In previous years preparing for PAX was an exciting ordeal. I needed a game plan: who and what I wanted to see and exactly when I was going to see it. I scoured the internet for info and used a spreadsheet to over-schedule myself to an absurd level. I needed time to see everything.
For PAX East 2014 I decided to take a more relaxed approach. I opted to take it all in when I got there. In retrospect, this wasn’t a conscious decision. There just weren’t many press invites for games I felt I had to see.
Despite having the knowledge that some exhibitors weren’t going to be in attendance, I was surprised at how noticeable it actually was. The floor was still packed with people but the content was lacking. Booths seemed to have been granted a more generous portion of floor space but didn’t appear to use it for more demo stations or content. I recall thinking how fortunate I was that the Indie Megabooth was present with a diverse number of games, but all in all I felt like I could’ve seen everything I wanted in one day rather than three.
There were also many games I’d seen before. If you’re only able to attend one PAX a year, then this isn’t really an issue for you, but if you’re like me and hit up multiple events then the chance of the same games and demos being showcased is likely. With E3 less than 6 weeks after PAX East, it’s to be expected that any major announcements are being saved until then.
With the announcement of PAX South there’s a rising concern that the major players and the indies of the gaming industry are becoming overburdened with the increasing number of conventions. Being an exhibitor is a huge expense and, while I can see exhibitors being very selective about which events they attend rather than hitting them all, I don’t think this will hurt PAX attendance to the extent that some predict.
PAX badges remain a much sought after item. The last few PAX events have sold out of weekend passes within the hour of sale, leaving people scrambling for single day passes. Even following the prominent controversy surrounding the founders of Penny Arcade, which lead to attendees and exhibitors publicly denouncing their support, PAX East 2014 weekend passes sold out in less than an hour.
I suspect that the majority of PAX’s appeal isn’t so much what is being exhibited but rather that it’s a popular venue for friends from all over to convene while celebrating similar interests. Outside of the main exhibit hall there are areas dedicated to LAN, party games, and tabletop set ups. There are several parties, from Indie drink meets and Pokecrawls to large scaled sponsored parties and community meetups to take in during the evenings. Those not attending after hour parties or events take up every flat surface in hotel lobbies to play boardgames, cardgames, and handhelds.
PAX has grown into something more than a simple gaming convention and those that attend regularly are part of several communities. Even the PAX enforcers seem to be a clan of regulars. Those of us dissatisfied with a lack of the exhibits at East will be expecting more from PAX Prime and, lets be honest, are probably considering PAX South. We’ll continue attending PAX because the friends that have become our families will be there…and maybe some cool games.
That’s why PAX, be it Prime, East, or South, will continue to swim rather than sink.