September 2016 Bar Bulletin
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September 2016 Bar Bulletin

More Than Just Costumes:

PAX and the Gaming Industry in Seattle

By Kyler Danielson
and Marti McCaleb


On a typical day in downtown Seattle, the corner of Pike Street and Sixth Avenue primarily is crowded with business professionals and tourists. But on occasion the vibe changes. You walk down the street to find the sidewalks riddled with costumed individuals and people in t-shirts wearing colorful badges.

Over Labor Day weekend, Seattle will watch as more than 70,000 avid professional and casual gamers descend on downtown Seattle for the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), an internationally known convention created exclusively for gaming of all types.1 Because of the volume of cosplay involved, you may understandably lump PAX with all the other conventions that have been held in the area: Emerald City ComiCon, Sakura-Con, Seattle Steamposium, GeekGirlCon or CanCanCon (okay, fine, we made that last one up).

But as any con-goer would tell you, each of these events is unique; designed for different purposes and appealing to different audiences. As attendees and supporters of many cons, we believe PAX is particularly noteworthy for its distinct connection to gaming and its impact on Seattle’s economy.

What Is PAX Anyway?

PAX began in Seattle in 2004 when the authors of the “Penny Arcade” video-
game webcomic decided to host a trade show focusing on the community and culture of gaming. From that first show, PAX doubled in size, year after year, until in 2010 the creators expanded to Boston for PAX East in 2010. The Seattle and Boston cons represent the two largest gaming events in North America.2

PAX has continued to expand, creating PAX South in San Antonio and PAX Aus in Melbourne. PAX began in Seattle, but its local namesake has evolved from “PAX” to “PAX Prime” to “PAX West” to distinguish from other new PAX events. Despite (and perhaps because of) PAX’s increasing size and additional locations, tickets to PAX are notoriously difficult to acquire, selling out in minutes.3

And it’s easy to see why. Gaming is a universal hobby and a growth industry that should not be overlooked.

But, I Thought All Gamers
Were Unemployed Millennials?

Gaming has a surprisingly diverse and widespread consumer base, particularly consumers of video games. According to 2016 statistics, 63 percent of U.S. households have at least one person who plays video games regularly (three hours or more per week).4

In spite of the ongoing stereotype that only teenage boys are gamers, the average video gamer is 35 years old and more than 25 percent of gamers are 50 or older.5 Stigmatization likely causes inaccurate assumptions about the gaming market, which is larger and more diverse than one may expect. Forty-nine percent of American adults play video games, but only 10 percent consider themselves “gamers.”6 Additionally, men are twice as likely to self-identify as “gamers,” but a nearly identical share of women and men report that they play video games.7

Other assumptions color opinions of gaming. For example, some may assume that video games are isolating; however, many games are social activities. More than half of the most frequent video gamers play with others, including friends, family members, parents and significant others.8

Board gaming is a growth and varied industry as well. You may have played a game or two of Monopoly in your day, but the board games available today may surprise you. These games are becoming more strategic and engaging. Enter stores such as Card Kingdom/Café Mox in Ballard or Gamma Ray Games in Capitol Hill and you will be overwhelmed with the variety.

While gender and household statistics are unavailable for tabletop gaming, sales data present a clear picture that the industry is experiencing significant growth. The North American hobby games market, which is defined by games that can be found at tabletop game stores such as Card Kingdom that are marketed toward gamers, increased in sales from approximately $735 million in 2013 to $880 million in 2014, a 20-percent growth rate in one year.9

Startup funding websites, such as Kickstarter, contribute to the board game market growth as well. Tabletop games (such as board and card games) raised more than $84.6 million on Kickstarter in 2015 alone.10

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