Sunday, September 7, 2008

Why PAX 2008 Didn't Suck

One of PAX's gracious hosts, Jerry Holkins aka Tycho of Penny Arcade fame, throws the horns before the final Omegathon round. Photo by Doug Bonham

Despite the fact that 58,000 of my closest and stinkiest friends also made their way to the 2008 Penny Arcade Expo, and though it was more crowded, had more lines, and was generally more packed than ever before, PAX 2008 did not suck. I can quantify this with science!

The lines were still a pain in years past. Maybe not quite as big a pain, but they were most assuredly there. Last year it was for the first Rock Band booth; three years ago, when I first went, it was for the Zelda demo at the Nintendo booth. Compared with last year, the lines at the local eateries (especially the ones inside the convention center) were just as bad, the parking situation sucked as much; plus, it's smack-dab in downtown Seattle, which will bring necessary problems regardless.

It doesn't mean it's good, but it's certainly not much worse than in years past.

Mirror's Edge was a hot property at Electronic Arts' booth at PAX. Photo by Doug Bonham

The lines to play games were sooooooooo bad. Okay, some of them sucked, but the ones I can think of were for marquee, AAA-quality game titles: StarCraft II, Rock Band 2, Left 4 Dead, Fallout 3, etc. Sure, there are claims that some of the developers were catering too much to the yellow-badged media members - I can't say I saw any of the general public in the Fallout 3 trailer all weekend, for sure - but I would trust in PA dropping the banhammer on that practice next year.

Also, focusing on the lines for maybe 10% of the games is ignoring the reasonable lines everywhere else. Yes, that includes Guitar Hero: World Tour, which is at least trying to be a AAA title. One of the best games I saw all show was Valkyria Chronicles, and we waited a minimal amount of time to see that. Crowding wasn't too bad at Microsoft, Nintendo or Sony's booths, either - at least, certainly not to the extent of the worst lines.

The panels were all too packed. I may be venturing more to devil's advocate range here, but, umm, that's bad? It's certainly better than having 25% of the panels at the show completely empty, right? Isn't this a sign that PA knows their demo and is scheduling the right people to be there to speak? Nobody wants to stand for an hour or so (I ate my dinner Friday night standing at the back of the 1up Yours taping), but at least it's a good sign that they know their market.

Also, some people (myself included) went to PAX with a hope and a dream wishing to meet people in the industry, and while it was harder than last year, it was still possible. Okay, there was a huge "Cult of (insert 1up Editor Here)" at their Saturday night party at GameWorks, but that's bound to happen. People were available after most of the panels I went to during the show. Just like with breaking into the industry, it's a matter of effort.

I could keep going, but I think I've made my point. While there was more crowding than ever, were there ever any real problems - even in PC freeplay, BYOC, or console freeplay? It seems like everybody kept their head and lived by the PAX creed: Have fun and don't be a dick to anybody or keep anyone else from having fun.

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