came to be my favorite part of the show which was the Retro Arcade.
PAX attendees were treated to an amazing selection of beautiful arcade and pinball machines. The Retro Arcade had 35 games and was sponsored by the Seattle Metro Arcade Collectors (SMAC) and Ground Kontrol (an arcade in Portland).  They had everything from old 1970s games to the classic 80s titles to the two newest pinball machines from Stern.  There were folks checking out the games throughout the entire weekend and a few celebrities stopped by to enjoy the games as well.  Wil Wheaton had an excellent time, but that could have just been because he was so comfortable in his utilikilt.  There was a great selection of games but it was only about 10% of the number of games the SMAC and WPC groups bring to the Northwest Pinball and Arcade Show every June (http://www.nwpinballshow.com).  I can’t wait for that event.
 My next goal was to track down some smaller companies with really creative games.  Companies like Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony get a lot of attention at these types of events, but there are many other companies who have some really unique and original games.  I learned about some upcoming board and arcade games that I am really looking forward to playing once they are released.  One of my favorites was Octodaddy where you are a cephalopod but can’t let anyone know, not even your wife and children.  Just moving in a convincing manner is difficult as an invertebrate.  LocoCycle fron TwistedPixel also looks like great fun.  I enjoyed Gunstringer and since I love motorcycles, this one looks like a natural fit for me.
The show also had plenty of displays for the latest and greatest hardware coming out.  My favorite device at PAX was the Wikipad (http://www.wikipad.com/).  I talked with one of the designers and was very impressed.  It is a tablet and gaming computer that finally finds the perfect mix of performance, form factor, and most of all fun.  I have been a longtime proponent of mobile devices being a good medium for entertainment delivery and this looks like the best implementation of that approach ever created.
I am also a big fan of board games and I found that PAX had a wide variety of options on the tabletop front.  There were several great titles from companies like GameSalute, Mayfair and Cryptozoic Entertainment who produce many really creative and unusual games.  GameSalute had the widest variety of games and works through the Springboard KickStart page (http://gamesalute.squarespace.com/springboard/) for all their releases.  It is important to support new games and I encourage folks to go there and become part of the solution for getting new, unusual and wonderfully original games from the drawing board into people’s homes.  Going through the board game areas was an eye opening experience as I was able actually to talk with many of the designers and folks who make the games.  Some of my favorites were:
o   Ruse – A quick, fun and easy murder/mystery card game
o   Star Trek Catan
o   Story Realms
o   Big Bang Theory:  The Party Game
 Now that I have attended my first PAX show, I admit to being very impressed with the overall experience and I was somewhat overwhelmed with the size of the show, number of people, variety of exhibitors and volume of activities.  I started out wondering what the PAX show would be and I discovered it is just about everything: It is a trade show, consumer show, sales show, gaming event, tournament,  social event, great party and overall fun weekend all rolled into one.  Now I have to find a way to get PAX East so I have a point of comparison.  PAX Australia may have to wait a little longer.

One Response to A Newbie’s Guide to PAX

  1. Best of luck on reaching the PAX East show. If you are able to make it to this year’s show (March 2013) we’d love it if you had the time to stop by our booth for Broken Crown Games. We’ll be the tiny indie hidden beside Bethesda 🙂

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Posted On
Dec 23, 2012
Posted By
Tyler Yohe

Best of luck on reaching the PAX East show. If you are able to make it to this year’s show (March 2013) we’d love it if you had the time to stop by our booth for Broken Crown Games. We’ll be the tiny indie hidden beside Bethesda 🙂

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