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PAX Unplugged - So This is a Thing?

For the first time, I am late on this blog. During the course of a normal week this industry gives me something I want to write about, and during the course of that week I also find time to write about it, and you get it on a Monday. I spent this last week in Philadelphia for the first PAX Unplugged, by the ReedPop people who have run what seems like approximately 900 PAX events annually for the last ninety years.

That's what we're going to talk about today, but first, some other things. If there is any charm in Philly it was totally lost on me. The city was dirty, and I seemed to stumble over used drug needles on a daily basis. My hotel room did have a nice view of the Delaware River, which mostly just looked really cold this time of year. There were some cool shops, and the Reading Terminal Market across the street from the convention center is actually amazing. For those of you who love North Shore at Origins, Reading will feel like a larger and more lavish home. Let's talk about the show though. In some ways it was obvious that ReedPop are experts at this. I spent the weekend working for my friends at CMON, helping them out in their booth, and was given the opportunity to interface with what had to have been thousands of guests. I can't remember ever going through a convention weekend, ever, and not hearing a single registration complaint. That's impressive to me, that not one person complained about registration at this show. Some other things that stood out to me. I felt like I stared at a TON of one-day badges on both Saturday and Sunday. I don't remember a lot of single day Friday badges, but I think that once they get around to counting unique number of attendees this little first-time PAX Unplugged event could have a greater number of total unique visitors than Origins did this year. This was awesome from a vendor perspective, because more people means more chances to make sales. Despite what felt like large numbers of people in the vendor hall, I was most amazed by the number of people in the open gaming area. This PAX ticket was inclusive of your gaming, almost every gaming event was free to play once your ticket to the show was paid for. This is where I started to hear some complaints from attendees, because the event registration was difficult, and in some cases, like RPGs, events weren't properly scheduled at all, you just sort of hoped that people would show and sit down and play a game. I have never attended a PAX event, but I suspect that type of event management properly works well with video game conventions. I think the ReedPop people will learn from experience, and it's okay that this wasn't perfect on their first try. There were certain negatives from the show that are worth discussing. We'll start with the big one. Vendor Hall hours were considerably too long on Sunday. I'm good with 10-6 on Friday, and 10-6 on Saturday, but when we get to 10-6 on Sunday we've got some problems. The extended hall hours were both exhausting to operate, and stretched tear down into the late hours of the evening. I'd hope to see the ReedPop folks move to 10-4 as is the show standard for things like this.

The vendor hall was good for most of the publishing friends I spoke to, with many people telling me that in the three day convention they beat their five day numbers at Origins, or at least came close. As a retailer who was doing some publisher vending there I did witness some showrooming going, which isn't surprising at a PAX event. This is a clientele that is tech savvy, and I frequently was asked "how much is that" while the person in front of me was already shopping on Amazon for the product. As a retailer when I see that in the store I get irritated. I couldn't identify the feeling I had when I saw it in that CMON booth.

The convention itself seemed poorly advertised, city-wide, locally, even inside the hall itself. The lack of signage inside the convention center was shocking. It was possible to see walls all over the place that featured zero signage. There was a gross lack of PAX advertising, and the near total absence of advertising from publishers in attendance was really surprising to me. The sponsorship deals just seem like they didn't get done, and I'm not sure how that happens. So, a convention center with very little internal signage was joined by a convention center that had no outside signage that I ever saw. There were no PAX banners on the building, or any building anywhere near it. There were no little street sign banners hanging advertising PAX, it was just a con that took place in a black hole. So, I left Philly mostly thinking that ReedPop got this off to a good start. There is work to do, some of it minor, like maybe carpeting the vendor hall and hanging some signage, and some of it more important, like making sure that event registration makes sense and players can locate and enjoy the events they want to play in. I think that ReedPop can make the changes they need to give the east coast a great annual gaming convention. Of course, I also think they shot themselves by changing the dates for next year. PAX Unplugged, 2018, takes place from 30 NOV to 2 DEC... After Thanksgiving... So I was probably at my only PAX Unplugged, because conventions during the holiday retail season don't seem like something I want to do. Sad.

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