- [Big sister site Gamasutra was at Penny Arcade Expo last weekend, documenting keynotes and more obscure talks alike, and Brandon Sheffield returns to ask -- is the show really now the industry-leading North American consumer game event?]

2008's Penny Arcade Expo has just concluded, and we thought this might be a time to step back and ask - what did the show feel like this year, how is it trending, and what should developers and publishers make of the event?

Well firstly, PAX is, as is well documented, a very consumer-facing show. The main focus is everyone’s appreciation of a single web comic, after all. But even so, it’s still one of the best game-related events around, even for developers.

The three-day show is comprised of an event floor, panels, and talks from developers in a similar structure to GDC. But at PAX, each of these elements are focused squarely on the non-professional, with breaking in stories, product demos, and Penny Arcade-related discussions.

Out of all the press events I’ve seen, this was the place where product demos were by far the best received. Comic Con came a close second, but Penny Arcade fans are necessarily interested in video games.

The Fallout 3 demo, for example, was so well-attended that it overflowed from the huge keynote room, turning people away at the door. This really does seem to be the number one North American consumer-oriented video game show, though I doubt it ever intended to claim that title.

The show seemed larger than last year, though official numbers have yet to be released, and the expo space was fully populated at all times.

Sunday was considered by exhibitors to be the “slow day,” but this was only by comparison to the crushing crowds of the previous two days. Sunday’s crowd was manageable but robust.

Lock’s Quest developer 5th Cell mentioned that there were 200 downloads of the DS game demo on the show floor that day, which is quite a large number considering it was not advertised, and you had to actually talk to the developers to even know you could do it.

PAX is clearly a useful marketing vehicle for publishers, but also for indies. The Behemoth sold out of most merchandise, and sold quite a few download codes for the company’s new Castle Crashers. Metanet mentioned in a recent Game Developer postmortem that the company’s PAX appearance provided a sobering lesson in the game's difficulty ramp.

But for the in-the-trenches developer, there’s a hidden benefit to PAX. E3 used to be the place where developers could roam the floor and check out the competition’s games pre-release. PAX is now the only real place to do this effectively.

There were two hours of expo floor on the first day that were only open to press and exhibitors, and this was an excellent time to go see upcoming titles. The show floor was quiet, and lines short.

It’s well worth keeping extra staff if you do run a developer booth, so that everyone can take a tour of the floor. A number of notable developers were on hand with important games, and with the changed E3, there’s pretty much nowhere else you can see them.

In addition, informality works well for PAX - the casual nature of the event lends itself well to networking, on top of it all, for developers and consumers alike.

Really, in spite of its rapid growth, the Penny Arcade Expo is still a place where the emphasis is on fun interaction in a relatively relaxed environment. Sure, there are occasionally maddening crowds, and talks can be tough to get into, but the spirit of the event remains firmly focused on fun.