AnnaMaria Jackson-Phelps spoke with Penny Arcade Director of Events Ryan Hartman about the future of Pax Unplugged. Although they don’t report attendance numbers, Hartman said the show doubled in size this year.
What is PAX and how did it get started?
PAX was started by Mike Krahuik and Jerry Holkins as Penny Arcade Expo back in 2004. They started the show simply from the perspective of attending other conventions and wanting to fill a building with the cool stuff that interested them. And honestly that’s still what it is 15 years later. We are simply throwing a party full of stuff we find interesting for a bunch of like minded friends.
How did Pax Unplugged becomes its own entity?
We came up with Unplugged because the tabletop scene at our existing shows was so massive and such an important part of our existing PAX shows we thought it was overdue to pull it out and properly establish it as it’s own show. The industry is so large and booming at this point that it only made sense and the success of the show so far reflects that.
How well did the debut show do last year?
We started Unplugged last year, this is year two and it’s been fantastic on both ends. Year one beat all of our expectations and the feedback we got after the show was incredible. Thankfully since year one was so successful we were able to ramp up our growth on an even quicker timetable. The entire show has doubled in size year-on-year, a size we might not have been able to achieve if not for the happy success of year one.
Why choose Philly as the home of Pax Unplugged?
Philadelphia made sense for a lot of reasons. We talked to a bunch of game publishers when looking where to put this show and much of their data indicated north east and mid-Atlantic would do well. Philadelphia is so central and you are able to get into other major metro areas so easily. Also the tabletop scene within Philadelphia was so accommodating and we saw so many growth opportunities with up and coming board game facilities and gaming groups. Lastly, being from Philadelphia myself probably had a non-zero impact on the choice as well.
What was different for attendees this year?
We’ve blown the doors off the place year on year. It’s a lot of the same but just bigger. We listened to the fan feedback year one in that they wanted more RPG’s, more Expo space, more Freeplay, more panels, and so on and we did our best to give them what they wanted. We’ve also made changes to the way people register for tourneys and roleplay events, so we can get everyone in and playing games even faster. We read every single piece of feedback from last year and responded accordingly and will continue to do so on all our shows.
Would you be able to share attendance from last year vs this one?
We don’t like to make the attendance numbers on each PAX known, so as to avoid a perceived rivalry within our brand. We love all PAX shows equally. I can tell you that PAX Unplugged has doubled in overall size and attendance year on year, which is no small feat. We are extremely proud of both the launch and subsequent second year growth of PAX Unplugged.
What does Pax Unplugged hope to offer the analog games scene and community?
It feels cliche to say but, community. The community and culture that exists around PAX is something that’s really special and it’s something that PAX alone can offer. We work really hard to make these events feel more like family gatherings than some sort of exhibition slog. So we hope above all else, we can offer gamers and fans a sense of community and connection that they might not be able to get in other places.
What things do you particularly think you improved this year?
There was a lot we did correct right out of the gates, but we are always striving to improve. After year one we got feedback about line organization and the registration process in some area, most noticeably the RPG zones. We’ve improved the process by taking over some of the heavy lifting that our partners had been doing, and running registration for them. We’ve also made it easier to preregister as well as separating the individual areas of the show more coherently so as not to have the lines and overflow impede each.
Anything you’ll definitely be doing different next year?
Just like year one, we are very happy with how things proceeded this time around but we always want to get better. So in looking to make the show stronger, we have some ideas on overall building layout – making the building even more coherent and easier to navigate. Likewise we will streamline the security process, which was a great addition to the show, by working on communication between PAX staff and the guards hired to monitor the entrances. We want everyone in the building and having fun as quickly and safely as possible.
But beyond that we will survey everyone after the show and if there is more feedback and suggestions that we hear we will take them into consideration and look to make the show better. Nothing is perfect and when you think you are, that means you are falling behind. You should always be striving to improve.