PAX AUSTRALIA ULTIMATE GUIDE
The Penny Arcade Expo (or PAX) has grown massively in cultural significance over the years. Displacing industry conferences like E3 to become one of the the largest and most important showcase in gaming, PAX has become a symbol for the rise of the consumer and united gamer culture.
Now a worldwide phenomenon, each PAX event offers a unique take on the fan-convention tradition; PAX AUS is the only place you can soak that glory in outside of the US, and it is massive. Read on for tips on planning your trip to Melbourne, the world’s most liveable city, and crown it with a three-day PAX bonanza that features every genre of gaming.
The original PAX (now PAX West) first ran for 1337 dedicated gamers in 2004, and has more than doubled in size year on year. That rapid growth reflects a transition from a community gathering for a gaming webcomic into an event with its own tradition of excellence, one which reflects the passion and curiosity of the gaming audience.
This by-fans-for-fans atmosphere extends to its famous staff corps of “Enforcers”, drawn from the con attendees, as well as the emphasis on having space at PAX to actually play games and interact with other members of the community. Referred to by its founders as Freeplay, this massive gaming meetup sets PAX apart from industry conferences which focus on developer announcements and panels – although given how important PAX has become, it now features plenty of those as well!
PAX AUS was created in 2013 as an experiment to see how the convention would fare internationally. That experiment was a roaring success, and PAX AUS has become famous for showcasing the local tabletop roleplay and boardgame culture alongside esports, VR and major new game demos. PAX AUS features a unique lineup of indie developers and industry panels drawn from Australia, New Zealand and Asia, integrating them into a schedule of beloved PAX headliners and gaming celebrities who use this as their opportunity to appear Down Under each year.
Go if You Like…
PAX AUS features all the diverse and detailed interests of the gaming community packed into a not-so-microcosm. There’s something here for every niche, from card games to competitive fighting games, cutting-edge VR experiences, Dungeons & Dragons, pinball, mobile gaming and the PC LAN community. The biggest triple-A developers exhibit their blockbuster releases alongside a massive gallery of the brightest, most creative local indies. Best of all, the focus on engagement means you don’t just wander around and look at things. You can take a workshop to improve your miniature-painting techniques, participate in a Smash Bros. tournament, and demo yet-to-be-released games with the developers.
There is also a special appeal to PAX AUS for those interested in the communities and media which spring forth from gaming! The event is one of the largest days out for the local cosplay community, so even walking the halls between panels surrounds you with the icons of games and anime. Followers of gaming podcasts and webcomics can also enjoy unprecedented access to the people who make them, who feature in many of the live panels and skits in the expo hall.
If you’re interested in the PAX AUS experience you should be looking for flights around October; the specific dates of the convention vary each year, but are announced well in advance. Tickets (badges) go on sale around April-May, with the sales announced through the PAX AUS twitter. Make sure you’re following closely if you want to score a weekend pass with some significant early-bird discounts!
PAX AUS is always held in Melbourne, Australia’s famously urbane and well-catered southern city. Once your flight arrives at Melbourne International Airport, you’ll have a half-hour ride between you and your choice of inner-city accommodation. Uber has the most developed network of the local ride-sharing services, operating alongside the licensed taxi networks. If you want to dodge the lines and pick your badges up the night before the show, the Southern Docklands Skybus service will take you straight past the convention centre – also handy if you book accommodation close by! Use the promo code MCEC5 for a discount on the bus ticket.
WHERE TO STAY
The Melbourne Convention Centre is right in the heart of the city, just across the Yarra river from the central business district and opposite Crown casino and entertainment complex. There are plenty of hotels to suit your taste and budget across central Melbourne, including just up the street from the building. Get in early if you want to book these convenient rooms for PAX-time though!
Even if you choose to stay further afield, Melbourne’s public transport service should keep your travel time to the venue low. This opens up a lot of options for roomsharing services and hotels across Melbourne’s inner suburbs – home of the city’s famous dining, live music shopping and coffee culture! Make sure to investigate the local pubs, cafes and boutiques during PAX downtime to maximise your stay.
But… if we had our arms twisted we would have to pick the Pan Pacific as the premium place to stay for PAX Aus. Located directly adjacent to the MCEC, you can literally walk from your room to PAX without seeing any of Melbourne’s notorious weather (Which could be a good or a bad thing…). Many of PAX’s visiting influencers, celebs and other gaming alumni stay at the “Pan Pac”, so you might just spot someone cool in the lifts!
MOVING THROUGH MELBOURNE…
Most of the time a train will be your fastest option – due to the central location of the Melbourne Convention Centre, any station will get you there. There are also some direct bus and tram services depending on where you are – trams are especially available in the inner suburbs and the central business district itself. Once you’re in the CBD, you can ride a train around the “city loop” to Southern Cross Station, which is five minutes walk to the venue. Alternatively, look for tram stops for routes 96, 109 and 12 – all three have a stop right on the doorstep of PAX (Stop 124A Casino/MCEC) making them the most convenient possible option.
Any public transport in Melbourne (except for trams within the CBD, which are free) requires use of the Myki prepaid ticketing system. You can buy and charge a Myki card at any convenience store or 7/11 as well as at stations, or you can download an app to use your Android phone in place of one. No personal details are required for either method – the app uses Google Pay – and you need only put enough money on the card to cover a flat daily rate of $9 AUD. Information and help for the Myki system is widely available online and at purchasing locations.
If you’re making your own way to the venue by foot or by taxi/rideshare, asking for directions to “the convention centre” or giving the same to your driver will get you to the right place. Alternatively, the Crown casino across the road is an even more singular and well-known landmark to steer towards. Melbourne’s neat grid street layout makes it easy to navigate for pedestrians (the venue is on Spencer Street) and walking to PAX through the CBD can give you an idea of where you can head for dinner afterwards – like the GGEZ Bar on nearby Elizabeth Street!
THINGS TO DO AT PAX AUS!
Once you make it to Melbourne, you’re confronted with up to three over-full days of amazing PAX AUS content! The Melbourne Convention Centre is a sizeable complex and PAX AUS almost completely fills it up, with a main exhibition hall flanked by panels in the various theatres and side rooms. We recommend downloading the PAX AUS app to have all the maps and schedules available on your phone, the better to find your way between the many attractions you’ll want to see!
Each section of PAX AUS caters to a different gaming subculture, so navigating should be instinctive once you know what you’re looking for. The PC and console gaming sections take up a big share of the main hall, with several stages for esports exhibitions and major developer booths at one side and the famed Indie Alley on the other. There are also some standalone gaming displays scattered around the centre due to space requirements, such as the VR amusement park or LAN section. Dedicated PC gamers can buy a Bring-Your-Own-Computer pass as an upgrade to the 3-day PAX badge and spend part of their weekend jumping into a variety of events and multiplayer games with fellow attendees.
There are also plenty of tournaments to enter and prizes to win outside the LAN area, culminating in one of PAX’s signature attractions – the Omegathon! This chaotic multi-leg tournament/game show takes a handful of lucky, plucky PAX attendees (it could be you!) and puts them through a series of high-profile gaming challenges. With an infamously unpredictable finale taking place on the final day, following the Omegathon contestants provides a more structured, narrative way to enjoy PAX AUS and will take you the length and breadth of the convention – recommended for those who want to spice up the PAX experience!
If you’re excited about tabletop gaming, you’ll be absolutely blown away by the scale of the Freeplay area, exhibitor booths and demonstration section! Hundreds and hundreds of PAX-goers spend the entire weekend rotating between a variety of board, card and roleplaying games here, playing with friends or with fellow fans and developers. Both organised tournaments and casual gameplay are available, with a large public library of games available to use on the day. Friendly Enforcers are standing by to help new players through the rules, and acclaimed GMs volunteer to run one-shot RPG games for anyone who walks up.
A tabletop version of Indie Alley mirrors the experience for those wanting to test out the next wave of games, offering a chance to influence the rules and talk directly with developers! The vendor booths offer a chance to buy anything from artisan dice to custom-made gaming tables and software, and the miniature painting tables provide a meditative corner of the hall where you can relax and catch your breath, as well as offering free classes on painting technique.
A PANEL LINEUP YOU CAN’T BEAT!
Of course, the hands on gaming is only one of the great pillars of PAX culture. The traditional panels, presentations and live entertainment are at PAX AUS in full force, and definitely can’t be missed if you’re looking to get the value out of your 3-day badge! Multiple theatres are operating at once across the weekend, so check the schedule on the app ahead of time to plan out which panels suit your taste.
The majority of panels are held in the Plenary theatre, which resides in a connected building just across from the exhibition hall. When you’re planning your itinerary on the app, remember that it can take up to five minutes to cross this short distance in heavy convention crowds, and that popular panels at PAX AUS often fill past capacity. To make absolutely sure of catching your favourite presenters, aim to arrive 10-15 minutes early and line up at the theatre doors – ask Enforcers to confirm the right ones.
You’ll have to line up for many of the busiest attractions at PAX AUS, including the VR park and new game demos, so bring something to entertain yourself (free wifi is available!) or talk with your fellow attendees and Enforcers. The PAX community spirit is strong, so why not chat a bit and build the hype as you wait to get into your favourite panel! If lining up is tricky for you due to medical or mobility reasons, you can speak to the enforcers or the venue information desk about a medical badge and other assistance – PAX AUS is committed to providing an accessible and equally awesome experience for all! This spirit carries on through to another major feature, the PAX AUS diversity lounge. This cosy lounge provides a relaxed space for those seeking some separation from the bustling main hall, and is full of free games, activities, and representatives from LGBT+ support groups. The lounge is open to anyone who is happy to respect the space and the other patrons, and its quietly warm atmosphere creates a great complement to the rest of PAX AUS.
PLANNING THE PERFECT PAX
There are a few other things to be aware of when planning out your PAX AUS trip which can help keep your convention experience smooth and easy. Remember to pick up your badge from the venue on Thursday night if you’re in town, which will save you waiting in a much bigger line on the day of the event! If you’re collecting one of the 3-day International Badges, you’ll have to bring your flight details and passport to pick it up; otherwise, photo ID is sufficient. Families should note that kids under 15 need supervision inside the con – but kids under 7 do get free entry.
Food options inside PAX AUS are limited to those provided by the Melbourne Convention Centre; past visitors recommend looking to the range of excellent options at the Crown complex across the road, or getting something delivered to the venue from any of Melbourne’s excellent eateries. Bringing your own supply of water is recommended, of course. There are drinking fountains around the venue as well as drinks to buy, but after spending the rest of the weekend navigating the bustling PAX AUS crowds you’ll be grateful to just be able to pull some out of your bag. Speaking of, if said bag ever gets too heavy on your weary shoulders, you can find cloak rooms all around the venue, available for just a gold coin donation to PAX’s Child’s Play charity.
THE GREATEST GAMER GATHERING, DOWN UNDER STYLE
PAX AUS has created an incredible opportunity for gamers far isolated from the original convention to sample the unique joy of many gaming communities uniting under one roof. But far more than that, the huge venue, beautiful host city and unique developers and presenters in attendance have created an event with its own vibrant atmosphere, one which brings in fans of PAX across the ocean to participate every year. It’s hard to describe how it feels to travel to the other side of the world, only to enter PAX and find yourself right at home again, surrounded by the same community and passions.
You’ll just have to find out for yourself.
2021 is the first show after PAX Aus 2020 was cancelled due to Covid, and the return is eagerly anticipated. As at time of writing, 3 day and Saturday badges are sold out, with the remaining expected to also sell out soon. People are keen!
This year we can expect tabletop gaming, console tournament and console free play in the community section. As yet, panels haven’t been announced, but we know they’ll be ace as usual.