Your intrepid Seattle-based gaming correspondent Tim Ellis (that’s me) hit the road this weekend to visit Indianapolis, home of , the nation’s largest and oldest tabletop gaming convention. The main Expo Hall at Gen Con The convention spreads out across the entire Indiana Convention Center, Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts), and the ballroom space of several large nearby hotels. More than 60,000 attendees crowd the venues, seeking out classic games, tabletop role-playing, brand new releases, upcoming titles, and prototypes of games still being developed. The scene at the con is crowded, but super friendly. Even in the jam-packed hallways waiting for the main expo hall to open, the crowd is upbeat and joins together in a cheerful chant of “here we come!” Although people come from all over the country (and world) to attend Gen Con, the famous really comes through as you interact with your fellow attendees. Strangers will strike up a conversation with you in the elevators! I sat down to play a demo of one two-player game and the company rep running the demo had no problem at all getting a random passer-by to happily join me. As I played through another game demo, a stranger came up and started asking me questions about it! These are all experiences I don’t think I’ve ever had at the similar Seattle-based gaming convention West, where the Seattle freeze seems to extend into the convention center. A giant game of Catan takes place at Gen Con Speaking of PAX, the expo hall at Gen Con is focused on low-tech physical games made mostly of cardboard, wood, and plastic, and thus has a very different feel from the equivalent space at PAX (which includes tabletop gaming but is dominated by video games). The Gen Con expo hall is bright and relatively quiet. Rather than a cacophony of game demos blasting at your ears from every direction, there’s just the quiet murmur of the crows. It also lacks the giant displays, massive props, and enormous video screens that make up the bulk of the vendor booths in the PAX expo hall. There are a few traces of video gaming at Gen Con, including a classic arcade room and an appearance from the controversial arcade gaming legend Billy Mitchell, of “King of Kong” fame, the classic documentary that pitted him against Seattle-area teacher Steve Wiebe. Mitchell is here to make a live attempt at a “perfect game” on Pac-Man. Controversial arcade gaming legend Billy Mitchell, of “King of Kong” fame, attempts a “perfect game” on Pac-Man at Gen Con Many Seattle-based game companies also made the trip out to Indianapolis to show off their latest, including Funko Games, Ravensburger, , and many small indie game publishers and developers like and (run by former ). Even Penny Arcade (creators of PAX) have a small booth focused on . Here’s a look inside the show this weekend, for everyone who isn’t here in Indianapolis:
Press Priority Station at Gris booth in PAX West 2018 When co-creator Mike Krahulik announced the first in 2004, he described it as “” A lot has changed since then. For one, the original PAX quickly outgrew its space in downtown Bellevue and has grown from a two-day event attended by around 3,300 people to a four-day show that spills out of Seattle’s biggest convention center and downtown theaters, drawing over 70,000 attendees. Over the last decade Penny Arcade has also launched additional PAX events of similar scale in Boston, Melbourne, San Antonio, and most recently a table-top gaming-focused show in Philadelphia. After so much growth, some are beginning to question whether PAX still lives up to its original promise of being a show primarily “for gamers.” Large swaths of space on the expo hall floor in recent years are dedicated exclusively to streamers. Staff at many of the booths jump at the chance to let yellow-badged media and streaming personalities cut in front of long lines whether they have an appointment or not. I personally experienced this at multiple booths when exhibitors saw my media badge and offered to let me skip the line to play their demo. (I declined.) Streaming pods like these seen in the hallway, Facebook Gaming, Twitch, and Gigabyte were all over PAX West 2018 I can’t believe I need to say this, but if you’re a streamer/influencer at and you cut lines to grab footage you’re showing your community how much more important you are than they are. If you’re a game dev and let this happen Im not buying your game — Logun (@Logun0) In a pair of on Reddit, attendees complained about a gamer being booted mid-demo by a streamer with an appointment at the booth for Gris, an upcoming artistic platformer being published by Devolver Digital. Key details about the exchange were misrepresented by the original poster on Reddit, but the fact that Devolver Digital had a dedicated “Press Priority Station” still rubs many PAX fans the wrong way. Press and streamers aren’t the only thing getting on PAXers nerves. In , gamers vented about exhibitors filling lines at other booths before the Expo Hall even opened to attendees. Every single day I was waiting in the queue line at 4:30-5am to get into the Exhibitor Hall to play Diablo 3 (for the pin) or Resident Evil 2 or Valve’s game Artifact… but no matter what I was always far back in line with everyone in front of me with Exhibitor badges. What’s the point of waiting 5 hours before the Exhibitor Hall opens if you get to wait another 2 because Exhibitor get priority access? If it was only for Friday… sure… but every SINGLE DAY it happened! How incredibly stupid and infuriating to deal with this! Then there are the pins. Penny Arcade , and for many PAX-goers collecting pins has become more important than playing games. Booths that were giving away pins for trying their demo had absurdly long lines that nearly instantly hit their cap… right up until they ran out of pins. After the pins were gone, lines would vanish and the booth would turn into a relative ghost town. See the ID@XBOX booth in the photo below for an example of what a previously packed-to-the-gills booth looked like once the pins ran out. Once the free Pinny Arcade pins dried up, booths like ID@XBOX became ghost towns. Really disappointed/frustrated with how has their booth set up at . I really would have liked to have played Pokémon this weekend, but the line was perpetually capped and full of people that just wanted to get a pin. — Longboy (@Gabers_) I stood at a different booth out of the way of foot traffic for three hours and watched Pokémon booths sit with nobody playing them. Everyone I talked to that was standing in line said they were just in line for the pin and didn’t care about playing Pokémon. — Longboy (@Gabers_) None of these trends are a new phenomenon in 2018, but they have been building over recent years, and may have started to affect demand for the show. Despite one of the smallest ticket price increases in recent years, this year was the first time since 2012 that passes didn’t completely sell out in a day. In fact all the way up through the start of the show you could still purchase passes for Monday—a first since 2009. Past ticket sales have been such a frenzy that the event and . PAX West ticket prices increased just $2 from 2017 to 2018 It was also surprising to see that fewer vendors were at PAX with booths this year. Spaces in the main Expo Hall that were occupied by smaller booths in previous years were used by larger vendors as storage space, and the entire third floor of the convention center didn’t have a single vendor. This could be due to increasing prices for vendors. One exhibitor showing board games on the second floor told us that the cost of their room at PAX has increased 33 percent in the last four years. from discussion . from discussion . Is PAX slowly evolving from a “party for gamers” into a party for streamers and pin-collectors? As a 13-year PAX-attending veteran, I still love PAX and I certainly hope it hasn’t peaked. I’ll keep coming to PAX to witness the spectacle of the Omegathon, pitch my goofy joke games at the Pitch Your Game Panel, discover fun new niche board games, and meet indie developers who come to show off their unique and creative indie games (look for a post about indie game highlights later today), but it’s difficult to deny that the show has a very different “feel” lately than it did back in the early years. (P.S. – ALL HAIL BALL!) We reached out to a PAX representative for comment about these issues and suggested fixes like extending media/creator early access hours, preventing booth staff from giving priority to streamers/media, and restricting cross-booth access by exhibitors. We will update this post with their responses if we hear back.