Q: Penny Arcade has become quite an influential force. How do you see Penny Arcade's role in the games industry?
Robert Khoo: A lot of people see Penny Arcade as some kind of taste-maker, or a group of people who try our best to represent game culture as a whole. In a lot of ways we’re OK with taking that role, but honestly, when we do our day-to-day we’re just thinking about what is the right thing to do, and what we think would be a fun thing to do.
For instance, PAX, in general, was started as a show that we wanted to attend. We were looking at attending a show that was focused on games, and we looked around and realised that didn’t exist, so we decided to make it ourselves.
Q: What is PAX about, and what is the ethos behind the event?
Khoo: It’s interesting, because you can see it as different compartmentalised segments of the culture where you’ve got the tabletop stuff, you’ve got PC, you’ve got console, you’ve got concerts, and you’ve got the exhibition hall and tournaments. Fundamentally, what it comes down to for us is a celebration of game culture. People that are there love games, and I know that we get a lot of credit for the really great programming and the really deep expo hall – having a very tightly-run show – but the fact is, the people that come are really what make the show special: the idea that there are tens of thousands of likeminded individuals in one place, in one physical space, that love games and want to celebrate the culture of games. That’s a really powerful experience, and to me that’s really what PAX is all about.
Q: Why did you choose Australia as the next place to take PAX?
Khoo: There’s a couple of factors. We’re always looking at expanding PAX into different markets. It’s always a several-years-long process. We have PAX East, it’s running really smoothly, we’ve run two or three shows – where do we look to next as far as where gamers would appreciate this?
There are a lot of factors that go into it, but primarily it came down to how strong the game culture is in Australia. Even though in Australia and New Zealand there’s only about what, 30 million people? Despite there being a small number of people compared to other places in the world, the passion for games, the games industry and game culture is incredibly strong.
We have data about people coming to Penny-Arcade, where people are geographically located, and we also see data from the online store, how many people are buying and shipping things to Australia and New Zealand. So we came down and took a look, and we talked to a lot of people we knew down there, and next thing you know, we knew Australia was going to be our next move. We haven’t looked back since. The response has been unbelievable, both online and offline.
Clearly on the ticket sale side things are going crazy, it’s going to sell out, no problem. On the expo hall side, the publishers are really supportive, and honestly, on the community side that’s the big part: they’re starting to gather, starting to mobilise, and seeing this as their once-a-year opportunity to get together in a physical space.
Everyone these days connects online, you’re on PSN, you’re on Xbox Live, you’re on Steam, but it’s different when you’re actually in the same room, and they see this as an incredible opportunity to do that.
Q: Why do you think Penny Arcade resonates so well in Australia and New Zealand?
Khoo: It’s interesting. We look at a lot of different places in the world: why are there Penny-Arcade readers here versus there. A lot of it has to do with the humour, right?
It’s hard to explain: everyone I know from Australia, and everyone I’ve met from Australia – and I have family in Australia – everyone has always just been so incredibly laid back, and so positive, and I think that really resonates with Penny-Arcade as a comic strip, and what we always try to do with game culture on the whole, the idea that we can be this incredible group as a collective community as opposed to individuals. I think that the Australian and New Zealand communities embrace that wholeheartedly.
Q: How will PAX Australia be different from the US shows?
Khoo: We founded PAX in 2004, it was our first year, and what we had at that show was a healthy representation of tabletop, PC and console, we had a number of panels, we had concerts, we had the Omegathon, we had an expo hall – fundamentally, those elements have never changed. We like that formula, we know it works, and that people really enjoy that. So honestly, what it comes down to as far as differences go, we want to recreate the experience that we have at PAX Prime and PAX East at PAX Australia. We know that people want it.
There are definitely going to be certain elements that are going to be unique to the particular venue or specific cultures. It really comes down to a show-by-show basis. But I know that fundamentally, it’ll be very similar to what we do in Seattle and Boston.
Q: In 2011, EB Games started its own annual expo in Australia. How do you compete with other events, and what is PAX’s point of difference?
Khoo: How do I say this without being rude? PAX is run by a company that employs only gamers. I will leave it at that.
I love PAX, I want PAX. It’s the thing I look forward to every year. I love games, game culture has been a part of me ever since I was a kid, I’ve never wanted to do anything else in my whole life other than work in the game industry, and every single person that works on PAX is the same way. I think that it’s that passion that makes the difference, as far as realising what we’re doing is actually providing a service, we’re trying to make the industry better, and make the culture better by having this show.
Q: Why Melbourne?
Khoo: I’m not a convention guy, I’m a game guy. I’ve been thrust into this world. So instead of doing what I want to be doing – talking to the 343 guys, talking to the Nintendo guys – I want to be having a meeting with Valve, but instead I’m talking to convention centres and trying to work schedules around with dental conferences and stupid shit like that. What ends up happening is that we are competing with all these different shows, and they’re not game-related by any means, they are book fares, some are comic conventions, some are dental conventions, some are medical conferences – everything that takes up space in convention centres.
Up in Sydney, the main venue is under construction. There’s this huge demand for space. Normally what we do when we choose a city, there are a few checkpoints that we need to hit, and one of them is hotel availability, how does public transport go, and honestly, a big part of it comes down to feel and the vibe of the city. Melbourne, culturally, just felt really good when we got down there.
Q: What provisions will you be making for interstate travellers?
Khoo: Clearly we do large hotel blocks, so we work with the local hotels and try to book ahead of time to make sure that attendees at PAX actually get a fair shake at a hotel room, and we try to lock in the rates to make sure the hotels don’t jack them up at the last minute – that sort of thing. To top that off, we’re in the middle of working airlines to make sure everyone gets a fair rate.
So we’re trying our best, and even though PAX is a big deal, there’s only so much we can do to move the needle.
Q: Are you happy with the support you're seeing from game publishers?
Khoo: Our normal planning cycle is about six months. So really we don’t normally even start talking to publishers earlier than six months out, so even though we’re still six months out, the support has been very, very strong. We’re definitely ahead of the game in that regard.
Q: PAX Australia will be the first consumer show where new hardware could be available to demonstrate – is that something you’re excited about?
Khoo: You know, not really. It’s funny because, the expo hall floor is really cool and there’s a lot of interesting things to get your hands on that you normally might not have access to. But that’s really not the bread and butter of PAX. PAX is more about the community, and less about the specific titles and announcements. Those things will happen and they will be on display, but honestly, if our expo hall was just awful – which it won’t be – but if it was, PAX would still be pretty awesome.
Q: What sort of audience attends PAX?
Khoo: The best way to put it is: There are people that play games. We all play games. But then there are people that love games. When I say that, I mean that games are a big part of their self-identity. That’s a big difference. People that live, breathe, eat games, and people that not only go home and play games at night after their jobs, but this is what they talk about, what they think about during their off-time, what they do with all of their off-time. It’s a lifestyle choice rather than a hobby. Those differences are very key in thinking of the types of people that Penny-Arcade attracts, and the kind of people that come to PAX.
Q: Every PAX has a tournament called the Omegathon, where randomly selected festival attendees compete for a grand prize. Can you tell us what you're plotting for PAX Australia?
Khoo: It will be coming, and it will be different!