Fans And Developers Were Both Unimpressed By The Big PAX West Changes This Year

Seattle’s premier video game expo went through some big changes this year, and neither the players nor the developers in attendance were particularly thrilled with the results. The Seattle Convention Center, where PAX West has taken place since 2007, went through a major expansion this year, adding a second building a block away called the Summit. Half of PAX took place in the original building, while half took place in the new Summit building.



The original building, the Arch, actually contains two separate expo floors that are on either side of Pike Street with a sky bridge connecting them. Until this year, the PAX West expo floor spanned across the two buildings where exhibitors, publishers, and gaming related brands showed off their games and products to the public. The Arch also held all of the theater halls for the convention’s various panels, a tabletop show floor, handheld lounge, PC and console freeplay areas, and other spaces for activities.

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This year, all of those functions and half of the expo floor were relocated to the new Summit building, while the other half remained at the old Arch building. The implication was that the additional building would give PAX space to expand and include more activities, exhibitors, and games, but in reality it seems the shift was made in order to make room for a separate, unrelated expo happening alongside PAX this year: Nintendo Live 2023.

I was invited to take a tour of the new Summit building at the start of PAX West last weekend, and while I was impressed by the newness of the building, I didn’t get a sense at all that this was a bigger or better PAX. The large expo floor in the Summit had plenty of extra room which made it easy to walk around without feeling cramped or trapped by other attendees, which I appreciate, but it also made the convention feel sparsely attended. This was especially true on the shorter final day, where there were virtually no lines to be found anywhere in the Summit building. Several developers I met with asked me if everyone was just over in the other building, but whenever I visited the Arch show floor, it was pretty much the same story.

seattle convention center

For press, the split between two buildings is particularly frustrating. Very few of my appointment offers made it clear which building their booth was in, so I spent four days running back and forth between both, walking two blocks between entrances, and slogging my way through security with my camera equipment countless times. I was constantly late and more exhausted than usual, and I ended up canceling some of my appointments simply because I didn’t have the energy to fight my way back to the other building one more time that day.

Developers were frustrated too. One CEO of a prominent indie studio said “PAX has always been about gathering the community, but it doesn’t feel like that this year.” There were significant periods throughout the weekend that felt completely dead at one building or the other, particularly on the first and last day of the event, and several devs I talked to in both buildings relayed that they felt anxious their booth had been put in the “wrong” one.

I asked several attendees how they felt about the split, and they were equally unimpressed. One told me they were constantly confused about which building they needed to be in. They’d see a game they wanted to play later, but then couldn’t find it later on. A PAX attendee who has been going consistently for the past ten years told me they felt like they’re not seeing as many of their friends this year because everyone is scattered between the two buildings.

Even if this PAX wasn’t smaller or more sparsely attended, it felt like it was. The sky bridge that connected the two Arch buildings, which is always full of vendors, was empty this year. The space between booths was wider. The lines were shorter everywhere. It didn’t help that Nintendo Live was siphoning off many PAX attendees, since it was in the same building.

Nintendo Live was an incredible event, and a welcome addition to the long PAX weekend, but I don’t understand why it needed to replace half of PAX, and bump the rest to another building. Surely it would have made more sense to keep all of PAX in one building – either the old Arch or the new Summit – and set up Nintendo Live in the other building. Splitting up the PAX expo floor doesn’t make any sense. It wasn’t organized in an intuitive way to attendees, and it made the event feel smaller. If PAX is about bringing the community together, then it should bring them all together in one place. I appreciate wanting to show off the fancy new building, but it shouldn’t have come at the cost of the overall PAX experience.

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