This year I was fortunate to be able to attend both PAX East and PAX Prime – something that I imagine ushers in the Age of Aquarius and won’t be seen again for some time. I’ve attended a few years of East, but this was my first time at Prime, and I was curious: how would the two compare? Is Prime really the mother of all PAXes?
Well, just like any convention, my experience was wholly subjective and based on my personal interests, my general health, the wind chill factor, and so on. Still, here’s one person’s direct comparison between the two:
Weather the Con
For those who don’t know, PAX Prime, in Seattle, takes place around Labor Day. PAX East, in Boston, takes place typically sometime in March, around Easter. While both are near an equinox, the weather is not at all similar.
Labor Day is probably the best possible time to visit Seattle. It’s still summer, so there’s very little rain and pleasant temperatures – maybe even a little warmer than one would expect. If you need a break from the con, you can set out on foot into a mild summer evening and check out downtown Seattle.
March in Boston is fickle. You might hit upon the first “warm” weekend of the year, but chances are it’s under 50 degrees with a bitter wind. There may be snow on the ground. It may be actively snowing. There are massive coat-check areas when you walk through the door, because you warm up being around thousands of other people and you need somewhere to keep your massive coat. But you definitely want to bring one – if you need a break from the con or plan on walking to one of the after-parties, you’re going to be braving a frosty night.
The funniest aspect of this turns out to be the scarves. PAX East has a different scarf each year, and they usually sell out super-fast. This year, Prime also had scarves available. I decided to buy one on Friday, knowing how quickly they’d go in Boston. But surprisingly, they seemed to be well-stocked – and it makes sense; it’s not scarf weather yet in Seattle. People aren’t thinking about scarves.
I never got a chance to swing back and see how they ultimately did with the scarf sales, but I assume they sold out eventually. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if it took a little bit to catch on like it has in Boston.
Geeks in Boxes
The biggest difference between the PAXes, to me, is the venue. Each venue has distinct advantages and disadvantages.
The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center is huge. Really, really huge. PAX East fills it nicely, but I think there’s still room to grow. It’s not hard to find a place to decompress if you’re feeling overstimulated by the huge Exhibit hall. Food is located in a few, fairly obvious places, with carts here and there. There are massive spaces for the freeplay areas.
The Washington State Convention Center is no slouch, but it feels like Prime could use extra space if they had it. At lunch time, people sprawled everywhere with their food. Whereas the BCEC feels like a few huge, concentrated areas of traffic with a lot of corridor space in-between, PAX Prime was pretty crowded everywhere from the moment you set foot in the door.
On the other hand, Seattle totally wins out when it comes to overall location. If you want food, you can just walk outside and find restaurants and delis on the same block. Sure, those would get jammed, but then you just walk a few blocks and there’s many more options. And, of course, it’s a nice walk this time of year.
The BCEC feels much more isolated. Pretty much every food establishment within walking distance (and I use that phrase generously) was slammed. Not to mention the fact that you’re probably cold the entire time. Food is much more of a plan at PAX East. Even getting home to your hotel takes more doing in general.
The Exhibit Experience
Setting foot into the Exhibit Hall at PAX – either one – is an overwhelming experience. You’re bombarded with light and sound. It’s the “main attraction,” in a sense, so it’s generally crowded. You can check out new games, sit in on demos and trailers, buy merch, get swag, and more. It’s like what your first impression of an arcade was, when you were maybe five.
In this respect, PAX East and Prime are virtually identical. The experience is generally the same, though your personal enjoyment depends on what games you’ve been playing recently and what you’re interested it. This year I found I enjoyed Prime’s Exhibit Hall a little more, but that’s mostly because I’ve recently played games with sequels coming soon (like XCOM). Plus, I think interest was a little heightened right now thanks to the current console war; it was fun to get to check out next-gen games and see a PS4 in person (even if it was in a plexiglass case).
There are differences between East and Prime; typically at East the tabletop gaming booths tended to be separate from the main exhibit hall, giving it a bit of its own atmosphere. At Prime these booths weren’t exactly in the hall, but they were right in the thick of the action and traffic. I could see arguments in favor of both setups, but I tended to prefer the East one because it’s what I’m used to.
At PAX East, I tend to spend much of my time in the Console Freeplay rooms. This time it was not the case; the rooms seemed slammed and were out of the way. Instead, I did spend a fair amount of time in the handheld lounge, hanging out on beanbags. It was centrally located, easy to walk in and out of, and actually seemed strangely quiet compared to the rest of the building – even with escalator traffic right in front of you.
At PAX East this year, I really enjoyed painting miniatures, and intended to do so at Prime – but I completely forgot. Again, the room was out of my usual circuit, and I suppose it was a case of out of sight, out of mind.
No Clear Winner
On the whole, I was surprised at just how similar the two PAXes actually were. It didn’t actually feel like PAX East is the baby PAX, while Prime is where all the grown-up fun happens. I enjoyed aspects of both, and it’d be nice to combine the best of both (such as moving the BCEC into the middle of Downtown Seattle), but there are no deal breakers here.
The Exhibit Hall is much the same experience. The panels, while obviously varying in content from year to year, are pretty much the same experience no matter what coast you’re on. Pin trading (which has blown up this year) will likely be much the same from city to city, though “rare” pins might vary.
There are attendees from all over the world at both events, so I don’t think I felt a difference in “culture” – except maybe in the exhibit hall. In Boston you sort of feel like you have to keep constantly moving and circulating, and you feel guilty if you actually want to stop at a booth. Perhaps it’s all those Boston roundabouts.
Overall verdict? If you live on the East Coast and feel like you’re missing out, don’t. Heading to whichever PAX is closest is sensible and you’ll probably have a good time at either.
On the other hand, if you’re a completist and want to hit All the PAXes, you can do that too and there will be slight differences. Much like visiting various Disney locations, they’re much the same, but not carbon copies.
And if you’re located smack in the middle of the country and can’t decide? …I can’t either. That’s when the decision becomes completely personal, based on schedule, whether people you know are going, and pricing.
What about you? Have you attended PAX Prime, East, AUS, Dev, or some combination thereof? Which have you enjoyed, and why?