At the start of the year, a new gaming convention in Melbourne sounded awesome to me. If PAX was the end-of-year get-together, why couldn’t ‘The Game Expo’ be the kick-off for the year? Rather than being cynical about a new event and the many things that were likely to go wrong with it in the first year, I decided to fly up to Melbourne and experience The Game Expo for myself.

So, What Is The Game Expo? 

Let’s look at the description provided by The Game Expo themselves on their website

“The Game Expo is THE event dedicated to gaming, celebrating its culture and creativity. TGX is all about YOU and everyone who loves video games.” 

This is the part of TGX that feels like it was written well before they locked in anything that would be at the show, and why some people I’ve spoken to over the weekend, as well as conversations I’ve overheard on the floor or spied on Twitter, seem to be people confused about what The Game Expo is and what it’s about.

With a fighting game area, a fighting game tournament area, a Super Smash Bros stage, a PC Tournament area, and a BYOC (bring your own PC), the vibe on the floor was heavily focused on competitive gaming and LAN events. Which in itself isn’t a problem, but no one I spoke to felt like this had been communicated well — except for those that knew who was organising the event. As the ‘about’ section on The Game Expo website states, it’s being organised by “teams behind numerous fan favourite gaming LANS.” Those are BAM (Battle Arena Melbourne), The Big LAN, ITZ Gaming, Kanga Esports, and Events Engine. So why was the general vibe from many in attendance that they were showing up for “the next PAX?” When it’s closer to being a less-competitive BAM, with an artist alley, cosplay competitions and some board game stuff. 

In the lead-up to the event, there needed to be more clarity around who was organising it, what there would be to do on the floor and if there would be any significant sponsors. It was only in the last couple of weeks leading up to the event that I saw posts on social media detailing what you could do at the show. Once a week, I checked the website for a schedule that only materialised the week before the show. This in itself isn’t abnormal; these shows always seem to pull together their final pieces at the last minute, but for a new event, having a key program to attend, prominent guests, or games that people would want to line up and play and get hyped around would have helped a lot with understanding the vibe and audience for The Game Expo. And if you’re NOT going to have any of that, having the schedule available earlier, with better marketing around the event, would have helped those who turned up to the show only to be disappointed. 

How Was The Game Expo 2023? 

The Game Expo is a community-driven event. From those that put it together to what you would get out of it upon attendance, everyone I’ve seen having a great time in-person to posting online was having one because they were meeting up with new and old friends. The cosplay community was in full force at the event, with the cosplay competition on both days of the con being full of beautiful costumes from games, anime and movies. The roar of cheers and community spirit around friends getting up on stage for the first time was wholesome to watch.

Walking the convention hall towards the doors for The Game Expo, I’d spot friends filming TikTok dances and posing for photos. As I left on Sunday, I spotted a young girl and her Mum run up to a girl in cosplay and ask for a picture, which the little girl was visibly shy about but wanted anyway—adorable moments like that helped me appreciate the smaller things that a community-driven event can achieve. The un-crowded atmosphere of the convention also meant you’d spot more cosplayers, and they’d feel more comfortable posing for pictures.

I only spot a few kids at more significant events like PAX, but plenty of families seemed to be attending The Game Expo. I overheard two conversations with parents laying down the rules for kids attending what I can only assume was their first gaming convention. In full-cosplay, I hope both groups enjoyed their time and became part of a new community after the weekend.

A healthy artists’ alley is both days’ busiest side of the expo hall, with an assortment of items for sale from t-shirts, stickers, earrings, posters and more featuring original art based upon all your favourite games and pop-culture references. Dedicating a side of art was fantastic, and I only wished there would had been a little more variety in the type of stuff available. Although all the cutie Pokemon designs and a-like work for me, it is the majority, and it would have been good to see some stalls and artists focused on different art styles.

I’ve only seen a few outcries of “this is terrible,” but most could be translated to mean “this isn’t for me.” And this convention wasn’t for me either, and I can take that and appreciate who it is for instead. Overhearing conversations on the floor, someone told their friend, “the atmosphere here is way better than PAX.” And at the same time, I had several conversations in the VIP Area with content creators or media from other outlets who needed clarification about what to do with their day. Now, to be totally open: these conversations were happening as everyone sat in an upstairs area overlooking the convention floor, sipping on free drinks. The state of privilege to complain about a convention while sipping free booze is not lost on me. [Shoutouts to Pixel Bar for running that area.] Fortunately, most of these conversations were a version of ‘hey, it’s not for me; I know that now, but I’m enjoying catching up with friends I haven’t seen since PAX now that I’m here.’ For those with no interest in signing up to play a competitive game, jump onto the Just Dance stage, play retro games or learn to play a board game — you saw everything at The Game Expo in about ten minutes. 

What To Do Better Next Year

The first thing that needs to be changed is the marketing and communication around the type of event that The Game Expo is and wants to be. The tagline and description for the event could be more specific and focused on cultivating the communities that worked so well in this first year. Build upon the cosplay crowd; feature more events and more on-floor competitions with a wider variety of games and have a more streamlined system around communicating sign-ups and playing the games. You don’t need to fix what turned off some in attendance looking for “PAX-lite,” but if you were to do so, it’s about something other than getting the latest AAA release on the show floor. It would be about getting Australian indie developers on board. At this year’s show, there were three games (I think?) in the Indie Section, which was a rather sad look at the number of indie developers in Australia. The timing of the events on the floor also needs to be adjusted. On Saturday, I did two laps of the floor upon arrival and went looking for someplace to sit down and watch a podcast or competitive game, but none started for another hour. 

Some of the adorable things you’d find in Artists Alley

The Game Expo 2023

For a first-year convention, The Game Expo was surprisingly good. I expect most first-year conventions to be rough, and I’ll be shocked if those running it didn’t expect some mixed reactions. However, things ran smoothly; there was plenty of space to move on the floor, and for those looking for the LAN vibe and culture, a new con to show off their costume at, or a reason to spend a weekend with friends playing Just Dance, the show was a huge success. Even if the show wasn’t exactly my crowd, The Game Expo is easily the best first-year convention I’ve attended and that alone, given how hard it is to organise these things, deserves a nice slow clap.