It’s hard to imagine Jerry ‘Tycho Brahe’ Holkins and Mike ‘Gabriel’ Krahulik knew what they were getting into when they started the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) gaming convention 13 years ago.
The first PAX brought in 3,300 people, which seems like a big number until you realize PAX 2016 had 70,000 attendees. PAX is now a legitimate worldwide phenomenon, with annual events across the globe, attended by hundreds of thousands of gamers worldwide. Some to see, some to play, some to compete, but all are there to celebrate the joys of interactive entertainment. Why is PAX so huge, and what makes PAX different? How does PAX have more attendees than E3, and who are Tycho Brahe and Gabe?
Taking place from September 1st to September 4th this year, PAX: West is arguably the hottest event in gaming, and if you want to be in the know, read on to find out.
1. It All Started With A Web Comic.
In 1998 the Penny Arcade webcomic hit the scene, combining Holkins’ writing and Krahulik’s art, and dramatizing their own lives and thoughts on the gaming sphere for comedic purposes. Holkins and Krahulik became synonymous with their comic lives, to the point where they’re often referred to as Tycho and Gabe by the masses.
Tycho and Gabe wielded massive influence; being celebrated by gamers worldwide, famously taking on anti-gaming lawyer Jack Thompson, getting ‘in trouble’ for a comic strip that made a rape joke, assisting a disabled gamer when he was given the runaround by a peripheral, and perhaps most profoundly explaining the nature of why people on the Internet can be such jerks.
As Tycho and Gabe grew more popular, they were able to Merchandise, allowing them to bring on various staff and turn a profit. Gaining steam and audience, Penny Arcade branched out; founding the Child’s Play gaming charity, appearing in several video games, an excellent web-series, a podcast, and the launch of their crowning achievement, The Penny Arcade Expo.
2. PAX Was Designed To Be The Opposite Of A Trade Show.
The most popular and news making gaming event is The Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3). Every year, press descends upon Los Angeles to cover breaking game announcements, report on release dates, and go hands-on with the hottest upcoming games. But E3 is a trade show. When Phil Spencer is on stage speaking about Xbox One backwards compatibility, he’s not really speaking to gamers.
He’s speaking to vendors. The gamers in the crowd are really there to serve as a barometer for buyers at companies like Amazon, Game Stop, and Walmart who are figuring out how how much of a given product – be it a game, console, or peripheral, to buy for their company.
As a result, E3 feels very…salesy. It’s all product, all the time. Corporate buzzwords like ‘content experience’ are overused, and ‘corporate partnerships’ are often promoted.
‘Regular’ gamers weren’t even allowed in en-masse until this year.
So, it may sound like a cliche, but PAX being ‘for gamers, by gamers’ is a mantra and something of a revelation. PAX is a general admission show, and often times those admitted will be able to go hands-on with the games they were only allowed to read about at E3 time.
Not only that, it’s a celebration. Instead of major presentations from corporations like Sony, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, and Microsoft, PAX holds keynote speeches by some of the most brilliant minds in the world of game making.
Luminaries include Gears Of War designer Cliff Bleszinski, Twisted Metal creator David Jaffe, adventure gaming legend Ron Gilbert, and many, many more.
As a result, PAX doesn’t feel like a trade show. Sure, there are vendors and sponsors, but they are supplements At PAX, whereas at E3, they are the main course.
3. It’s a Global Phenomenon.
PAX isn’t just one event. There’s PAX West in Washington State, PAX East in Boston, PAX South in Texas, PAX AUS in Melbourne Australia, The tabletop gaming focused PAX Unplugged in Philadelphia, and PAX Dev, which is for developers to talk shop prior to the big PAX West Show.
That this can be sustained across 5 regions and two continents speaks to the event’s appeal and staying power. Gamers have long clamoured for a convention to call their own after being locked out of E3 for so long. If you’re in the USA, you’re only a few hundred miles away from a given PAX event which is comforting if you’re from a generation when gaming was largely derided by the public at large.
4. There’s Something For Everyone
PAX has countless stations dedicated to VR, Console, Tabletop, and Handheld gaming allowing attendees to play some of the newest (or rarest) games amongst likeminded individuals.
They even go out of their way to provide free booth space to Indie games the organizers think are worthy – deemed the PAX 10.
Beyond that there are panels, concerts, competitions, pin collecting, on-stage comic drawing, celebrity appearances by the likes of PewDiePie and Wil Wheaton, and notably PAX XP; a guided tour of PAX via a mobile app and QR codes – allowing you to see as many of the sights and sounds of PAX as possible. It’s overwhelming in the best way possible.
5.The Highlight Is The Wacky and Wonderful Omegathon
If you had to pick one element of PAX that typifies its specialness in the gaming lexicon, it’d be the convention-long Omegathon. Participants are randomly selected to participate in the tournament – competing in a five round tournament across PC, Console, and Tabletop gaming, with the final round often being a bizarre game no-one is expecting. For example previous final rounds included Pac-Man, Giant Jenga, Goldeneye, a custom-made Claw Machine, and as you see above, a custom-made level for Mario Maker made by Nintendo specifically for the Omegathon.
Ultimately, the Omegathon is the soul of PAX, which is an omega-level gaming event. Even being selected to participate is game – a lottery. It’s silly and competitive and wildly varied as games are, as gamers are. The tournament is occasionally heated but very often friendly. Like gaming at large, and like PAX at large, it’s all in the name of fun.
PAX is a celebration of ‘game’ in every sense of the word. Keep your eyes peeled for stories and news coming out of the event. While it’s not designed to be a newsmaking event, it very often does, and gamers wouldn’t have it any other way.