Tuesday, January 27, 2015

All the PAX South Things!

Wow. What a weekend.

PAX South is the newest iteration of the expo franchise, now reaching most segments of the U.S. In their inaugural year, they didn’t disappoint. With floor space that rivaled the Boston Convention Center, South will only grow over the years, and I’m curious to see where it goes next.

Consider this my general, insider review of the experience. This round we went to a lot more developer panels then at past PAX experiences, and played a couple more games. I’ll be reviewing those separately from this post, because they each deserve to have a pedestal of their own.

Unlike other convention reviews, I won’t have a positive/negative column. No day-to-day entries. No meters or gauges. Not even an underwear rating system. This is a list of 10 things I have learned about PAX South, in no particular order:

1.) Cell reception blows. But that’s to be expected when 40,000 people descend into one area at the same time. What really kicked up the “ouch” factor is the WiFi, or lack of access. The Gonzales Convention Center in San Antonio has only one tiny spot of free WiFi. The rest of the center requires you to pay to connect, which is horrid. We are in an era where free WiFi is expected when attending events of this scale. Yes, we understand that it won’t be the best service when everyone attempts to clamor onto it at the same time, but at least it’s there. No wonder the expo hall vendors were able to run credit cards so quickly. No one else was on the WiFi because they have to pay for it. For an expo of that scale, focused on digital content, having basic WiFi access is essential to your attendees.

2.) Enforcers are cool. They always are and always will be. But the Texan Enforcers really went up a level. Everyone was so nice! And it’s a comment I hear over and over again from attendees who have been to the other PAX events. Texans are just nice, friendly people. That’s all I have to say. You don’t have to be afraid of yelling or getting talked down to in order to make room in the hallway. They’ll come up to you, tap you on the shoulder, ask you quietly to move, and then chat with you about the event. Thank you for keeping up the Southern protocol.

3.) First year expos are always the testers. The convention will grow over time. Developers are testing the waters to see how the community will react after the first year before adding more to their lineup. And PAX only utilized half of the convention center space. The other half was taken over by a jewelers trade show. I’m sure we gave them a scare when they saw the throng of crowds coming through. PAX South will be bigger in the future.

4.) The location was puzzling at first. Why in San Antonio? Why not Austin where it’s a livelier night life? But seeing the city, I understand. San Antonio’s convention center is right on the river walk, one of the infamous touristy things one can do in the city. It also means there are a lot of hotels and restaurants within walking distance of PAX. It’s one of the few spaces where I didn’t feel trapped on-site and had to eat the $5 hot dog and $4 micro bottle of water. I could go out, get a good meal, and come back within an hour and not feel that I had my time wasted away from the Expo. San Antonio has the space to accommodate an over-sized expo crowd. Downtown Austin can’t say the same thing.

In that same breath, it was great to see local developers come out and support the show. A number of people I spoke with mentioned that it was their first PAX because their company couldn't afford to send representatives to the other locations. Texas is in the spotlight now and we have a huge gaming community!

5.) You want panels? We got panels. That’s the PAX South motto for the first year. There were panels, panels, panels, and more panels brought to us by the developers. We were able to see exclusives and game content not yet released to the public. I’ll have a full overview of Sid Meier’s Starships and Homeworld, among other games, but this is the type of thing that I felt PAX East was lacking in my trips out to Boston. Developer panels. We came for the gaming news and that’s what we got.

6.) Access to developers. This is a tricky technique that you have to master at conventions and expos: getting to talk to people in the industry. On the show floor it’s a bit easier for the independent devs because they are right there. They are trying to promote their products and want to talk to you. The bigger guys can be a challenge. Your best chance is to stand in the 5 hour long, get a front row seat, and bolt to the presenters table the second the panel is over to get in a few words before you’re ushered out. PAX South was much more relaxed. Big names hung around after panels, signed autographs, and talked with the attendees. There wasn’t pomp and circumstance. There wasn’t a crowd of Enforcers blocking people from their favorite gaming celebs. They walked around just like everyone else, and that was awesome. Really awesome. I met Sid Meier, a gaming icon I respect. I would never have been able to do that at PAX East.
7.) Posting the after parties online was a dumb idea. I point to reason #1 on my list. I think the only time I had a stable WiFi connection was as I was leaving San Antonio. The rest of the time it was loading bars. I’m sure the parties were great, but not knowing where they were because people were posting online kind of sucked.

8.) The anime fans looked confused. Texas has a lot of anime conventions. A lot. We host the third largest in the country annually. So seeing a few anime fans in the crowd was not unexpected. But you could tell that they were lost and had no clue what was going on. PAX runs very differently from anime conventions. The Expo floor is not a dealer’s den. Can you buy things? Absolutely. But the purpose is to drive pre-orders and future purchases of upcoming games by allowing you to test out the product before-hand. There are t-shirt vendors and table top content, but mostly the expo hall is to game, not to buy. If you want DVD’s and plushies, check out your local anime con. I wouldn’t be surprised if the set panel rooms of non-fan content also seemed foreign to the anime fans.

Note: I’m not dismissing anime fans. Everyone is welcome at PAX. I just wonder if they got the memo that this was an expo, not a convention.

9.) Gamers are just as bad as the other conventions attendees. They still don’t know how to bathe. Is a daily shower and deodorant that bad?

10.) Gamers are better than the other convention attendees. If you ever want to meet a more open, welcoming, thoughtful, considerate, generous group of people, come to PAX South next year. You won’t be disappointed.

Side note: We unintentionally took over a restaurant one evening when a crowd of 10 turned to 40+. We apologized to the wait staff all night, and did our best to be considerate, say our please and thank you’s, and tip well. We know that it’s a giant inconvenience to take over a large group when you’re a waiter/waitress. Part of your paycheck is based off of tips and the more table turn-over’s you have (i.e. the faster people get in and out) the more money you make. When it’s a large group, they tend to sit for the long haul and you’re less likely to make extra tips. But we did our best to be nice and tipped well (maybe a bit too well, the food was bland). The staff all thanked us for our kindness and for being well-behaved. They’re use to seeing large parties trash the space and not tip at all to compensate them for the time. But you know what? Pretty much every gamer is like this. We’re good people and we like to spread that to others. It’s just the few extreme cases that put us in a negative light.

Stay tuned to The Geek Spot for exclusive peaks from PAX South all this week! And check out all of the photos from the weekend through Flickr or CosPod.


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