Penny Arcade’s Jerry Holkins Talks PAX Unplugged 2019

Earlier today, Penny Arcade announced that PAX Unplugged’s tickets were officially on sale. Now, we chat with Jerry Holkins about the event. We got a chance to chat briefly with Holkins about the now December tabletop convention as well as a few subjects leading up to the release of their D&D book.

Jerry Holkins

Penny Arcade's Jerry Holkins Talks PAX Unplugged 2019
credit//Penny Arcade

BC: Something I think a lot of people are curious about is why the convention got its start in Philadelphia, in November, one of the coldest times to be in Pennsylvania period. What influenced the decision to bring the convention there at that point every year?

JH: It was important that it fit snugly in our Show Season, which runs from about September to April. It had to be when we could reliably get the venue for years to come.  But Ryan Hartman, who runs the show on our side, is a Philly boy at heart. So it was always gonna happen. If you get too cold, head over to the Reading Terminal Market. Warm you right up! Plus, you can get a Roast Pork sandwich with sharp provolone from DiNic’s, which is a reason to have it there all by itself. I literally just order two full sandwiches when I go there. I’m not, like, proud of it or anything but I’ve recognized that this is who I am as a person.

What’s it been like organizing this convention as you have three others happening around the same time within four months of each other?

Well, we’re blessed to have an incredible team that focuses on these shows all year, even now during what is theoretically our “dry season.” And of course, we have our incredible partner ReedPOP to handle a lot of the logistical things that we as a relatively tiny company can’t scale to. In truth, our task is really to get out the attendee’s way as much as possible. So much of the spirit of the show is something they bring with them.

How have game companies responded to this convention after having other primary conventions of the same type they attend all the time like GenCon and BGG? Has there been a swing to switching over to yours or is it more like PAX is another stop in their yearly events?

That’s not a conversation I’ve had with any vendors directly—I don’t know where we sit in their choice matrix for where they want to invest their time on tour. Many of them have an events team that stays on the road for months. And there’s a lot of shows they can, and do, go to. We’re honored that so many of them found this show a worthy stop on their campaign.

There’s a lot of crossover between PAX Unplugged and other PAX events where you see the same distributors a few times a year. How is it working with people who keep coming back?

I love it. It’s something like a reunion, except instead of being an annual affair of some kind, it’s like… I see many of the same people every month or so, around the world, for six months straight. It’s pretty surreal, but I’ve been at this since 2004 so I have a lot of experience with it. But backstage at PAX South and PAX Aus look very similar in some ways. That does take some getting used to.

This year you’ve pushed the dates back to early December. What made you make that move and how do you see that impacting the convention?

It’s sorta been creeping in that direction, hasn’t it? There’s a metagame portion when it comes to operating a stable of conventions like this around dates, especially when we’re trying to get our mitts on a lot of square footage we haven’t used in the past. There’s a lot of not especially exciting practicalities that go into the show.

With D&D and Pathfinder becoming bigger influences on Twitch, will there be a move to invite more shows to take the live stage the same as Acq. Inc. does every year? Maybe get Sirens of the Realms, Nerd Poker, Critical Role, and other shows who haven’t really appeared at a PAX event to do a live show?

Don’t forget that we’ve had a Dice, Camera, Action presence at the show since its founding with Chris Perkins and the #WaffleCrew!

Of course!

But, yeah—we’re talking with people you’d like to see on stage, that’s all I can say.  We see live roleplaying performing the same role that our Concerts do at the other shows, so while you can expect to see Acquisitions Incorporated at these events. In both our traditional lineup with Jeremy Crawford from Wizards of the Coast and my own game, Acquisitions Incorporated: The “C” Team. I’d love to get another group on the stage and I think attendees would too. Plus, I play in both of those games. It’ll be nice to have somebody else on the stage for a while!

Speaking of Acq. Inc., with the new D&D book coming out, do you plan on incorporating anything from the book to become an interactive element at PAX events moving forward?

There is a lot of things around the book I’d love to see manifest at shows, and wheels are turning on that, but some of them are reasonable excursions and some of them are currently in the realm of fantasy.  I don’t mean, like, the Forgotten Realms, either. I mean there’s really big things we could do with the dark office comedy Acq. Inc. represents and I hope some of these bear fruit—but with the show a half a year away, we have a little bit of time. Right now, I’m mostly just looking forward to the book hitting shelves June 18th and seeing how people respond to it.  If they respond well, it’ll make a lot of other decisions very easy.

What new things do you have planned for Unplugged this year and hope people will come to check out and be involved with?

Just like last year, we’ve built a bigger show, and it’s full to bursting with the publishers you’d expect to see.  The roster was already plump, but with more space in every department, we’re trying to drag the corner of the image out, make it bigger, but maintain the ratio. I just finished painting my Genestealer Cults for Warhammer 40k: Kill Team, so I have a fantasy that I bring my special, purple boys out this time and get a game in.

About Gavin Sheehan

Gavin has been a lifelong geek who can chat with you about comics, television, video games, and even pro wrestling. He can also teach you how to play Star Trek chess, be your Mercy on Overwatch, recommend random cool music, and goes rogue in D&D. He also enjoys standup comedy, Let's Play videos and trying new games, along with hundreds of other geeky things that can't be covered in a single paragraph. Follow @TheGavinSheehan on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Vero, for random pictures and musings.

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