This weekend Boston is the center of the video gaming universe, as some 70,000 enthusiasts — some dressed in the costumes of their favorite characters — pack the annual PAX East show.
At Friday’s opening, the line to get into the Boston Convention and Expo Center stretched down Summer Street; once inside, fans were stacked wall-to-wall, with everything from simple game demos to celebrity panels drawing overflow crowds.
For many it’s a dress-up event: Outfits included gore-covered zombies, vixen-like fairies, and warriors sporting a futuristic-medieval hybrid look. Star Wars costumes were also big, as were versions of the popular disc-jockey Deadmau5, whose music is featured in many video games, and who appears as an avatar in one. There were even concerts, with one of the headline acts the self-described “Nerdcore” rap pioneer MC Frontalot.
Though the big national game companies claimed the biggest real estate, the Boston event draws many of the smaller start-ups and independent game creators in the Boston area. And with its huge audience of videogame devotees, PAX East is also a proving ground where newcomers can make a name for themselves.
Richard and Michael Leonardo, brothers from Canton, are two of the dozens of dreamers hoping to turn their passion into a commercial success. They spent about $3,000 for a booth at Pax East to demonstrate Colliding Forces, a strategy game they described as a cross between air hockey and chess that is being designed to be played on an iPad.
“We grew up loving games,” said Richard Leonardo. “We wanted to create something different.”
The brothers are still working day jobs while finishing up Colliding Forces but were looking to Pax East for a gigantic pool of potential customers.
Their company doesn’t even have a name yet, and their booth contained little more than an iPad and a larger monitor to display the game. But in first few minutes after the show opened Friday morning — even before the huge crowd had worked its way inside the hall — the Leonardos already had a packed booth of players and onlookers checking out Colliding Forces.
Other fledgling companies, like Asinine Games of Melrose, are a little farther down the road than the Leonardo brothers. Asinine has already released a popular app for Apple devices called Reaper Cam, which allows users to insert images of the Grim Reaper into photos. The company is also close to releasing a similar app for a leprechaun, as well as its first full game for mobile devices, El Chupacabra, featuring a comic-book style hero with an appetite for burritos and tacos.
While Asinine does have some revenue coming in, founder Brian Dutton has yet to pay himself. “The game comes out in spring and I hope to take a paycheck after that,” he said.
Many established Massachusetts game companies were also on display at PAX East, including HitPoint, of Hatfield. The company started with simple games for clients such as Coca Cola, Axe, Yoplait, and White Castle, and in the last several years has doubled in size, to around 50 employees.
“We just kept getting bigger and bigger contracts,” said Robbie Sykes, a producer for the company.
HitPoint’s biggest release to date was Adera, a hidden object game, done under contract for Microsoft. The title is exclusive to Windows 8 and was featured during the operating system’s October launch. The first episode of Adera is free, with subsequent ones costing $3.99.
“We were number 3 in the paid apps section last week,” said Sykes.
The Pax East show comes as the videogame industry is struggling through a transition, with sales of established console-based games falling as consumers move to playing games on mobile devices.
Many of the Boston companies are concentrating on mobile apps, and several of them joined a panel at Pax East to discuss breaking into the business. Many executives said they try to remain nimble by keeping the size of the workforce to a minimum and bringing in specialists at critical stages of development.
“This community is great because you can bring in the people you need at the end to finish the game,” said Seth Sivak, chief executive of Proletariat Inc., which counts among its offerings a fast-play word game.