Chances are you’re going to be reading/hearing a lot about PAX East over the new few days. Not surprising, given the fact that the show has surpassed the original PAX (aka PAX Prime) in Seattle, and has become the biggest gaming event on the east coast (assuming we don’t count New York Comic Con, which I don’t). And there wasn’t any lack of news coming out of the show, which has been all over your Joystiqs, Kotakus, IGNs and what have you not. Ditto for PAX cosplayers photos. And honestly, you don’t want to hear about what I had for lunch each day. So instead, I’ll tell you what it was like to attend the show as an attendee, and where Comic Conventions need to improve.
The PAXes are slowly becoming like SDCC in terms of selling out. PAX Prime 2012 sold out in 24 hours, and East 2013 sold out of 3 days badges within 48. You’ll need to book a hotel within an hour of them going live, or you’re staying a mile away. Also not cheap. If y You want to play one of the triple A titles in the Expo floor , you’re spending at least 2-3 hours in line. Also expect to pay out of the ass for food in the BCEC (Boston Convention and Exhibition Center), although you can snag a under cooked meal for about $10. Speaking of being sick, “PAX Pox” is definitely an annual thing. I’m fighting a scratchy throat right now, and there’s all sorts of fun horror stories being told on the PAX forums. These are staples for most conventions though, as putting on a show this large costs a ton of money. And not every convention center has a Bojangles in it, something I’ve only experienced at Heroesocon.
So what sets PAX apart from your typical trade, comics and ::: shudders ::: anime conventions? Several things, but most importantly the duo of Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins (not to mention their manager of sorts Robert Khoo). Unlike the show runners of other convention, Mike and Jerry are highly sought out by attendees, almost achieving cult like status amongst the Penny Arcade faithful. Despite their fame and popularity, the duo can be seen walking around the show without any security, and if their not busy, are willing to have a quick conversation with you and sign something (or trade a pin with you, the new 2013 PAX hotness). As someone who’s met them several times over the years, Mike and Jerry are a delight. Their various Q&A panels, not to mention the hilarious live “Draw a Strip” panel, usually have hundreds in attendance, and give their fans a candid look at how the duo operate. Expect profanity by the way, especially when each show has their own swear word of choice. It’s proof of the strength of the brand…well that and how quick the show exclusive merchandise sold out before mid-day Saturday.
Another thing that separates PAX from the rest is the vibe of the show is the type of people in charge. With 60,000+ attendees, things could get out of hand real quick with the wrong type of staff (see NYCC year 1), but PAX is full of Enforcers, the well-trained volunteers of the show. Armed with walkie-talkies and tablets, the Enforcers do various takes- count the number of people on lines, entertain attendees on said line, answer your questions, and perform your basic conventions volunteers tasks. There’s a reason these Enforcers are sought-after positions, and why they get praised all throughout the show. And if you’re a exhibitor, they’ll do their best to make sure you get some swag that you can leave the booth for to get, and there’s a free dinner with drinks one night during the show.
Also the lack of “Booth Babes” and pro wrestlers/washed-up actors is nice.
The show floor itself is massive, but well spaced out, so while there’s some crowding, it’s never as bad as SDCC or NYCC. You have you’re big publishers in the front of the show floor, and the freeplay table top gaming areas in the back, with smaller publishers, small shops, and PC gaming areas in the middle. Also a closed-off paintball firing range and bouncy joust castle, the later where I was hit in the crotch while jousting.And there is some comics love at the show. Udon AND Oni have booths at the show!
In terms of programming, there’s a lot of discussion of video games of course, but also stuff on nerd culture, gender and sex equality, and dealing with mental issues. It’s genuinely interesting stuff, and beats say DC trying to sell a planted mark on “Before Watchmen”.
Cosplay, while not as big as some large shows, is also given a lot more love at these shows. As someone who’s been attending comic conventions for over a decade, there’s usually a cosplay contest, and maybe Marvel will have a photo-op (and only Marvel. It’s 2013 DC get it together). At PAX, cosplaying can reap some interesting rewards -swag, the ability to jump lines for screenings and panels, invites to closed off parties, as well as said contests. Granted there’s usually some jerkass “journalist” who says something dumb to a costumers, there’s more love for the cosplayer than hate. Big ups to the likes of Riot, Bioware, Square Enix and 2K for given these crafty folks some love.
Finally, arguably the biggest difference between PAX and other conventions is the general attitude of the attendees. While there’s some jerks in the crowd, there’s also those who far more charitable, be it donating to the Child’s Play charity via buying cookies or attending a bar crawl (The Cookie Brigade and Pokemon Pub Crawl respectively). And the general crowd is very laid back-I’ve talked to several people on the various lines I waited on and they were good people.
I’m not trying to say PAX is better than your comics convention of choice. But given how much drama surrounds the big shows, and how much of a HYPE show E3 has become, PAX is definitely something ANYONE with an increase in gaming should try attending at least once.