PAX West 2023

There’s a reason it allures enthusiast gamers.

Ted Pollak

PAX West, in its 19th year, has become the largest US gaming event, attracting 120,000 attendees with its blend of board and video gaming. ReedPop, PAX’s organizer, recently parted ways with E3, suggesting that E3 should adopt a flashier approach. Seattle’s diverse accommodations, convention center, and scenic location make it an ideal host for the event. Attendees generally have interests in both video and board games, with the Summit convention center building emphasizing the latter. PAX’s tradition of restricted booth sizes and transferable passes fosters a balanced and inclusive atmosphere. The event underscores that desktop PCs are favored by enthusiast gamers, offering upgradability and performance advantages over notebooks. Gaming notebooks find a niche among power users, but the primary preference for gaming remains with desktops. The vast majority of PC gamers play at home, making traveling gamers a small minority.

Seattle Center
The Seattle Convention Center Summit building was the centerpiece of the conference. (Source: Ted Pollak)

What do we think? We think ReedPop currently has a more successful and sustainable approach to gaming conferences than the ESA. This is partially due to their choice of location. Downtown Los Angeles is not a tourist destination. And the expense of E3 for the megacorporations was not sustainable. Also, E3 was never a fan-focused event and didn’t adapt well. This could change, as Gamescom in Cologne, Germany, has been a success and is very large (at 265,000 attendees in 2023) with its combination industry and fan-focused format. Las Vegas could be on the short list next for E3 … or San Francisco, as it may be literally giving away conference space due to the mass exodus of tech conferences.

There are many reasons why PAX West is successful, as well as many reasons desktop PCs were the prevalent platform

In its 19th year of operation on the West Coast, Penny Arcade Expo, now called PAX West, has been successful with its consistency catering to board gamers and video gamers. With 540 exhibitors, 325 press organizations, and a record 120,000 in attendance for its recent 2023 event, PAX West is currently the US’s largest gaming event. The first PAX had 3,000 attendees.

It’s not surprising that it was recently announced that ReedPop, founder and manager of PAX, has mutually ended its contract with the ESA to manage E3. ReedPop had been tasked with resurrecting the show. Nevertheless, E3 should probably not be managed like PAX anyway, for some of the reasons discussed in this article. E3 would be better served to be a huge event with big, flashy booths, fewer rules, more console representation, and more fan inclusion.

Seattle is a perfect location for PAX on the West Coast because of its diversity of economic choice for accommodations, the size of the Seattle Convention Center as a fit for the attendance levels, and the proximity of some big game tech companies. Most important, Seattle is a stunning geographic location, and people partially justify pilgrimages to conventions based on the general environment.

Pax West
Custom role-playing game dice cases were among a large presence of board game paraphernalia. (Source: Ted Pollak)

The video and board game elements of this conference are well balanced. I would estimate that 40% of attendees are there for one hobby or the other, with 60% interested in both. The two elements were partially physically separated, with the Summit building having 80% board game influence and 20% video game influence and a separate building entirely dedicated to video gaming—mostly on PCs.

The booth sizes were restricted per tradition at PAX. That reduced sound pollution and some of the other negatives with the megabooths trying to outdo one another at the world’s major video game conferences. Also per tradition, each day’s passes were transferrable, allowing those who wanted to browse the action to resell their passes with the typical time-decay discount. This phenomenon increases total conference attendance and is evidence that the organizers are more concerned with exposure, impact, experience, and balance, as opposed to maximizing pass revenue. Small companies can have an impact here. It’s very much the Kentia Hall of E3 when it was in its prime.

Pax West
No, that’s not a big bong and a steampunk time machine. Those are bespoke fan-made gaming PCs. (Source: Ted Pollak)
Desktops rule PAX and rule PC gaming

With almost no presence of notebook PCs at PAX West, the evidence continues to mount that enthusiast PC gamers overwhelmingly prefer the desktop computer for gaming. (Here at JPR, we don’t need more evidence, as it is, and has been, abundantly obvious for decades.) Anyone who says otherwise may need to reflect on reality and how their claims affect corporate trust.

PC fans
Liquid coolers and many other components were displayed across the expo floor. (Source: Ted Pollak)

The desktop presence at the conference included the following:

  1. The esports pen: hundreds of desktop gaming PCs
  2. The BYOC (bring your own computer) pen: hundreds of desktop gaming PCs
  3. The show floor: hundreds of desktop gaming PCs

The notebook presence at the conference included the following:

  1. I recall seeing a notebook behind a security desk.
  2. At least a few in the information booth, if my memory serves me correctly.
  3. When I walked by the press room, I swear I had seen a few journalists with them.
Colorful PC
Badass desktop gaming PC. (Source: Ted Pollak)

Did we mention that enthusiast gamers do not prefer notebooks for gaming?

Why, you ask? Really? It’s so overwhelmingly obvious that only someone who doesn’t understand computers at all would not get it.

Desktops have almost infinite life span and higher performance per dollar. Power supply? Replaceable and upgradable. Motherboard? Replaceable and upgradable. RAM? Replaceable and upgradable. Hard drive? Replaceable and upgradable. CPU? Replaceable and upgradable. GPU? Replaceable and upgradable. Case? Replaceable, customizable, and upgradable. Display? Replaceable and upgradable. Cooling system? Replaceable, customizable, and upgradable. Lighting and decorative elements? Vastly more choice than with notebooks. The preceding repetitive prose are for an emphasis effect because apparently some people in the industry are totally oblivious to the obvious.

OK, that’s enough. I will stop now.

So, why do gaming notebooks have decent sales volume? Because power users are buying them for other tasks. Some of these power users may be gamers, but the notebook is likely a secondary system. The PC gamer desires the desktop. The overwhelming majority of PC gamers (over 97%) play at home, based on our estimates.

The mythical hard-core traveling gamer population who does use notebooks for their primary platform can be estimated with the following formula:

[(population of long-haul truckers, airline pilots, and RV owners) × (PC gamer probability)] + [(people who travel for their job) × (probability they travel regularly with long remote stays) × (PC gamer probability)] + [(collegiate population) × (PC gamer probability) × (notebook gaming preference probability)]

The JPR PC Gaming Hardware Market Study and Consulting Service helps companies and investors understand who and where people are buying these products and for what reasons. There is growth in notebooks purchased for gaming but only in certain segments.

Last of us
The Last of Us-inspired custom gaming PC. (Source: Ted Pollak)

All in all, PAX West has a very genuine feel to it that lets the passive observer see through the noise and into the heart of gaming culture. It makes the big product releases at other conferences, with crowds of people cheering for product releases, feel cringeworthy. There is no manufactured enthusiasm at PAX. The PAX attendees want to see cool products, demo the products, express their style (many costumed people walking around), and socialize with others.