PAX 2007 – A convention for the gamer community

It’s the day after my first trip to PAX and I have to say I enjoyed it completely. This being the fourth PAX, and the first at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle (previous events were held at the Meydenbauer center in Bellevue, but it was outgrown). When I go to computer conventions I prefer the community ones. I learn more, meet more good people, and always enjoy it. The same could be said for PAX. Tabletop, PC or console gaming; it was all to be found here.

Attendance was 19,323 at PAX 2006 and pre-registration this year topped 22,000. I haven’t been able to find a final number but over 30,000 seems to be the common figure. It was huge. There are some venue threads over at the pa forums and everyone seems to be responding with, ‘at least it wasnt Meydenbauer’. I personally thought the venue was alright (but of course loved the show). As Adam stated, the layout at the WSCC blows. There were two large spaces that were connectable that were used as the expo and main theatre. The PC area was pretty large, and nearby with a large hallway between it. Everything else though, was all over the place.

I got into the PC Freeplay area at once point and loved the idea. It was great to try out some games, but got kicked out due to an enforcer being sent to clear out our row. Unfortunately he didn’t know why, just to tell us all that our time was up. This kind of sucked being the last row filled, we were the first ones out, but understandable. The tourneys had no spectactor setup though, which I felt was a big failing. PAX had lots to do, but there were too many people for all of it. Having a couple projectors running spectator in some of the matches, or even just someone with a live camera standing around the players and an area for us to stand and watch some/all of the omegathon tourneys would have been great.

The Console freeplay I never got to try but thought it was a wonderful idea. I don’t know if the line was so slow because there weren’t enough console/space, or weren’t enough volunteers. Again, amazing idea, I really wanted to try out games/consoles to convince myself to buy them, but couldn’t. This is a huge note to the vendors, more consoles for people to play! Even in the expo halls there were often lines wrapping around booths for a chance to play demos and I’m sure there were many like me that wanted to try them, but didn’t want to stand in the line for 30+ minutes for five or ten minutes of play time. The console space was fine, it was basically smaller meeting rooms on it’s own floor. But it was far away from the rest of the conference and walking over to check the line got tiresome. You had to walk through a hallway that felt like a service hallway to get between the two areas. It was tight, and even had service elevators. This isn’t PAX’s fault, I just consider WSCC a poorly designed venue.

The closest theater to the expo was down the hall in a corner, rather than having it’s own room. This theater needed video of the talks on a projection screen to the sides with speakers on the pillar towards the back. Because of the corner, every time I came over here I realized I’d have to fight to get close enough to hear. I’m sure they weren’t using a PA system very loud because it was in fact in a hall, but solutions were needed and I think a couple of satellite screens and speakers for those perhaps not asking questions would have been great.

I only went to one of the other theaters and it was pretty much full. Not nearly as bad as others though. For instance when waiting to get into PAX we had to line up in two giant rooms filled with people. I didn’t really understand the line. We were all getting in, it was just were they stuck us to wait for everyone to get ready. I ended up leaving the line and wandering around. I unfortunately didn’t go to any of the concerts because the bracelet system wasn’t clear as to where I get them and how to know if they ran out, and if I should bother coming if I didn’t get one of the wristbands in the morning.

The lines for the main theater were absurd. Wrapping down a service hallway into one of the aforementioned giant rooms. No other great solution I guess. I really would have liked to see these huge rooms used for other things though. Move the PC and console freeplay areas over there and make room for the spectators. If you can split the old PC area in two (i didn’t notice if there was a partition) turn it into two theaters. This does risk turning the area in the middle into a line catastrophe, and without knowing the deal with the venue and fire codes I can’t give a great solution, but consideration of the above comments would be a good thing.

It looks like clearwire provided wireless in different areas by hooking up a linksys wireless router to a clearwire modem in different locations around the convention. First, these really should have been in the line rooms. We needed something to do in the huge rooms while waiting for events. I saw ‘pipe cleaners’ given out to one row of folks to play with, but that didn’t last long. Then ball throwing ensued. Mostly everyone played portables, but being a geek I wanted net access. I’ve helped at shmoocon doing this sort of thing, and I’ve done it for less geeky conferences in the past, including outdoor fairs with wireless and voip. So I understand why they’d want to keep it simple, but I really hope they go with a full network next year. If you’re from PAX and you’re not sure how to go about this, email me, I’d be happy to volunteer to coordinate it.

All in all, it was amazing. Props to penny arcade and all the enforcers/volunteers/sponsors. I can’t wait until next year.

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