This year, PAX Aus held its 10th Anniversary at Melbourne’s Convention and Exhibition Centre. Having attended since the beginning back in 2013, this year was exceptionally special.
Every year, my experience has been different but in the best way possible. This is the beauty about PAX, is there is so much to do to the point that it is almost impossible to do everything over the three days. This year, I tried to focus on pin trading and collecting some of the ever-elusive limited pins to add to my collection. You might be asking yourself, what on earth is pin trading? Well, let me break it down for you.
Kicking off in PAX East (Boston, USA) in 2013, Pinny Arcade launched a set of enamel pins that convention attendees could purchase from the merch booths. The idea was the brainchild of Gabe from Penny Arcade. After falling in love with the Disney Pin Trading on a trip to Disneyland, Gabe wanted to create the same experience for punters at their much beloved Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) events with designs of the Penny Arcade founders, Gabe & Tyco, in their cartoon form. There is also the Penny Arcade beloved cat, Kemper, A Magic The Gathering card game character Chandra, and the logo for PAX East with the year.
During the same year, PAX Aus was born and received its own set of unique Pinny Arcade designs. Leaning into the ‘Down Under’ slogan of Australia, the pins featured Gabe, Tyco and Kemper, all hanging upside-down. With the logo pin being a map of Australia, sporting the PAX Aus logo and a banner reading ‘Welcome Home 2013’.
Having only attended the very first PAX Aus on the Saturday, I had no idea about the pins. It wasn’t until 2014 when I noticed convention goers displaying their favourite pins on their lanyards. After asking one attendee what they were, I headed straight to the merchandise booth and got my very first set. 2014 also happened to be the 10th Anniversary of PAX as a convention and there was a really cool anniversary pin available as a limited edition. Known as the LE pins, these highly sought after designs are only available from Merch Lite (a smaller satellite booth outside the main hall), and there are only limited quantities.
You can also collect pins from various activities and charities around the convention floor. In Australia, there is a charity organisation called GenerOZity that have various designs available to purchase, with all proceeds going to charity. Some of the Indie Developers also have some cool designs to purchase that help fund their games and give you a sweet collectible in the process, as well as pins you can win and earn from some of the larger developers.
Arguably the rarest and hardest pins to obtain are from developer Bethesda. Over the last few years, they have become extremely popular amongst the pin trading community. Largely because these pins are mostly only available in Australia. Recently they had a Sweet Roll pin that was a tribute to a Skyrim promotion Bethesda held at PAX Aus in 2016. It even saw the creation of a cult following titled ‘The First Church of the Holy Sweetroll’. Bethesda also had a Fallout 76 pin released alongside the Sweet Roll in 2018.
This year’s 2023 pins were extremely hard to obtain. With a Starfield design that was only available to the first 20 or so punters each day, to try the game demo at LG’s booth. I was lucky enough to be amongst the first few to join the line on the Sunday morning and my partner and I both secured a pin each. The second rare pin was the Vaultboy 19th Anniversary pin, with only a couple available each day. They were given out as prizes during the LG Booth’s trivia games. I was extremely lucky to get the answer correct and locked away the elusive pin into my collection.
Purchasing pins, especially the limited-edition pins, are not as easy as you may think. They are extremely popular and can easily sell out over the three-day convention. It is quite normal to line up super early, before the convention is even open, to secure the collectibles. And after learning how popular and rare some of the pins are, my partner and I started to buy two of each. Over time, this became quite an expensive exercise as Penny Arcade would release more and more designs, even linking up with Nintendo for some special Mario and Zelda pins.
Over the 10 years, between my partner and I, we have managed to obtain quite the collection. But little did we know that the duplicate sets we had would prove useful in years to come. “How” may you ask? Well, this is where the trading aspect comes into the experience.
Despite lining up super early for the rare pins during the convention and whilst there is a massive online market for pins to fill out your collection, the right way to fill in the gaps is by the way of trading. As it is with most commodities, some are worth more than others. For example, the LE pins, due to their limited availability are worth way more than what a core set is worth. Meaning, you can likely trade an LE pin for multiple pins of lesser value. There are also pins to collect over the three-day convention that are only available by the way of trading.
One such pin is the Australian exclusive, Pin Chicken. A play on words for the Australian icon, the Ibis Bird. Colloquially known as the ‘Bin Chicken‘, the very first Bin Chicken design was released in 2018 in an 8-bit representation of the bird in enamel form. 2021’s PAX Aus, that was forced to cancel due to Covid, had a CamPin Chicken, designed with a cork hat and a camping pack. 2022’s PAX space theme saw the release of an Interstellar Chicken, an Ibis in a space suit. And this year’s 2023 pin was designed to look like Marty McFly from Back to the Future, to suit the nostalgic vibe of the event this year.
Each of these pins are only available at specific times on each day of the convention and can only be obtained by trading one of your own pins for it. Thankfully, due to the duplicate sets of years passed, I had plenty of spares to trade for them.
There are also pins that can be traded in a lucky-dip style game where you can receive one of seven collectible pins that are available at every PAX around the world in that year. Six of which are easy to obtain, with one being super rare. This year was a selection of mixtapes in the design of cassettes, with the rare one being gold in colour. Between my partner and I, we were able to trade spares for four tape pins, and then trading the doubles we had to fill out the rest of the set. And remember that Sweet Roll pin I mentioned earlier? I was able to trade my spare for a rare Gold Mixtape, plus a selection of other pins. That should put into context how valuable that pin is.
As the convention winded down, the pin traders roll out their extensive collections and park themselves somewhere along the concourse to trade with other punters. This is the first year that I really focused on Pin Trading. Aside from the aforementioned Sweet Roll trade, I was able to offload some of my other valuable LE pins for some of the 2020 core sets and LE pin that I missed during Covid.
The pin traders that I met were all nice, and not at all greedy. They were honest and upfront with a novice like me with what value I had in my available pins. I also had a wonderful conversation with the trader that hooked me up with the 2020 pins I was missing. And after that experience, I discovered that pin trading is more than just trying to catch them all, but it is a wonderful community of people that are welcoming, friendly and full of knowledge.
It may not always be possible to trade and obtain the missing pins in your collection over a three-day convention. Thankfully, the pin trading community have also built a wonderful website that allows collectors to mark off the pins they have, the ones they want, and the pins they have available to trade. The cash-free online marketplace is a great way to seek out the gaps. It is also a great way to trade with punters in the USA that have some cool designs that are not available in Australia and visa-versa.
As you can see, there is a lot to learn and take in about the Pinny Arcade Pin Trading system, one that I am still learning about myself. My goal is to collect all of the main sets from the Australian events that I have attended. Thankfully, I have most of them, but the most elusive is the 2013 core set and it is amongst the rarest of the lot! Hopefully, one day I have just the right number of pins that someone needs that fulfills a trade to complete my collection.
My overall experience in the PAX Pin Trading community has been a positive one. Even if it means lining up for hours just to get your hands on those limited and rare enamel goodies. The only thing I need to do, aside from completing the collection, is to find a nice way to display them. The traders had some wonderful ideas with cork boards that I might explore.
If you are keen to check out my collection, head to my Pinny Pals profile in the link below and then click on ‘collected’:
For more information on PAX Aus and future ticketing, visit:
Photography by Stephanie Chin.