PAX Be With You, All 70,000 of You

Here are the headlines on the story that drifted back to the traditional exhibition world about PAX Prime Aug. 31-Sept. 2:

• Attendance for the consumer show had grown from 3,300 in 2004 to 70,000 this year.

• Every year show organizers have had to scramble to find more space and larger venues. It started eight years ago in a hotel meeting room; this year, it maxed out the Washington State Convention Center, Seattle’s largest convention center.

• And it sold out of tickets—70,000 of them—in six hours.

That last part turned out to not be completely true. It actually took 24 hours because, says Lance Fensterman, global vice president of ReedPOP, the show’s producer—“unfortunately, we kept crashing the ticket site.” The kernel of truth to that last item, though, is that the ticket site was only up and running for six of those 24 hours.

But here’s what you learn about PAX Prime if you talk to somebody who was there on the scene:

• That elves with giant ears were shoulder to shoulder with fairy princesses in full costume.

• That hundreds of people stood in line for hours to have their pictures taken with zombies.

• That characters who looked like they had stepped right out of “Star Wars” danced in the street.

• That at 3 a.m., hotel lobbies were jammed with video game enthusiasts.

How does Fensterman, theoretically responsible for PAX Prime (also known as Penny Arcade Expo), explain all this?

It’s a very tight-knit community,” he says, “and we don’t mess with it.”

Indeed, if the Electronic Entertainment Expo (also known as E3), held every June in Los Angeles, is about the business of gaming, PAX Prime is about the players themselves. The fact that video gaming companies show off their latest projects to their most avid fans, just as is the case at E3, is a side issue.

Penny Arcade is the most widely read web comic in the world. Its progenitors, Mike “Gabe” Krahulik and Jerry “Tycho” Holkins, started the event after, according to Fensterman, “they thought people should be able to get together and play games.”

The event grew way beyond their wildest dreams—and their ability to manage it, perhaps. Five years ago, Reed Exhibitions bought it and eventually added it to a mix of other hard-to-classify events in a new division.

PAX Prime is part of a stable of consumer and tradeshows that includes, among others, an East Coast edition of PAX Prime, something called Star Wars Celebration and New York Comic Con.

Although Fensterman and the rest of the ReedPOP staff may not look like they work at Reed Exhibitions, they obviously have the experience and expertise associated with it, and they know what they’re doing when it comes to running events.

Fensterman says the company just signed an agreement to hold the East Coast edition of PAX at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center for the next 10 years. In conjunction with that, ReedPOP made a $250,000 contribution to a scholarship fund in the Boston area to help students interested in college gaming curricula.

Otherwise, he says, ReedPOP tries to stay out of the way.

“For a corporate entity not approaching this in an authentic way, this community would sniff that right out,” Fensterman says.

Posted by Michael Hart

Michael Hart is the executive editor of Expo. Reach him at View all articles by Michael Hart →