The Games Begin at PAX East, A Seattle Transplant Uniting Gamers and Developers

3/25/10Follow @wroush

The largest gaming expo on the East Coast, this weekend’s PAX East festival, will be preceded by what’s likely to be the biggest party the Boston gaming scene has ever witnessed, tonight at Microsoft’s New England R&D Center in Cambridge, MA.

A packed house of 800 guests is expected at the PAX East “Made in MA” bash, organized by the Mass Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC) and sponsored by AMD and Microsoft. The event is intended to celebrate the $2 billion cluster of companies in the video game and online game industry in Massachusetts. Many of these companies will be exhibiting at PAX East (but some won’t—and therein lies another story).

PAX East itself, the first PAX event outside of the conference’s home city of Seattle, is expected to attract a sold-out crowd of 60,000 gamers to the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. Local officials are hailing the consumer-oriented expo—the creation of Seattle-based Penny Arcade, whose online comic books, forums, and videos have a big following in the gaming community—as a confirmation that the Boston area is home to a critical mass of both game players and game builders.

“It’s huge for us,” says Jason Schupbach, creative economy industry director for the Massachusetts Office of Business Development, a wing of the state government’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. “This will be the biggest gaming conference on the East Coast, and it’s a nice affirmation of what’s already going on here, and of the work the local gaming industry has done to build their community over the past 10 years.”

As part of an initiative Schubpach helped organize, all of the Massachusetts-based companies exhibiting at PAX East will have special “Made in MA” stickers on their booths. And there’s a plan for representatives of local gaming companies to wear “I Work in Massachusetts” pins to the event.

But as large as it will be, the expo won’t be all-inclusive. Some local gaming companies are shying away from the event, out of concern that small- to medium-sized local developers will be drowned out on the exhibit floor by the free-spending giants of the industry, such as Electronic Arts and Take-Two Interactive, maker of the Grand Theft Auto series.

Foxborough, MA-based Quick Hit, for example, considered exhibiting at PAX East but ultimately decided against the idea. Last fall the company launched an online football game incorporating elements of role-playing and strategy games, such as the ability to assemble teams of players based on real-life football stars. To attract crowds to its booth, Quick Hit wanted to bring in ex-NFL athletes and coaches for product signings, according to Samantha Smith, the startup’s director of communications. But there was a flag on the play.

“When you have companies like Electronic Arts and Harmonix and Take-Two exhibiting, we felt we needed something big to stand out and draw the crowd appeal, but that was really frowned upon by the PAX staff,” Smith says. “They felt that PAX is really about … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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