PAX Australia: The Who, What and Where
So for anyone that didn’t already know, last weekend Melbourne hosted its first inaugural Penny Arcade Expo convention – which also marked the first time this gaming convention has been seen outside of the United States since it was conceived almost a decade ago. Naturally I was in attendance, and so I thought I’d jot down some of my impressions of what exactly makes up this glorious three day gaming phenomenon as well as some of my favourite bits and pieces from the time I spent there.
Starting at the beginning, in case anyone hadn’t come across Penny Arcade before it’s an online gaming webcomic which has been around for about 15 years (I strongly recommend checking it out if you haven’t already done so). Obviously at some point in time the two creators of Penny Arcade, Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, were so successful that they had enough money to bring to life their dream of an expo all about gaming and PAX was born – eventually growing into two separate conventions over in America (for the east coast and west coast) and most recently into the PAX I attended in Melbourne.
Anyway, boring history aside, PAX is basically what someone would expect from EB Expo or similar but without the slanted angle that being hosted by a games retailer brings. It’s a place by gamers and for gamers, with stalls of merchandise, indie games looking for launch, areas for free play of all kinds of games as well as live talks and seminars about various topics relating to the gaming industry.
Basically it’s designed to turn someone like me into a kid in a candy store.
And that’s basically what my weekend was like. Despite spending a large amount of time exploring Melbourne’s night life and restaurants (I’m a Sydney man so it was definitely a holiday of sorts), I managed to visit PAX on all three days of the convention to explore and watch and talk to people on the floor and was blown away by both the scale of this convention and the variety of entertainment presented.
It took place at Melbournes Flemington Showgrounds and the allocated areas included a big expo hall for the majority of booths and game displays, a giant open tent-like hall called the Big Top for console free play and table top gaming as well as several theatres for all the gaming related talks.
And you would not believe the lines.
Despite originally planning to spend most of my time at the various speakers and seminars introduced so eloquently on PAX’s website and written up in the guide, once I learned that to see a 3:00pm presentation you were expected to have been in the line since around 12:30pm – I kind of threw this plan out the window.
Instead, I ended up spending the majority of my time wandering around the expo hall. Not only did it have an impressive selection of obscure gaming merchandise (including some amazing T-shirts I managed to pick up and some pretty great, although expensive, cosplay material), but the amount of indie developers showing off their games was incredible. It was a fairly common site to see a small stall with a single screen and one or two developers just catering to a single attendee – basically pitching their game one fan at a time. That kind of thing can’t help but warm the heart.
Not that I’m saying the big games weren’t on show as well; not only did League of Legends book up a large portion of the expo hall with a massive screen and tournament play section, but the Pokemon Regional Qualifiers were held during my time at PAX – and watching 20 or so professional Pokemon Masters duke it out to find out who was going to Canada for the World Championships was definitely a one of a kind experience.
I’m trying to touch on a few of the thousands of things which made up the PAX experience here so it’s a little disjointed, but I think you can get the idea that there was really something for everyone. Whether you were into finding about little-known games directly from the creators, cosplaying as your favourite characters, battling someone in a tabletop boardgame, playing a quick pick up game of League or Pokemon, trying out some of the unreleased games on the market or even just shopping for an authentic Portal gun – odds are you weren’t walking away disappointed.
More than anything I was struck by how much effort had gone in to make this a place where gamers could congregate and play to their hearts content. I have no doubt thousands of people probably spent the entire weekend just playing in the console free play section (they even had a games library where you could borrow whatever game you wanted) and probably double that would have spent the majority of their time playing table top or card games with people they had never met.
For me that’s what sets PAX aside from something consumer driven like EB Expo, which has a fairly obvious relationship between attendees and financial success. While at previous conventions I might have wandered around and looked at a wide variety of titles – at PAX I could sit down and play more games than I’ve probably ever had access to in my life, completely free.
It was basically the Robin Hood of gaming events, and for all the reasons above and more I would highly recommend any gaming fan to check it out this time next year.