While there's pretty much a consensus that PAX Aus was a massive success - great atmosphere, inclusive booths, friendly people - there was one thing that did seem a little odd. Being our first PAX down under, it actually took me a while to make the connection - a few naughty exhibitors had a less-than-serious approach to the expo's policy of zero tolerance for booth babes.
The World of Tanks booth was arguably the guiltiest party, with tight red dresses and cleavage galore serving as dressing for the massive green tank hauled in - a wreath of titillation for the supposed hardcore gaming majority. But it's this attitude that Penny Arcade vocally denounced when it introduced its booth babe ban, and I've quoted this forward-thinking stance when defending the expo against those who would claim it's somehow morally lacking.
Sennheiser also seemed to treat the policy as more of a "guideline", albeit with a little less skin, though their policewoman getups lacked any sort of context to gaming quality headphones.
Our community podcast, Potaku, attended a media Q&A with founders Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, in which they addressed the issue:
‘Yeah, I actually asked about that last night,’ Krahulik responded. ‘I was walking through the exhibition hall [on Saturday] and it was the first time I’d seen them – and in my head I definitely registered them as a booth babe. And so I asked…and apparently on Friday they were, it was worse, and so we asked them to put some clothes on, so what you saw yesterday was actually pretty good.’
You can catch the full post on that at the Potaku site, with more of the Q&A.
Organiser Guy "Yug" Blomberg was able to shed more light on the expo's stance.
"We do have a policy in place, for both guys and girls," he said. "For girls, there are things like no cleavage being allowed, and skirts no more than 5 inches above the knee. We certainly don't have a problem with people dressing up as game characters and showing people their game, but with the Wargaming girls, after the first day we told them they had to cover up their legs.
"These are the growing pains of an inaugural expo, but it's definitely something we'll address in the future. "
With the size of such a project, and the normality with which booth babes are utilised in the gaming industry, some crossed wires (and crossed lines) are inevitable. But as more expos follow PAX's lead, we'll probably be seeing less and less of hired models.
And it makes sense. Regardless of one's moral take on booth babes, it's just not smart to tell a massive portion of your attendees "This area isn't for you" - especially for a free-to-play game targetting as broad an audience as possible. But inclusivity is something observably built into every part of the expo - I don't just mean race, gender, or orientation inclusivity, but a general "Come and play with us!" attitude which was genuinely enjoyable. It makes me feel sorry for the hasty few who stayed home on moral grounds. They missed the very thing they're working towards.