PAX East is not the type of show that’s all about big game (or hardware) announcements; that’s what E3 is for. Rather, PAX East is all about getting to spend some time with those games and actually experience them firsthand, rather than watching pre-rendered footage over and over again or watching guided demos that serve as little more than highlight reels. But unfortunately, at least from a big name, AAA perspective, PAX East was lacking this year. And in the absence of a wealth of playable, high-profile titles, indie games took center stage and became the focus of this year’s show.
That’s not to say that there was zero AAA game presence at PAX East. There were plenty of big titles, including Watchdogs, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Saints Row IV, and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. But guess what? None of those were playable, with developers instead opting to continue to feed us more footage and guided hands-off demos (an offense particularly egregious for Splinter Cell and Watchdogs, both of which were announced at last year’s E3). In other words, there was really nothing new here for us to experience. At a certain point, a new trailer just doesn’t suffice.
Sure, there were some buzz worthy titles that had playable demos at the show, like The Last Of Us, Metro: Last Light, and Remember Me. But these aren’t the guaranteed hits that we’re used to seeing at PAX East; The Last of Us and Remember Me are both new IPs, and Last Light is a sequel to a cult classic. The point is, compared to past years of the show, PAX East 2013 had a relative dearth of AAA games, making it possibly the quietest show since its inception in 2010.
But this left the door wide open for the indie game scene to really come crashing through, and crash through it did. Last year marked the introduction of the Indie Mega Booth, a dedicated area on the expo show floor for indie developers to show off their games, and it returned this year even bigger and better than before. Playing host to a whopping 62 indie games for attendees to check out — plus a rotating “mini booth” that cycled through a handful of different indie games over the course of the show’s three days — the Indie Mega Booth helped breathe life into a show that was not bad by any means, but certainly paled in comparison to its predecessors.
And there were other indie games/developers that had space on the show floor that weren’t in the MegaBooth, that was simply a means to show a true dedication to the indie game scene, which is clearly flourishing. In addition to the MegaBooth, there was the separate “PAX East Indie Showcase,” which showed off a litany of indie mobile titles. There were also other, “bigger” indie devs that had their own booths, including Supergiant Games (the makers of the highly successful Bastion) and DoubleFine (which split its booth with Capybara).
In fact, we’re not the only ones who seem to think that indie games were the highlight of PAX East this year, with the lion’s share of press attention being pointed towards games like Super TIME Force from Capy and Transistor, which is Supergiant’s next title. The indie presence brought us plenty of other eye-catching titles, including Octodad: Dadliest Catch and Quadrilateral Cowboy, both of which we thoroughly enjoyed.
As TechnologyGuide reporter Jeff Dunn pointed out in his preview of Super TIME Force, there were benefits to having the show filled with so many games from indie developers: they’re new, different, and most importantly, willing to take chances creatively. Companies like EA or Activision can’t afford to release games that don’t necessarily appeal to the largest common denominator, and instead they opt for the tried-and-true, to stick with what they know works. Sometimes that’s good, but oftentimes we’re left with reboots, uninspired sequels, and even a lack of new IPs because risk-taking isn’t appealing for the AAA companies. So perhaps indie games stepping into the headlining role at PAX East this year wasn’t such a bad thing.
It may have been a quiet show that was disappointing in some ways — like the lack of playable highly anticipated titles like Watchdogs — but the silver lining was that we learned that the indie game scene is getting so big that it could really step up when the time called for it.