Debuting at PAX East 2013, the collectible metal pin phenomenon known as Pinny Arcade has rapidly grown from a Disney park inspired collectible experiment into a driving force behind the experience at each subsequent show. From partnerships with exhibition floor booths such as Wizards of the Coast and Supergiant Games to featured guests like the Strip Search crew and the actual Penny Arcade team members themselves, the pin collecting and trading craze is very noticeably a major part of the convention.
I was initially going to write about the Pinny Arcade Pin Trading 101 panel, but the presentation was mostly built around promoting each panelist’s respective pin news site/online store or the pins they owned. I’m calling an audible and pivoting towards the current state of the Pinny Arcade experience which has evolved in some impressive and dramatic ways.
First and foremost, the scale of pin collecting now is a massive undertaking for collectors at each iteration of the show. After the official set for each show and an extremely limited release such as the PAX 10th Anniversary and Polygon variants since 2014, the collective group of retail vendors and exposition hall exhibitors offer dozens of show exclusive pins in a mix of availability between direct purchase and task completion. I really dig Pinny Arcade as a gamer who appreciates fun designs and the satisfaction of completing collections such as the Penny Arcade staff sets or individual trinkets for games such as inFAMOUS: Second Son and Tearaway. On the flip side, I also occasionally cave in to a compulsive desire to acquire every pin at the show: after pulling off this herculean feat for PAX Prime 2014 by bustling around as well as making some savvy trades, I can appreciate the degree to which pin fever can grip a show attendee and create blinders to the other interesting things that the show has to offer.
PAX East 2015 also made another concerted effort to make the rare pins harder to earn, especially a golden variant on the Overwatch pin for executing the play of the game and a Twitch pin for being one of the first 50 to attend on each day or scoring on a variety of social media promotions. Both pins had cool designs and a strong attractive pull towards the Blizzard and Twitch booths respectively, but the unfortunate side effect of creating massive lines and stampedes from the queue line each morning from pin craved collectors is a disruption of the exhibition show floor flow of people from booth to booth. Line wait periods to try games have skyrocketed in large part due to repeat lineups for multiple pins, further compounding the aforementioned problem in conjunction with increasingly aggressive non-pin giveaways to create a less than stellar floor experience.
The pins are often beautiful in their own right when they strike the right balance of an attractive visual design with a pin shape that accentuates the design: their appeal is obvious as pieces of flair as much as their collectible value. That said, the extreme rarity of some pins and extraordinary financial commitments to attend all 4 yearly shows as of 2015 will likely make a complete set of every pin released impossible over time…but still create an entrancing siren call for those closest to achieving that goal. Video games, panels, apparel and much more are as strong as ever at PAX, but the collectible based gamification of the convention experience with Pinny Arcade is a surprisingly powerful part of each show.