At 10:38 AM Wednesday, the Bat-Signal for gaming geeks lit up Seattle’s cloudy skies:

Tickets for the tenth annual Penny Arcade Expo (PAX Prime)—running four days for the first time this year over Labor Day weekend—went on sale this week, but if you blinked, you probably missed your chance to attend Seattle’s largest convention. Just 23 minutes after the announcement that ticket sales were open, 4-day passes were gone. It took less than six hours for the show to sell out completely.

 

PAX-Prices_2013
PAX started with two days in 2004, expanded to three in 2005, and added a fourth day in 2013. The normalized line above shows the inflation-adjusted price of an all-weekend pass, with years prior to 2013 adjusted to show the cost of four days. (Graphic: Tim Ellis)

“We’re always a bit shocked,” said Robert Khoo, Penny Arcade’s President of Operations and Business Development, of the rapid sell out. “We knew that adding a 4th day would let more individual people enjoy PAX since not everyone would want to come every day. And it’s true that the data we have shows that to be the case, with far more unique orders and people, but demand also grew from last year. The crush was insane.”

The immediate appearance of dozens of passes on eBay at markups of 300% or more led some upset would-be PAX-goers to take to online forums with speculation that rampant scalping was to blame for the apparent shortage of tickets, but Khoo contends that the number of badges sold on eBay and Craigslist between now and the show will represent “a relatively tiny percentage of total badges.”

“Scalping will always be an issue given it’s not illegal in Seattle. I can assure you that we think about this problem all the time,” Khoo explained. “It’s the balance between keeping out the scalpers without negatively impacting those that are attending (for instance ID checks would take hours upon hours).” Using an analogy geeks are likely to appreciate, he pointed out that “it is literally the classic DRM debate.”

Ticket price increases have been modest over PAX’s ten-year history in Seattle, and the show is still relatively cheap compared to many other similarly-sized conventions, but with such overwhelming demand, have they considered cashing in with a big price hike?

Penny Arcade's Robert Khoo (Erynn Rose photo)
Penny Arcade’s Robert Khoo (Erynn Rose photo)

“We are trying to keep track with costs, frankly,” responded Khoo. “We know we can raise prices significantly, but no one actually wants that to happen.”

In a testament to the efficency of the operation, Penny Arcade employs just two full-time staffers dedicated to the various PAX shows (they also host PAX in Boston in the spring, and will be launching PAX Australia in Melbourne this July). Still, “everyone here contributes to the show, especially as we get closer to the shows,” explained Khoo. “Our designers, our merchandise folks, our IT, Mike and Jerry – everyone pitches in.” For the “heavy lifting parts, like dealing with unions, hotel negotiations, loading docks, sales, etc.” they partner with event organizers ReedPOP. “They’ve been fantastic at doing all the things we’re terrible at,” Khoo remarked.

For those with mouse-trigger fingers quick enough to get tickets, the show is a blast, transforming downtown Seattle into gamer geek paradise for an entire weekend. “Getting to see everyone caught up in the ‘vibe’ that is PAX is an unbeatable experience, and getting to interact with all of the fans in that state is amazing,” shared Khoo. “It really makes my year.”

Update 04/23: The PAX Prime site was updated today with a “Registration Sellout FAQ” that is worth reading.  It further addresses some of the common questions surrounding the sellout, including “why don’t you print more badges,” “why don’t you do a lottery system,” and “Why not give advance notice?”

Tim-EllisTim Ellis is a data junkie, economist, and game geek.  He has been tracking the local real estate market since 2005 at Seattle Bubble.  You can read his occasional thoughts on other topics at TimAndJeni.com, or follow him on Twitter at @The_Tim

 

Comments

  • gues

    Yeah. I managed to get tickets for the 4th day but it was fricking close. I totally agree that scalping is a big reason for the crush. They really should limit it to 2 tickets each. Should probably raise the price to 150 or some such. That won’t completely stop scalping but it couldn’t hurt. I believe a lot of people are buying double what they need and selling the ones they don’t to essentially get their tickets for free. .

    • AF_Ret

      yeah 700 dollars for 2 people for 4 days bought off ebay hope we get the tickets in the mail plus 300 a night at the Westin totally worth every penny

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