The 2nd Annual Austin Game Conference took place last week in Austin, Texas, and managed not to jump the shark. Located alongside the Women's Game Conference and a day after another great Breaking Into the Game Industry event, AGC2004 improved on the already well received AGC2003. Of particular note, Terra Nova's own Ted Castronova delivered a fantastic key note address. So, everything was great.
Well, except that the WiFi was ass. Oh, and a bunch of sessions were infomercials. And Microsoft and Sony pwnz u. Oh, yeah, and Lord British is the sole creator and inventor of all online gaming ever in the entire visible universe -- at least that's what the Mythic's Mark Jocobs said.
Read on for the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
The participants. If you want to mingle with the folks who design, make and think about online-games, AGC is the place for you. It's a small show, so you constantly cross paths with people you always wanted to meet and the schedule is laid out with generous breaks to encourage hallway discussions. Kudos to Christopher Sherman and the rest of the Game Initiative on making the show feel old school.
As previously mentioned, Ted's keynote was fantastic and raises the bar for game conference keynotes. If we're lucky, he'll post the speach somewhere (HINT HINT!). Christopher Allen of Skotos led an informative panel on payment systems. The future of graphics was interesting as it pointed out that MMO developers are betting on the programmable pipeline going forward. The database panel pointed out that every major MMO company manages their data in fundamentally different ways than we do.
The Breaking In conferences are always a good time. Nothing like telling a bunch of eager youngsters who are hungry to get into games: "RUN! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE!" In all seriousness, a lot of good information gets passed out and the panelists always get to do some networking.
The Terra Nova party was well attended. We all went not at all sure whether it would be 5 people or 50 and we ended up somewhere in between. Great conversations with sharp people about our favorite subject.
We were WiFi-ing like it was 1999! Virtually no connection and even when the connection was up, no bandwidth. Very annoying. Usually, when talks or panels are infomercials they are labeled as such. While Nokia fessed up, shame on the other folks who didn't.
The Technology Pavilion was sort of sad, with a few lonely booths sitting in the middle of a big, empty hall. Sure, the beer helped, but for a conference where all the other components are small and intimate, the Pavilion just didn't work for me.
OK, on to the juicy parts.
The conference got off to a really strange start, with a split keynote given by Microsoft and Sony. Both companies basically said "we pwnz u all!" Microsoft said "everyone must play in our private garden, where we run the servers, handle billing and tech support, and you WILL use XNA. Independent developers might as well quit now. Oh, and only white (or asian) teenage boys matter." Sony said "MMOs are for crazy hardcore geeks and don't matter. Micropayments in Madden will crush your puny industry. Oh, and XBox, PC games, and SOE are all girly men." Did I mention that the Sony speaker was from SCEA and not SOE?
If you are like most of the audience, your reaction is "WTF??"
However, this pales in comparison the program description of Lord British's talk:
Building New IP
Richard Garriott, father of the online gaming industry (Ultima Series, Origin Systems, NCSoft), will discuss building new intellectual property.
"father of the online gaming industry"?!
According to Bruce Sterling Woodcock over at f13, Mark Jocobs first started going off on this at the speaker party. This was continued with a hallway altercation and Mark making a speach at the end of his panel calling for Gariott to retract the statement.
Frankly, I think that this is a strategy that all conferences should adopt going forward. Put something incredibly confrontational and/or controversial in the program. It will cause a scene, people will talk about it, and everyone will remember your conference!
So, all-in-all, a very worthwhile conference. I'm sure it will be even bigger and better next year, so start making plans to visit Austin in 2005.