I think it’s important to talk about what it’s like to simply experience a conference like the Penny Arcade Expo, or PAX as it’s usually called. The event is so much more than games, panels and large crowds. It truly is about community and inclusiveness and, that makes every PAX a great experience.
How We Get To PAX East
The PAX East conference, held in Boston, Massachusetts, is the only gaming show on the East coast anywhere near its size. There are also PAX shows in Seattle, San Antonio and Australia at different times of the year. PAX East is typically held anywhere between mid-March and late April.
It has grown into a multiday event running Thursday to Monday. Tickets typically go on sale six months in advance due to very high demand. Friday and Saturday passes typically sell out within days, so if you have a keen interest to go keep an eye on the website or the @paxpasses Twitter account for ticket launch dates.
Once you buy tickets, the hotels are the next tricky bit. PAX partners with a booking company to get great rates at all the local hotels, but rooms are limited so grabbing a hotel quickly is key. Even if your preferred spot is taken, the site updates up till 2-3 weeks before the event so freed-up rooms can be grabbed.
How to Plan for PAX East
OK, so we have passes, hotels and transportation figured out – now what to do at the show is on our minds. A month or two before the event the schedule is released, showing all of the panels, exhibitors, and most importantly the floor plan.
With these tools it’s easy to block off what talks you want to attend, what developers and games you want to check out, and how to spend your many hours during the convention.
The BCEC where PAX East is held is MASSIVE, so pack comfortable shoes and clothes and bring plenty of snacks, as getting in and out for food can be tricky. A reusable water bottle is a must-have, as there are water stations everywhere.
A word of caution: PAX East gets VERY crowded and they have pretty strict security checks upon entry. Pack smartly and prepare for lengthy lineups if you want to get in the Expo hall early each day.
What to Do at PAX East
So very much is the real answer. PAX East focuses on three major things: panels, the gaming expo hall, and the Tabletop area. But there are so many side events that are well worth mentioning as well.
The expo hall houses all the game developers, with probably a 65/35 mix of indie and large-scale developers showing their games and products. The hall also has PC Freeplay areas, with esports events like this year’s Mythic Invitational Magic Tournament. Exploring the expo hall offers many chances to play games, but also to observe and buy materials from the devs, such as the games themselves or themed products.
The Tabletop area has tournaments, drop-in games, first look areas, and places to demo and buy games. I love wandering this area and often drop into a closed deck Magic tournament or a game session for some of the newest boardgames. It’s packed start to finish and always fun.
The panels include dozens of talks by industry vets, personalities, or interested community members spanning a huge array of topics. In one panel there may be an Acquisitions Inc. game session, in another a talk about inclusivity in games, or how to fix Fallout 76. The wide variety of talks, with up to four or even six happening simultaneously in different rooms, really offers something to everyone who attends.
The other stuff is incredibly wide and varied. There are console freeplay areas, Intel PC play areas, a Dance Central open arena, a Kickstarter Lounge, Jackbox game sessions running every day, and so much more. Literally around every corner there are diversions, rest areas, quiet zones, or fun experiences completely outside of the main halls and panels.
Big developers and small as well as the community also sometimes have side events, such as the Bethesda game days hosted in the attached Westin Hotel, which offered two days of free fun looking at their games and getting some food and swag.
The Expo Hall runs to 6PM each day but the show itself runs to midnight (except Sunday, which ends at 6PM) with concerts, large-scale tournaments, panels, and events running up until the doors close.
Is PAX East Worth It?
Hell yes. The hotels and passes are expensive, four days are a big time commitment, and the crowds can be intense and overbearing. But what an experience. Like everything in life, you get out of something what you put into it. If you want a chill, quiet experience, that’s completely doable, and if you want a crazy energetic 12-hour nutso experience that’s also possible.
The depth and breadth of the event and the strength and inclusivity of the community of developers, enforcers and fans make make PAX East (and all the PAX shows) incredibly unique and well worth experiencing again and again.