What I Learned At My First PAX East

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One day isn’t nearly enough to take in everything at PAX East.

Even if you’ve never been there, this should be obvious just by looking at the list of exhibitors, the schedule of panels and other special events and the extensive roster of console, PC, handheld and tabletop game tournaments. PAX East is a big, sprawling affair that assaults your senses and generally gives one the impression that tons of things are going on at any given time.

At least that’s the impression I got during my first visit this past weekend. For various reasons, I only got one day to try absorbing it all: Saturday, which also happens to be the show’s busiest day. I was also working, rushing from one appointment to the next, and I found myself wishing that I had a spare hour just to wander the floor — and also to eat, as it’s easy to forget doing that among the hustle and bustle.

I’d be foolish to pass myself on as an expert after that single day, but I learned quite a bit in just eight hours. If you’re considering making the journey to Boston next year (and some of these observations probably hold true for Seattle and even San Antonio), here are a few things I feel comfortable saying are true about PAX East.

It’s not the place for big reveals

This is probably a function of the show’s place on the calendar more than anything else. E3 is two months later, and game companies still use that event to roll out games we know about but haven’t seen yet, as well as titles we weren’t even aware were in the works.

That doesn’t mean impressions can’t be formed in powerful ways at PAX East. I saw it in the positive reactions to Wolfenstein: The New Order, which came out of the event looking like it’ll be much more anticipated than first thought, as well as in the bitter disappointment that surrounded the presentations for The Evil Within. It’s hard to believe that’s even the same game shown off at E3 last year.

There are so many games to see that it doesn’t matter much that you know about most of them already. Just know that the truly big ripples are going to spread through the industry a bit further down the road.

There’s a different energy there since it’s open to the public

I always enjoy my time at E3, but there’s a different vibe at PAX East simply because most of the attendees are gamers as opposed to people employed in the industry or members of the gaming press. We have a tendency to think of gamers as a cynical bunch, but that definitely wasn’t the case in Boston. Yes, people were quick to point out things they thought sucked, but that was only after seeing or getting their hands on them. Mostly, there was a feeling of excitement and anticipation that just flowed through the whole convention center.

Visually, the crowd at PAX East is amazing. So much diversity in terms of age, race and gender (okay, still more males than females, but not by a ludicrous amount), so many people in full cosplay outfits … it’s something to see in person.

Gamers are dedicated

This isn’t news. But let’s face it: a ton of time at PAX East is spent waiting — waiting in lines at the booths, hanging out in queues for the popular panels, etc. If you found yourself in the longest lines on Saturday, like the winding mass of people hoping to play Evolve or the crowd at the Ubisoft booth, there was a good chance you were only seeing or playing a handful of games even if you were on the floor from 10 am to 6 pm. Oh, and that was after moving through a long queue just to get onto the floor at the beginning of the day.

There’s also the fact that Boston isn’t a cheap place to visit for a weekend. My brother and I shared a nice but tiny hotel room that was easily the most per square foot I’ve ever spent on lodging. Lots of PAX East attendees were staying there was well. Gamers aren’t only willing to donate their time to their passion, they’re okay with emptying their wallets to do it too. I did hear some complaints, but for the most part, people just accept these things as necessary evils for attending something like PAX East. Never doubt the dedication of gamers.

It’s hard to manuever around

Here I’m speaking just about Saturday, because I was told by both exhibitors and attendees that while the other two days are also busy, the middle day is definitely the most packed. The main show floor had large aisles that ran through the middle in both directions (north-south and east-west, I suppose), and if you could find those, they were always passable. But the other aisles were considerably fuller, and there were places traffic just pinched up and came to a grinding halt. Be prepared to say “excuse me” a lot and don’t go if you get nervous being in close proximity to bunches of strangers.

Some of the larger booths were tall enough to see from anywhere on the floor, making them good landmarks for navigation. Otherwise, it was easy to get turned around. Booth numbers were on the floor instead of hanging above (the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center has really high ceilings, so hanging them isn’t really practical), so they were hard to read. If you’re going next year, make sure you get the lay of the land early on, and use the show app to figure out where you want to go before you head there. You’ll be glad you did.

The volunteer enforcers are awesome

I sure wouldn’t want to try to wrangle all the attendees and answer questions all day amid the constant noise and confusion of the PAX East noise. Thank goodness there are people who don’t mind doing it. They’re called Enforcers because they make sure people are abiding by the show’s rules, but they’re much more than the name implies, and my experience with them was nothing but great.

Case in point: I had interview time with the Infinite Crisis team from Turbine. That booth was absolute craziness since it was hosting a pro event, and it was difficult to even figure out who to ask to speak to someone. Not only did an Enforcer walk with me right into the middle of the chaos, he actually stuck around until I found the PR person I needed. I never did catch his name, but on the extremely slim chance that he’s reading this, here’s my sincere thanks. You went above and beyond, and I’m sure you’re fellow Enforcers were doing the same thing all over the convention center all weekend long.

The views expressed in this article explicitly belong to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of, nor should be attributed to, GameSided as an organization.