Freedom of assembly

By Peter Allen Clark

 

Penny Arcade launched the first PAX South this weekend adding yet another show in the booming video games convention business.

 

Remember when E3 died…

Only six and a half years ago, video game news site Joystiq declared, “E3 is dead.” The leading annual convention, where developer and publishers have revealed many, many games and consoles since the show’s 1995 beginning, appeared to have lost its pull on the shifting industry.

With a shake up in leadership and a few attempted changes in the overall model of the trade event, the 2007 E3 conference disappointed many attendees for the second year in a row. This led Joystiq to its pronouncement.

Since then the convention scene has rebounded in an enormous way, leading to not only growth in attendance numbers but a continued expansion of gaming conventions.

Based off of Wikipedia’s list of gaming conventions, which shows 105 current conventions, at least 28 of them were founded since 2007. That’s a full one fourth of listed gaming conventions, including the world’s largest, Gamescom.

The list does not include two of the newest entries in the conventions space, last December’s Playstation Experience and the newest extension of the Penny Arcade global empire, PAX South.

Wikipedia’s list also does not include conventions that are no longer held, like the Leipzig Games Convention, which ended in 2011.

A marked distinction between the newer outcrop of video game conventions and E3 is that the former group sells tickets to the public as well as industry insiders, whereas E3 remains solely for those within the gaming sphere and journalists.

However, the show growth does not stop at fan-based conventions. E3 owner Entertainment Software Association announced a record-breaking attendance to the 2014 show, with a projection for even higher numbers in 2015.

Furthermore, this growth is not limited to the video games industry. In fact, the whole of the exhibition industry has rebounded in line with the economy.

 

This indexes the exhibition industry by sector, Year-on-Year % Change in 2013:

Chart via CEIR

Chart via CEIR

The Center for Exhibition Industry Research announced an overall 1.09 percent increase in the exhibition industry in a March 13 press release.

“1.09 percent… was in line with its economists' forecast for the year,” the release read. “The outlook for growth in 2014 is projected to accelerate and continue through 2016.”

Projections turned out true in the final quarter of the year as the exhibition industry experienced a further 1.8 percent uptick as the seventeenth quarter of consecutive growth.

However, that modest growth still pales in comparison with the surge in video game conventions that have swept the world.

 

For the fans

The reveal of the two newest trade shows on the block proved another change both in how companies communicate with customers and also possible signs of convention saturation.

When Sony announced the Playstation Experience show Oct. 10, it put a flag in the ground to mark more direct, controlled communication with video game enthusiasts.

The big three hardware developers have mostly had to rely on special hardware-announcing events and the stage provided by the larger conventions. Nintendo occasionally pulls the curtain back on one of its Nintendo World events, which can be somewhere in between a trade show and a product release, but on the whole the hardware market has needed the direction of the exhibition industry.

With the Playstation Experience, Sony had two days all to itself in December to show of what the coming year had in store for video game players. Without having to share any stage, the company, which remains in the lead in terms of this generation’s console sales, presented the information it wanted to provide without competitors affecting its message.

From many accounts, Sony’s show was a success, and even “won Christmas before it even began” according to Polygon. Whether it gave the fans what they wanted, it certainly let Sony dominate the video game news cycle for what would have otherwise been a semi-quiet December weekend. 

 

Go south, young man

Penny Arcade and the host of fan-based conventions sprung from that organization serve on the other side of that manufacturer coin.

This past weekend, the first PAX South came to San Antonio. Penny Arcade’s President Robert Khoo teased it last April and founders Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins announced shortly after at PAX East.

The convention is the fifth in the suite of video game shows that includes Seattle’s PAX Prime and PAX Dev, Melbourne’s PAX AUS and Boston’s PAX East.

Judging by the exhibitors listed in the official PAX app, PAX South will also be the smallest of those conventions. In 2014, PAX Prime welcomed a healthy 136 exhibitors, PAX Aus had 164 and PAX East led the pack with 241. PAX South only listed 117 exhibitors who made their way to San Antonio’s Henry B. Gonzalez convention center.

Though some members of the big three manufacturers appear at disparate PAXs, PAX Prime is the only one where all three show up.

Ticket sales provide further signs of PAX South’s soft beginning. Outlet Geekwire wrote about the mad scurry for 2014 PAX Prime tickets, which led to four day passes sold out in a span of minutes. The whole show sold out in a few hours.

PAX South on the other hand, still had tickets left to sell on the day it began:

This screenshot was captured at 2:19 p.m. PST Jan. 23.

This screenshot was captured at 2:19 p.m. PST Jan. 23.

Without any solid attendance numbers offered as of yet, and with no documentation on Penny Arcade’s expectation of the new convention’s performance, it’s unknown whether PAX South was successful.

It might also signify a saturation point in the number of video game conventions. There's at least one other recent example of a video game convention's beginning.

The Washington Post reported on last August's launch of Video Gamers United  in Washington D.C. According to the report, organizer Cesar Diaz expected 25,000 fervent video game players to rush the event. Only around 7,000 people showed up.

Of course, many things could have caused the paltry attendance. Poor marketing, a crowded weekend, weak attractions could have all played a part.

Or, this fledgling struggling convention could have represented a too crowded marketplace.

 

2015 will most probably see the return of E3, all the PAXs, Gamescom and Sony wants to know if fans want the Playstation Experience back. The fact is, a limited number of news items, hardware/software reveals and exhibitor attendance funds exist. The growth of video game conventions will have a saturation point. Has the industry reached it already or is it still to come?