Frequent Conference visitor, newbie at PAX…


I thought I pretty much knew what to expect at my first PAX. After all, I’ve been visiting game conferences for almost 10 years by now. How different could this one be? Well, let’s start at the beginning.

PAX Dev.
Two days of lectures and panels from developers for developers. I expected the usual kind of talks about app store ranking, monetisation, etc etc. Boy was I wrong. PAX Dev is a blackbox-event. This means that everyone agrees that no one will tweet or post or publish any lecture content in any way. Do we sign an NDA for this? No. It’s all based on trust. And here’s where the event starts to feel different already.

A few hundred of us gather in the big lecture room to listen in awe to Elan Lee’s kickoff keynote about Exploding Kittens and their rocky ride of becoming the most backed Kickstarter project ever. An incredibly inspirational talk to start the conference.

In between 2 packed days of lectures there are short coffee breaks where at first it feels hard to network. Usually I see plenty of familiar faces at conferences, but I don’t know anyone here. How do I start talking to people? And then someone walks up to me and says “Hi! How are you?” Oh, right. That’s how you start a conversation. I get reminded that everyone here is attending to learn, to be inspired, to share knowledge, and to share the passion for our industry. I don’t feel like an outsider anymore.

The rest of the days I attend talks from the people over at Kickstarter, Amazon and Google Play. Where else do you find people from these massively important platforms willing to share their data? Not many take-aways from a black-box event that I can share, but I can share one.

Ty Taylor, the creator of Tumblestone, talked about his automated level generator and how he designed it. He pointed out specifically that all this info is ok to share.

We conclude PAX Dev with a closing keynote by Raph Koster about Game Grammer. This is not a good time to zone out after a long day full of lectures. Raph drills down to the core of game design within a 1-hour talk. My head is spinning and I feel like I have to rethink all my game ideas. By the way, I highly recommend his book “A Theory of Fun”.

Next day. The real deal. PAX Prime!
A 4-day consumer event for gamers. With a few years of Gamescom experience I feel like I know what to expect. Big crowds of gamers, long lines for the most exciting upcoming releases, a loud show floor, and standing in line for lunch behind Link and Zelda.

A few points where PAX turned out to be different:
  1. Not just computer games. The event offers a nice balance between online and offline. The popularity of card games, tabletop RPG’s and board games is on the rise again. Magic: The Gathering had it’s own dedicated conference hall across the street, Pathfinder was being played by hundreds of people at the same time, and there were plenty of opportunities to just sit down and with strangers and play even stranger board games together. The new definition of social gaming, perhaps? 😉
  2. Lectures are well attended. Spread out over different lectures halls in the building, and even at different locations in the city. Developers talked about the process of how their game was made, professional gamers shared their experience, introduction talks to the game industry, the history of games, the future of games, games, games, games! Indeed, no lack of love for our industry here!
  3. Big publishers don’t rule the show. At Gamescom it’s quite normal to see 8-hour lines of people who hope to get a 10-minute gameplay demo of the next upcoming blockbuster. At PAX, those lines were relatively short. Also, at Gamescom the indie area always seems quite abandoned in a corner. At PAX, the Indie MEGAbooth and the PAX 10 were buzzing!

My personal favourites?
Well, I just downloaded Armello on Steam; a stunningly beautiful RPG/boardgame game by the Australian developer League of Geeks. For someone who grew up loving the Redwall books, this game ticks all the right boxes for me.

On a more realistic note is ECO, developed by StrangeLoopGames. A complex world builder based on community driven rules. I’m not only looking forward to this as a game but also as a social experiment, since users have to vote on laws and restrictions regarding hunting and building expansion for example. Will we treat this virtual world better than our real one? Their Kickstarter is still running!

Unfortunately I had to leave PAX Prime early. Too little time to play all those amazing games. At least I will still be able to check them out online!

It was time to go to the airport. Or wherever I would end up in one of those bad-ass Mad Max Ubers….

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