The Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) gaming festival has become a fixture among gamers, with tickets selling out seemingly moments after they become available (this year tickets sold out in about an hour). PAX was created in 2004 by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, creators of the Penny Arcade webcomic, and has grown tremendously since then. PAX festivals now take place in Boston (PAX East), Melbourne (PAX Australia), and San Antonio (PAX South). The PAX Prime festival attracts over 70,000 gamers, along with scores of game publishers and developers eager to reach this motivated audience.

The festival itself covers a wide spectrum of games, from tabletop to console to PC to mobile, and celebrates gaming with speeches and panels from industry insiders, game-culture-inspired concerts, exhibitor booths, tournaments, and open gaming areas. The show is a deep dive into all things gaming for the moat dedicated gamers, and as such it’s a rich vein of concentrated marketing ore that many are eager to mine.

Golem Arcana

Companies relish PAX as a way to find the most motivated gamers who are likely to be key influencers, and so the show has become a place to debut new game demos, have customers playtest games, and announce new games and licenses. Marketers can also get a good read on what’s generating buzz for gamers — and what’s not.

This year’s PAX is shaping up to be another success, and the [a]list daily takes a look at what’s coming up at the show. The keynote speaker is Gearbox’s chief creative champion, Mikey Neumann. One of the most fun events every year is the Omegathon, where 20 randomly selected attendees compete in a three day marathon of games that span the spectrum of the gaming universe. After each round, some participants are eliminated. Each year, the final game is held secret until moments before the final two Omeganauts enter battle. This year, participants will be playing Johann Sebastian Joust and Mario Kart: Double Dash, among other games.

One of the interesting things about PAX is how it mixes classic tabletop games in with electronic games, and sometimes the games themselves are crossing over. Among the interesting crossover games being shown off at PAX you’ll find Golem Arcana, the latest game from developers Harebrained Schemes (who brought you the ShadowRun game). Golem Arcana is a Bluetooth-enabled tactical miniatures game that combines miniatures boardgaming with “digital enhancements” that work with your smartphone or tablet, along with a special stylus that connects the gameplay to your device by tapping the miniatures.

Another interesting crossover hitting PAX is Pathfinder Online from Goblinworks, a fantasy sandbox MMO based on the bestselling Pathfinder RPG. This promises to be a deeply engaging game, similar to EVE Online, where players build out the universe and much of the game emerges from their interaction.

Continuing the crossovers is Warhammer 40K: Eternal Crusade, a third-person massive combat RPG based on the hugely popular miniatures game by Games Workshop. “Players select one of the factions of the 41st millennium and fight other players for control of an open, persistent world. As they hack their way through content, players claim territory in massive battles and earn the right to customize and improve their characters in a deep progression system drawn from Warhammer 40,000 lore,” said developer Behaviour Interactive. A playable demo will be at PAX.

Hardware will certainly be among the things showcased at PAX Prime, and attendees will probably be seeing the latest Steam Machine prototypes being shown off. Valve may have delayed the arrival of this console competitor to work on the controller, but companies like Alienware will probably be showing off hardware anyway. Valve may use the opportunity to show the latest version of its Steam Controller, and perhaps get some feedback from attendees.

Oculus will be showing off the Oculus Rift at PAX, and it will be interesting to see the reactions from these hardcore gamers as they get to experience the latest in consumer VR techno0logy for themselves. Oculus will probably have some of the latest demos using the latest hardware, so the experience should be impressive.

Blizzard is planning a strong presence at PAX, with a brand-new demo for Heroes of the Storm at their booth where players can try three exciting new heroes. Gamers can also get hands-on with the live beta of World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor, featuring updated models and the intro experience for the upcoming expansion. Of course, Hearthstone will also be getting plenty of attention, and Blizzard will be showing more about what’s in store for the popular card game.

Indie games, as you might expect, will also be featured at PAX Prime. The Indie Megabooth has dozens of indie games, plus 400 square feet dedicated to some of the most interesting tabletop games, like Cards Against Humanity. There will also be an educational space for indie games that can teach you something. This is an important way for indie game developers to connect with the most dedicated part of the audience, and hopefully gain some attention for their titles.

We’ll have more during and after PAX Prime, so be sure to head back to the [a]listdaily for the latest news on what’s happening at PAX.