The Austin Chronicle

No Noobs

Why the Austin Game Developers Conference isn't for gamers

By James Renovitch, August 31, 2007, Screens

"We have the most developers, densitywise, in online games, here in Austin," says Richard Vogel of Austin's place in the hierarchy of gaming cities.

"It's the second-largest game-developers conference in the U.S.," adds Gordon Walton when asked about the Austin Game Developers Conference.

Sounds like a match – Austin and a game-developers conference – and, as co-studio directors for the local branch of the gaming corporation BioWare and advisers to the conference, Walton and Vogel know. The average Austinite knows significantly less about this conference and its three tracks – online games, game writing, and game audio – so here's an overview.

Expect keynotes by people with less-than-recognizable names but significant impact on the industry. From the front lines of World of Warcraft comes Mike Morhaime, president of Blizzard Entertainment, with some perspective on what it means to manage an online game with more subscribers than Switzerland has people. Fellow keynoter Brian Schmidt, meanwhile, serves as Microsoft's audio honcho but must find it hard to shake his early career pinnacle of having his theme to the video game NARC covered by the Pixies.

Expect parties all over Austin, including at local gaming god Richard Garriott's house. "On any given night there will be three to six things that are available to go to," Walton says.

Don't expect an invitation in the mail. "It's an industry show," warns Walton. A game-design dilettante would do well to steer clear and let the big boys meet and confer. These meetings can be the conception of the next great game.

In fact, don't expect hordes of slaphappy video-gamers plugging and strapping in for next-next-gen-gaming action, either. "There are vendors who are pushing their wares. They might be recruiting; they might be selling technology. But they're not selling games," says Walton, shattering visions of getting dibs on Grand Theft Auto IV. If there are exchanges taking place, they are likely exchanges of specialized information.

Expect sessions with names that range from the elusive (MMO Goal Structures as a Panacea) to the technical (3D Pipeline and Shader Optimizations for Intel Integrated Graphics) to the downright sinister (Do You REALLY Want to Be a Videogame Developer).

That last session stands as part of the Game Career Seminar that boasts a refreshing $99 registration fee compared to the door charge of $645 for the entire conference. Think of the GCS price as a discount for those who remain undecided about joining the lucrative world of game design. Newbies might overhear stories of game-development hell, but the seminar puts a wet-eared gamer's foot in the door of future-job-contact heaven.

As in years past, the AGDC will be thick with feet and doors, as audio designers hook up with developers, who in turn hook up with writers. "Similar to the music and film industry, game development also relies heavily on several arts that are not associated with computers or electronic design," says conference manager Izora de Lillard via e-mail. These days, a big-budget game will need animators, composers, and, of course, programmers. See the back of any game's instruction manual, where the list of developers reads like movie credits and crosses as many disciplines.

But does this cross-pollination fest of a conference reap monetary rewards?

"The people that put on the conferences, they like to make money," reminds Walton. Offering another view, Vogel adds, "Austin's getting money, too, because there are 2,500 people renting rooms and eating." Everyone, including Austin, wants a piece of that $30 billion pie that is the worldwide gaming industry. One thing both BioWare directors agree on is that it gets out-of-town asses in Austin seats, looking at what the town has to offer a game developer.

The AGDC grows steadily with the industry that it serves and doesn't strive for surges in attendance. "I think it's a natural evolution. We have a focused area that we're trying to cover, and that area has its own growth rate," says Walton in summing up the conference's future. Teaching the online industry to sit or stay is a losing prospect. The AGDC gathers gaming prognosticators who do their best to predict the future of an enigmatic business.

The Austin Game Developers Conference runs Sept. 5-7. Visit for more.

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