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In-Depth: Penny Arcade Creators On The Future Of PAX, Game Biz

Gamasutra examines the lauded minds behind the Penny Arcade Expo, Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, as they discuss the state of the industry -- as well as their plans for the future of the heavily attended conference.

Mona Ibrahim, Blogger

September 7, 2010

4 Min Read

The final day of the 2010 Penny Arcade Expo began with a Gamasutra attended press-only Q&A session with the lauded minds behind the expo, Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins. The Penny Arcade webcomic and PAX consumer video game show creators shared their insights into the state of the industry, as well as their plans for the future of the heavily attended conference, which took place Sept. 3 - 5 in Seattle, Washington. Krahulik and Holkins said passes for PAX Prime sold out faster than ever this year, and the Penny Arcade creators suggested that the size of the show is now only limited by the size of the venues the expo can retain. This year's show expanded to include Benayora Hall, the home of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, as the main theater. "We always joked about taking over Seattle, but it’s seriously happening," Holkins said. "We [now] take up five blocks.” The men behind the show also expressed hope that PAX East will experience similar growth. Although the pair indicated that the venue for PAX East, Boston's Hynes Convention Center, was bigger than they expected, three-day badges still managed to sell out over a month before the expo. The larger PAX franchise may be expanding as well -- the team hinted that a third PAX would likely take place in a different country; preferably somewhere the duo want to visit. By giving game studios multiple opportunities to reveal content and exhibit game play, Krahulik and Holkins suggested that PAX and PAX East might actually be helping the industry to move away from a holiday-centric release calendar. "[Publishers] need a place like PAX to promote [their products],” the duo noted. "Before, if a game didn't make its Christmas launch it was a nightmare. This year was much more distributed as far as big releases." During a public Q&A held on the first day of the conference, the duo revealed their intention to work with PvP creator Scott Kurtz on a new web comic titled "The Trenches." The new project follows the lives of game testers and, like Penny Arcade, will be updated three times a week. While the precise start date for the project is as of yet undecided, Krahulik and Holkins are confident that the first comic should be up before the end of the year. The unexpected announcement of Duke Nukem Forver at this year's PAX was as much a surprise to the show's creators as it was to the rest of the world. According to Krahulik, the developer's booth was simply labeled "Gearbox" on their internal maps for the expo. Despite being caught flat-footed, the pair couldn't be more excited about the game's impending release: "Duke Nukem death matches were the core of our death match experience," the duo said. "We didn’t play Doom, we played Duke Nukem… [The game] did a lot of things that are now becoming vogue. [It] had a lot of great ideas that no one ever capitalized on." When asked what games they are looking forward to this year, both the illustrator and the writer shared their excitement for Halo Reach. Holkins pointed out that the game's "rich, competitive community" means the pair "actually lose more," which provides a fun source of content for PATV, the weekly web video series that chronicles the work and play of the Penny Arcade creators and their friends. As for recent releases, Krahulik expressed his particular surprise at the quality of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, the new XBLA title by Crystal Dynamics. "We downloaded Lara Croft as a fluke, as a joke," he said. "But we were blown away. We easily got eight or nine hours out of the game. It has some of the best puzzles I've ever seen." The PAX progenitors posit that the shift to downloadable releases is now irreversible. Holkins said he previously thought the industry had reached the point where downloadable games were expected to be high-quality in 2007, when the pair released On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness. Now, however, he realizes the industry has only just recently reached that point. "The two best games this year [Lara Croft and Monday Night Combat] are $15 downloadables ... and [this shift] isn't going away," Holkins said. "Games can be released any time during the year, and the products are growing in sophistication thanks to the bump to $15," he continued. "This gives developers more freedom with what they can budget… People are beginning to expect to download their games and expect those games to be of higher quality.”

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