Going to PAX Australia (‘PAXAus’) was a bit of an impulse purchase for me. There are a lot of things about Penny Arcade I don’t like; on the other hand, PAXAus is probably the only large video game show I’ll be able to get to and I wondered about how a worsening exchange rate would impact on the event in future.
So if I was going to go, 2014 was the year.
After buying tickets to each day, I then looked up some reviews for PAXAus 2013. The thing people kept popping up about at PAXAus 2013 was “community”, to which I thought, “oh bugger,” because I didn’t really want to pay AU$55 a day just to see people. PAXAus is a games show; I was going for the games.
On The Floor
If there was one thing I’ll remember about PAXAus 2014, it was that time flew. I was there all three days for at least 7 hours a day and yet the weekend was over nearly before I knew it. There was so much to see and do that it’s only by looking back at reports and videos from other people that I learned what I missed.
My time was spent in many ways – looking around the exhibition area, playing video games that were being demoed, playing games (video and card) in the freeplay areas, going to panels, lining up for things, trying to minimise the amount of time I spent lining up for things and general people watching.
Fashion Tips For Fictional Characters
Since I mentioned it about GameStart, although PAXAus had some excellent cosplay walking around (the Mass Effect Krogan was very impressive, even if it was clear how uncomfortable that suit was for the poor man trapped inside) the overall standard was lower than I saw in Singapore. There were enough Marios and Luigis to fill another 4 Nintendo games while Assassins (from Assassin’s Creed) seemed to be everywhere.
It also seemed that some people had obvious put only minor effort into their costumes. Sorry guys, but if you do this, it shows. Commit to cosplaying or don’t do it.
As an interesting contrast, PAXAus coincided with both Halloween and the Spring Racing Carnival, so there were a lot of dressed-up people on the trains around the Melbourne Convention Centre!
Unfortunately I didn’t get to go to every panel I that grabbed my interest – the Beta Bar (and other Melbourne bars) made it hard to get up early in the morning and towards the end of PAXAus I wanted to get more gaming in before it closed. The panels I saw were generally interesting (I left if they weren’t!) and there was a lot of demand for the ones during the day, particularly on Saturday and Sunday.
One glaring problem that I saw pop up in several panels were panelists / moderators not showing up. I’m aware that in at least one case a panelist had a panic attack and couldn’t go on, but when a moderator doesn’t show up it can cause a lot of problems, particularly for panels on sensitive / delicate topics.
Also, it’s 2014. It defies logic that developers and industry people who work with visuals all day can’t pull together at least a PowerPoint presentation to show up on the massive screens each room had. A few images can save a lot of rambling discussion.
As a quick overview of the panels I saw in no particular order:
- The Realities of Games Writing: This was okay, but as happens when you run a panel and get a number of similar people together, they all say the same things. You can only hear, “Network with people,” and “Be nice to everyone,” and “Do work you love” before it gets a bit dull. Also, if you’re going to be a panelist, don’t swear repeatedly in front of an audience that contains children.
- What They Won’t Tell You About Working in Video Games: It was interesting to have a panel with developers, PR people and games journalists up on stage together. It was a good reminder about how these various aspects of the gaming industry fit together. There was some interesting information in it – like how Red Faction: Guerilla was going to have a female lead character, but that was changed to make the game more marketable – and it also pointed out how today’s games journalist can be tomorrow’s PR person or even work in development (and all combinations thereof).
- Aussie Indie Showcase: The moderator didn’t show up for this, leaving the developers to talk about their games for 10 minutes of an hour session, then opening the floor to questions. It didn’t even seem that someone had organised in-game footage of the games being showcased here. I left this one very early.
- Geek as a Cultural Identity: Do Fake Geeks Exist?: This was entertaining, if a bit light on the ‘what to do’ bit. Gatesy made the comment that “we should be worrying less about fake geeks and worrying more about fake doctors” and that about summed it up. There was some discussion about how much “The Big Bang Theory” sucked and how women were still being made to show their geek credentials, but overall it was a pretty supportive session. Oh, and this was another session where the moderator didn’t show and was replaced.
Audacity of Hype: Do’s, Don’ts & WTF’s of Social Media: This one had slides to show, which meant offending tweets from people like Mike Maulbeck threatening Valve’s Gabe Newell were greeted with great laughter. Unfortunately the session contained a number of people in the audience who felt the need to yell out whatever popped into their head and that detracted from my enjoyment. Guys, if you want to talk at PAXAus, do the work so you get invited on stage, okay?
- Women in Video Games: Improving Things for Everyone: This started with a very clear “NO GAMERGATE” comment from the moderator. Unfortunately the panel didn’t gel very well – I left early when it seemed that no-one really wanted to say that much in case they stepped on someone else’s toes. This is a problem on a panel in front of an audience who is there to hear them speak.
- The Changing Face of Games Journalism, featuring GameSpot: Although billed as a “what it’s like to be a games journalist in a changing world” when it was actually “here’s the history of GameSpot Australia”. When they started on the “what’s the best thing about working at GameSpot” panel comments, I left.
- A Chat with Chris Roberts, The Original Wing Commander: I went to see this because of Star Citizen. I’m not a big believer in crowdfunding, and with Star Citizen being the largest crowdfunded title (US$66m raised and counting) I wanted to see if Roberts said anything interesting. After watching some in-game footage of a dogfight (where the pilot crashed into several asteroids) Roberts called Star Citizen, “A shared dream,” which is probably the most apt description of this title I’ve yet heard. “A shared dream that you pay for and I financially benefit from,” would have been more accurate though. It was a bit of a waste of time for the other panelists on stage though – maybe they were there if Roberts hadn’t wanted to talk, but between his anecdotes and the A/V presentation that covered Roberts’ career, they didn’t say much.
- How to Design A Videogame from Scratch Live: Someone thought that creating a game from three random dice rolls to determine setting, type of game and prominent character would be a good idea. Perhaps it could have been, but when the outcome was “an insect colony”, “bureaucracy simulator” and “the woman who works the front desk at the hotel”, I think that choice was immediately regretted. (“Survival horror dating sim” would have been a much better option, anyway.) What turned me off early on was that this was another session that needed to use A/V well, but didn’t – the materials shown up on screen were barely legible due to size. Plus it was a word processing document that was scrolled up and down. After a few laughs early on it was clear that this panel was going to struggle hard – the panelists weren’t clicking, with no-one really wanting to make decisions that over-ruled others – so I left this one early.
I’m aware of complaints about the 2013 PAXAus that the venue was too small. There were none of these problems at the Melbourne Convention Centre, where the rooms were big enough to seat some pretty large audiences, the on-site food was pretty good, the restaurants / cafes just outside on the river were very good and the Exhibition and Gaming areas were very sizeable.
Passed the Gate
The threat of GamerGate hung over PAXAus like the smell of a distant abattoir at a dinner party – most of the time there was nothing, but then the wind would change and the stench became something everyone tried to politely ignore.
For the most part though, GamerGate was invisible at PAXAus. It popped up now and then – Mark Serrels talks about the man who asked a GamerGate question but left before he’d received his responses – but more than likely you could miss coming across it at all.
Which isn’t to say it was ignored. The Women in Gaming panel started out with that clear “NO GAMERGATE” statement while a lot of panellists looked nervous during each question time. I had a brief chat to the moderator of one of the more potentially controversial panels and he said that both Enforcers and Convention Centre Security had been briefed and were ready to throw out anyone who went ‘full Gater’. But no-one I saw did.
The audience was also primed for GamerGaters too. Although attendance at PAXAus skewed male, I didn’t get the feeling that it would be a particularly supportive if someone wanted to talk about ethics in games journalism. Jibes were made at its expense during several of the panels, attracting knowing laughs.
I did overhear one person at Beta Bar talking about “GamerGate on Facebook” but then a spot opened up at the bar and I went to get a beer. How’s that for ethics?
Did I leave PAXAus with a feeling of community? Maybe, but it’s a community built on the marketing of multi-billion dollar corporations, so I cynically disbelieve that illusion. I enjoyed the hell out of a weekend of playing games, seeing discussions about video games and being entirely focused on geek culture. No new friendships were made – the problem might just be me – a lot of swag was collected and it let me see what a big gaming convention was like.
Would I recommend going to PAXAus 2015? This year’s PAX was a great experience and I am contemplating going back, but I’m curious to see how much financial impact the $AU dropping is going to have on the interest of bigger companies. It might be cheaper to take part in PAXAus, but it also becomes less financially rewarding as well.
Overall though, it was definitely worth going. Next up: the games of PAX Aus 2014.