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Is This Schwag Bag Worth It?
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on September 04, 2006   |   Episode 113 (Show Archive)  


Think this is bad? The other side is nothing more than an advert for!
The Penny Arcade Expo has come and gone. According to show organizers close to 20,000 attendees filtered into the three day event held at the Meydenbauer Center in beautiful downtown Bellevue, Washington. But just because the event is over doesn't mean that we have to stop covering it, this week Defunct Games is planning on showcasing the many sides of PAX by offering you a number of different articles about the comic strip-inspired show. We start it all off with this, a look at the gift bag every show goer ended up picking up. We ask the question that's on everybody's mind: Is this schwag bag worth it?

Below you will find pictures of everything that was tossed into the official PAX bag, including a lot of advertising, guides and candy. To make this feature even more interested we have decided to talk about each item and tell you what works and what doesn't. Later in the week Defunct Games will even be giving away extra PAX bags to people who are lucky enough to win our contest. But enough about that, let's take a tour of the insides of this highly coveted bag of goodies ...
The Guides: The real reason to pick up the schwag bag was not to collect game demos and postcards; it was to get the Penny Arcade Expo guide. As you might imagine, this guide was there to show you where everything was, from the tournaments to the panel discussions to the exhibition hall itself. The guide also allowed you to figure out what was going on and when, giving you a brief overview of each of the panels and when you should get to each one. This is the kind of stuff you expect from a guide like this, it's 32 pages of useful information (and advertising). But let's not forget that this is the Penny Arcade Expo, it's a convention created from the success of an internet comic. So where is all the cool art? Oh sure, there are a couple of pages that show drawings of Tycho and Gabe, but where are the comic strips? Where is the conceptual art? Where is all of the interesting content you might expect from the people that bring you Penny Arcade? This might sound like nitpicking, but for a expo developed around a comic strip there is a shocking lack of actual art in this guide.

The second guide came from Technomancer Press, a company that makes guides for traditional tabletop adventure games. According to the cover the guide features "16 pages of crit charts, fumble charts, spell fumble charts, a new race, new feats, new rules, coupons and much more." Am I the only one that doesn't have a clue what that means? I know what coupons are, but I'm clueless when it comes to spell fumble charts. The best part about this guide is that it looks like it was done by some high school kid who was just looking to design his first zine. The entire booklet has this low-budget look, complete with photocopied pages and a bright orange cover. Maybe it's just me, but with a name like Technomancer Press I just expected something a little more, well, professional. The guide is actually an interesting read and does give you some good deals ... if you're into that kind of thing.

The Postcards: I won't say that the postcards are disappointing, but ... no; actually I will say the postcards are disappointing. Maybe I'm just spoiled by the cool schwag you get at E3, but there was something about the postcards at PAX that just didn't do much for me. Perhaps the best postcard of the bunch was the one advertising the official Penny Arcade Expo, held August 25 - 27 at Meydenbauer Center. The postcard reminds you to pre-register and save nearly 50% off the price at the door. There's only one problem: everybody that got these bags had already paid to attend PAX. The time for pre-registering was over; there was no reason to continue advertising the dates and location. I can only assume that the organizers were just trying to get rid of these postcards, but it does seem kind of silly to promote something that you are already attending. At least the artwork was good.

The rest of the postcards didn't fair much better. One postcard tried to lure you by suggesting that you could win $1,500 ... but I didn't win, so who cares? Another postcard featured cool looking game character silhouettes, but it was actually for a network interface card. The two best postcards were Fury and Warhammer Online, but even they didn't make me want to rush over to the booth and play the demos. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of PAX was that Rockstar Games didn't offer postcards for their upcoming Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories game. Several years ago the company gave out entire postcard books to advertise the original Vice City; it feels like a missed opportunity to not feature something similar for the PSP game coming out in two months.

The Demos: Considering how many companies were represented at the Penny Arcade Expo you might expect some top-notch demos of some brand new games, right? Nope ... the demos found in this schwag bag are nothing more than older games repackaged to attract new gamers. For starters you get the City of Heroes: Bootleg Edition, a two-disc demo that features just about everything you could want from this MMO. Well, almost everything you could want. You still have to pay the monthly charge for this outdated massively multiplayer online role-playing game. And let's not forget that City of Heroes is old news now, where's the two-disc demo for City of Villains? If you've been waiting to give City of Heroes a chance but never found the time to pick it up now is your golden opportunity, unfortunately I suspect that describes no more than two or three PAX attendees.

The second demo isn't a demo at all, it's the full version of America's Army for the PC. It's America's Army: Special Forces (version 2.6 "Link Up," if that means anything to you), a great deal for those who love online first-person shooters but don't want to pay the $10 to get Counter-Strike. If you're into this kind of thing then all the power to you, but as of this writing the game is three years old and nowhere near as appealing as Half-Life 2 or countless other first-person shooters. And isn't this free to download anyway? It's nice to get the artwork (if you can call it that), but at this point it just feels desperate. Where are the demos for the new games, perhaps a demo of Fury or Dark Messiah of Might & Magic? Now that would have been something worth talking about.

Everything Else: While the PAX bag was full of postcards and game demos, there were a few items that didn't fit so neatly into those other categories. A good example of that was the Foundation 9 sucker, easily the best tasting part of this schwag bag. I personally like the idea of people giving out free candy, but I'm not sure this sucker does what it's supposed to in regards to advertising the maker's of Death Jr. and Sonic Rivals. Foundation 9 has made hundreds of games for all kinds of systems, but despite this achievement the company's logo is still unknown to most game players. I own thousands of games and dozens of game systems and even I was stumped when I saw the logo. Considering the quality of products at Foundation 9's booth I can only hope that PAX goers ended up putting two and two together, and I suppose this is a good way to get people to remember the logo (I know that I will have no problem remembering it in the future).

Along with the sucker comes an Xbox 360 sticker ... which is about two inches large. If you've always wanted a plain white sticker to promote the first next generation system to hit the market then you are in luck. If the sticker isn't doing much for you then perhaps you'll be interested in the pack of Magic: The Gathering cards. Everybody that visited PAX received a Magic core set, which surprised me since I didn't even know people still played this card game. It's a bit of a mystery why anybody would be excited about this dinky set of cards when Wizards of the Coast were giving out entire starter decks (for both the PC and card games) at their booth. Oh well, at least it's better than some postcard advertising the event you are already attending.

Is The Bag Worth It? Considering that the bag was handed out at the front doors for free it's hard to say that it's a bad deal. However, it's not exactly the most interesting bag of video game-related knick knacks we have seen. The postcards run the gamut from being bad to lame with very few actually being worth looking at. The guide itself is interesting, but considering that this is a expo for a popular comic strip it's odd to see so few actual drawings. This would have been a perfect time to toss in a couple of PAX-related comic strips, or at least some funny artwork on each page. The demos are also pretty poor, one advertising a game paid for by the U.S. Army and the other giving you free access to an massively multiplayer online role playing game (for a couple of weeks). Perhaps the best schwag in this bag is the Foundation 9 lollipop ... but even that fails to properly advertise their company, since it's hard to tell what company it's for. As a free bag this isn't a bad deal, but this is certainly not something you would want to buy off of eBay for twenty or thirty bucks.


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