Fear not brave PAX AUS convention goer! For I, Karl, a veteran of 5 years of PAX AUS experiences have some advice for you to read and consider as you prepare to go forth into the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, affectionately called “Jeff’s Shed” by those who live in Melbourne and were around when the place was built, and enjoy all the gaming goodness.
Things begin with preparation. Some of these things you should look into doing months before PAX AUS, some things you should do before you head off to Day One, and some things are mandatory! Heed these lessons well and you will have a great time at PAX AUS without being stressed at all.
Step 1: Things to do well in advance (Passes and accommodation)
One of the first things you will want to do is go and buy your passes for PAX AUS. First of all, you will notice that there are different types of passes: 3 Day, BYO, Fri, Sat & Sun. The easiest thing to do is buy a 3 Day Pass. This will allow you to spend all three days at the convention and get the most out of your PAX AUS experience. The only issue with this is that these passes will sell out very quickly, leaving you with the single day (Fri, Sat & Sun) passes available. You could buy each day separately, but it’s best to keep an eye on the Official PAX AUS Facebook Event page in the last week or so leading up to the convention as people who can’t go at the last minute will be trying to off-load their 3 Day passes there. As for the BYO pass, unless you’re a hardcore PC Gamer who wants to lug your gaming rig to the convention for 3 Days just in case you want to play something with other people at the event, I wouldn’t bother with this one.
Also, an additional piece of personal advice: EB Games is selling a special Gamers Pass. Don’t bother. Unless you want early entry to their shop, it’s not really worth it. Plus you’re not supporting PAX directly with that purchase, which saddens me.
Step 2: Y’all Got a Couch for Me to Crash On?
Now I know a LOT of people will be taking the train into Melbourne CBD, usually Southern Cross Station, and walk down to PAX AUS. However, something I would advise (if you can afford it) is to stay in one of the many locations around or in the Melbourne CBD for the duration of PAX AUS. I’ve done both options. Personally, I’d rather shell out a few hundred dollars on a Serviced Apartment only a stone’s throw away from the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. You might find that a Hotel or a Hostel is a cheaper option, but unless you are coming in a group I would say it’s not worth the security risk. If you do have the money to spare, then make sure to check websites like Hotels.com or Trivago.com for the best deal. Plus there are some places that do special deals for people who are specifically going to PAX AUS, so Google is your friend here.
As for public transport, which is mainly the train followed by either a walk or a tram ride, is still a good way to get to the event and it’s usually very cheap. If you’re already used to Melbourne’s transport system, then you will already have a Myki card with enough money on it to travel in and out of the Melbourne CBD for the three days. If you have a Government Concession card, then it’s even cheaper. However, the drawback of this is having to get up earlier and getting to the train station, and then having to find a seat as the train gets more and more crowded. Personally, I find this frustrating as I use this time to do a gear check on the way into PAX AUS.
Step 3: YOU ARE NOT PREPARED!!
So you’ve got the passes, you’ve got the Hotel/Hostel/Apartment booked, or have your Myki “Topped Up”… So from here on out its smooth sailing right? WRONG!! Things have just begun. In the week to last few days before the event you will want to do some of the following:
- Check the weather sites: This is going to be useful for the travel into the event itself as sometimes Melbourne’s weather can change at the drop of a hat.
- Prepare Your Clothing: Now this is most important as there are a few essential things you will need to have going into the event with. First and most important thing is a good backpack, something with strong straps that is NOT a one-shoulder option. This means even distribution of weight as you are going to be carrying things ALL DAY. Second is a damn good set of semi-worn-in shoes. Do not have new shoes at this event or your feet will suffer. I would recommend something with a fair bit of padding inside that you have worn for at least a solid month in advance.
- Save that money: Long before you set foot inside the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, you’re going to need money. It is possible to enjoy PAX AUS without spending anything, but let’s face it, you’re going to see something at some point in some booth that you are going to want to buy because you have no idea when it’s going to cross your path again or you’re not going to get it for that price at any retail outlet. So make sure you have something in reserve just in case. Plus you never know when you might need something else over the weekend. There’s a Woolworth’s just down City Road that you can buy things from if you need something at the last minute without getting ripped off.
- Items to buy: Things like food and drink are expensive at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, I’m not going to BS you there. So I’ve found the best thing to do is bring a few things yourself. I recommend a 1.5 Liter bottle of water, not Soft Drink/Soda or juice or even replacement drinks like Gatorade, just plain water. The next thing I recommend is a bag of chips, like a large one, one of those 250g+ ones. This is going to be a quick snack that keeps you full and keeps sugar levels up to keep you going. Don’t worry about carbs because you’re going to walk those chips off each day easily. Next up is lunch. I know it might seem tempting to get a hot meal at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre or even walk across the road to Crown Casino and get something from the food court… DON’T! The Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, as I said before, is expensive. Crown Casino, on the other hand, is going to be PACKED with people from PAX AUS getting their food, so you’ll be waiting a lot longer than you should for food. My suggestion: Sandwiches. Get some fresh rolls or a fresh loaf of bread (Multigrain is my preference) and a bunch of deli meats: Chicken Loaf, Hungarian Salami, Pork, Ham, etc. Like 3-4 different types of meats. Put that together and make 2-3 sandwiches for each day to keep your energy up.
- End of the Day is the most draining: At the end of the day, you are going to be TIRED. You will almost crawl back home or to your Hotel/Hostel/Apartment like you’ve gone 200 rounds with the worst boss in Dark Souls. You will not want to do anything except dive into bed and sleep or sit on the couch and relax. But your body needs fuel. It’s in this vein that I recommend that you prepare early by buying some microwaved meals. I know they aren’t the best tasting or the most appetizing, but they are cheap and easy. You walk in the door, throw them into the microwave for 10 minutes and boom, you’re done. Plus at the same time, you’ve saved some more money that can be better spent at some of the booths at PAX AUS the next day.
- Bring a battery: In today’s modern age, we spend a lot of time on our phones while waiting in line. This means we will be using up that precious battery power a lot. Now unlike some other places, the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre is not fitted to allow people to charge their devices at will. There are some machines around that allow you to charge for a fee, but who wants to pay for that? Sure, you might find one of the mythical power outlets in the food area, but people will have them used up at all times. So instead, it would be wise to invest in some of those portable power charger things from places like JB HiFi and the like. Make sure these are charged too before you leave each day.
- FOR THE MEDIA PEOPLE: For those of you who, like me, go to PAX AUS as media (or even aspiring media), I would recommend that you have a business card, like tons of them, printed and ready to give out to all the PR people and Developers you are going to meet over the course of the weekend. So many people think that just talking to these people is enough, it’s not. So make sure you get a card printed (Vistaprint.com.au is a good source for business cards) and be sure to TAKE THEM WITH YOU!! So there is a fair bit to go through there, but do not worry, this is all getting you ready to make sure you maximize your time at PAX AUS playing games and talking to the right people instead of standing in line for something overpriced and over-camped.
Now that we are done with the preparation, it's time to get to PAX AUS and enjoy the three days of gaming glory! Yes and no. While you are prepared to go to the event with your food and other stuff, you still have no idea of what you are about to experience. So once again, before you leave the house, remember the following things need to be done and packed for the day:
- Appropriate Clothing: Forget dressing warm. It's going to get hot inside the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. There are thousands of bodies packed into the space along with god only knows how many PC rigs and consoles plus trucks and what not. If you're not cosplaying, then I'd suggest a nice light T-Shirt with some either three-quarter shorts or jeans (no Track pants please... It's just wrong); and DO NOT FORGET those slightly worn in shoes we talked about earlier.
- The food for the day: Hopefully you've gone to the effort of making those sandwiches and buying those chips and bottles of water, because you are going to need it.
- Keep it clean: Something I didn't mention in the preparation that is of extreme importance is that you are going to need to bring these two essential items to PAX AUS: Hand Sanitize Wash and Deodorant. I cannot stress this enough. It's too often that you will walk into any convention and smell nothing but Body Oder and unwashed people. It's disgusting. So do not be one of those people. Make sure you have washed the night before or that morning, and then re-apply deodorant once every hour or so as you walk around the halls because you will get stinky! As for the Hand Wash; remember that there are going to be a lot of people touching those controllers all day long and you have no idea how many gems will be on that thing. So each time you play something, wash your hands ASAP. This is the best and easiest way to avoid what is called "The PAX Plague".
- Download the App: Each year there is a guide app released for PAX AUS. This will contain a map of the Expo Hall and the Panels area along with times of when all the panels are going to begins and other events. Make sure you use this app in conjunction with your phone's calendar to remind you to get to those things that you do not want to miss.
- Spending cash: I know we are doing everything possible to save you money at PAX AUS, but remember that there are going to be a lot of booths dedicated to selling you something gaming related. So I would hope that you have been saving money long before the convention begins. This year, EB Games is going to have a Mega Booth filled with a lot of their items, but before you go buying from there, check some of the other booths (especially in the board games area) as they might be willing to price match or discount further. Make sure you look everywhere before you spend dollar one.
Ok, so now that everything is done and ready for you to enjoy the day. At this point, you are heading to the convention and are excited for the day. So what do you do when you arrive? Well, obviously it would be to go into the waiting room and wait for the doors to open (Meanwhile I'll be inside already... Yay Media Hour!).
There are a few things that you can do in the waiting hall. The first thing is to spend some time talking with your fellow convention-goers and get to know them, maybe make a new friend or two. Another thing is that you can spend some time on your phone on social media... But once the place gets crowded, that option is out as the 4G network will begin to lag. My advice here is to go to the older 3G network exclusively for the day as that one will be used less and you might get that status update out. You can also spend this time checking the apps for any last minute changed to the panel line up or just memorize the map. If you have a Nintendo 3DS, then this is the perfect time to get those Street Passes and do things like the Puzzles and other small events on the handheld. Finally, there will be huge beach balls bouncing around once things get full. There will also be some upstanding hoops attached to the roof, so help your fellow convention people to get those points! It's a lot of fun and the crowd really gets into it.
Then comes the moment you have been waiting for, the doors begin to open and the stampede begins. Thousands of people flood the show floor and everything is in full swing. There are games EVERYWHERE! So what should you check out first? Well before you check out anything, you need to know what is usually available on the show floor:
- AAA Developers: PAX AUS usually brings the big guns to Australia. Studios like EA Games, Ubisoft, Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony and more will have huge booths on the floor and will usually have the games that you want to see most. But the problem with that is with these companies having all the big games is that they attract the biggest lines. So unless you want to be standing around for anywhere from 1 hour or more, it's best to wait till around lunch time or later in the day to get to some of these guys.
- Indie Developers: There is a whole section dedicated to smaller developers who are wanting to get their games noticed, so go notice them Senpai! The best thing about this section is that you are usually going to be talking with the people who are making the game and you can feel their passion like a hot fire when you are playing their creation and talking to them about it. These people will appreciate every kind word that you give them and will take any criticism on board for future improvement. If there is any downside it's that most of them do not have a publicly available build at PAX AUS, so this might be the only time you get to play the game without either having to buy it on Steam in a years time or get access via Kickstarter.
- View/Join Some eSports/Competitions: If there is one thing that there is plenty of happening at PAX AUS it's competitions. There are going to be companies running contests where you will play a round of PUBG against other people for a prize, or get pulled on stage to face off against a pro in Street Fighter V. There is always something going on for you to do. But if you don't want to jump into the thick of things, you could always sit back and watch the League of Legends booth where games are constantly being played all weekend.
- Meet Some Streamers: Twitch has had a big presence at PAX AUS the last couple of years. They use this event to get a lot of local streamers to come to Melbourne and stream live for their audience and for you. This gives people a chance to get to meet the people behind the personalities on Twitch and maybe discover some new streamers to watch. Plus it's fun to be on the other side of the glass while some streamer is in the middle of a stream and you make them crack and laugh by doing silly stuff off camera.
- Go Pin Collecting: Pinny Arcade, the name for the pins that you can collect at PAX AUS, are big business. With there being so many pins on sale from different companies you will have a hard time getting them all in one session. There are a lot available for sale at the PAX AUS Merch Booths, but there are also some that can be obtained through visiting or playing games at some other booths. So make sure to check everywhere for who has pins.
- Visit the PAX AUS Merch Booth: Each year the guys from Penny Arcade will bring their wares to Melbourne in a lot of merchandise booths in the foyer and one huge one in the Expo Hall. It's here that you are going to find everything from exclusive comic books, to T-shirts and Hoodies, to water bottles and most of all... PINS! So make sure to stop by EARLY (like first thing) and get your hands on all the items that you know you want.
- EB Games Mega Booth: This year sees the introduction of a partnership with EB Games. Now while some people are highly opposed to this company known for overcharging entering a convention that features mostly independent level who need a chance to be seen; we can't say that their presence isn't completely unwelcome. Maybe there will be some bargains at the EB Games booth, maybe not. But it would be worth checking out anyway.
- Other Sellers: In the board games area there are a lot of smaller sellers who will be stocking a lot of games that you might have missed out on in the past. So go check them out and remember to check them all out on the items that you want before you buy because you might be able to talk one of them into discounting their prices or even matching a competitors price. Plus they might have something that you thought was out of print or was about to end production.
- Magic The Gathering Booth: This is a maybe. Last year there was no Magic The Gathering booth, but there have been some in the years before. This is probably one of the best card game booths to come to PAX AUS. You can do everything from learning to play the game, to challenge someone from Wizards directly, to play in tournaments, challenge other people, and play the iOS version of the game. Usually, if you do a bunch of challenges you will get a reward, some years it's a pin and others it's something like a water bottle. Plus they also give you a discount for entry-level starter decks at other booths.
- Board Games and Card Games: A walk around the Board Games area will give you a chance to see some interesting things from smaller game companies looking to become the next best thing. From things like a match up card game that helps you learn Japanese, to a quicker version of Cards Against Humanity that involves you saying the first thing that comes to your mind, to other more well-known games like Cardfight Vanguard, Dragon Ball Super and the like. There is bound to be something that is going to spark your interest.
- Borrow A Game: If the quick pace of all the video game demos is getting you feeling tired, then you might want to head to the board game area and borrow a board game to play with your friends or just sit at a table and watch as other people randomly come and join you. There are plenty of things on offer here from games of Settlers of Catan, to D&D games, to just about anything that involves dice and a board. This is a great way to have some fun and make new friends at the same time and I highly recommend it.
- Retro Gaming Area: Want to take a trip back to your childhood? Maybe you have a younger sibling or a child that you want to show some gaming history to. Well, you have a whole area that is dedicated to everything from the Commodore 64 to the PS4/Xbox One, including arcade and pinball games. This area usually has some display cases of some rare and old-school gaming machines and games for you to look at and get all nostalgic over. Well worth spending some time here.
- See Some Panels: If there is something that PAX AUS has in abundance, it's people who like talking about things. There are many panel rooms all over the event space and they are hosting topics from Diversity in gaming, to games development, to funny competitions, how to succeed in streaming, how to get into games journalism and much more. There is something for everyone here and it's a good break from all the hustle and bustle of the show floor.
- Diversity Lounge: The Diversity Lounge has a mix of competitions and small panels for you to enjoy and everyone is welcome. This is a good place to go to and chill if you need some time away from all the people on the show floor.
- Handheld Lounge: Just like the Diversity Lounge, this is an escape area. The difference is that you need to have some sort of handheld gaming device in order to use the space... Though everyone ignores that and just chills there anyway. This is a good area for those people who still need puzzle pieces for their Street Pass thing on 3DS. Sometimes this area is sponsored by Nintendo and has held Pokemon competitions for people to watch while doing their own thing or just charging the 3DS.
- Chill Outside on the Lawn: On a good day, the lawns outside the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre are a great place to just relax. A smart person would pack a blanket and sit outside to eat lunch or a snack around the middle of PAX AUS. Some streamers actually use this area to conduct meet-ups with fans too. So if the sun is out and the temperature is right for you, then spend some time outside and enjoy the day.
- Take Some Photos: There is a lot to see and do a PAX AUS, but what good is it all if you don't have something to remember it by? So while you are out and about, take some time to take photos of the booths, the crowds, your favorite developers, and games. Plus there are also all those lovely cos-players out in force in the foyer or in the more open area of the board games section that you can take pictures of. Just remember to read below about taking pictures first.
- Check Twitter, Get Swag: One thing a lot of people forget to do is keep an eye on Twitter during the day. The hashtag #PAXAUs is always busy with updates from companies that are at the show. Sometimes they will announce competitions against streamers or professional players that you can get to, others will be websites who team up with companies to do exclusive giveaways if you can find their representative hiding somewhere at PAX AUS. If you find these people, you might score some exclusive swag from them. So keep an eye out on Twitter at least once every 20 or so minutes for updates.
Some notes to add at the end of Media and Cosplayers. As many places will make you very much aware: Cosplay is not consent. This phrase means that while these people do dress up to be noticed, there are limits to how much you can notice them. Remember that these are people first and foremost, and therefore you need to treat them with respect. When approaching a cosplayer, don't just blurt out "CAN I HAVE A PICTURE WITH YOU!?" like a moron mouth-breather. You should ask them nicely after complimenting their outfit. Remember to ask permission each time you want to take a photo either of them or with them as changing the situation might make them uncomfortable. When taking pictures with a cosplayer, make sure that they are ok with you putting your arm around them if that is what you want to do; if they say no then do not do it and just stand next to them with a little gap between you... And remember that deodorant!
Also please remember that there are going to be Media people at PAX AUS. While we in the media are told over and over that this event is not exclusively for us and we have no power of priority at all, there are situations where we need some space to do interviews on the show floor or to get specific shots for videos. If you happen to see someone conducting a one on one interview on the show floor, be aware of the space between the camera and the people. DO NOT ENTER THIS SPACE. Please let the people do their jobs. Also be aware of any camera that is attached to a tripod and step around it. Too many people will bump into the camera and knock it over. Those cameras are expensive and you wouldn't want something like that to happen to your camera would you?
As a small bonus, here are a couple of things I would recommend doing these two things at your own discretion.
- High Five an Enforcer: The Enforcers are your best friend at PAX AUS. They are the people making sure things run smoothly and that the lines are somewhat enjoyable while you wait to get your hands on that next game. These people are volunteers and spend hours on their feet just to help you. So maybe it would be nice if you give them a high five and thank them for putting themselves out for the weekend so that your enjoyment can happen.
- Hunt The Yug: Guy "Yug" Blomberg is the man behind bringing PAX AUS to Australia and one of the main organizers of the event... Not to mention he is the only man who does not know what a hairbrush is. During PAX AUS this wildman will be sometimes found zipping around the show floor as he solves problems of all kinds and making sure that people are having a good time. While he is hard to find and to keep standing still for more than 30 seconds if you see him then take a moment to say thanks to him for bringing PAX to the country and how much you are enjoying yourself. Photos posted on Twitter under the #PAXAUS hashtag for proof is a bonus.
So what do you do first? Well if I was to recommend anything it would be getting to the PAX AUS merchandise booths and get your items from there right away. The ones in the foyer are going to be swamped, but the one in the Expo Hall itself is going to be the best one to go to if you move quick enough and have an early spot in line. From there, check out the indie developers section and play some of the games there, you might be surprised at what they have on offer.
If you need a break, then go to the board games area and learn to play a few games. It's in the afternoon that I would recommend heading to the bigger booths and get in line for the hot new games from the AAA big boys. Maybe you will get in line to find that you are going to be a part of the last group through for the day, which usually gives you a few extra minutes to play the game without having to worry about getting out in time for the next group.
So there you have it. From here you should have enough experience to handle PAX AUS in all its glory. Go forth and enjoy all the games that are on offer. Remember to keep hydrated and to re-apply Hand Wash and Deodorant often. Pass this guide onto others so that they too can experience PAX AUS without having to worry too much about anything.