As gaming culture grows into the mainstream, more and more conventions are popping up in communities around the country. Last year I attended the first year of PixelPop, a St. Louis, Missouri-area convention that covered gaming, music, and other interests from the STL area. This year PixelPop honed its focus while expanding its content, offering panels and talks from people around the country about various aspects of games, game development, and music (including yours truly about game journalism). I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck, or you’re trying to get into the game industry, small conventions like PixelPop are the place to be.
Let’s go ahead and put out there that there’s a special place in my heart for PixelPop, and a large part of that is because I’m friends with many of the people who form the backbone of the PixelPop team. But it didn’t start that way: last year, when PixelPop was a fledgling convention created by Kickstarter backers, I attended as a journalist who was new to the area and knew nothing about the St. Louis gaming scene. It turns out there’s a vibrant, growing community of content creators in that pocket of the Midwest, and a small-scale convention like PixelPop provides people time to interact with others on the show floor in a way that’s pretty difficult at larger places like C2E2 (Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo) or E3. That gave me the space to learn about the creators personally and professionally, and find out more about a portion of the industry as a result. Events like these are critical to gain confidence and network with others who can provide insight on how to break through barriers and make games or start businesses.
This year, PixelPop spread across two days with a number of panel topics and speeches geared towards providing people information about how to get involved in gaming and how to get creating for those who want to be in the industry. Speakers talked about topics ranging from how to get started in MOBAs to sketching out game design ideas and navigating intellectual property law. When attendees weren’t in panels, they could play a number of video and card games created by folks in the area. Nintendo even made an appearance with a booth at the event, advertising Super Mario Maker and other games they still have to come.
For me, the highlight of PixelPop is the intimacy of the experiences. The Voice Acting Q&A Panel with Danielle McRae became more of a conversation between her and fans as she talked about her experiences as a voice actress and how excited she was to meet fellow voice actress Jennifer Hale. Happy Badgers Studio co-founder Carol Mertz demoed her new card game Pass the Buck and each playthrough I watched (including the one I played) ended up a hilarious parody of inter-office slacking and bureaucracy as people cut loose and get in to the game. One of the managers for Cards and Castles, a mobile CCG moving to PC, attended the game journalism panel and was able to ask about how developers can better connect with gaming media. Perhaps because there aren’t so many people bustling around it feels more relaxed, like a safe space to explore, have a good time, and ask real questions. Though I love the energy that comes with large conventions, I’ve consistently taken away more from small conventions than the large ones.
Of course, this convention was also different for me than usual because I took a role in presenting. I presented a speech on how to become a game journalist, and I also moderated a panel on working in games media with a few great folks from various places in the media: Philip Stortzum from SuperPhilip Central and Caleb Sawyer from NerdyBits, who both write online, as well as Tritemare, a local Twitch streamer. Like many convention panels, the flow was informal but meant to be informative, but the small size meant that it was easy for us to interact with attendees after the panel concluded. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people stand in long lines after a panel concluded to ask a follow-up question, but that wasn’t really an issue for us.
The tools to create games are more accessible than ever, and that means that there are more games out there than ever as well. There’s a flood of content and content creators, and one of the best ways to figure out how to be successful is to learn from other people already doing it; small conventions like PixelPop are a great way to meet people, test ideas, and maybe even show off a game of your own or become part of another person’s project. If you’re in the St. Louis area, definitely check out PixelPop next year; otherwise, find a convention of your own and get involved! There’s plenty more out there than San Diego Comic Con, and it could be a step towards success of your own.
Josh Boykin was involved in this convention as both a speaker and journalist. Pass the Buck is currently on Kickstarter; more information can be found here. For information on Cards and Castles, PixelPop, or C2E2, follow the respective links.You can also see part of the “Reviewing Games for Fun and Profit” panel here, and check out SuperPhilip Central, NerdyBits, and Tritemare’s Twitch channel by following the respective links.