How PAX East Is Booming Business for An Animated Niche

PAX East 2013 kicks off this weekend in Boston and is expected to attract 60,000 attendees, mostly in costume.

It can take Carrie Wink anywhere from a week to a month—or longer—to create and design character-based costumes for gaming and cosplay events. But once an outfit is finished and she adds the finishing touches, it’s worth the effort. This weekend, Wink will join tens of thousands of other gamers and costume-wearing enthusiasts at the annual PAX East Convention in Boston’s Seaport District.

Wink, of Brooklyn, traveled to Boston on Thursday with her business partner, Carolann Voltarel, and several hand-made costumes packed in her suitcase to prepare for the three-day video game and comic-book-centric extravaganza. Like thousands of others that take part in the cosplay scene, where participants dress up in detailed costumes based on their favorite comic book, video game, or TV characters, Wink does it for the appeal.

“It’s a lot of things, it makes me feel like a model, I can travel [to conventions], I can make connections and make friends. It’s just an overall great experience,” says Wink, who has donned intricate costumes at events and showcases for 11 years.

PAX East features several days of seminars, guest speakers, retail booths, concerts, and a chance for attendees to learn about new and growing companies in the tech and gaming industry. It also brings together like-minded costume-wearers who organize their own separate events like the “Pokemon Pubcrawl,”—where people dress up as animals from the popular cartoon series and hop around to various Boston bars.

Outside of the opportunity for mega-fans to get in character and meet new people with similar interests during the three-day event, Pat Moscaritolo, president of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau Center, says PAX East provides an “economic punch” to Boston’s food, hotel, and nightlife industries.

“… [It] helps us brand Boston in the gaming sphere and environment and the creative economy” Moscaritolo says. “The attendance continues to grow, and it’s pretty dramatic in terms of the economic punch. It brings in around $30 to $40 million because attendance [is] upwards of 60,000 attendees.”

Moscaritolo says PAX East came to Boston several years ago, but only started showcasing at the BCEC in 2012 after attendance outgrew the Hynes Convention Center. After signing a long-term contract in 2012, the event, which originated on the West Coast, is locked in for nearly a decade at the new venue in the Seaport District. “I think it speaks to not only the impact and its benefits to the visitor economy, but organizers realized Boston was a base for the entire New England region. They saw the opportunity to continue to grow their show as a “must-do” event,” Moscaritolo says.

He says it serves as both a short- and long-term investment, which doesn’t only attract people in costume, but also draws in venture capitalists who are looking to make deals with up-and-coming businesses in the area. “What better consumer research can you do then be on the floor and observing who is doing what, and what game designers are attracting people from his or her booth? It’s a richness of consumer research about the industry,” he says. “It’s great business for Boston.”

And PAX East can also be great business for people like Wink, too. As a co-owner of Athenas Wink, which makes and sells wool hats that look like critters from comics and cartoons, it’s a chance for her to make sales and expand her brand. “I do definitely make some long-term connections,” she says, adding that she has gained lots of followers on Twitter and Facebook from the event.

Photo by AshB images

Photo by AshB images

Then there are the consumers and participants, like Bethaney Maddock, of Boston, who flock to the convention center to scope out businesses like Wink’s, and join in on the cosplay excitement. On Thursday, 24-hours before PAX East’s opening day, Maddock was counting down the hours before she would get off work so she could prepare her own costume for the event.

Maddock, a graphic designer and art enthusiast, put together an extremely detailed female version of the character Scorpion from Mortal Combat. “All of my free time I spend working out, eating, or making costumes,” says Maddock, adding that she is “new to the scene” and has only been dressing up for cosplay events for the past three years. Her latest costume of Scorpion—just one of several she plans on unveiling during the PAX East get-together—took the most dedication to complete to date. “I started it in August, over the summer, but it’s still not complete yet. It definitely takes a longtime,” Maddock says. “It’s art. You put your work on display and the feedback you get is completely inspiring. It gives you that drive.”

Maddock says she’ll spend her time walking around the exhibit floor, checking out the other costumes—and merchandise for sale. “I have yet to ever go to a panel at a convention. I basically roam around. Really, it’s basically just a way for [fans of cosplay] to get together.”