Last August, I ponied up for a plane ticket, took a one hour and fifty minute flight from Sacramento International Airport to Seattle-Tacoma International, jumped on the Metro, and headed straight for the Washington State Convention & Trade Center. I had a date with the Penny Arcade Expo and I didn’t want to be late. The Penny Arcade Expo is a tri-annual gaming convention open to the public, featuring video games, board games, card and table-top games, and cosplay like you wouldn’t believe. Starting out as a Seattle-only show (now known as PAX Prime), the folks at Penny Arcade recently expanded the convention to Boston (PAX East, held in March) and will be making their way down under for PAX Australia for the first time in July.
The three days spent in Seattle for PAX Prime 2012 were among the most fun I’ve had since I started covering the gaming industry. The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is gaming’s showcase, but PAX is gaming’s party. In addition to booths from major publishers and developers, PAX showcases indie game developers, pen-and-paper games, hosts developer and media talks and conferences, and tournaments for games like Shootmania and League of Legends. After hours, badge-holders can stay in the Convention Center and play Rock Band karaoke or head to the PC or console free-play rooms to blast through rounds of Counter-Strike or Super Smash Bros. Gaming publications, developers, and celebrities hold meet-and-greets and parties, allowing their audiences to spend time with the instruments of their distraction, and usually hand out enough free t-shirts and posters to keep you clothed for weeks on end.
The community aspect of PAX is one of its greatest attractions. Stepping onto the show floor last year, I was alone and didn’t “know” a single person. By the time my plane boarded Sunday night to return to the real world, I had made friends and developed connections that I still treasure today. While E3 was my introduction to the larger world of games coverage and media, PAX was where I truly felt like a gamer—in the best possible connotation.
There’s just a small problem, one that Penny Arcade’s promoters need to address before PAX East 2014: access to this wonderful show has become a nightmare. Last year, my first experience trying to purchase tickets for PAX Prime, was nearly a disaster. The switch to a new host for ticket sales combined with the massive initial interest led to overwhelmed servers; some early buyers, including myself, were able to ping the server and complete our purchase before the site went haywire, but many were left wondering whether those early sales would even be honored once the site was brought back online. After a number of e-mails and Tweets to determine the outcome, Penny Arcade confirmed that those sales had indeed been processed, and my 3-Day Pass was ready and waiting.
Flash-forward to yesterday: the PAX Twitter account finally announces that tickets are on sale for PAX Prime, only two weeks removed from selling out of passes to the first PAX Australia. Four-day passes for $95, single-day passes for $30, available to be purchased up to four at a time; for example, you could choose to buy four Four-day passes, or four passes for each day of the show, up to 16 tickets in all. In order to purchase those passes, fans were required to wait in an online queue in order to avoid the server instability problems faced by the ticketing agency the previous year. This queue lasted anywhere from 5 minutes to 2.5 hours for some, and being in the queue was not an assurance that you would get a ticket—despite @Official_PAX assurance to contrary. At 1:06 pm Pacific Time, they tweeted “There are 1600 people in line right now and 15,000 tickets left and Showclix is saying they have implemented fixes for the errors.” Kyle Disanjh (@cocoadisanjh) attempted to queue his tickets around the same time I did, and was excited to hear this. However, in spite of a follow-up tweet regarding how the queue worked, many including Disanjh were left unable to purchase tickets. When all was said in done, every ticket for the 2013 Penny Arcade Expo had been sold in just over six hours.
The real shame of the matter came not long after as the ticket resale market came to light. It’s not uncommon to find ticket scalpers buying large quantities of tickets for events and turning them around for a profit, but the speed and volume at which PAX tickets found their way to eBay and other reseller marketplaces was particularly alarming. Disanjh remarked on Twitter “pretty BS if you ask me. [T]hey’re going on ebay for hundreds. [U]nfair to those who really wanted to go,” a sentiment echoed by many on social media.
Penny Arcade and their ticket partner, Showclix, are only partially responsible for how this situation has come about. Some attendees do legitimately purchase multiple passes in order to reserve them for friends who can’t access the ticketing site the moment it goes live or to bring their spouses, significant others, or children, which is ostensibly the reason why being able to buy up to four passes per option was allowed. Devon Sneathen (@JetReset) made a good point: “makes me wish that passes were hard locked to somebody’s name, so selling/trading was not even an option.” Badges for E3 have your name on them—as well as the organization you’re representing, since it is an industry showcase—while PAX badges have no identifier, making resale a much easier proposition.
PAX is a unique experience; it’s not quite a trade show like E3 or Tokyo Game Show, while also not the “cover everything under the sun” event like a San Diego Comic-Con. That hybrid of fan function and professional gathering makes PAX a truly different animal and one that can be experienced by young and old. It’s unfortunate that for some, what may have been a reasonable proposition to pick up a few passes for friends and family is now a scrape to find the cash to meet unreasonably high resale values. I have my tickets purchased, single day passes for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, but should I find a way to attend as a media member, I’ll probably end up selling those passes. And they will be sold at their original value or less, because the community of PAX should be welcoming and open, as it was during my first visit, rather than restrictive and overpriced.