On Tuesday, I travelled to Austin one last time to finish up my SXSW experience. My decision to not attend Sunday and Monday was an easy one to make since none of the panels were interesting, and we had taken in all the sights on the first two days of SXSW. For such a major part of SXSW, SXSW Interactive really didn't have much to see.
My hope was that SXSW Interactive would receive a much needed boost from the overlapping with SXSW Film. Sadly, that was not the case...not even close. Instead, I was witness to a packed Austin Convention Center with not a damn thing to do. The SXSW Screenburners Arcade was already closed, but it wouldn’t be missed with its lack of anything of real substance. Working my way around the ACC, I noticed that the Trade Show was also closed. It seems that due to the changeover from SXSW Interactive to SXSW Film/Music, two days would be needed to tear down the booth for SXSW Interactive and to put up the SXSW Film/Music booths. So why the hell were there still so many people at ACC with so little to see?
I suppose it was for the panels that were still going on, and I decided to take one for the last time. It was a good thing because finally, here was a panel that was interesting to me. "Power-Ups & Press: How the Game Media Impacts the Gaming Industry" mentioned several points that not a lot of people are discussing when it comes to gaming media. The panel was moderated by Karen Chu from Playfirst Inc., and on the panel itself were Chris Kohler of Wired.com, Matt Chandronai from Area 5 Media, Phill Kollar who works for Game Informer, and Carly Kocurek from University of Texas in Austin, who provided a kind of historic look of video games.
Some of the topics included the whole hardcore vs. casual debate. It was agreed that the whole looking down at casual gamers is simply not needed anymore. With some people spending several hours a day on the casual games like Farmville, can you really call them �casual� when they play a particular game so much? Another interesting point was the discussion over reviews on whether we're doing an actual service with our reviews, or are we essentially a Consumer Reports for gamers. While I'm all for trying to better reviews for readers, the whole idea of not having numbers on reviews and just having a whole essay about whether the game is good or not is kind of pretentious. I mean Roger Ebert has been reviewing movies for more than three decades and he still gives reviews a certain number of stars, but no one is going to him saying how he should get rid of his �scores.�
The last 20 minutes of the panel time was left for Q&A which got particularly more interesting. First up was Latoya Peterson from racialicious.com. She asked the panel about their feelings on how the media was reporting on issues of race and gender in gaming. Her panel, "Social Justice and Video Games," was going to talk about that issue. To my surprise, noted video game journalist N’Gai Groal was in the audience, and he would also be on her panel. Those who may not know N’Gai Groal, he brought the question of race to Capcom when Resident Evil 5 was released and you had African zombies dressed up in what could be considered offensive tribal garb. The panel was all in for bringing this issue to light. My opinion on the whole matter is that we can't hold a country whose traditions and ideas go farther back than ours, to change their whole way of doing things because it'll offend some people. But hey, that's me and maybe I'll get into it later with my own Black Guitar Hero.
I developed the guts and asked a question on whether they feel authors should defend their articles, or take the so called �professional� route and not get involved in these discussions. They agreed that if you feel strongly about an article, you should definitely defend it. It all went to a very wussy state when a guy asked a question on whether the community of a game should affect the review of the game. His example was how Modern Warfare 2 has so many douches online that it makes the game not fun. After I stopped rolling my eyes and fighting the urges to punch the guy in the nuts for asking such a homo questions, the panel agreed that a community like that should not hurt the review for the game. My guess is this guy sucked so bad that he keeps getting yelled at. Remember, if you're actually good at games, people won't bitch you out. My day ended on sad note after that intriguing panel. I had hoped to get a particular interview that day, but due to some schedule conflicts, the interview didn’t happen.
So what's my verdict on SXSW Interactive? Not really a place for gaming. First off, hardly anyone was there to really promote gaming. I've seen anime conventions with more exhibitors devoted to gaming. When you consider how many developers are in Austin like Bioware, Retro Studios, and SOE to just name a few, you would think that more companies would have shown up. The Screenburners Arcade was an absolute joke with hardly anything there to really try or see.
As I mentioned on my other SXSW entries, aside from the last panel, most of the panels weren't that interesting. Most of the panels for SXSW Interactive were for tech companies rather than gaming which in a way came as no surprise when I look back. As I read feedback from bloggers and so on, it seems that there focus was on the parties rather than learning or seeing something new. I guess my ambitions were too high when I was thinking that SXSW was going to be the E3 of the South. My hope is that the SXSW Interactive people really put a bigger emphasis on gaming for next year to show that Austin is the best city for game developers.