After going online-only in 2020, PAX West returned to Seattle this weekend, mandating that attendees be vaccinated against Covid-19 or arrive with a recent negative test. It’s the first big gaming event of the Covid era, and images posted on social media over the weekend highlighted empty show floors that would have been packed in a typical year.
Some PAX-goers found the event disappointing, a step down from years past. Normally the show floor would be full to the brim with booths and people, the crowds accompanied by loud music, enthusiastic announcers, and the sound of thousands buzzing over the future of videogames. COD tips and Tricks
“The noticeable difference for me was walking in Friday morning,” long-time PC Gamer reader David Shea told us. “I turned to my buddy Paul and said ‘Do you hear that?’ And that was the point—it was silent. I have never entered a PAX where there was no music, no sound, no MC voice on PA speakers… and as we entered, it was immediately apparent that this would be like no other year, at least not recently.”
Shea pointed to the lack of exhibitors as a big reason PAX West felt different, noting that most of the booths were set up for selling merchandise as opposed to showing off upcoming games. There was also a distinct lack of decoration across the convention center: places where elaborate statues and massive screens usually stood were bare. That glitz and glamour largely came from triple-A publishers and developers showing off the biggest games, but this year only a couple of companies that size showed up. Bandai Namco was the largest to exhibit. But according to other PAX veterans, the lack of triple-A companies allowed other aspects of what makes PAX a great show to shine brighter.
“I had a ton of fun. It was like the old PAXes,” said Washington resident Ryan Partlow, who has been to almost every PAX West since the annual show started in 2004. “[It was] more about going to panels and playing with friends in the freeplay areas. The expo hall had a ton of fun indies, but if you go for the big triple-A stuff, I could see people being disappointed.”
Another PAX attendee, Joe Cortese, said that even though he left two hours before closing on the days he attended, he still had a good time visiting vendors and playing indie games like Cricket and Cursed to Golf. Both Cortese and Partlow also noted how safe they felt during the convention.
“PAX’s enforcers did a good job of making sure people were following all the Covid safety guidelines,” Partlow said. “I felt safe the whole time. I was in a PC tournament, Power Washer Simulator, and my mask started to drop, and they gave me a friendly tap on the back to pull it back up. So you didn’t see many drooping masks or that sort of thing—and the chairs were all spaced out.”
That was a common sentiment with everyone I spoke to: PAX West felt safe. Developers were conscious about keeping lines spread out and attendees were respectful, with enforcers there for reminders on mask etiquette and social distancing when necessary. According to attendees, hand sanitizer and wipes were also available.