A Recap of Penny Arcade Expo: The Ultimate Destination for Gaming Fans

9/8/09

Pacific-Northwest Armani Exchange it isn’t, but it is totally the height of Geek Chic. Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) has become the ultimate destination for gaming fans.

Since 1995, every gamer has dreamed of being able to sneak into E3: the video game industry’s annual closed-to-the-public trade convention, where new games and products are introduced and sneak peeked. PAX has become E3 for the public. While Gabe and Tycho just wanted to throw a party about the joy of gaming and hanging out with other gamers, they have helped to level the playing field for the promotion and distribution of games by giving individuals and small companies the opportunity to promote their games directly to consumers in a cost effective method. Traditional tiered systems, typified by trade-only conventions such as E3, mean that consumers receive their information about games via others such as the press and retailers. But with today’s distribution becoming increasingly direct to consumer via download, the need exists to promote directly to consumers as well. PAX can play a large part in helping game publishers of all sizes do so.

But PAX is not a trade show that is open to the public, it is a festival of all things geek: with seminars as varied as “The art of the Dungeon Master” to “How the iPhone has Changed Portable Gaming”; tournaments as varied as “Settlers of Catan” to “Halo 3”; and a Saturday evening concert featuring geek musicians. Of course, there is a little geek in all of us, or a lot of geek in my case, and since the conventions founders Mike “Gabe” Krahulik and Jerry “Tycho” Holkins love tabletop games to casual games to hard core first person shooters, their convention embraces this diversity as well, meaning that the audience is as broad a demographic slice as you could imagine.

The largest Internet gaming segment, women over 30, was well represented and interested in all the new “casual” games from PopCap, Big Fish, and the like. Younger kids flocked to the new Nintendo DS games and Nanovor (had to throw in a plug somewhere). Tabletop gamers had plenty to do with Privateer Press’s skirmish game WarMachine and Well’s Expeditions new mass action miniature game Arcane Legions. Card players competed in Hasbro’s Magic the Gathering and laughed all night with endless Munchkin games from Steve Jackson Games. Of course, the majority of the show reverberated with sounds of either machine guns or wailing guitars as the seemingly endless variety of first person shooters and music-based games continued to entertain the console core demographic of 18-to-35 males in huge numbers.

You can imagine that a festival started by guys who love gaming, but also make their living by humorously skewering both games and gamers in their enormously popular online comic penny-arcade.com, the show featured both planned and unplanned humor and provided a venue for other critics of geek culture such as Mega64 and RedvsBlue.

Gaming of all types has always been and will always be a social activity, and PAX embraces that in its very essence, providing a great experience for gamers of all types and a terrific opportunity for consumers to directly engage with creators.

Jordan Weisman is the CEO and founder of Smith & Tinker, based in Bellevue, WA. Previously, he founded FASA Corporation, Virtual World Entertainment, FASA Interactive, WizKids, and 42 Entertainment. Follow @

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