One of the last game expos to take place before the whole COVID-19 pandemic dropped was PAX East, which held its “last” show in 2020 before cases started to pour in and people went into quarantine. It’s been a long stretch between PAX shows between now and then, though the company did attempt to host a smaller version of PAX Prime in Seattle just a few months ago.
Now comes the news that Reedpop and the other PAX organizers are moving forward with reopening PAX East in Boston “live and in-person” this coming April. However, it’ll have some safety protocols in place. That includes being fully vaccinated (not sure if that means included booster or not), as well as providing proof of vaccination. If you don’t have that, you’re not going to get into the show. This goes for all attendees, including high-profile guests. No vaccination, no entry. There will also be “heightened” sanitary measures, which, thankfully, means guests will have to bathe.
But the real question is…is it too soon? We’ve already been at the height of the COVID-19 threat, to be sure, but it’s still out there and creating hundreds of daily hospital cases. And there is the question of availability of booster shots. So…is it too soon? Let’s weigh the factors.
Not Everyone Is Ready To Go Back To a Show
While safety protocols are in place and most people have had their shots, there’s a lingering doubt with some people traveling to Boston for the event. First, that involves going to an airport for some, and between cancelled flights all over the place (which could be resolved over the next few months, but not 100 percent) and having to travel with so many public people, some might be too nervous to take the trip. They could try a road trip with others to make things more fun, but, then again, gas prices are through the roof right now.
And then there’s PAX itself. While there are rules set up, and they’re going to be enforced rather strictly (complete with the use of face masks, which not everyone will likely comply with), there’s still the idea of making a return to convention life after a jarring two-year departure (well, at least for those that didn’t go back to a recent one as they opened back up).
Are folks ready for that?
That brings up another question – what kind of PAX will it be?
Just How Big A Show Will PAX East Be?
While Reedpop promotes that this will be a “full” show with people in-person (though it’ll likely be shared online to some capacity, as we’ve seen in the past), we have yet to see what kind of show it is. And all you have to do is take a look back at PAX Prime 2021. Held in August, the show was a far more condensed version of PAX, with fewer guests (Mega 64 were the lone headliners while most others took a raincheck) and a floor presentation that only took up a small portion of the main floor, compared to multiple floors of indie companies and AAA publishers taking presence. Most people were “one and done” with the show in a matter of a day, if that.
Boston’s convention center is huge, but all located in one place, thanks to the way that it’s set up. But how much of that space will be used? Publishers haven’t exactly confirmed that they’ll be at the event, though we are months out. But PAX Prime’s exhibitor list didn’t even get published until, what, two weeks before the event? That may leave people wondering what they’re coming out to see, or, what’s worse, having to scramble to make plans last-minute.
There will no doubt be panels with guests, though what kind of guests have yet to be revealed.
And it’s unknown what companies will be around. There’s sure to be indie devs excited to show off their 2022 products, but AAA publishers aren’t yet known. Only one attended PAX Prime earlier this year, and it was Bandai Namco, hyping its hit Tales of Arise with a very tiny set-up (compared to previous years).
Obviously Reedpop and others will try to grow the show into something bigger. But it really depends on who will – and, for that matter, can – attend. Not to mention the question of international travel, which is quite limited at the moment.
What Kind of Show Will PAX Be Now?
Finally, there’s one really important query to think about – what kind of show is PAX going to be? Obviously it won’t be quite the same “rager” as we’re seen in years’ past, though Reedpop and its organizers will no doubt try to get to something on a similar level. But there’s some things it might want to keep in mind for the 2022 edition.
First off, it has kind of slipped when it comes to certain members of its community. It’s still a fun show, but indie devs have kind of gotten the cold shoulder, condensed to a smaller booth or, worse yet, a “showcase” area, compared to, say, a bigger publisher taking up a larger chunk of space on the show. It’s a business move, obviously, but one that kind of takes focus off of what PAX started out with in the first place.
For that matter, we also have to wonder if PAX could be trying to be “too big” for its own good.
And one solid piece of evidence for that argument involves the cancellation of PAX South, which took place last month. The company made the news official on its Twitter page, noting that the San Antonio-based event “hasn’t expanded” and remained “the same show that it was when we opened it in 2015.”
But what’s wrong with that? PAX didn’t really get established on the idea of growing into something bigger and stronger. Sure, Prime and East have done so, but do all events? Does Unplugged need to go to that extent? South was a show that was based around drawing thousands of local attendees and felt more like a homely, comfortable show, instead of one packed to the gills with cosplayers and guests. And it also gave Texan developers the chance to shine amongst their own community.
When South shut its doors, many expressed frustration with PAX, stating, “Never again.” Granted, COVID-19 has played a part in that, but it seems kind of jarring they would close this show so quickly, then announced, “Oh, hey, we’re going all out for PAX East.” It almost seems like a betrayal on its fundamentals, like, “This show’s not good enough, but, hey, we’ll do this one.”
We do wish Reedpop and its organizers the best of luck in hosting the return of PAX events. But it may want to reconsider how it takes care of indie publishers and some of its community before doing so. Safety is one thing, but they deserve to be taken care of as well when it comes to letting them do what they want to do, and in a much larger space than they’ve gotten.
And fingers crossed South returns at some point. It’s a great little show and truly defines what PAX should be about.
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