ideo Game fans go to PAX East for a dozen reasons. They want to see the latest games. They want to get swag. They want to meet people they only knew online. As far as I can tell there is only one real reason that PAX East exists:
PAX East is a place to play games.
I fear I won’t be returning to PAX East for the same reason I won’t ever be going back to New York Comic Con or the reason I will stay away from San Diago Comic Con forever. The convention is a place to show people what will be coming out in the next six months. I don’t need a place to learn what will be coming out in the next six months. I know what will be coming out in the next six months. I have the internet.
There is a specific class of people who simply are not internet people. Who don’t bother to look up games, only scratch the surface of their hobby online and spend the vast majority of their time actually playing games with their friends. Those are the people who the PAX East Expo hall is for. Those are the people who the big gaming panels are for. The last New York Comic Con I visited had a panel that just showed gameplay of the then upcoming Batman Arkham City. Just gameplay, maybe a little discussion from the developers. I would rather not spend $60, wait in long lines, spend a fortune on food, and deal with an awkward hoard of nerds just to watch a gameplay clip of a game that will be coming out in a few weeks. A clip that I can find online and watch in the comfort of my own home.
But that is the dominant culture at PAX East. Yes there is a massive amount of people who are there to play board games, and those people are friendly and fun to be around. While attempting to figure out a card game I had purchased the person sitting next to me asked me what I thought and offered his experiences with it. The arcade, console rooms, portable area, and board gaming rooms are bursting with people who just want to relax and play games. If you’re goal is to play games, you should go to PAX East. Beyond the gaming rooms into the Expo Hall is where the convention becomes a nightmare. This is due to the big companies being given way too much power over the convention. They get all the panels, they get the biggest space in the expo hall, and they loom over the entire event. Like the big Comic conventions this is not a show run by fans, it’s a show designed so big companies can show off their products.
The PAX East Expo Hall will most likely be the biggest room you have ever been in, and it still isn’t big enough. The giant megabooths aren’t big enough and the halls around the small indie booth get crowded too quickly. If you want to demo any games you should expect to wait in line for hours. I checked on the Splatoon line at the Nintendo booth several times and each time the line was capped. The wait to play Blizzard’s new team shooter, overwatch, was over an hour. There was a line wrapped around the Smite booth, a free to play MOBA. The culture of the expo hall seems to be that if someone thinks it looks cool, they’ll tolerate waiting in line for a few hours just to get a quick demo. It’s painful for a person like me, who wants to try a little bit of everything. If you go into the PAX East Expo Hall without a plan, without knowing what you want to wait in line for, you will not get to demo anything at the big booths.
You will get to try games at some of the smaller indie booths, those were mostly deserted of long lines but still packed with attendees either moving through the area or waiting to play games. If you want to try a bunch of interesting games, that is where you need to be. The same problem persists, however. If you spend your day at the indie booths, don’t expect to get close to any of the triple A games.
I knew I had wondered into a strange place when, while crossing the sky bridge that hands over the expo hall, I looked down at a sea of League of Legend fans dead stopped and just staring at a game being played. The mass was clogging the halls preventing normal traffic from passing, the MSI booth where the game was hosted had no room to keep an audience, so the audience had no where else to go but spill into the aisle. Maybe some of these attendees, who clearly love to watch competitive league, just had never seen a live match before. I can accept that. But while walking to the arcade far away from the expo hall a single tv changed to show a League of Legend match and three people just stopped short and started to watch. They drove to Boston. They paid $45 to be there for the day. Yet they could not prevent themselves from watching a league of legends match.
Part of the problem with the culture of PAX East is that, in the year 2015, everyone is a gamer. So you have the massive Triple A games next to free to play games next to 99 cent mobile games all in the same area. The diversity is part of why gaming is wonderful. There a a million experiences, something for anyone. But at an event that celebrates gaming culture, that draws people in who love games, they lack of specificity is what makes the crowds so huge. It’s what makes the expo hall so big. It’s why smaller games get lost in the swarm.
Somewhere between booths with demo iOS games, the booths selling classic gaming consoles, and the booths proudly displaying their pimped out RAM designs is where gaming culture exists. I’m just not sure that spectrum should be under the same roof.