Penny Arcade Expo attendance nears 9,000

Success this year prompts planning for next year's event; bigger hall in the West, event planned for East Coast in '08.

BELLEVUE, WA--Before the Penny Arcade Expo opened its doors last week, PA business development guru Robert Khoo answered questions about the popular Web comic and his role there. GameSpot caught up with Khoo in person on the last day of PAX to ask about this year's event, plans for the future, and why Penny Arcade can't run its own online store. Khoo was officiating a Splinter Cell Chaos Theory tournament when we found him, but he broke away to answer a few questions.

Starting from the top, Khoo told us that this year's convention had 7,000 attendees as of the end of Saturday, and he expected total attendence to hit around 8,500 or 9,000. That's more than twice the size of last year's show, but thanks to better organization, 170 volunteers ("enforcers" in the lingua franca of the event), and a decision to abandon last year's round-the-clock operation, Khoo proudly stated that "the show this year has gone without a hitch."

In fact, he said that expansion plans are afoot. Not only will the Bellevue convention change locations next year, Penny Arcade plans an East Coast version of PAX in 2008, specific location as yet undecided. "Actually," Khoo comments, "most of our readers are on the East Coast."

On the topic of product line extensions, we reopened old wounds by asking about Penny Arcade's travails setting up its online store. PA fans may remember a series of misfires before PA threw up its collective hands and enlisted ThinkGeek as its merchandise sales partner. Khoo makes a face. "When we tried to run the site, we had to deal with inventory and fulfillment...the two worst things in the world. We couldn't be happier with ThinkGeek."

Khoo has a strong preference for turnkey solutions, which allows the company to stay surprisingly lean: Penny Arcade still has just four employees, though Khoo says they plan to hire a fifth employee to work on the Child's Play charity.

Turnkey solutions come up again when we discuss the fact that readers can't currently buy hard copies of individual strips. Khoo revealed that he had worked with online photo printer Ofoto to provide this service, but a corporate reorganization sunk the deal. Now he's looking for another turnkey solution: "If there's a vendor out there that can fulfill this demand, I'd like to hear from them."

GameSpot's time with Khoo is running short and the Splinter Cell tournament demands Khoo's attention, so we ask our last question. "Is PAX profitable?" Khoo nods. "How profitable?" He makes a face and pauses for thought, then looks us in the eye. "Gabe's house," he says, poker-faced, "is made of solid gold."

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