PAXEast 2013: How Our Convention Strategies Revealed Underlying Gaming Strategies

Three men enter PAXEast 2013, one man writes a review of the experience and breaks down some trends in the decision-making strategies of the party.

My friends and I are currently nursing a PAXEast hangover in the worst way — one that is being exacerbated by the fact that today is also the first day back in classes from our spring break.  As we start to unpack our loot haul and begin studying for midterms, I started to think back on the whole experience of this weekend and what I learned about my friends in the process.  On the whole, the three of us left for the convention with three different strategies for getting the most out of it and we each came home with radically different experiences.  

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The Looter/ Stealth Assassin Strategy

  • Goal: Obtain as much swag as possible in 3 days employing some questionably legitimate strategies.
  • Preferred games: Borderlands 1 & 2, Fable 2, Fire Emblem
  • Hours/Week: Typically 2-10 

This was my strategy for the weekend, essentially turning the entire experience into a large 3-day game of trick-or-treat.  I wouldn’t classify myself as a serious gamer because the phrase “serious gamer” is silly.  I’m terrible at FPSs, mostly because unless I’ve become intimately familiar with a map and can stake out good sniping vantage points, I tend to run around in a blind panic while throwing grenades everywhere.  I’m in it just for the fun and lulz.

I started my weekend by being a strategic placeholder for various panels.  Since some of the panels overlapped and were located at opposite ends of the building, we had to devise some optimal strategy for getting the three of us into the most panels.  We basically came up with a greedy algorithm that placed me on the Blizzard line and my fiancé on the Capcom line, while our friend stayed in the Queue room to hold our spot in case we couldn’t get into the panels.  I ended up getting into the Blizzard panel and switching places with our friend, and left to join the Capcom line.  Success!

Once we finished attending panels, it was noonish and we made our way to the convention floor.  Let the looting begin!  I spent less time playing the demos and more time trying to figure out which demos were handing out what loots.  For the next few days, the three of us discussed more panels we might attend, but every time I thought about going all I kept thinking was “but wait!  More loots!  Shirts!  Flasks!  Buttons!  Walnut hats!”  The idea of missing out on loots for the experience of sitting in an enclosed space with lots of sweaty nerds (myself included) was just not appealing to me.

  • Conclusion: I spent the weekend acting like a kid in a candy store
  • Games I enjoyed:  Tomb Raider — the reboot has much better controls than the original, the UI is sleek and uncluttered, and the storyline seems to be strong enough to get even casually interested gamers to play longer than they maybe intended to.  The Saints Row IV preview looked awesome and continued the tradition of not-remotely-serious open world gameplay (there’s a dubstep gun!  Drop your enemies while dropping sick beats!).  Dungeons & Dragons: Neverwinter is a solid PC game but way too many mouse-clicks needed to murder one enemy.  

The Overachieving Scholar Strategy

  • Goal: Get as much out of the weekend as possible — exclusive previews, swag, prime demos.  Turn all of these things into a competition.
  • Preferred Games: LoL, Borderlands, Fire Emblem (in the worst way)
  • Hours/Week: Somewhere around 20-30

This was my friend’s strategy for the weekend, and I think he may have left a little disappointed this weekend because he wanted to achieve entirely too much in too little time.  He is the kind of person who will look up every strategy, optimal skill tree, optimal recipes for crafting (or in the case of the new Fire Emblem, crafting children I guess?) so that he is literally playing every game perfectly.  

I felt sort of guilty because I got him kind of wrapped up in a loot competition that he was never going to win and thus probably missed out on some of the panels he would’ve liked to have attended.  He ended up going to the Blizzard and LoL panels, and he seemed to enjoy those more than most other things.  

I think the moment that defined his convention strategy for me was our plan to get to the demo of “Last of Us”.  I left the hotel at 6am (friend and fiancé decided to sleep in -_-) to make sure we were one of the first people in the expo hall, so combined with the waiting outside and waiting in the queue room I ended up waiting about 4 hours for a 30-minute demo.  I wasn’t annoyed because I got a t-shirt out of it and didn’t miss out on hours of potential looting, but I think he was more concerned with getting to demo a game that few people had the opportunity to due to the 3-hour long line all day long.

  • Conclusion: Our friend who strives to turn everything into a competition (grades, games, budgeting, etc.) in daily life applies the same attitude to a convention and leaves somewhat disappointed.
  • Games he enjoyed: I didn’t really notice how many games he played, but he seemed to enjoy Tomb Raider and Last of Us the most.  To be fair, he spent most of the weekend owning people he streetpassed with in Fire Emblem while waiting on lines so he seemed less interested in picking up new games and more interested in being the best at one he already had.

The Casual Explorer Strategy

  • Goal: Have as much fun while learning about what games are at the convention and which ones might be worth buying.
  • Preferred Games: Borderlands, Fire Emblem, Super Meat Boy, VVVVVV, Super Hexagon, Melee
  • Hours/Week: 10-20 (plays mostly 3DS, Vita, and mobile games while commuting)

My fiancé tends to get really into one game and just keep playing it until he’s run out of things to discover or objectives to complete.  He approached this weekend with an open mind and a pretty general idea of what he wanted to accomplish, so he was pretty flexible in terms of rapidly and frequently changing plans.  I sort of held him hostage to my insane dedication to looting, but at the end of the weekend he had played most of the games he wanted to check out and didn’t seem upset about missing any booths or panels.  The only requests I heard from him all weekend were to grab a darksiders poster and attend the Capcom panel.  

In terms of any behaviors that hinted at a convention strategy, he seemed unwilling to wait in line for things that didn’t seem to pay off (who wouldn’t?) but was genuinely interested in learning more about the gameplay and storylines of games that weren’t yet released.  He didn’t do as much pre-convention preparation as the rest of us but this sort of fits in with his gaming strategy as well — a less obsessive perfection, more methodical approach.

  • Conclusion: Someone determined to have a good time at PAXEast has a good time at PAXEast with minimal risk.
  • Games he enjoyed: He seemed most interested in the Watchdogs trailer.  For those of you that haven’t seen it, it’s an open-world concept in which there is a central OS for the entire world that your character has the ability to “hack” and cause things to happen in the city (controlling traffic lights, trains, steal money from atms, etc.).  Other than that he didn’t seem particularly interested in any of the demos themselves but was curious to know about them.  

Looking back, I’m incredibly amused by how strongly our decision making and strategizing was governed by the types of games we enjoy playing and how we get the most enjoyment out of them.  I think this sort of introspection is important and I realized after demoing a ton of games at the convention that most games sort of impose a style of playing on the player instead of providing a challenging environment for every gaming personality.  As a code monkey, I can appreciate the difficulty of creating game logic and flow that can adapt to the way someone is playing but I think it’s a challenge worth pursuing.  

So all in all would I say it was a good or bad convention compared to others?  I guess it depends on who you ask and how well the convention provided an environment for that person to execute their style of gaming.  If you went this weekend, try looking back at your own decisions and see if you can find any patterns.  


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Author
minitaco
A twentysomething comp sci grad student navigating the strange world of nerd culture and gamers. Enjoys long walks on the beach, well-commented code, and adaptable user interfaces.