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An Oversized Expo For Gamers
My wife and I made the six-hour drive over to Boston a few weeks ago to attend the 2011 incarnation of PAX East. It would be our second PAX, having attended the 2005 expo in Seattle. I have been a huge fan Penny Arcade since sometime in 2001 when I was in the small Computer Science program at SUNY Geneseo.

At that point in time we were quickly approaching the launch of the Nintendo GameCube. I was struggling to find as many avenues for news updates on the new console. Two sites stood out to me. The first was Planet GameCube. I?ve since become a writer for the site (now known as Nintendo World Report) and one of the reasons I was heading out to PAX East 2011 was to meet a bunch of friends from it. The second site I found was Penny Arcade. They covered the launch in a different sort of way. Both sites are still on my relatively small list of daily web stops.

I avidly read Penny Arcade over the next three years, through the first incarnation of PAX in 2004. Reading about the expo in the comics, news posts, and forums for the site made me quite jealous. Thankfully, as 2005 rolled around I had just gotten a job that enabled me to make a cross-country trip out to Seattle for the second PAX ever. The guys I worked with were all Penny Arcade fans too. One day at work, my cell phone rang. It was a number I didn?t recognize. As I picked it up, awesomeness ensued. I mouthed "It's Tycho!" to my friends, ran out of the room. Next thing I know I was pegged to be an Omeganaut in the Omegathon game tournament.

A couple months later my wife (girlfriend at the time) and I walked up to the convention center. We were two of about six thousand attendees at the relatively small convention center. It was crowded, but personal. We felt kind of like we were attending a big nerdy party. I had multiple conversations with Gabe and Tycho. I met Robert Khoo. They could all be regularly seen walking around the convention. Sure, some of this was due to the fact that I was an Omeganaut, but I assure you that I would have gotten multiple opportunities to meet them even if I wasn't.

The main (and only) theater in the convention center could hold as many people as attended the expo. There were plenty of spots in all of the tournaments. What this all meant was that you never had to wait in a line to get into something you wanted to see. Everything was laid back and relaxed.

It was an amazing memory. My wife became a fan of the comic. We still tell stories about it regularly.

Fast forward to PAX East 2011. This time, my wife and I walked in just before opening on the first day. I wasn?t an Omeganaut. We were two of roughly 65,000 attendees. It was really important to us that we made it to the main theater to see the Jane McGonigal keynote. As we wrapped our heads around the massive Boston convention center, we found the entrance to the main theater. They weren't letting people in and prompted us to get in line, and so we tried. We walked and walked, lapping the entire building before finally finding the end of the line. Thousands of people were already lined up. The rest of the show hadn't really opened yet, so we didn't mind waiting in the line, but the scope of it was amazing. When we finally got into the theater, we were a few hundred feet from the stage. Jane McGonigal gave a wonderful talk. It was followed by the first Penny Arcade Q & A session. That few hundred feet would prove to be the closest we got to the guys behind the festivities.

That first line we waited in would prove to be telling for the entire event. For panels, we had to be in line a full panel slot ahead of time. If we chose to go to the concerts, we would have had to get in line at around 4pm. The concerts didn?t start until 8 or 9. Needless to say, we didn?t see any of those. I just couldn?t give up some of the other panels. Dinner was important too.

This issue with lines couldn?t be avoided given the quantity of people. The organizers of the event came up with masterful strategies for organizing the lines. It was always clear where and when you had to queue up for what events.

So what would it take to make the event more personal and laid back like it was in 2005? Sell fewer tickets. Get fewer attendees. The show would sell out that much faster. Thousands of people who want to go wouldn't be able to. That all sucks, but maybe it would go back to feeling like a relaxed party with awesome hosts, as opposed to a massive sea of people that is becoming all too similar to other large gaming shows.

The show was still fun. Countless glowing reviews and comments from attendees prove that. We had the most fun when we made it personal for us by playing games with our crew. The thing is, we can do that at home. God knows I have too many games as it is. PAX 2005 was awesome because I felt like I was part of a wave, a feeling I never really had at PAX East 2011.
By Mike on April 3, 2011 at 6:37pm EDT Topic(s): industry thoughts

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