PAX is over now and we’ve all had some time to recover. I think Tycho and I were both nervous going into this year’s show. We were moving into a new convention center that I wasn’t familiar with and we were expecting almost double the attendance of the previous year. Looking back on the show now I can see that I really had nothing to worry about. As anyone who attended will tell you the new venue was incredible. We had 37,400
attendees but it didn’t "feel" crowded at all really. Also being right smack in the heart of down town Seattle was incredible. Leaving the show at night you could go two or three blocks in any direction and see restaurants packed with gamers. The other great thing was that even with the increased attendance the "vibe" at PAX didn’t change at all. I know it sounds like a silly thing but people who go to the show will tell you it has a feeling of a bunch of friends getting together. It doesn’t feel like a convention it feels like a party.
During one of our interviews someone asked me how we were able to maintain that atmosphere and if I was afraid we’d lose it if we grew anymore. I didn’t really have an answer at the time but I spent Monday night talking with some Enforcers about it and I think I may have an idea. The Enforcers were telling stories about the other shows that came to PAX to take notes and pass out fliers. They told me about people taking pictures of every room at the show and mapping out how things were arranged. To them it’s almost like a math problem. If they are able to construct a show with the same features they assume they will get the same results. In there head PAX must look like this:
In reality they are missing the most critical element of the show. community. Other events are trying to create a show that will draw a crowd and hopefully create a community around it. Penny Arcade has a community already. PAX is a show designed for that community to attend. We don’t actually advertise our show except on PA. Obviously it’s big enough now that other sites cover it but we have no advertising budget. We have no street teams or promotions designed to spread the word about the show. From the very first year we’ve built the show for our audience and we’ve made no effort to cater to or attract anyone else. PAX feels like a group of friends because if you’re there, the chances are very good that you heard about it through a friend or though PA. Our plan for PAX (if you want to call it that) has been the same plan we had with the comic. I guess you can call it the field of dreams theory. If you make something good, people will find it and they will tell their friends. I think it’s that concept that results in the atmosphere at PAX and I think it’s also the reason that we’re able to maintain it as the show grows because the showing isn’t just "growing". We aren’t just filling the space with more bodies. We aren’t just pulling people in off the streets to play games. PAX is growing because more people bringing their friends and more people are bringing their families. That’s how PAX grows and that’s why it doesn’t feel like any other convention.
After I got home from the show I tried to read through as much of the coverage as I could. The good stuff is nice to hear but honestly I read it allbecause, like any good host I’m worried someone didn’t have a good time. If you read some of the coverage you can see what I’m talking about above.
Gamers with Jobs started their article with this:
The Penny Arcade Expo, now in its fourth year, is unlike any other gaming convention. There’s a different vibe, less glamour than E3 but more swagger than GenCon. It’s a three-day party, and this year it took over the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle.
Slashdot had a nice write up that ended with this:
I’ve been to many conventions, but PAX felt different from all the others in a number of ways. There was a definite sense of community among the attendees; a reluctance to be an out-and-out jerk. The volunteer security detail (The Enforcers) may have had quite a bit to do with that; instead of underpaid wanna-be cops the folks keeping the peace were black t-shirt wearing nerds. In other words, they were just like the attendees. This focus on community, and the fact that the event flowed from the whims of Jerry and Mike instead of a corporation’s pocketbook, made the ‘tone’ of the event substantially different than your GenCon, your E3, or even Comic-Con. There were jerks, of course, and problems were had. 40,000 people packed into a few blocks will have that result every time. On the whole, it was amazing to see firsthand what can happen when a couple of guys say "why not?", and invite a few thousand of their closest friends over.
I think the best quote I found though came from GamerDad. Andrew brought his "gaming with children" lecture to PAX and when he got home he wrote an open letter to PAX 07 attendees. My favorite part of the entire thing is a bit at the end. Addressing all the PAX 2007 attendees he said:
You guys are great. I’ve spent the past two days telling my contacts at the ESA, telling the ESRB, and telling Hal Halpin that THIS is the show that represents gamers. This is the show they CANNOT IGNORE. And you are the audience that these monolithic organizations NEED to reach. PAX is gaming, the future, and I want to thank you personally for a terrific show.
So I guess that’s a long way of answering the question. Essentially PAX is the way it is because of you guys. In our third book Tycho ended his introduction by saying "Every good thing that has ever happened to me has been the result of your enthusiasm, your kindness and your support." I honestly can’t think of a better way to say it. I had a lot of people thank me for PAX during the show and I certainly appreciate it. Now it’s my turn on behalf of everyone here at Penny Arcade to thank you all for PAX.