I thought it would be fun to share my experience at PAX East last month. For those of you who don’t know, PAX East is a three-day gaming convention in Boston honoring video games, PC games, and tabletop games that’s open to the public, unlike E3. Here are my impressions of the event and why I think PAX East is an incredible experience that no gamer should miss.
AWESOME THINGS ABOUT PAX EAST
Epic sense of scale
PAX East is massive! I didn’t take a head count, but an article on the Boston CBS website said something like close to 80,000 people attended. Even before the convention officially opens at 10 am thousands of people waited outside to be the first ones to enter the convention center. However, even with some long lines and a crowded expo floor I was able to get around pretty easily.
Astounding amount of things to do
The enormous expo floor alone holds booth after booth of triple AAA and independent games to play, cool merchandise to buy, a whole section dedicated to tabletop/card games and more. Outside the expo floor, you can find impressive artwork from your favorite games, Rock Band performances, game tournaments, concerts, and other hidden gems like an arcade room with classic Pac-Man and Galaga arcade cabinets. Another room has all the consoles you could ever ask for from old school Nintendo systems all the way to XBOX 360. If you’d rather play your own games, you can hang out in the handheld lounge and rest up on a big beanie chair.
If there’s one thing I never get tired about from video game and anime conventions it’s the cosplay. Seeing gamer’s make their own costumes and strike poses of their favorite character is awesome. Some of my favorites include Link, Big Boss, Kid Icarus, and Dante.
The amount of Indie games at PAX East is insane! They have a big presence here, and I chose to play as many of them as I could. Rather than waiting in line for the big AAA releases like The Last of Us, Remember Me, and Pikmin 3. Lots of creativity on display from indie developers and it’s encouraging to know that these guys are getting the exposure they deserve.
Some of the best parts of PAX East ironically is spending time in lines. Mainly because you meet so many cool people who share your passion for games. Plus, in a male dominated industry it was encouraging to see so many girls here who are just as knowledgeable about games as you are.
These guys and girls rock! I’ve been to anime conventions like ACEN where panels didn’t start on time, but PAX East, on the other hand, was very well organized. I was able to attend every panel I went to, and the enforcers helped me find my way around the convention when I got lost and answered all my questions.
I found it surprising that the food prices in the convention hall weren’t outrageously expensive, and you can’t beat Dunkin Donuts for coffee.
Ridiculously fun after parties
Once the expo floor closes and the panels end the fun isn’t over. I checked out many of the after parties including IGN’s, where Tim Schafer made an appearance.It was really great to talk with all the editors who work I’ve read online and get a feel for what they’re like in person.
Lots of free stuff up for grabs at PAX East. Such as posters, t-shirts, toys, music cd’s, free download codes, cards, etc. Extra cool being able to buy games a day early like Luighi’s Dark Moon from the Nintendo booth.
if there’s one thing you don’t want to miss it’s the panels. Unless it’s live streamed or recorded, you won’t get another chance to gain some valuable insight into the industry by listening to professionals and asking questions. You’re not going to be able to attend all the panels unless you can clone yourself to be in multiple places at once so choose wisely.
FIVE BEST PANELS OF PAX EAST I SAW
Story Time with Cliff Bleszinski
Cliff Bleszinski is one of the most charismatic and likable guys in the video game industry and seeing him talk onstage was a delight. After walking in with the badass “Guile’s Theme Goes With Everything.” Bleszinski shared how he got started in the industry. His experience being bullied in middle school. Seeing his name in the first issue of Nintendo Power, the lack of violence in the video game community compared to some sporting events, how he met his wife and other highlights. The panel was a great way to kick off the convention.
Retro Games We Want to Love
A fun panel with the Retronaut crew Bob Mackey, Joey Desena, John Della, and Marty Sliva, who all shared their personal games that failed to live up their expectations. The four games discussed ranged from the old school Zelda II the Adventures of Link, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest to the surprising Final Fantasy 7 and Halo. Audience members listed their own shockers like Super Metroid, Shadow of the Colossus and Super Mario 64. My pick was Vagrant Story.
It’s Dangerous to Go Alone- The Take This Panel
I almost didn’t go to this one, but I’m glad I did. In a convention dedicated to video games, it took courage to base a panel around anxiety and depression. The Take This website was created after freelancer Matt Hughes, a writer for Joystiq, GamesRadar, and other gaming websites committed suicide due to mental illness. Many gamers suffer from feelings of loneliness and distress, so it’s great to see a panel dedicated to this and have a resource for people to seek help when they’re feeling down.
IGN Presents: Steal my Job: How to do what we do now but BETTER!
The IGN team Mitch Dyer, Daemon Hatfield, Casey Lynch, and Greg Miller all gave valuable tips on how to land a job at IGN. Like the importance of maintaining a blog, posting your content on My IGN, having a YouTube channel, how one negative comment on Twitter can destroy your career and more. Interesting stories I didn’t expect to hear include Greg Miller applying to IGN 13 times before he got the job. Also, how Miller surprised a guy, who came in for an interview with a record of all the negative things he said about him and IGN.
Games Journalism in the Age of Independence
With so few video game magazines left and websites like 1UP and GameSpy closing down it seemed like a depressing future for gamer’s interested in writing about their favorite hobby for a living. However, after going to this panel and hearing stories about independent journalists like HipHopGamer, who build their own brand by doing stuff different from everyone else. It made me rethink my role as a journalist and give me hope for the future of video game journalism.
TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL PAX EAST
Map out directions to hotel and convention center ahead of time to save yourself the headache of getting lost. Do the same for panels, booths on the expo floor and after parties so you don’t waste valuable time. The PAX East app for phones and tablets is a godsend for this because it makes planning your day a cinch.
I didn’t miss any of my panels, but I did make it a habit to arrive at least a half-hour early. For the bigger more popular panels and parties arrive even earlier or you might not be able to get in at all.
Check Twitter constantly
Twitter is a valuable tool for finding out how long lines for panels are, where your favorite editor or celebrity is hanging out, after party locations, and unscheduled events. I missed out on some parties and running into people like Cliff Bleszinski because I failed to check my Twitter in time. Don’t make the same mistake.
Don’t be shy
Do your best to stay out of your head. It’s true that you regret the things you don’t do so don’t be embarrassed to say hi or ask for a photo even if someone looks too busy. These people love their fans and want to talk to you.
Instead of playing a game while waiting in line say hi
I met a lot of cool people this way, and it was amazing how easy I clicked with everyone.
Go out at night
PAX East is a blast, and it’s over before you know it. You’re going to feel exhausted in the evening, but I encourage you to go to after parties, so you get the full experience. If you do, you get the opportunity to make small talk with people in the industry you follow online, get lots of free food and drinks, and most importantly have fun.
Support the underdogs
There were very long lines for big games like The Last of Us and other AAA games. Instead of trying out games you’re going to play anyway why not play indie games you’ve never heard of and spend more of your time gaming rather than waiting.
Don’t get over encumbered
You will accumulate a lot of free stuff at PAX EAST from t-shirts, drinks, download codes, posters, and more so it’s handy to have a bag to carry it all in. However, you don’t want to be bogged down too with too much stuff so use the coat check area and leave the heavy stuff like your laptop at your hotel.
Do your best to find a close hotel
The closer your hotel is to the convention the better. This way you can drop all the free stuff you get at PAX East to your room and don’t have to walk around the bar with a giant backpack.
PAX East was one of the most fun weekends I’ve ever had, and I can’t wait to go to PAX Prime in Seattle or maybe even PAX Australia. If you get the opportunity go. You won’t regret it.