Do not let your eyes deceive you, after 20 years PAX still has so much to offer.

  It is not the same as it was! Where are all the booths? It looks so empty. Is PAX dying? These were the whispers in halls of the Boston Co...


It is not the same as it was! Where are all the booths? It looks so empty. Is PAX dying?

These were the whispers in halls of the Boston Convention and Exhibition center before I even had set a foot on the show floor of PAX East's 2024 celebration. A few years not after covid stopped the world and in an era where large gaming companies gobbled up all the AA studios or went under / through massive cost cutting measures it is easy to come to the conclusion that something is different now. And that perhaps, the peak days of PAX filled with MEGA booths, more swag then would fit in your carry on and shoulder to shoulder packed halls are over. The real question however is, if that truly is a bad thing.

It was a cold weekend in Boston this late March. And as people checked into their hotels and collected their passes from will-call grabbed a free Final Fantasy branded lanyard and moved on through to the expo floor first glances noticed spacious areas where it seemed something was missing. The first thing of course were the people, without a bustling audience to scour the many booths' things quickly can feel small and empty and at this time we were still looking through the glass longingly for glimpse of what was just around the corner. 

But they were not wrong, the booths were smaller, more spread out and less glamorous than we have seen in the past. Besides that, a really large space was taken up by Dunkin and Mountain Dew. Though nice snacks, not really a gaming developer showing off their latest progress. Some of all this empty space had a clear reason that everyone was aware off. G D C. The Game Developers Conference in San Diego for the last couple years has run right into PAX East and this year it ran from March 18- 22, where PAX East started on the 21st. Because GDC is where real work and business gets done, it will in many ways way heavier for the studios to be there, especially when you are looking for publishers and recruit people. Booth material is not cheap (not to mention booth space) and so if you have only one set, you cannot just pick it all up and move it all over in time. The GDC effect ever since they moved to this earlier timeslot, and it has been compounded over the years. 

In addition to GDC, it has also not been a great year for the games industry in terms of studio health, despite a banner year of new high quality game releases in 2023, that made most of our wallet's cry from exhaustion, 2024 started off with thousands of lay-offs across multiple studios and publishers. A company's financial team would be hard pressed to release a million dollar plus marketing budget for a (mostly) consumer-oriented convention after such a massive cut. Especially when they can get hype online in other ways for a lot less money.  

And lastly there has been the conglomeration of studios not in the very least Microsoft acquiring Bethesda and Activision, two studios/publishers who were in PAX' past responsible for some incredible booths as well as after parties for the public.  Now they fall under one master with a marketing budget to share for all. 

All these factors and more, have contributed to a different look and feel at PAX but if you look closer you see that there are glimpses of light present that save this massive event from being bad, or a failure. Just as new life starts growing soon after a forest fire and you will soon see green return in such wasteland, the games industry is flexible enough for new studios to grow and take the reins at events like PAX.  With a more restrictive budget and therefore smaller /less bombastic booth presents, these new small to mid-size studios offer a more personable experience instead of a sensory overload where you are shoved flyers in your face by booth babes, while a bunch of MC's of opposite booths yell loudly into microphones over booming techno trying to win your attention but instead drown your ears in a cacophony of garbled noise. Not having these massive, planet sized, franchises sucking up all the oxygen into a big black hole of mass marketing there is room for so many others to steal the limelight. 

With still well over 200 booths ranging from single table setups to larger multigame showings and Larian Studios and Nintendo bolstering the rear that was something for anyone who considers themselves a gamer or tabletop gamer to sink their teeth in. We will cover some of these in more depth in later articles but there were wonderful and exciting demos from Apogee with Lucid, Quest master, and Little lands , Retroware keeps on just killing it with new upcoming titles such as Toxic Avenger and The Transylvania adventure, Simons quest. 

The DreadXP Booth brought spooky games, which brought delightful frights to the crowds and the massive AFK Journey Booth brought the cuteness to Boston with their fun anime art style. Square Enix provided everyone who tried their latest expansion with an orange bucket hat and by the looks of it, a lot of people tried. Some games even crossed the boundaries between the physical and digital such as SolForge Fusion, a card game that gives you digital decks of your physical copies in their online game without the need to repurchase them again. And each deck is always unique due to their advanced algorithm. 

There were new and upcoming hardware presentation as well, such as the Atari 400 mini and the 2600+ which was released last year. And the people at Elevated Perceptions are bringing to 4th dimension to gaming and movies with their GameScent device which brings the smells from your virtual environment into your living room.  

On the other half there was the tabletop gaming with hundreds of tables and a bunch more vendors to get people playing and socializing right away A big contributor in recent years has been Traceyboards, spreading their Candian Cultural heritance by teaching people how to play crokinole a multiplayer round shuffleboard game which have been a big hit every time. You could also try your hand at unpublished games and see the creative new games people designed. 

And let's not forget the gaming arena, all the side rooms for different communities, console free play and the fantastic panels that filled a four-day program morning to evening. Even Daybreak showed up celebrating the 25th anniversary of the grandaddy MMO of all-time Everquest. 

All this is but a small portion of what people could do and see this year, which even with so much missing is still so much to experience. Sometimes you need quality over quantity, take your time really soaking up game instead of peeking in and moving on. With out this extra time, I would have never stopped by the Freedom Games booth looking at a pinball themed game to discover they had an amazingly fun upcoming GI Joe game.  You could spend double the number of days here and still miss some gem of a game, moment or event. But the question is, is it your type of content or not. 

I would argue that in a world filled with so anger, hate, lack of patience and harassment. People forgot to stop and smell the roses, look beyond the negatives and see the beauty before them. The current offering this year allowed for plenty reflection and find love for the game again. The passion that these developers bring to the floor is unparalleled and no amount of marketing money can compete with that. 

All that is to say, that this cool stuff I saw does not discredit the worry people might have of the future of PAX and what it will look like in years to come. After all, the reality is there is less of everything, and what is there is different than before, and that can lead to worry about what this means for the future. But there is hope that things will look up very soon. First big step in this process is that they moved the next PAX further back into next year for a May debut instead of March. This helps to separate them from GDC as well as moving into more springtime weather. This gives ample reasoning that it would lead to more participation of publishers without stretching them thin between shows. The East adventures of PAX in this venue seemed also still well visited, definitely more than the Covid years, especially during the sold-out Saturday show.  With all those positives we can hope that there will some more money flowing into the event to allow things such as swag bags, event books (they were always so cool) and other entertainment to be added to the show. Some people have been asking for, or suggesting adding an Artist Alley like so many other conventions have, which seem like a perfect addition for the event. Besides looking at games and trying them, people also like spending their money there, and you can only buy so many dice. So why not give them more options? 

The word is still out where all these will lead and it is going to take PAX West, Unplugged and the next PAX east to see if the event can find its identity again and give people the comfort knowing it will be around for another 20 years to come at least. There is always the chicken and egg thing, people bring attention it might be worth to show up as with your new games and more games and name recognition brings in more people. But what comes first? So, keep showing up and create a market value for studios to really think about. 

PAX has brought so many smiles to so many faces and how are bringing them to new generations of gamers.  We had a great time and still wished we had more to spend with you this year.  Happy Milestone Birthday PAX, we hope to celebrate many more. Now blow out the candles.

About the writer: DadGeek (Rob) is the co-founder of GeeksVsGeeks. He is a product of the eighties and never let go of his geek interest and hobbies no matter how often someone told him to stop. His love for gaming and all things geeks has been part of his parenting style and permeates throughout the whole family. A family of Geeks vs Geeks 


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