Gaming Away the Holiday Weekend at the Penny Arcade Expo

8/29/08Follow @gthuang

Everyone knows the gaming industry is huge in Seattle. Well, this weekend it will get even huger. Today marks the start of the 5th annual Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center in downtown Seattle. Since 2007, when the E3 convention in Los Angeles was majorly downsized, PAX has become North America’s biggest trade show for computer and video games. It draws tens of thousands of people for a weekend of game exhibitions, demos, panel discussions, free-play areas, gaming tournaments, parties, and concerts (this year’s lineup of bands includes the OneUps, Freezepop, and Jonathan Coulton).

The weekend is billed as a festival of gaming technology and culture, and the entry fee is pretty low ($45 if you pre-registered). Besides the promise of meeting lots of interesting folks in the industry, I spotted some talks and panels having to do with gaming, business, and society. So, for anyone who isn’t too busy fighting the traffic on I-5 this weekend, here are a few sessions to watch:

Game Developer Parents: Raising Our Kids On Games (Sat, 10:30 am). This is an obvious topic: how to manage your kids’ development and activities in an age of ubiquitous gaming. The panel, which includes people from Maynard, MA-based 38 Studios (which we’ve written about here and here) and San Francisco, CA-based social game network Zynga, is billed as “refreshingly pro-gaming.” I wonder if they’ll tackle any difficult issues, or just have a lovefest about the educational and social benefits of gaming.

PC Hardware and Gaming Technology (Sat, 11:30 am). How will Moore’s Law affect gaming? How will games push the state of the art in computing technologies? This panel, which includes Jeff Kalles of Penny Arcade and Chris Melissinos of Sun Microsystems (who knew that Sun had a chief gaming officer?), will tackle the tech questions of next-generation games and consoles.

Is Casual Killing Core Games? (Sat, 6:00 pm) From the talks at the Casual Connect gaming conference last month, I’d guess the answer is no—there seems to be a lot more overlap between the “casual” and “core” gaming markets than most people thought. But maybe the core game developers have something to say about that. Rob Gruhl of Microsoft’s game platform strategy team moderates a panel of industry experts.

Sex in Videogames: A Comparative Study (Sat, 7:30 pm). Not sure what this is about, but I bet there was a lot of research done. Pink Godzilla, a Seattle-based video game store, will be part of a panel that discusses cultural differences between the U.S. and Japan when it comes to sex in video games. Interesting that the session is on a typical date night. (There’s also a session the next morning called “How to get your girlfriend into gaming.” I’m not making this up.)

—Cambridge, MA-based Harmonix Music Systems is doing a panel on the company’s history (“The Rockening,” Sat, 1:00 pm), from its early days as an MIT spinoff to its success with Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and the $175 million acquisition by MTV Networks. Offline, I plan to get the scoop on Rock Band 2 and other gossip from Harmonix senior developer Dan Schmidt, who [full disclosure] happens to play in this awesome band with me.

There are several other sessions that might be of particular interest to startups and entrepreneurs: Pitch Your Game Idea (Sat, 5:30 pm); Engaging Online Communities (Fri, 6:30 pm); Advertising and PR: The Endless Struggle (Sat, 10 am); MMO and Virtual World Business Models (Sun, 12 pm).

It says something about the gaming community that the convention doesn’t start until 2 pm today and runs through Sunday of Labor Day weekend. It’s not work—gamers and game developers eat, drink, and breathe this stuff. I think the website of Bellevue, WA-based Valve, creator of game franchises Half-Life and Counter-Strike, says it best: “Members of the Valve staff…collectively define sunlight as ‘that which makes a computer monitor difficult to see’ and free time as ‘when we get to play games instead of make them.’”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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