In less than 48 hours, PAX East 2018 will open its doors to thousands of attendees at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. The four-day long convention is an exciting and overwhelming experience, with so many games to play, interesting panels to see, new people to meet, and so much more to take in.
If this is your first time attending PAX East, you'll have a lot of fun, but you can have an even better time with a little preparation. These are the essential tips and tricks I've learned from my own PAX East experience:
Build a schedule, but be flexible
Keep in mind that PAX East will be absolutely packed for the entire weekend. PAX East is infamous for its long lines and wait times. They will be unavoidable. At the expo hall, major developer and publishers’ booths showing off AAA titles will be swarmed with fans, so be prepared to change plans to maximize your time there. Just to give you an idea of what to expect: Bethesda Studios’ lines to play their games are typically more than three hours long. Ask yourself if waiting for multiple hours to play a limited demo of a game that’s about to be released is worth the wait. Skip the packed ones and enjoy discovering the hidden gems at other booths, especially ones showcased at the well-curated Indie Megabooth.
If you decide to wait in any line, you could kill time by playing games on your Nintendo Switch, 3DS, phone, or other handheld game console. A lot of attendees do this, so don’t be embarrassed to play in public either! It’s also an excellent opportunity to play multiplayer games with your (hopefully) friendly neighbors.
If you haven’t already, download the PAX East app on your smartphone. It has all the maps, scheduled panels, exhibitors, events, and other essential information on it. Make sure to browse the entire PAX East schedule and add the ones you want to attend each day. It even prompts you to set reminders for up to an hour before each activity, and trust me, you might want to line up an hour early for some of the larger panels. Not doing so means you'll risk being turned away. Some theaters’ lines will hit maximum capacity pretty early on, especially the ones with Q&As or autographs. If you’re going with a group of friends, don’t forget to compare your schedule with them to get an idea of what you want to see and do together.
Try not to get too disappointed if you couldn’t get into the packed panel room, or missed a concert you couldn’t stay up for. A lot of events are streamed and recorded, so you can always go back when you get home and look them up. Stay flexible and don't stop yourself from veering off schedule. Go check out something if it catches your eye!
Follow important PAX accounts on Twitter
Even if you’re not active on Twitter, you should follow these accounts while you’re at PAX. According to PAX veteran and Giant Bomb moderator Marino, it’s the best and easiest way to get up-to-the-minute updates on what’s going on there:
Dress comfortably and wear good shoes
If you’re not used to attending conventions, know that working through massive crowds can be a sweat-filled adventure. Even if you think you don’t sweat easily, the sheer amount of people shuffling through small walkways will generate a ton of body heat, so prepare yourself. Avoid heat rashes by wearing breathable clothes and removing layers.
You’re going to be on your feet for several hours during the day, so make it easier for yourself by wearing comfortable walking shoes. This extends to cosplayers too; boots and heels may be tough to endure throughout your visit. Any kind of comfort insoles for your feet will go a long way.
This sounds silly, but personal hygiene is important: shower every night and wear deodorant. The range of bad body odor you’ll smell multiple times throughout the day should tell you that not everybody follows this advice. Being clean should be its own reward.
Pack lightly and bring cash
If you can avoid bringing a purse, backpack, or any other kind of bag, I strongly recommend it. Weather in Boston is a bit unpredictable in March and April, and last year, the frigid air and snow made it unbearable to wait in the long lines outside the convention center. I brought a backpack during my first day there, but regretted it while waiting more than 30 minutes in a bag check line before clearing security. I heard others had been waiting in line for bag checks for longer than an hour.
The next day, I dressed warmly with layers and a winter coat that had tons of pockets to store my belongings. Since there was a separate security checkpoint for attendees without bags, I zipped through and got in almost immediately. Besides, you don’t need to worry about not having something to carry the purchases you make at PAX. Some vendors will give you a plastic or canvas bag on the spot, and if they don’t, you can always find one elsewhere in the expo hall.
On that note, most vendors nowadays will accept credit or debit cards for payment since they have smartphone capabilities to do so, but sometimes they’ll lose service due to too much network activity in one space. I recommend bringing at least $100 in cash just to be safe. Also, don’t wait until you get to the convention center to withdraw cash if you want to avoid service charges and wasting time trying to find the inconveniently located ATMs. Besides, the ATMs also run out of money later on each day. Between the food and the merch vendors, you’re likely to spend at least $100 during PAX anyway.
At the minimum, I recommend bringing:
Your PAX East badge(s)
$100 in cash (preferably in small bills, as some vendors won’t accept large bills)
Small, portable snacks that can fit in your pocket(s), like peanuts or granola bars
A Nintendo Switch, 3DS, or other handheld game console for long waits, but make sure it’s in a case you can carry in your hand (not in a bag!) for the security check
A portable battery pack and charging cables, as power outlets are inconveniently located and always crowded
The excitement and energy of PAX East will be exhausting. Don’t overdo it by slamming caffeine drinks and sugary snacks during the day. You might want to leave the expo hall floor around noon for a while rather than skipping lunch. Plus, around 12 PM is when the expo hall’s booths really seem to fill up, so avoid the larger crowds by exploring elsewhere.
Fortunately, the Boston Convention Center is massive, and there are plenty of places to escape to and relax at. Towards the back of the expo hall is a large, open area with plenty of chairs and tables to eat at or play tabletop games. If you walk outside the expo hall, you’ll find some corners with bean bag chairs to sit on. You can head upstairs to play something random at the console freeplay rooms. You can also take a breather at the AFK Room, a quiet space that’s staffed by the mental health awareness charity Take This.
I’ve found that it’s better to leave mid-day and return to stay later in the evening than marathoning through the day because finding an uncrowded restaurant for dinner may be a struggle. The convention center’s food courts get insanely packed around dinnertime at 6 PM, right after the expo hall closes. Likewise, restaurants immediately surrounding the convention center also get packed quickly. Go grab dinner somewhere at least a mile or two away from the convention center; Lifehacker’s readers have some excellent tips on where to eat out in Boston.
Talk to developers and meet new people
What makes conventions like PAX East special is that you’re sharing a space with thousands of others that share your interests. Even if you’re going alone, there’s so much in common you have with others there too. While you’re waiting in line, why not strike up a conversation with the random people around you? I once exchanged Battle.net usernames with another friendly attendee while waiting to play a VR title, and we’ve played online together ever since.
This extends to the very enthusiastic indie developers there to show off their lesser known games. They’re attending to promote and gather feedback about the work that they’re proud of, so don’t be shy about asking them questions about their game, their inspirations, or even recommendations on other booths you should visit. Make the most of your PAX East experience by connecting with others; you might make a new friend to meet up with the next time you go!
If you have any questions or suggestions that should be added, let me know in the comments. Have fun out there!
P.S. If you spot me there, say hi!
Here's a selfie I took at PAX East 2017: