PAX East Primer For the Regular Guy

There might be few of you out there who have read the reviews of all the playable games at PAX East, and all of the interviews with the hot developers of the moment, but are wondering what the PAX experience was like for the unwashed masses without a shiny press pass. Allow me to paint you a picture with words, if you will, which might help you determine if you wanna spend the ducats to go to this crazy thing sometime.

Now, let me preface this by saying I did not attend PAX East in 2011, so my only frame of reference for comparison is from 2010, which was Penny Arcade’s first attempt at holding their eponymous convention on the East coast. It was in a much smaller venue on the other side of town, so the sheer enormity of the convention was impressive.

Let’s talk about what they got right, shall we? There are four major areas PAX East is comprised of; a section designated for LAN gaming called the BYOC (Bring Your Own Computer), a tabletop section where you can play board games and participate in collectible card game or pen and paper RPG tournaments, the exposition hall, where you’ll find gaming related merchandise and the booths of game publishers and developers, and the theaters, where all of the panels and presentation areas are. Basically, no matter what stripe of gamer you are or what you’re interested in, there’s always something for you to do.

I was pleased to see the tabletop area was much expanded from 2010, with booths from all kinds of card and board game publishers. The independent game section in the expo hall was also much larger, and everyone had something playable, even if they had to hand you their personal iPads to show you a demo.

I also have to say that at 32, sometimes I feel a little… mature at conventions in general. The attendees of PAX seemed to skew a little older than at your typical con, and the event is touted as family friendly, so things didn’t get too out of control in terms of bad behavior.

Now for the things I didn’t like so much. The number one issue I had was with overall organization. In 2010, everything ran like a well oiled machine, but like I said before, the con was much smaller then, and the major publishers hadn’t decided PAX was worthy of debuting games at yet. When we entered the convention center on the first day, everyone was corralled into a single line, which  ended up being the line to get admitted into the exposition hall. My husband and I had intended to see the keynote, but there was a separate line for that, and nobody was informed of that fact at the door, so we missed it.

I know the majority of the people working the show are volunteers, and aren’t really equipped to handle major crowds, but they were often ineffective when they needed to really keep things under tight control. Borderlands 2 was by far the most popular demo to play at the event, and the wait was regularly four hours long before the line was cut off. I wanted to play the demo day two, but there was total chaos concerning the overflow line, and we all left in frustration, deciding it wasn’t worth it. There was only one volunteer assigned to the line when there should have been three. The volunteers aren’t completely to blame though; if Take Two had done some of their own crowd control, like Red 5 did for Firefall, things would have been a lot smoother.

Secondly, I love that there are so many informative panels to attend, but they all overlap each other, and you have to be in line an hour before a panel even starts to have a prayer of getting in to see it, so you have to be realistic and super organized about what you want to see. There’s no leaving something in the middle and randomly dropping in on something else.

Finally, I’d just like to go on record as saying I’m a little disappointed that PAX has become E3 lite, although it was probably inevitable. I worry that as more and more companies debut playable demos to get grassroots buzz, the demand will grow, and lines will get worse and worse, and the only people with a chance at actually playing anything will be those willing to get in line at four in the morning every day and the press. The booth babe concept is already creeping in, even though PAX is considered a family event. I’m so sick and tired of robotic scantily clad women shoving useless swag into my hands, and watching as thousands of people take low angle photographs of professional cosplayers playing dance central while their butts hang out of laughably useless armor. What in the hell does that have to do with gaming?

All of that said, PAX East is an exciting spectacle you should experience at least once if you’re into rubbing elbows with kindred spirits and maybe meeting some of the guys that make the games you love to play. If you can’t get into E3, and you want to have your finger on the pulse of what’s going on today in gaming, you can’t do much better than PAX East.

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