Boston Takes Her Place in the Video Game World

3/31/10

PAX East sold out months early. Attendance was twice what the committee had planned for the first game industry convention on the east coast in 10 years—more, if Atlanta isn’t your idea of “East Coast.” We filled the Hynes to capacity with 60,000 gamers, developers, press, and game company representatives. The show floor was jammed. There was a forty-five minute to an hour queue for every panel, and nearly every session turned folks away.

Next year, after a hugely successful first run, games will be taking over the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Games for Thought‘s major concern? Worse access to bars. Gamers poured (sometimes literally) a huge amount of cash into our city this weekend.

The consensus: The first ever PAX East outgrew the Hynes before it hit the ground. And for next year, and all the years coming—that’s a good thing!

Some of the usual suspects of the show floor at PAX Prime (yearly every fall in Seattle) passed on this sister East Coast Penny Arcade Expo. But vendors on the packed floor who showed their stuff were dealing with swirls of a solid crowd all day. The Boston Indie Showcase, the MIT/Singapore GAMBIT Lab areas, Turbine’s huge booth, and (off the floor) the Harmonix music lounge made our own game industry a bigger focus for industry and fans alike.

I’m CEO of a game startup in Somerville, but I was also there as an industry blogger. Having moved back home to from the West Coast a few years ago, because I feel this is the best place for me, my son, and now my new social game company, I was interested in what the rest of the gaming world was feeling about Boston. The best thing about being at an event like this with a press pass is that it gives you license to approach anyone with a question.

There was plenty of opportunity to ask. While people were in long lines for events, I found fans and pros from a half dozen countries and about twenty states, and asked them about their impressions of games in the Hub of the Universe.

The consensus? Boston rocks gaming, hard.

Whether it was a game developer from London, a gamer couple from Ohio, or PR consultants from the West Coast, everyone was rating Boston’s game industry on par with other US centers in everything but size—and recognized how fast we’re growing.

“Would you see this, packed to the gills, otherwise?” one fan from the EU asked. “We came from everywhere, and part of it is, we wanted to see what Boston has.”

Jeffrey Sheen, from Stargazy Studios in London, thinks Boston has it better than Canadian gaming centers like Toronto or Edmonton (home of personal favorite, BioWare). “When people talk about game companies, they’ll talk about America, Asia, and the EU. But America never includes Canada, does it really? Boston’s got visibility.”

Most of the young developers I talked to were hoping to work for big companies in the field, or if they were indie, their first thoughts were focused on Austin. Austin is a cheaper place to start things up, and has a reputation for open community that we’re just building.

I attended panels on advocacy in the gaming industry, MMO player psychology, game PR, a documentary on the roots of interactive fiction (featuring culture heroes—founders and key staff of local game pioneer Infocom, both in the film and on the panel following), a session on producing podcasts through video capture in-game, an amazing talk on game rapid prototyping and the economics of agility (“fail fast” with graphs and case studies) from former IGDA executive director Jason Della Rocca—even a staged reading of a new play, “Of Dice and Men” from the Critical Threat Players in DC which frames basic human drama and the war in Iraq through the lens of a 30- to 40-somethings’ weekly D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) night.

I was locked out of other panels, not only because of SRO limits, or the SNAFUs of scheduling panels with insufficient time to get from one to another, adding in the queue at the door. But there was never a moment of idle time.

At the panel on women in games, Turbine’s Kate Paiz, senior producer of the recently reborn DDO (Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach) and an MIT-educated engineer of about my own vintage, talked about the strong presence of women in her company and the game industry around here.

But I found the testimony of young women from around the country disturbing—women have a steeper road to professional confidence in the game industry than in some other software and hardware tech fields, it seems. Although more of the issues seemed to be peer pressure from young men, rather than pressures within the industry, there’s a strong need for professional women in games to form up to support younger women entering the field.

I’d already sent email to the volunteer coordinator at Women in Games International (WIGI) to offer to organize a local chapter, but this session redoubled my resolve.

I came home from PAX happy to be here in Boston, and started organizing our new WIGI chapter through the WIGI LinkedIn group as soon as I landed home. We’ll have our first meeting in late April.

And I’m making plans to be on the show floor with my own game as a rising Boston Indie next year.

Shava Nerad is the founder of Oddfellow Studios, a game software company in Somerville, MA. Follow @

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  • http://www.dailygrommet.com Jules Pieri

    Welcome to Boston Shava. It’s nice to have another woman with an ambiguous first name join the local tech scene. :)