I thought I was a gamer. I grew up with a steady diet of Mario Kart and Megaman and graduated up through the console generations until the PS3. But one minute on the PAX show floor in Seattle, Washington and I could tell the ship had left me at the port eons ago. I’m back to being a gamer in training. Or, in parlance of the times, a “noob.”
Video games in the last 10 years have evolved past the point of fringe cultural pockets of anti-social nerds into a multifaceted, multibillion dollar industry with literally something for everyone. Walking the floor at PAX Prime 2015 this past weekend in Seattle I saw how the industry has changed and grown to include different facets of “play.” Frankly, it was overwhelming.
Of course, VR was at the forefront of a lot of developers’ plans. Between the impenetrable line at the Oculus booth, the logistical hoops Sony made attendees jump through to try out Project Morpheus and the ubiquitous Samsung Gear, it seemed like every booth was experimenting with the new tech in some way or another. From high-octane action demos, to smaller exploration games, it is quite clear that VR is on the verge of making an enormous impact.
The democratization of tools and the availability of funding through crowdsourcing has allowed smaller companies to create some truly unique games. Old school platformers like Yacht Club Game’s “Shovel Knight,” overhead exploration/action games like Heart Machine‘s “Hyper Light Drifter” and Stoic Studio‘s strategy game “Banner Saga 2” (show highlight!) proved that there’s a lot of love for the games of yesteryear AND a lot of creativity itching to find an outlet. How else would you explain a game called Butt Sniffin’ Pugs?
Video Game Streaming Services
Another big game-changer for my reintroduction to the gaming sphere was the idea of games as a spectator sport. Sure, I’d heard of the arenas in South Korea for League of Legends or Starcraft II, but the explosion of streaming services like Twitch.tv and Youtube Gaming is a total head scratcher for me. Despite my general cluelessness, it’s hard to deny the cultural significance of hundreds of thousands of subscribers tuning in to watch their favorite video game commentator hunt for achievements in the latest blockbuster.
Without a doubt, the bread and butter of a convention like PAX is the large blockbuster games. Titles like Halo 5: Guardians, Star Wars: Battlefront, Fallout 4, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate and the Mad Max game (featuring the Uber drivers from hell marketing stunt above) push the graphics of the next-gen consoles to the limit. While the lines to play the demos shamed the lines at Disneyland for their length, these games were nevertheless jaw-droppingly impressive and inspiring in their photorealism (stylized or not).
Best of the Rest
Video games weren’t the only way to game at PAX Prime 2015. In addition to massive 300+ station LAN parties, BYOC parties (Bring Your Own Consoles), retro-gaming lounges, themed food trucks, late night gamer concerts, the two big standout forms of gaming were the Tabletop Games and Card based Games. It’s amazing that at a conference dedicated to digital entertainment that such a large portion of the conference rooms and show floor were dedicated to enormous tournaments of games like Settlers of Catan and Magic the Gathering.
Tickets to the convention sold out in less than 10 minutes this year and while final attendance has yet to be tallied, it undoubtedly surpassed the 70K people that have showed up in the recent past. Considering that the video game industry raked in over $20 billion in 2013 (according to the Entertainment Software Association) conventions like PAX will continue to only to continue to grow. Guess I’m going to have to gain some serious XP to keep up.