At the event
In part 2 of my guide on attending PAX as Media, I’ll cover some “dos” and “dont’s” for the actual days of the event. agent86ix and I learned a ton in our first at bat. Hopefully you can benefit from our experience.
PAX is huge, and the sheer scale of it can be overwhelming. Most likely you’ll have a pretty hard time not having fun, but getting the most out of it professionally is a little more nuanced. From our experience, I’d recommend the following tips:
- General info – Almost all attendee advice applies equally to media. There are many great FAQs out there, read up. Beyond the basics, I strongly recommend either an electronic recording device or a cheap notebook that is stiff enough to write in without a surface (since you often won’t have one). There will be a lot of info coming at you, and without some type of note taking you’ll never remember it all.
- Review Exhibitor List – Well in advance of the convention, you’ll be able to review who which exhibitors will be on the floor. Check out their websites, find them on social media, and definitely check out any demos or videos of their games that you can. agent86ix and I spent weeks going through them all, but it was fun homework and we had a much better sense of who we would be seeing, and which exhibitors were on our personal “must see” lists.
- Earmark events – Each PAX has a great schedule that allows you to see the mashup of all events that are happening on each day. Even cooler, there is also a PAX app for each conference – which allows you to nerd out on the possibilities any time you aren’t sleeping. Look the schedule over, and try and plan out how you’ll spend your time. For reference agent86ix and I planned for only one major panel per day, to allow for more Exhibition Hall time talking to developers. This seemed to work out well, and didn’t leave us too short of time on the Exhibition Hall floor. We also figured out that panels continue to occur even after the Exhibition Hall closes, so you can plan to attend any of those without conflicts.
- Look the part – Given that there will be no huge neon sign over your head emphasizing your media-ness, you may consider dressing a little more professionally than you otherwise might for a weekend video game event. Many developers will want to meet you, but it can be very hard to pick you out in the crowd if you’re wearing your favorite pithy nerdcore zelda pun T-shirt. agent86ix and I agreed to dress business casual. We also got custom buttons made and had a fresh batch of business cards on hand so we wouldn’t run out.
- Make it a date – As Media, you’ll get added to a press mailing list and as the conference approaches you’ll start to get invitations for scheduled appointments with developers. This being our first PAX, we didn’t really know what to do with these. We didn’t want to be tied down, and opted to be unencumbered by “dev dates”. In retrospect I now see that on the busy weekend days of the conference, these meet ups would be an excellent opportunity to avoid lines and get some focused attention. Consider scheduling a few on the weekend days, especially with the larger scale games. Worst case you can cancel with a few hours notice if your plans change (have no fear, your spot will be filled). Best case it could save precious precious time.
On the floor
When the glorious moment is at hand when your honored soles can grace the hallowed ground of the Exhibition Hall, you’ll want to soak up the most of every minute. Here are some tips we learned from our time on the floor.
- The biggest perk – The greatest thing about being Media is one amazing hour before the Exhibition Hall opens where you get released to marvel at the spectacle of so much awesome in one place before anyone else. This is your moment. Seek out your “must see” games, and don’t be shy in introducing yourself to the exhibitors. You will find that no horn sounds when you’ve entered, and many of them may not quite know who you are or why you are there. It is a great opportunity to ask about “sneak peeks” of gameplay or mechanics that might not be ready for the masses (one dev showed us end game weapons with console commands). It’s also just a great chance to have a slightly more personal in depth conversation with the developers, before they get overwhelmed. Finally, if you see something you really like – tell the developers about it and get them pumped up. It may help them when the hordes descend a few minutes later.
- When to wait – Time will pass quickly, and very soon the flood gates will open. At that point, you’ll generally be left waiting in lines like other attendees to play demos and talk to developers. PAX South even had a simulator to give you sense of the experience. A good general strategy for waiting is to try and stand where you can see the demo, and re-evaluate after five minutes if it is worth waiting longer for. On your first day, waiting a little longer can pay dividends because the lines get much longer on the weekend days – but it is still a good idea to be sure you are waiting for a game you actually want to play. I also took note of certain demos that were really long which meant expected wait times were long for that game.
- Twenty second bio – Each time you approach and exhibitor, you’re going to need to introduce yourself. Like most introductions in our geeky community, it can be a little awkward if you are rusty on the whole social interaction thing. I recommend practicing a short 10-20 second bio on who you are and what your media outlet covers. No need to have a prepared speech or anything, but having a couple of points to touch on and being able to sound smooth explaining it helps get the ball rolling on the initial discussion, and can help the developer highlight aspects of their game that are relevant to you.
- Pictures!!! – Even if you aren’t a photographer, consider bringing a small easy-to-use camera. Something that takes quick pictures is also a plus, as many magic moments will unfold before your eyes and may be gone just as fast. One of my bigger regrets from my first PAX is that I have too few awesome pictures to show for it.
- Being a good listener – If you’ve watched Indie Game: The Movie or similar documentaries you’ll know that this is the moment where the developer gets to pour their artistic heart out and show you their “baby”. Find out why they are making games, find out why they are passionate about this game, learn about challenges, but be sure no matter what you chat about that you are being a good active listener by giving short feedback about information you find interesting. Also be sure you record some critical info at each booth before you leave including the name of anyone you talked to and the release date of the game. You will find that this information can be very hard to research after the fact for some exhibitors.
- Schwag!!! – A small public service announcement about schwag. Certain epic (or even legendary) schwag items are enchanted with a strong overwhelming desire spell, cast by the most powerful arcane Druids of the SchwagSpell Forest. If you should happen to lock eyes with such an item, you will be overcome by a need to have one of your own. Fortunately, there is often some quantity of those items on the first day and as Media you may even have a better than average chance of getting them. Not so fortunately, this epic schwag will become scarce or even non-existent by the early hours of the second day. Act swiftly and decisively on the first day to secure the most important schwag – you may end up an aimless drifter like myself… never able to shake the craving for an Orange TinyBuild Glow-In-The-Dark Lanyard. Seriously though TinyBuild… I still want one of those things :).