March 30, 2010 - Yesterday marked the end of the first ever Penny Arcade Expo in Boston, so we wanted to take a look back on the show and its successes and failures to find out if this show can hold a candle to Penny Arcade Expo Prime in Seattle.
The first difference that anybody traveling to visit the show would undoubtedly notice is that Boston is just plain amazing. Nothing against Seattle, but there are few cities in the USA that can compare to Boston's history and relaxed atmosphere. There's no greater complement to the PAX experience than being able to retire from the show each night to a casual pub for a few drinks and good food among friends (if you're old enough of course!). Thankfully, Boston has these types of establishments in spades. You can't walk down a city block without running into at least two pubs. Which leads to an even more important aspect: not having to wait two hours for food because all the nearby restaurants are packed to the brim.
The magnificence of Boston aside, the show wasn't a complete success, though on most points the PAX creators have already acknowledged many of these failings. First and foremost, the Hynes Convention Center is just too small to house an event of this size. It wasn't exactly cramped, but it became clear at times that some of the panels and events were being crammed into meeting rooms and auditoriums that were simply far too small to hold their audience. Literally hundreds of people were turned away from just about every single panel, which is really a shame because a lot of their panels were brilliant; very interesting events with great minds sharing the stage. In most cases, though, if you weren't lined up two hours in advance, odds were you weren't going to be allowed inside.
The space's inadequacy was such that the local Fire Marshall was actually called in to investigate if any violations were being committed. These guys were often found at large panels making sure that the amount of people let into each room was according to code. And seeing as how events like this have a tendency to grow year-after-year, it appears as though PAX East has already outgrown its cradle.
This problem could perhaps have been alleviated a bit if there had been anything at all available for attendees to do after 6 pm when the show floor closed (other than attend panels). Once the show floor demos were unavailable, people charged over to the panels, causing literally thousands of people to be unable to attend the discussion.
The Hynes wasn't completely inadequate though, and the large number of closed off auditoriums (however tiny) were a great setting for all of the gaming competitions and panels - as opposed to something like the Los Angeles Convention Center or the Las Vegas Convention Center, which are definitely not intimate venues.
On the flip side, it was a difficult place for lots of people to navigate. On Friday night, at one of the aforementioned pubs, we spoke to a few people who remarked that they had no idea there was a show floor with game demos and displays. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time considering that the show floor was the single largest room at the convention - taking up about 60% of the whole second floor. But, the more I talked to people the more this sentiment kept coming up. People were having a very hard time figuring out where to go to "find the PAX."
Whether or not it's these people's fault for not being able to find it isn't really the issue. The fact is that it seems to have been a pretty widespread problem. So, here's to hoping that the next venue chosen is a little more simply laid out.
Despite our few quibbles, PAX still remains an amazing experience. However, to give credit where it's due, most of that amazing experience is provided by the fans and attendees. The organizers next year need to do a better job of providing a great venue for these fans to be their amazing selves. Because the fact remains, there is no place else on this planet where you can witness a cosplayer in full Fallout Brotherhood of Steel armor walking down the hall.
Of course, there are baby steps involved. One can't reasonably expect the PAX organizers to get it perfect on their first foray onto the east coast. The one thing they got undoubtedly correct was the city. After seeing it for myself, Boston is the perfect location. It's not a crowded, bustling place like New York, and it has a good public transportation system. Thankfully, Penny Arcade has said that they are committed to Boston for at least the next few years, which should give them a great foundation to build from. Stay tuned for our upcoming previews, straight out of PAX!
CCC Game Journalist