The giant gaming convention PAX East, one of the largest events of its kind in the country, will remain in Boston for more than a decade to come, a major step toward making Massachusetts a global hub for video game development.
Reed Exhibitions, the giant British event planning company, will keep PAX East at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center through 2023, in an agreement revealed yesterday by the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority.
Last year, PAX East drew about 68,000 visitors to the city. James Rooney, the authority’s executive director, said the show will eventually attract 100,000 visitors. “PAX East’s link to Boston for the next decade is about making Massachusetts the center of the gaming industry,’’ Rooney said.
Reed Exhibitions will also donate $325,000 over the next 10 years to the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute, or MassDiGi, a state-sponsored program at Becker College in Worcester that promotes collaboration between academic institutions and the local video game industry.
“We’re excited that PAX East will not only call Massachusetts home, but PAX East also shares a vision with our state, a vision for the industry and its growth,’’ Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray said yesterday.
The original PAX, which stands for Penny Arcade Expo, was launched in Seattle in 2004. Now called PAX Prime, it will be held in that city on Labor Day Weekend. The East Coast version came to Boston’s Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center in 2010. That year, the event attracted more than 50,000 people and overwhelmed the facility; Rooney said that escalators at the Hynes were overloaded and had to be shut off.
Last year, the show moved to the far larger and newer Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. This year’s show, which will run from April 6 through April 8, is expected to draw about 75,000 visitors. Reed Exhibitions senior vice president Greg Topalian said that three-day passes for this year’s show have already sold out, and only single-day tickets are available.
The convention center can easily hold 100,000 visitors, the convention authority’s Rooney said, but attendance is being deliberately limited; the plan is to increase attendance gradually in future years. “Because it’s a new show, you want to make sure that you’re not just opening the doors and letting too many people in,’’ he said.
Trade shows like PAX East, where gaming companies can present their products directly to large numbers of fans, are excellent marketing tools for companies that don’t often see their customers face-to-face, said Nancy Drapeau, director of research at the Center for Exhibition Industry Research in Dallas. “It’s an opportunity to have interaction with your end users,’’ said Drapeau. “For smaller companies, it’s a chance to sell and also get name exposure.’’
The presence of PAX East could also boost the reputation of Massachusetts’ burgeoning video game sector, which generates about $2 billion in economic activity. “We are a brains and innovation state, and this is a brains and innovation business,’’ said MassDiGi executive director Timothy Loew. “There’s no better showcase for what we do than PAX East.’’
It’s also a win for the convention authority, which had a previous agreement to keep PAX East in Boston only through next year. “Everyone up and down the East Coast, from Orlando all the way up to Toronto and every city in between, was competing to host this event.’’ Rooney said.
Reed’s Topalian said that his company was eager to stay in Boston. “It’s been really wonderful,’’ Topalian said. “The city embraced the show . . . we’ve been pleased with the choice from the very beginning.’’Hiawatha Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @watha.