From the 12th to the 20th of September, PAX and EGX joined forces to create a gaming event at home. Pete Beckett and I followed this event: watching streams, trying out demos, and conducting a few (virtual) interviews with some participating developers and staff. In this article, I will be sharing my thoughts and the interviews regarding this different style of conference.
The Show Floor
Game conferences feature a game floor. It’s a chance to speak with developers and find out more about their games. With the current world situation causing an event like this to not be possible, PAX/EGX has adapted and hosted their show floor on www.paxegx.com. The online nature of this was great with interactive tabs opening to give information about the game. To be honest, a lot of the game details can be found on any platform’s game store but it was good to have all the different games and publishers in one place.
Of course, it’s one thing being able to learn about the games but entirely different being able to play them! A multitude of games offered demos with many limited to PAX/EGX. Another aspect that could have been missed with a digital event is the lack of interaction with developers. Fortunately, the PAX/EGX media assistance account was very helpful in getting me into contact with three developers who I was able to send some questions to. Along with my thoughts on their demos, I’ll also include the Q & As.
The Developers and their Demos
The first game I played was Unpacking. Here’s how the developer described it.
“Unpacking is a zen puzzle game about the familiar experience of pulling possessions out of boxes and fitting them into a new home. Part “item Tetris”, part home decoration, you are invited to create a satisfying living space while learning clues about the life you’re unpacking. Over the course of eight house moves, you are given a chance to experience a sense of intimacy with a character you never see and a story you’re never told”
I really enjoyed Unpacking. Packing and unpacking is something we’ve all experienced, whether that’s moving house, visiting relatives, or going on holiday. The game manages to mimic this experience without being a chore. There was something quite calm in performing this simple task with the game’s adaptive pixel art and chill soundtrack. I can also see this game telling a good narrative, albeit subtle, communicated by the actual objects being unpacked. What gets taken with you or what gets left behind?
We asked the unpacking developer Witch Beam if participating in the 20-game selected PAX indie showcase was beneficial and here’s what they said.
“The showcase helped us out a lot! Over 9 days we had 12,000 people play our demo. Because the show was so closely tied with the Steam store, visits to our ‘booth’ more easily translated to wishlists. We got a good amount of media coverage as well”
And finally we posed the question : How do you feel PAX/EGX has handled the transition to doing an all-digital conference? And have you been impacted by the lack of a physical show floor?
“While I miss the atmosphere of a physical show floor and directly interacting with our players, I feel like the transition to a digital format actually helped us. There is simply no way over 1300 people a day would have played our demo at a physical show. With a half hour demo, we would need over 80 computers at our booth for that! I’m sure we reached a lot of people we could not have reached otherwise. That said, making a demo for an online show is a lot more work as you have to make sure it’s practically bug-free, has good tutorialisation, and runs on every user’s machine no matter what setup they’ve got. Being ‘switched on’ for a 24 hour 9-day event was challenging, too. Worth it, though!”
Justice Sucks Recharged
The next game I played from the indie showcase was Justice Sucks Recharged: the sequel to Roombo; First Blood. The best way to describe this game is “Hitman but as an automotive hoover”. There were goals but to be completely honest I just focused on taking down as many people as I could use the unique abilities that come with an e-hoover! This one was completely bonkers and I loved every minute of it.
Topplepop: Bungee Blockbusters
Tetris with a bungee cord. If that idea sounds appealing to you, then Topplepop’s demo should be given a go. I played alone but there is a focus on multiplayer. The bungee cord mechanic adds a sense of chaos to the game due to the nonstandard controls. Overall, this game defined ‘Indie’ for me: a unique idea that works very well.
The Last Cube
Up next was The Last Cube. This is how the devs described it.
“The Last Cube is a 3D puzzle platformer. You play as a cube that can collect colored “stickers” on its sides by touching them. The goal of the puzzles is to use these stickers to activate buttons. Each of the six stickers has its own special power: for example, by activating the yellow one’s power the cube dashes forward a few tiles, and the purple power lets you teleport to nearby squares. The main game includes 18 levels, divided into 6 themes (based on the six sticker colors). The Last Cube is coming out for PC and consoles in 2021”
The Last Cube was another game that I enjoyed. It reminded me of ‘Bloxorz’ : a web game I played when I was younger. For an indie game, The Last Cube looked stunning. We asked the developers how being in the indie showcase has helped and this is what they said.
“We have gained a huge boost in visibility thanks to the PAX/EGX indie showcase, which we are thankful for. We’ve had 5-10 times as many visitors to our Steam page as we normally get. We have a demo of the game available on Steam, and it’s been great hearing from people who have played and enjoyed it. There have also been a couple of videos on Youtube and streams on Twitch of people playing our game, which is awesome.”
We also asked developer Improx games if they have been impacted by the lack of a physical show floor and this was their response.
“This is our first-ever PAX/EGX, so I can’t compare the event to the physical one. I have heard great things about the physical show floor, and I can’t wait to hopefully be there next year. I haven’t heard of any problems during the show this year, though I imagine the audience isn’t quite as large or as involved as they normally would be. I’m happy that the organizers managed to pull this off instead of having to cancel the whole thing.”
Finally, I was able to play Parkasaurus and talk to one of the two-team developers. Parkasaurus does not have a demo so the developer was kind enough to provide a steam key of the game so I could give my impressions. I’m a massive fan of simulation and management games. The visual style looks great which combined with the music creates a very relaxing experience. There’s a lot of depth and nuance to the mechanics and whilst I haven’t been able to learn the mechanics fully, I can see the high amount of detail and customisation available. If you like a more detailed ‘theme park management’ which just so happens to feature cute dinosaurs, Parkasaurus is worth a look.
You can read an interview with developer Washbear Studio here.
1. Please describe your game in 100 words or less.
Parkasaurus is a dinosaur tycoon management simulation where you take care of your dinosaurs by constructing well-designed exhibits, researching specialized technologies, and maximizing profits to expand into the ultimate dinosaur theme park. Do you favour development for guests or your dinosaurs?
2. How has being in the PEX/EGX indie showcase benefited your game?
The benefit for being in the showcase really has been the extra exposure we’ve received. More people were reaching out to us directly, and actually finding out about the game which is great.
3. How do you feel PAX/EGX has handled the transition to doing an all-digital conference? And have you been impacted by the lack of a physical show floor?
They have handled the transition as well as they could I believe – it is not an easy challenge. I look forward to new ideas they might come up with if we go online again, or if online becomes a component of in person (ie. walking the ACTUAL show floor)
Ya – showing on the physical floor is always extra beneficial. It is the little introductions you get to not just potential future players, but other developers, publishers, etc. That is the main missing component.
Another aspect of PAX/EGX is the talks. PAX/EGX each hosted live streams on their Twitch channels. EGX’s talks tended to take place in the day whilst PAX occurred during the night due to time zones. Using Twitch worked very well with chat taking place in the specific channels of PAX/EGX’s Discord. There was a schedule on-site, but I found it difficult to find out what talk was on and when. For example, there was a PAX 1, PAX 2, and PAX 3 channel (like different stages). Rather than seeing what’s happening on every channel at once, I had to individually see what was on PAX 1, then PAX 2, etc. you get the drift! Nevertheless, once I’d found some talks I was interested in, the streams were great with a variety of subjects.
What Did I Watch?
I started off by watching a talk by Mike Pondsmith which offered a really fascinating insight into how Cyberpunk (the tabletop) came to be. Pondsmith also gave some insight into tabletops at game conferences, offering interesting anecdotes.
I also watched ‘Who’s the biggest name in games we can get to join our Zoom’. I will not spoil who the biggest name was but there were some interesting appearances! That said, a Zoom call with twenty+ people is always hectic and this stream was no exception.
An interview with David Bateson was another talk that I watched. For those unaware, Bateson has voiced Agent 47 since the game’s inception. Ian Higton from Eurogamer hosted the talk and it was great watching two friends just sharing stories.
Up next was ‘so you want to be a video games marketer’. This was a fascinating talk that gave tips on how to enter the video games industry, as well as methods to evolve once you’re in a marketing position. Michal, who ran it, was really easy-going and good to listen to. It’s an easy recommendation for those who want to go into marketing but might not be for you if not.
Then I watched some Bullets Per Minute gameplay with commentary from the developer. It is a rhythmic first-person shooter I’m currently reviewing for the site and the analysis offered gave me some really useful tips and tricks.
Finally, I watched ‘Esports in education’. This talk focused on the fairly new BTEC qualification of Esports. The talk challenged perspectives on Esports as well as talking about career paths and the transferable skills that come with this BTEC. Overall, it was really fascinating and dealt with a topic I hadn’t much of before
An Interview with EGX’s Head of Content
Pete asked a few questions to Tom Champion, head of content at EGX. Here’s what he said.
What were the challenges of organising an all-digital event this round, especially trying to incorporate both PAX East and PAX Australia?
We spent a lot of time working out what we wanted, and what our audience, wanted the event to be. The PAX and EGX audiences are similar but there are also differences so it was important that the event serve them both. Working with multiple teams spread all over the globe was challenging but there was a desire from everyone to collaborate and that was really pleasing.
Do you think that after the success of the digital event, one of your main UK based events, either Rezzed or EGX, could become more digital in the future?
I think there’s no doubt that whatever happens in terms of physical events over the next couple of years our experience with EGX Digital will certainly inform our future events.
Can you give us an idea of when you are hoping to put on Rezzed and EGX next year?
No news on that at the moment. We’re continuing to monitor the situation and we’re looking forward to running physical events as soon as it’s safe to do so.
Whilst I wasn’t able to cover as many different parts as Squashpickle had, I mainly focussed on the talks and panels, as they are generally some of my favourite parts of conventions. In previous EGX and Rezzed shows respectively, I have checked out some panels with no idea what they were about and very much enjoyed the experiences, especially when podcasters like Big Red Barrel and The Computer Game Show make appearances. However, as this was a culmination of both EGX and PAX, the range of talks on offer was incredible, diverse, and packed as big a punch as some of the panels at an in-person convention.
I made a grave mistake by choosing a lot of panels with very heavy theming, such as mental health in gaming, discussing trade unions in the video games industry, just to name a few (we discuss the full list on the podcast). Whilst these talks were very impactful in their own right, my enjoyment of them dwindled as the show went on, mainly due to my own error in judgment.
I am incredibly pleased for all the team at EGX and PAX for co-ordinating an event that encompassed 3 incredibly large territories like the UK, the USA, and Australia, and fills the hole that the pandemic has caused with the cancellation of in-person events, and it would appear this was done with barely a technical hitch to be had, which is much easier said than done.
If you want to hear more of Pete and I’s thoughts, then have a listen to a special episode of Rapid Reviews Radio.
Overall, it was great to have an online event. Using Steam was an excellent platform to showcase the indie games and the demo feature already existing on there was integrated very well. Like Steam, the existing platform of Twitch also worked well with presenting the streams.
As much as this was an excellent event, I hope we can return to a physical event soon. Nevertheless, it’s clear PAX/EGX knows how to do a digital event so some integration between the physical and digital space could be promising. Who knows, in the future there could even be a digital ticket, allowing viewers to view the talks and play the demos from home if getting to a conference centre isn’t possible!