With PAX East beginning in just a few days, I thought it would be a good idea to make a tips post to help out some of those that haven’t been to PAX or even a convention before. A few of us on this trip have been to PAX multiple times. I have also attended several other conventions over the years and have picked up some tips. Let’s get started:
Decide what convention you want to go to
The answer is PAX right? Not exactly. PAX is actually more like four conventions at once. You kind of need to decide how you want to experience PAX. You can do multiple aspects of the convention but there are only so many hours in a day.
First, there is the expo hall. This is similar to what you would see at E3 or other gaming conventions. You could spend all 3 days of PAX playing brand new and unreleased games and never leave the Expo hall. The big gaming companies spend a ton of money on their booths. The first time I stepped in the expo hall, I was floored. The amount of potential gaming was overwhelming but awesome. Find out who some of the sponsors will be at the the PAX Site.
Second, there are the panels. I’m not including the panels hosted by Penny Arcade or their friends like Wil Wheaton, Scott Kurtz, Rooster Teeth (Red vs Blue), etc. I’m talking about the industry panels. If you are in the gaming industry or have a desire to break into it, there is no better way to spend your time. In fact, if you fall into that category and are not attending PAX, you are making a huge mistake. I work in IT and go to a lot of tech conventions. It’ll likely cost me $1500 to just get in the door. PAX is $45-$55! Your potential ROI is ridiculous when you consider the cost. The panel schedule is HERE.
Third is all the gaming outside of the expo hall. If your idea of fun is to find a bunch of like-minded people that simply want to play games, PAX is for you. There are freeplay areas all over. You can go into a room and see hundreds of Xbox 360s crying to be played. Bring you handheld and sit on a bean bag and battle your neighbors. Do you prefer PC gaming and have a sweet rig? Bring it and join one of the largest LAN parties you will ever see (that train may have left the station for this weekend, but keep it in mind). Are you more into the analog stuff? There are tabletop gaming areas too. I even believe there are places where the experts at Wizards of the Coast will DM for you! Does that normally happen during your Friday night dice rolling?
Last but not least is to stalk the Penny Arcade folks and the other nerd celebrities. The two Mike and Jerry panels and the Make-A-Strip will fill up quickly. If you want to watch those and be close enough to actually see them and not a video screen, you will need to wait in line a long time. I’ll throw the concerts into here as well. They are awesome and worth the price of admission on their own. The bands are great and JoCo is always a lot of fun.
Bring your handheld
PAX is like Disney World for geeks. And just like Disney World, you end up spending a lot of time waiting in line. Fight the boredom by bringing a handheld game like a Nintendo DS, Playstation Portable, or Sega Nomad. Ok maybe I’m the only one that would consider bringing my Nomad. By far the most common handheld is the DS. You will probably see 20 of those to a single PSP. The great thing about the DS is the wifi. PAX can be a social event: I understand in-person social interaction can cause some of us to assume the fetal position. PAX is different though. You are around thousands of people that are just like you. We are all there because we are into gaming. The DS is a great way to break the ice. Hop on the network and battle. Be sure to bring multiplayer friendly games. At PAX 2009, I handed off a game of Super Mario Brothers 3 with a friend and we beat it while mostly waiting in line. Don’t be afraid to talk to your neighbors and have some fun.
You will meet your geek heroes. Be prepared
A lot of your favorite geek culture celebrities will be there. Do you have a Star Trek: The Next Generation mug that would be even more awesome with the signature of Wil Wheaton? Bring it and have him sign it. I have started a tradition of having them sign my PAX pass. That came into place since I wasn’t prepared one year and the PAX pass was all I had. A friend has signatures on the back of his PSP. Do you want Jonathan Coulton to sign a napkin or your favorite JoCo CD?
Wear comfortable clothing
You will be doing a lot of walking so bring comfortable shoes. You will also spend a lot of time sitting on hard concrete. Wear comfortable clothes. Boston will be pretty cool this weekend so you want to dress warm right? 10s of thousands of other people are thinking the same thing and they are all crammed into the same building. More often than not, in these situations, you will be hot. You might want to dress down or wear layers so you can adjust on the fly.
Be yourself and have fun
I talked about this above already but I want to emphasize it a little more. There is no reason to be anxious or shy at PAX. In the real world, I’m introverted and tend to prefer being by myself instead of in a large group. I am married and have two wonderful kids so I’m not a complete recluse but I do get anxious in social situations with strangers. PAX however is the one place you don’t need to. You are around people with the same interests as well as fears and anxieties. We may have different backgrounds but we are all gamers. We are all geeks. So roll for initiative and go have fun. One thing I ask though is please follow the Geek God Wil Wheaton’s golden rule. “Don’t be a dick.” Even though you have a friend at the front of a line, it doesn’t give you permission for you and the rest of your group of 15 to join them and skip ahead of the 2000 others behind them. I can understand if you aren’t into cosplay. I’m not either but that doesn’t mean we need to be rude to those that are. There may be personality clashes with your neighbors so please be courteous. We all want to have fun so don’t ruin it for others. If you don’t want people to be a dick to you, don’t be a dick to them.
PAX 2009 was hit with the PAXFlu. It was part swine flu and part torture straight from the gates of hell. Bring a small bottle of hand sanitizer and use it often. If you go to the bathroom, wash your hands with soap. Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. Mouths are dirty so this year I think we should have a rull of “no licking strangers.”
Learn how to hunt down the good swag
There is an abundance of swag at PAX. You could end up with enough shirts to not need to wash laundry for weeks. You will get demo disks and mouse pads galore. If you pay attention though, you could walk out with some pretty sweet stuff. Here is something I received from Intel:
Do you remember the big blue Intel Game On buttons from PAX 2009? Yeah, some people sported more than others: Evidence. Well Intel Game On is back for PAX East and they’ll be giving away thousands of prizes, including Core i7-975 Extreme Edition processors and ASUS G60 gaming laptops daily, for its Game On: Wear it to Win contest. To participate, PAX attendees can visit the Intel booth during regular show hours to receive a button. If Intel’s Prize Patrol spots the participant wearing or displaying the button during the show, they will be given a game card that can be redeemed at the Intel booth for a prize. Also, follow them on Twitter (www.twitter.com/intelgameon) to get hints on where the Prize Patrol will be and for chances to win even more gear.
Awesome news, right? They aren’t giving away an i7 processor or a G60 gaming laptop. They are giving away MULTIPLE i7 processors and G60 gaming laptops! Intel isn’t the only company doing this. You need to talk to the companies in the expo hall and figure out what hoops you need to jump through to get them.
Be social (networking)
No. This isn’t a rehash of what I have already written multiple times. I’m talking about social networking online. There are a lot of people writing about their experiences online. So whether it is Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, or the new Shatner network, chat it up. You can follow us on twitter at @road2pax. Also in your Twitter client, keep a search for #pax at the ready. When you tweet, include a #pax hashtag so we can easily find you. The social networks are also where you will find some exclusive giveaways.
The cookies are not a lie
The Cookie Brigade will be in full force. If you aren’t familiar with them, the Cookie Brigade is a group of super nice people that bake and give away cookies for a donation to the Child’s Play Charity. The cookies are tasty and all proceeds go to a great cause. If you see them, buy a cookie. It’s good karma.
Wow. If you are still reading this after the last 1700 words, I sincerely thank you. This ended up being a lot longer than I intended but hopefully it is helpful.
I know it is cliché but I leave you with this: have fun. Don’t make this anymore stressful than it needs to be. Lengthen the fuse on your temper and give people a break. We are all friends of Penny Arcade. Don’t be a dick.