October 19, 2015

PAX Prime 2015: Better Than Ever


PAX Prime is the annual Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle dedicated to gaming. While other gaming shows throughout the year focus on media, vendors, or other developers, PAX is for gamers—80,000 of them. Tickets are typically affordable but in demand, selling out within minutes. As usual, this year’s PAX Prime was big. Packed with gamers, demos, and game developers from the biggest companies to dozens of indies, this 4-day event was, in a word, awesome.

Lunchtime Studios was there demoing the upcoming 1920s poker RPG, Lords of New York, winner of the 2014 Perforce 20/20 Innovator’s Award. The Lunchtime Studios booth included 4 Mac / Windows machines, 2 iPads, a couch, and a renovated 1950s TV showing game footage and Lunchtime Studios’ custom animation editor.

While PAX is a show for gamers, it’s also generous to indie developers. Indies are able to demo shoulder to shoulder next to AAA games and publishers. The same gamers who wait in long lines for AAA demos can choose to stroll to a VR booth, demo a board game, or try out an indie game such as Lords of New York. In other marketing mediums, AAA publishers with huge budgets dominate market visibility. PAX, however, is one place where everyone is equal. Booth sizes, staff, and press coverage will depend on budgets, but every company still has access to the same 80,000 people.

For a company such as Lunchtime Studios, whose mission is building high-quality, story-based innovative games, customer feedback is critical. Innovation sounds like a win, but for the developer, it’s incredibly risky. Customers who face a different gaming experience may reject those innovations or struggle to understand them. If a feature is meant to be funny and falls flat, it must be cut or fixed. If a feature is confusing, it must be altered to be clear. Whether they know it or not, it’s the gamers who stop by, play, and give blunt feedback who make good games great and why for indie games there is no substitute for PAX.

As for Lords of New York, over the course of 4 days, every single demo station was busy 99 percent of the time, and more than 2,000 custom Lords of New York clay poker chips were handed out. Media presence wasn’t as noticeable up on the top floor of PAX Prime, but media members who did visit Lords of New York posted great write-ups and interviews, including Game Revolution calling Lords of New Yorkthe most surprising game at PAX.

Speaking to other fellow indie game developers from the Seattle area for games such as The Rust Belt, Tumblestoneand Potions: A Curious Tale revealed similar experiences with packed demo machines and great traffic. The Indie Megabooth was, as always, a popular draw for crowds as was the PAX 10, which hosted the top selected indie games.

Another standout was the Washington Interactive Network’s (WIN) booth, which hosted several Seattle-based indie games, including Potions: A Curious Tale. I spoke with Kristen Larsen of the WIN and asked, “Why bring indies to PAX?” Kristen replied:

“In addition to introducing audiences to our companies’ games and technologies, we assist them in establishing relationships with players that would be otherwise out of reach, making the potential impact for their future growth considerable.”

The generous support and guidance provided by the nonprofit WIN is one of the reasons Seattle is becoming a top location for indie game development.

With another amazing PAX in the books, it’s clear that it continues to be all about the gamers. What the PAX organizers may not realize is that in addition to helping the indie games movement thrive, by connecting gamer to developer, they are also making all our games better.