City of Games

ScreenBurn reinvents itself for launch

City of Games
Illustration By Christopher Jennings

ScreenBurn originated as an offshoot of SXSW Interactive 06. It was to be a "Beta Festival," a place where people could play the latest games, many unfinished. As planning progressed, however, the program changed: While a handful of studios committed – and a few more might have been pressed – it seemed best to postpone the full slate in favor of a fuller space.

"Better to start small, and do that well." says Hugh Forrest, the producer of SXSW Interactive and the man behind ScreenBurn. "We got more response from the press release [in January] than anything we've done for SXSW Interactive. I think there's quite a lot of interest in it."

Though the demos didn't come together, there remained an overwhelming interest in panel discussions and presentations. Still, video games are fast-paced, twitch-action affairs, and ScreenBurn conferencing will be no different. Each presentation, free and open to the public (with or without a badge), will take just 20 minutes.

"It'll be a challenge to keep them within the 20-minute time frame," Forrest admits. "We're going to have to be very bullish on that. [We'll] just tell them when the 20 minutes is over, 'Hey, continue the conversation out in the hallway.' Typically, at South by Southwest, that's where the best information or the best networking or the best ideas happen. Not specifically within the panel framework, but outside, in informal discussions afterward."

One particularly convergent panel – "Can Austin Become the Hollywood of Gaming?" – was organized by Rodney Gibbs, studio head at Amaze Entertainment. "I don't think we're literally trying to become the Hollywood of gaming," Gibbs explains. "But the panel is about Austin, [which] has a long history of gaming, lots of companies here."

And there's something about the city itself. "My friends from New York City, the Bay area, or Montreal keep asking, 'What is it about Austin? Is it something in the water? Why do you people love it so much?'" says Harvey Smith, creative director for Midway Studios Austin, who will also be giving an anticipated presentation at Screenburn. He is best known for his work on the Deus Ex series, games noted for their cinematic depth.

But for all of Austin's gaming triumphs, Gibbs says, "I don't think we've quite ascended to the ranks of our friends on the film side, the [Robert] Rodriguezes and the [Richard] Linklaters. We're a kind of self-sufficient system in a lot of ways. ... There are tremendous resources, but definitely some holes. Just like the music industry. They don't have music publishers up and down Congress Avenue; we don't have game publishers."

The panel will pull together "some people from the film side, with some finance people, with some game people," to examine, as Gibbs says, "What does Austin need to grow beyond where it is today, to become the next level, where it becomes a center rather than a satellite to the game industry in California."

Forrest has high hopes for SXSW Interactive's latest innovation, but he's realistic in noting that the the current version is itself more beta than 1.0, more dress rehearsal than debut.

"As with all events, it's like you're putting on a party: You don't know if people are going to come," he says. "As much as I'm excited about how strong a year we're having for Interactive this year, I'm also excited about what we can potentially do with something like this, with a longer time-frame in terms of planning. The possibilities here are pretty high."


March 10-11, first floor


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SXSW Interactive 06, ScreenBurn, Hugh Forrest, Rodney Gibbs, Harvey Smith

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