In many ways, Melburnians are lucky in that the city hosts heaps of exhibitions and conventions each year. For gamers in Australia, the annual Penny Arcade Expo or PAX is one massive drawcard for people interested in gaming. It is always a crowded affair. The term game can refer to many things, but at PAX we’re talking video games, tabletops, card games and role-playing games. I think it pretty much covers all types of games.
The event is usually hosted over the course of three days, starting on a Friday evening and then ending on Sunday at 5:00 pm. PAX Australia is only hosted in Melbourne and each year at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre across from Crown Casino. The Melbourne Exhibition Centre is easy to reach by tram, but it sits out the city’s free tram zone area.
Normally, PAX takes up several halls within the center and occupies both the Exhibition Centre and the Convention Centre. The Exhibition Centre is where you line up to play various games, buy merchandise and see all the cool things on display, while the Convention Centre is where you can sit back and watch guest speakers talk about all sorts of game related topics. You can also hang around the hall to buy merchandise and look at the things on display. (Honestly, the Expo Hall is where you need to go.)
PAX Australia 2017 was my third time at PAX. I was keen to get to the venue early before the doors opened. Fortunately, I managed to get in at the right time when the lines were moving into the hall. It didn’t take long until the crowd swarmed into the main exhibition hall, Expo Hall, with all its glitzy lights and sounds. When I got in, it was a rush of excitement about what I wanted to do first…
At the PAX Australia 2016, I wanted to play Final Fantasy XV, but this time there was no big entry for Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts 3 wasn’t quite ready. There was a Final Fantasy XIV booth, where players could fight against Odin to win a T-shirt and some other goodies. I didn’t take part, because I forgot my password and hadn’t played the game for some time.
At these conventions and exhibitions, some people take the time to dress up for the occasion. Here I am with Kylo Ren in front of the Star Wars Jedi Challenges AR booth. I am just wearing a marine outfit from the hit anime series, One Piece. (I wasn’t trying to win any contests. I thought I would put a little bit of effort in. Plus the guy playing as Kylo was happy to do a happy snap. He told me that the costume made it hard to breath.)
All the main publishers had booths in the main hall, from Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Ubisoft, Square Enix, etc. All the highly anticipated games at the time were being showcased and there were long lines for some of the games. I got to hang out with one of the Rabbids at the Nintendo booth. The Nintendo booth drew the most excitement, because the Nintendo Switch was still relatively new to people.
There were lots of indie games on display in one corner of the Expo Hall. Some have become constant staples at PAX Australia, but it’s always fun seeing some of the more hilarious games like a pair of tall boys or ‘wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man’ fight it out in front of a car yard. This game always draws a crowd. The indie section is the place to see what some of Australia’s creative people are up to. I think, given that I always attend PAX each year that some of these games won’t ever get released outside the convention format, because they are best played in front of a crowd and wouldn’t have the same appeal at home.
If you weren’t keen on trying any of the video games, you could be enticed by the merchandise littered around the floor, from branded Razer, Logitech or Steel Series gaming accessories to actual board games like Catan, Ticket to Ride and Monopoly. (If you want to make new friends, I recommend avoiding playing Monopoly.)
You can even play various card game with people who are happy to teach you how to play. We played games like Magic the Gathering, the new (at the time) Dragon Ball Collectable Card Game and Final Fantasy TCG. (We were mainly there to get the prizes and participation promo cards.)
At the back of the Expo Hall, you could also try some of the retro games by grabbing a console to play some games with friends. There is just plenty to do and not enough time. (I can’t imagine how tight time would be if you were keen to get into the competitive scene at these conventions, except if you one of those people who had 10 minutes to spare for that dance game.)
Virtual reality was a big hit at PAX Australia 2017. The PlaySation VR, the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive were all on display. They had the bigger lines, because people were genuinely excited about this new peripheral. There was even a cool area for a new Star Wars game call Jedi Challenges AR, where you can fight either Kylo Ren or Darth Vader with an augmented reality headset, lightsaber controller and tracking beacon. I admit, it was fun and having to face Darth Vader was intriguing.
I played a game called Beats Saber on the Oculus and was super keen to purchase it when it finally released on the PlayStation.
There are plenty of freebies if you go around the booth and plenty of places to take photos with various props. There are heaps of people willing to help. (It also helps that you are given a huge bag when you enter the Expo Hall to carry all your goods around.) Some of the booths required you to do some things before you could win a prize, e.g. spin a wheel at the WD Elements booth or taking part in their demo game at the Magic the Gathering booth.
Each time I come to PAX, there is always some sort of promotional event or card I need to get for people, such as League of Legends promo codes or demo decks for a trading card game. I find it more enjoyable when there are things you want to do for other people.
There was also a Harvey Norman store selling gaming ware. Surprisingly, some of the prices and specials were really good, e.g. paying $70 on cheaper than usual computer ware and getting free copies of games like latest releases of Battlefield or Call of Duty. I am actually sadden that Harvey Norman didn’t return for PAX Australia 2018 and 2019. (Do you think this computer tower is good, particularly in 2017? Obviously, I don’t think you’d want to pay $2449 for it now…)
The event was from Friday, 27 October 2017 to Sunday, 29 October 2017. Tickets were $65 per person for a day pass and $165 for a three day pass.
The Melbourne Exhibition Centre is located here: