Gaming Away the Holiday: The Top 10 Sessions at PAX

The Labor Day holiday weekend is finally upon us. If you’re a video gamer or a game developer, this means only one thing: Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) is happening in Seattle.

PAX has become the biggest trade show in North America for computer and video games. It draws tens of thousands of people for a weekend of game exhibitions, demos, panels, gaming tournaments, parties, and concerts—this year’s band lineup includes Jonathan Coulton, Freezepop, and MC Frontalot. The expo is billed as a festival of gaming technology and culture. (And for all my East Coast peeps, just a reminder: PAX is coming to Boston next spring, March 26-28, 2010.)

All the action starts today at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center in downtown Seattle. It is completely sold out, so if you don’t already have tickets, you are out of luck. Judging from the security at the event last year, you’d have only slightly less chance of breaking into Bill Gates’s house as crashing the PAX sessions.

If you do have an entry badge, though, here are my top 10 most interesting sessions to watch:

—How Can We Make Online Gaming Communities Suck Less? (Friday, 2:30 pm)
Attempts to answer the universal question, “why are we awesome in person and bastards online?” And explore what can be done about it.

—Prepare to Drop (Friday, 3:30 pm)
Join members of Kirkland, WA-based Bungie for an in-depth look at the soon to be released “Halo 3: ODST,” and discussions around the game’s development.

—Original Gangstas: Why Table-Top Gaming Still Packs Heat (Friday, 6:00 pm)
In a digital age, trading cards, miniatures, and traditional boardgames are holding their own at the kitchen table and increasingly on Xbox Live Arcade.

—Culture Wins in Game Marketing (Friday, 6:00pm)
How to market different types of games successfully. Includes representatives from Wizards of the Coast, Ubisoft, and other companies.

—Twitter and Beyond—New Game Communities Online (Saturday, 1:30pm)
Online game communities are changing rapidly thanks to social media. No longer are gamers primarily congregating on official game forums. They’re using Twitter, Facebook, and other types of online communities. What are the implications?

—What is an “Indie Game”? (Saturday, 3:00 pm)
The rise in game platforms and distribution mechanisms has elevated the cultural profile of indie games. But along with this increased attention is an increasing debate about how to break through in the market. What really makes an indie title, and why should you care?

—Hal Halpin and Adam Sessler Talking Games (Saturday, 4:30 pm)
ECA president Hal Halpin and G4’s host of X-Play and Editor-in-Chief of games content, Adam Sessler, discuss the hot topics affecting the video game industry today, and look at trends that could impact gamers in the future.

—“I’ve Just Been F#$%ing Fired”: How to Get Back Into the Industry on Your Own Terms Through Mobile Game Development (Saturday, 7 pm)
Panelists (including representatives from Big Fish Games and Research In Motion) will discuss some unique options to rebound from the downturn and resulting firing blitz in the game industry, with a focus on the current explosion in casual and mobile gaming.

—The PAX 10 Panel (Saturday, 7:30 pm)
After sifting through more than 150 submissions from a wealth of genres and gameplay hybrids, a panel of industry experts selected the 10 best submissions in terms of gameplay and “fun factor.”

—The Future of Gaming: You Don’t Know What You’re Going to Get (Sunday, 10:30am)
The success of the Wii, the iPhone, and the rise of social gaming are already turning the entire video game industry on its head. Andrew Mayer from MediaShifter will explain why the next five years in gaming are going to bring massive changes to the industry, including what games we play, where we play them, and how we play. Is this the last console generation? Why are your favorite developers already making games for Facebook and the iPhone? And intriguingly, Mayer argues that you’ll end up paying more to play your favorite games once everything is “free.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Editor in Chief. E-mail him at gthuang [at] Follow @gthuang

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