With the world still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic all aspects of life are affected from health and financial related issues to leisure activities like concerts and movies. One of the main industries that has had to pivot and adapt is conventions and trade shows. One of the largest in the world, The Penny Arcade Expo, or PAX, has had to shift dramatically.
Not so long ago I was in Boston for PAX East just before the North American shutdown. Now in September we would typically see PAX West and then later on Pax Australia occur, but these in person events are just not possible. In response the PAX organizers pivoted, somewhat brilliantly, and offered a nine day Online event, dubbed PAX Online.
This event is a merge of the PAX West, PAX Aus and european focused EGX rolled into a nine day rolling event called PAX Online. With a jam packed schedule running nearly 24 hours a day due to differing time zones and tons of demos live just during the event this is one huge, and at times overwhelming conference.
PAX DiscordPAX Online Discord is where the real magic happens.Discord is a live ecosystem and the PAX team has packed their Discord full to the gills with tons to see and do as the show is happening. The funniest bit is the Line Simulator channel that has a crowd of folks virtually queuing, chatting, baloon tossing and collecting emojis in mini games.
The Discord server dedicated to PAX Online is unlike anything I have experienced before and that is where it gets a tad overwhelming. There are so many concurrent conversations and rooms that finding a spot to settle into can be daunting. I found myself flitting between the line simulator, expo hall and pax-explorer rpg.
The meat and potatoes of any PAX experience is all the panels, concerts and chats held by community and industry members. At PAX Online they threw this into overdrive by holding three (four including PAX Arena) neverending channels featuring all manner of content.
The schedule for the nine day event is another daunting, and at times sleep prohibiting, adventure. Spanning timezones in North America, Europe and Australia there is varying content rolling all through the night which can get confusing at times.
Concerts are also happening all the time across various timezones. From distanced band run efforts like ConSoul Big Band to an EDM concert by Patric Catani focusing on The Behemoths Alien Hominid. There is also Acquisition Incorporated sessions as well as golf and racing sessions from the Penny Arcade founders Tycho and Gabe.
Virtual Expo Hall
Many dozens of demos are listed in the section devoted to exhibitors and many are available via Steam, other platforms or direct from the developer. Sorting through these demos can be daunting, but the PAX expo hall channel on discord is a great place to get feedback from others on demos worth checking out.These games are primarily in the Indie or AA sphere with only a handful of large companies, such as Bethesda and Arkane, showing some content virtually. This is giving a lot of smaller and unknown games a spotlight which is great, but again this is where PAX Online gets overwhelming.
The PAX experience has always relied a lot on the merchandise and retailers at the show to add a fully rounded experience and PAX Online is no different. Incorporated right into the virtual show floor is retailers, merch booths and sponsored experiences.exclusive PAX and EGX merchandise and many vendors are selling some exclusive pieces as well. One of the perks of PAX being Online this year is that Pins from the popular Pinny Arcade line that are generally only available for trade are purchasable.
One of the oddest sites at every PAX is the massive and I mean MASSIVE lines during the first few days to get the better PAX merch available. This virtual merch experience takes that frustration away and frankly is one of the best things about the Online conference experience.
The Overall PAX Online Experience
As it stands the experience is a cacaphony of panels, demos, merch and discord chats that can be really hard to navigate to the point where I am sure some have given up. The content is great, the interfaces fantastic but focus and guided experiences will take the PAX Online Experience to the next level as they work towards the potential PAX East Online next year.