Some Reflections on PAX

by Darius Kazemi on September 3, 2008

in conferences,culture,pax

So PAX ’08 was the first big consumer show I’ve ever attended. Normally I go to development conferences, which have a decidedly different tone. There were a couple of interesting things I noticed while I was there.

First, while there were about as many women attending as you’d expect (20%, maybe?), many of them seemed like they were entirely there as possessions of their boyfriends. I can’t count the number of times I’d see some gamer girl with some gamer guy holding her in a manner that could be only described as possessive, back off this is MY girl. Granted, I’m guessing most of these couples were teenagers. Geeks at that age are going to be pretty insecure about their relationships, and hell, at 16 if I went to a convention full of other gamer geeks with my gamer girlfriend, I probably would have been possessive too. I’m not really judging here, it’s just something I noticed, and probably has more to do with teenage romance than any particular geek culture thing.
Second, it was really interesting hearing people talk about video games who aren’t game developers! My friends and I talk about game balance, agency, intentionality, MDA, and other stuff like that. Casually eavesdropping on PAX attendees, I found that they weren’t quite at that level of discourse, but they also weren’t parroting back marketing stuff all that much, either. I overheard one guy saying something like, “Oh, Game X was great. I liked it because the leveling system was cool, and the part where the guy betrays you was great, and you get to make a lot of choices as you go on.” It seems like the average hardcore gamer (and make no mistake, everyone at PAX was hardcore by my definition) is able to articulate things that they like about about games but not really why¬†they like them.
Interestingly, that sounds like the almost-converse of an old rule about focus testing your game: gamers know what they don’t want, but they have no idea what they want. The idea there being that if a player goes, “Wow, that sucks!” you should listen to them, but if they go, “OMG this game would be great with a sniper rifle,” take that with a grain of salt.


Mitu September 3, 2008 at 2:48 pm

Heh, interesting reflections on teenage geek relationships there, Darius. I’m fairly sure that within the geek subculture though, a lot of those behaviours continue well past adolescence. ;)

And you’re right – I’ve always been well aware of the world of difference in discussing games with an average gamer vs. those involved in game development/study in some way.

Bradley Momberger September 3, 2008 at 3:26 pm

I think you’d find a similar situation in other industries which have producers who communicate concepts with each other and consumers who are educated and experienced regarding the product. Those of us who don’t get to see the proverbial sausage being made are limited in how much we can discuss aspects of anything in terms of how it’s made, be it video games, beer, highlighters, CD players, or cardboard boxes. I can talk in terms of MDA and agency about as much as I can talk in terms of two-row barley and bottle conditioning; that is to say, not at all. I can talk about the sensory experience and my interaction with the product, but I’m completely reliant on you as the producer to know why I find these things good or bad.

dsilvers September 3, 2008 at 6:55 pm

I had that problem with my board game. A lot of the comments I got on it were the sort of stuff that couldn’t be explained and so I couldn’t fully understand what the testers wanted. It was when some people with actual design experience sat down and played it that I could understand the flaws and fix them. I think in terms of MDA, regular players get the mechanics, maybe the aesthetics, but they often don’t get the dynamics that tie them together, which is where I think the “take it with a grain of salt” comes in. Like, one tester had the suggestion, “I think there should be a card that blows everything up.” While his thinking was along the lines of “it’d be cool,” it would have, in fact, brought the game to a standstill. Mostly anybody will recommend something “because it’s cool,” but it’s the ones who understand WHY it’s cool (and not just flashy) that can really help make your game an experience.

David Sahlin September 3, 2008 at 10:42 pm

“Gamers know what they don’t want, but they have no idea what they want.”

That is an -excellent- insight. Thank you for that.

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