PAX South 2015 Postmortem
When I first heard about PAX South I was at first skeptical and then admittedly a little distressed when I felt the con and expo pool was becoming saturated. Naturally I had to check the expo out first hand to see just what Penny Arcade had planned for their forth PAX event of the year. As many of you know Penny Arcade already does PAX in Seattle (Prime), Boston (East), recently Aus (Australia), and now the lovely city of San Antonio, TX (South). These is only PAX and it isn’t counting CES, GDC, E3, Gamescom, Tokyo Game Show, and many smaller outlet events, so my feelings of saturation can’t be too far gone, I mean, the developers have to work on their games sometime during the year. Right?
Let’s take a moment to talk about San Antonio, beautiful city and brilliant placement by Penny Arcade. The Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center was blocks away from almost every hotel in the area, and with bars and restaurants scattered along the river walk, you were never too far away from anything, that is unless you were looking for eggs or breakfast (feel free to ask about that later), then your options were a little limited. Anyone who’s never visited the Alamo are in luck also, as that memorable tourist hot spot is also literally right down the street. Like most other downtown cities you have to deal with a few of the homeless around the area, I was rarely bothered by them, but only had one occasion where the dude followed me all the way to the convention center. He swears he doesn’t do crack…anymore.
Before I even arrived at PAX South it was apparent to me that South would be a bit heavier on the tabletop side, seeing the giant room devoted to tabletop and my lack of emails from developers asking for me to kindly check out their game over the weekend. My suspicions were correct when I arrived at South and saw only about half of the main expo hall filled with video games, none of which AAA, many of them space flight sims (which I’m awful at), the rest were vendors, and then tabletop games. Gearbox had their own party on the second floor, party being a debatable title, but we’ll hold onto that until later. Something nice about the hall was the convenient food vendors, something that’s always lacking at PAX Prime. The food wasn’t 5 star gourmet, but it wasn’t terrible either and it was reasonably priced.
Friday, the first day of PAX South 2015 had me worried. I knew that all the passes hadn’t sold out, and during the presses hour early entry I had seen almost everything in that time. What was I going to do with my three days. To make things worse the giant tabletop area was almost empty the entire day on Friday, was PAX South 2015 going to be a bust? But I was determined to make the most out of it, played games I wouldn’t typically play, and spend time doing other things instead of just gaming. Luckily by Saturday, which was sold out, there was tons of great cosplay and we got to see the tabletop area fill up to the brim. Faith restored.
Being smaller isn’t necessarily a bad thing, indies got more love and it let the mid level developers really go all out without being out shined by huge AAA booths. Navigating through the expo hall wasn’t a labyrinth, and getting from one end to the other didn’t take nearly an hour like it would at PAX Prime. I can’t say there were more indies than other PAX events, since I typically spend a lot of my time at indie booths during PAX Prime anyways. Large sites can waste their time with AAA titles, it’s not my thing, I want to find those hidden gems.
Something that’s really cool about PAX is the community, and that community at parties. Friday saw few parties after the halls closed but Saturday didn’t disappoint, Twitch/Blizzard was giving free booze to the first 100 who entered, and across the street Saints Row and Loot Crate were doing the same, except with everyone who entered getting free beer with food. Since the line at Twitch started forming 3 hours before the event even started, I think you know what party we went to, yep, Saints Row, and thank god we did, that was the most fun I’ve had at a PAX after party in a long time. We met a few new friends and drank free beer until they cut us off, it was a miracle we weren’t hung over the following day.
Since there wasn’t enough video games to game all weekend, I finished my interviews early and decided to dedicate my Sunday to Gearbox Software. Their panel was Sunday morning and traditionally a heavy hitting swag fest. Spoiler, it wasn’t. They had plenty of cool topics, spanning from Borderlands obviously, Homeworld, Battleborn, and their work with Telltale Games, but nothing too crazy. The que line was abuzz with rumors of Borderlands 3, I had to be the bad guy and squash all of their dreams, that shit wasn’t going to happen here. Everything else about the panel was “meh” until Randy Pitchford did a magic trick that would make any normal person shit a brick. This came after Nvidea gave away 5 video cards to random nerd dudes who refused to pick a woman even when asked to (You can see the back of me and my wife around 42:45 when the last guy get’s picked for being not a “white dude”, then me holding my hand to my mouth as I’m laughing at my live tweet). It was depressing, but Randy was hinting at some cool stuff coming up in the Borderlands panel and was pushing it HARD. I still wasn’t biting on the Borderlands 3 rumor.
We still had two more Gearbox panels, one in which I was super excited about, Gearbox Software’s new “hero shooter”, Battleborn. The panel was filled with concept art, characters and the amount of hours put into each one. No gameplay, only art, but it was eye opening and exciting to see how dedicated they are to this new IP.
Mere hours after came the coveted Borderlands panel, an hour waiting in line with the possibility of not even making it in, we sat and were treated to a presentation that’s on par with a Ben Stein history lesson.
Sure they showed the newest Lady Hammerlock the Baroness in action with her character tree, but everyone playing the pre-sequel will get to play her that coming Tuesday anyways, hardly anything to scream about. Then the closer came, the moment everyone was waiting for, that thing Randy’d been hinting at all weekend. “We are not working on Borderlands 3” he says, “but we need your help making it.” and like that, the panel turned into some recruiting forum or some shit, like he needed all that to recruit people to Gearbox Software. It’s fucking Gearbox…
Because PAX South was significantly less busy, had virtually no AAA booths, a majority of which being space flight sims, giant table top areas, and a decent amount of vendors, PAX South felt like a small town expo, not the PAX I’m used to (which is PAX Prime). Surprisingly I talked to a lot of PAXers who’d never attended any previous PAX expos, this is something rare, seeming many people were waiting for a PAX in the Southwest. I was happy to talk about the pros and cons of PAX South, thinking it was a nice ease into the insanity that can be PAX Prime or PAX East. Not too big, not too small, lines rarely exceeding 2 hour waits, fun concerts and panels, and a few after parties that were worth attending.
All in all I’d say PAX South was a huge success in certain areas, unfortunately it costs time and money for us to cover these events, and PAX South just didn’t have enough of the games and entertainment I’m typically into. I’m almost certain PAX South will become Penny Arcade’s “Tabletop” expo, which means I wont know dick about what’s going on. Good for the tabletop industry though, PAX South was a big win in that department. We’ll see what the future holds, hopefully this will only benefit other PAXes in the future.
PAX South Photo Gallery