Thursday, March 17, 2011

PAX Downsides

Given the number of wonderful things I've had to say, I should probably give a little bit of airtime to the problems with PAX. There weren't many, but they are worth mentioning.

I've mentioned that food was a little rough. There were actually decent options if you wanted to leave the convention hall, but who would want to do that? Most of the choices were expensive and of dubious quality, but the funniest bit was in the extra food court. I think there had been a last minute attempt to bring in more food options, setting up a new food court down at the lower levels in another of the huge rooms. It was a good idea, but I would guess that the available options were limited, as the food trucks they'd rolled in were all basically carnival food. Thus, we gained $5 pizza slices, fried dough and ice cream. I'm hoping that next year they'll have more time to plan and maybe bring in some real food trucks, assuming Boston _has_ food trucks. I don't actually know if it does.

It is also a convention of lines. Lines for events, and lines on the expo floor. If you want to see something, you are going to wait in line. If you're in one of these lines, especially towards the back, this kind of sucks. The problem is that I'm really not sure what the alternative is. Every model of pre-scheduling or smart-ticketing I can think of has exploitable loopholes, and this is exactly the crowd to exploit them.

Booth babes. I had not been expecting to see any booth babes on the floor based on what I'd read about the show, so I was a little surprised to see some. That said, they were mostly inoffensive. The ones selling hardware seemed knowledgeable and weren't too overdone. The costumed ones handing out bags were in high-quality, in theme, non-skimpy costumes. The Duke Nukem ones were kind of shameless, but I can only complain so much - it's Duke Nukem, the FPS with full functioning urinals. I'm not expecting a lot of class. Also, frankly, you had to wait through a hell of a line to get anywhere near the Duke Nukem booth babes, so all in all, fine. I think my sole objection were the ones mixing drinks at one large open booth, in large part because the announcer was REALLY pushing the booth babe-ness ("Talk to our girls! It's not like real life! They WANT to talk to you!"). So, points off for that, but only so many. It's worth some credit that it was so obnoxious because it was so anomalous.

Lastly, Boston wasn't ready for the crowd. One thing I dig about Gencon is that all the surrounding businesses know that they're getting an influx of nerds. We're mostly well behaved, but we want to do strange things like play games in bars. Indianapolis knows there's money in this, and is very friendly towards is. Boston was taken by surprise, but given the size of the convention, I hope they adapt quickly. This year, I felt like we were seen as a disruption to the business travelers, and that's never much fun.

OK, so there are the complaints. All in all, they come to a very small pile compared to the awesome, but I felt like it would be unfair not to vent a little bit.


  1. Last year, PAX was mainly self-contained by the nature of the venue; hotels and restaurants and shopping all in the same physically contiguous space as the convention center. So yeah, I think the local businesses were unprepared since they had minimal visibility last year.

    Next year, I suspect they'll be less surprised, and the $18M in attendee spending number I've heard probably will have a lot to do with it.

  2. Just to generally agree with @Eric, last year everyone was happy to see us, and we were next to a mall with lots of options, but the space there couldn't handle the demand of East-Coasters for PAX. On the other hand, the new site (as I understand it, and as you describe it) was much further from any kind of commerce. I know we were skeptical of what we'd be able to get to when we were looking at going.

    It does sound like they're getting the hint, though, and it'll be better next year. Overall, from what I've heard, the venue is much better than last year.

    Lines are just the price of doing something that's been offered at PAX. When I went to my first PAX (prime in 2009), I was warned that we'd be waiting in line. We waited in line for one panel, and the line for the next panel (which was Wil Wheaton's Power Hour) had to be moved to the Queue Room. It was handled easily, at least.

    I've been to less of the ticket-purchasing conventions, although I've been to Origins several times. The only time I actually ever participated in a ticket-purchase event was when I was running DFRPG last year. (And that's obviously different).

    As you said yesterday, the upside to PAX is that there's a lot to do that's not on the schedule -- and for that there are very few if any lines. I never bothered with the big AAA video game releases, and was able to do things with board games and RPGs that were nice. And last year our Pokewalkers were a big hit, and totally fan-driven.

  3. Boston doesn't have food trucks, as far as I've seen. Cambridge does — they have them at M.I.T. and some of the other colleges.

  4. Lines suck. They should just charge for the attractions until the market clears. At least then, they will get your money; when the cost is standing in line instead, nobody gets your time.

  5. Other problems we ran into…

    - Transportation:

    We stayed with a friend offsite, 20 minutes away via subway. The subway stops running at 12:30am which was problematic but we figured we would splurge on a taxi after 1:30am. The problems was, we weren't the only ones with that plan! Many of the popular music concerts run past the time the subway closes, so taxi lines were over an hour long. Luckily after waiting and waiting, friends offered to drive us home.

    - Waiting in line for 30+ minutes and still not getting into events:

    I like that PAX doesn't have a pre-registration system. So I'm willing to wait online but I wish there was a simple head count so if you're obviously not going to get into an event, they can let you know asap rather than waiting to find out after you've wasted your time.

    - Demos in the Expo Hall:

    I don't know if this is a problem with PAX, but demos in the Table Top area generally ran smoothly. But in the Expo Hall, especially Fantasy Flight, demos that were supposed to be 1 hour long ended up becoming full games at 3 hours a piece and people quitting eventually because they had to go to their next event. It was hard getting into demos, and people often would quit because the demo length was unpredictable. That said, many vendors like Fantasy Flight were new to PAX and probably didn't know what to expect and ended up overwhelmed.

    - Less a problem, more a wish:

    I'd love there to be more full length RPGs that aren't D&D or game demos after 7pm. We had a few games planned and none of them happened. Instead we played Fiasco a few times because it was fast and flexible.

    In general, I would love if there was a way to announce you're running an RPG. Twitter and internet connectivity was unreliable at PAX (including text messaging). Conversely, attracting people to play a boardgame only required that you set the game up. All the visual bits, especially miniatures easily attracted onlookers. Every time I ran Wrath of Ashardalon, I had minimum 3 players who were strangers in less than 15 minutes.

  6. Rob and anyone else who has done both, would you be willing to directly compare and contrast Gen Con versus PAX from a tabletop gamer perspective? I only have the time and money to do one, and I've done Gen Con every year since the 90s. But the consistently positive coverage I've been seeing out of PAX is making me reconsider my dedication to Gen Con.

  7. I think PAX v. Gencon v. Origins is probably the meat of tomorrow's post.

  8. Yay! I've never been to Gencon and only to PAX East, so I'm highly curious about a Gencon vs. PAX post. Will they fight?


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