In the middle of the first day, photos and videos from PAX West went viral on social media. The lack of big screens for big-name titles; console manufacturers and major studios are significantly absent. The list of suppliers and the schedule of panels has been reduced significantly. Some online commenters were quick to scoff and say they’re glad they didn’t waste their time and money on the event. One corner of the Internet decided, just hours after the four-day show, that PAX West was an idiot.
They were wrong. PAX West 2021’s story isn’t about big players not being there, or crowd-pleasing keynote speakers who don’t show up. Completely opposite. The story of PAX West 2021 is about little boys.
Like many others, I approached PAX West with some trepidation and caution. After all, there is still a worldwide pandemic raging. Many studios and publishers have made the very logical decision not to attend the shows in person. As a longtime gamer and native Northwesterner, I have had the opportunity to attend PAX West for many years and have always used it as an opportunity to escape everyday life and immerse myself in the world and culture. gaming chemistry. I, like many others, do not know what will happen this year, or whether what will happen at PAX will justify the increased time, cost, and risk involved in attending.
“Come on. We know why we are here. You’d probably hear Kojima right now if this were a normal year,” the Mega64 comedy troupe quipped as they gave a keynote speech at the Paramount Theater in Seattle. It’s true. The big names didn’t come. When the show floor opened on Friday, September 3, it was confirmed: PAX would be significantly smaller. Gone are the big days of Microsoft and Nintendo. No giant statues, no big Bungie or Capcom booths.
Replacing them are dozens of indie games, developed by small and passionate teams. Where Microsoft may have once stood, you’ve found games like Captain ToonHead vs the Punks from Outer Space, a totally fun VR tower defense FPS game. Instead of giant LED walls, we have a fake shack that has been built in the three brothers’ garage to advertise their game. Blacksmith’s Bay.
The niche retail booths, long lined up down the less busy upper part of the convention center, have now been occupied with an entire wing of the main show floor. Suddenly, BattleTech figurines, custom 20-sided dice, themed dresses and scarves are front and center for attendees to shop. The top floor itself is now ample space for board games. There are Magic the Gathering tournaments, games to buy and play with friends, and tables for those looking for groups to play with.
The control panels are the same. With much of the “star power” missing, it opened the door to new and exciting conversations. People filled their seats (all secluded and well spaced) to listen to talks about networking at conferences or how to build a Raspberry Pi into a classic gaming machine.
The smaller scale also extends to PAX parties. No halls, clubs or bars are rented for advertising Cyberpunk 2077 or Monster Hunter World. Instead, there are more intimate gatherings, celebrating the Women of eSports or the Seattle Streaming Broadcaster.
News spread quickly about what was actually on offer at PAX, and whispers began to build about short wait times to play the game and unique items to purchase. PAX attendees have always been hungry to see and do things related to video games.
Looks like the guys at PAX West went there on purpose. Lines began to form for games and shops. Attendance may have been down from previous years, but those who made the trip made their enthusiasm known. Visitors started gathering around games like Squish, an amazingly spooky party game, with cheers erupting after competitive matches between conference attendees. New customers are constantly pouring into retail stores. Legend boards for specific games, or how to network at events, quickly gain their COVID-safe abilities.
The board game deck becomes a hub of activity. The action is continuous and lasts through the closing time of the show floor. People go to Facebook to find more players, and the impromptu friendships, a longstanding hallmark of PAX, continue to build.
Small PAX gatherings that have replaced large PAX parties are now the focus of nightlife. People have taken to Reddit, Discord, and Facebook to discuss what’s happening and where.
By the end of the week, attendees were back to the usual routine of lining up early and racing to see the hottest games on the show floor. Except instead of racing to see the latest Zelda title or learn about the latest Fate 2 expanding, people want an early chance to spend time with titles like the classic Doom-meet-Titanfall shooter Turbo Overkill.
Second, as the program ended, I started informally signing up with as many vendors and merchants as I could to find out their views on how the weekend went. A retro game store employee told me they made more money on Saturday afternoon than they all had at PAX 2019. Many of the indie developers I spoke with for the first time were in there, glad that the little project they worked on with their siblings or friends is now played all day by PAX attendees. I have heard stories of great successes. Mid-Autumn, a supernatural fantasy film about Asian migration and domestication, sent an email saying that in just three days, it had raised more than 50% of its $30,000 Kickstarter goal. me. Queer Women of Esports party sponsor told me they have a pack house (COVID safe) and a caring, inclusive audience for sex-positive educational talks at the event their.
On the train back home to Portland, Oregon, I reached out to ReedPop and Penny Arcade, the organizations behind PAX, to see what response they’d heard. They have this to say:
This Labor Day weekend, ReedPop and Penny Arcade held their first live PAX and first major North American video game event in 18 months, after canceling six consecutive shows for health and safety. our entire community. We have established strict health and safety guidelines, requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test, with masks required for everyone in the convention center. 93% of attendees were fully immunized, with the community ensuring near-universal compliance with our masking policy.
The majority of attendees told us they had a great experience and understood the outcome of the ongoing pandemic we all face together. Most of the exhibitors also gave us positive feedback on how the show went for them. Everyone at PAX is confident that as we establish a new normal, many of the companies our attendees know, love, and hope to have attended will return, just as they were. original plan a few weeks before.
The stories of empty spaces, walled areas and minimal AAA presence at PAX West are all true. Being disappointed with the smaller scale, or wishing it was more like the older PAX, is a perfectly valid way to feel. However, the space vacated by the big players PAX was not wasted. Smaller voices have dominated PAX West 2021. Many are brand new, seizing opportunities that may not have been available at previous exhibitions. Others have always been there, but hidden from view, or overwhelmed by industry giants. PAX is not empty. It has space, and the story of PAX West 2021 is the story of those who can see and hear for themselves.