AGDC 2007: What Is AGDC?

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Belying the peaceful tranquility of the downtown Austin metro area (probably the most laid back city on Earth), the registration hall at GDC Austin is a mess. A half dozen or so shell-shocked representatives struggle to keep up with the flood of attendees, who, for their part, all jostle to maintain some semblance of an orderly line.

Once a small, almost unnoticed, MMOG trade show tucked away between Leipzig and the Tokyo Game Show, Austin GDC is now, like Austin itself, undergoing something of a transition. Purchased by convention and publishing giant CMP last year, the show has been retooled to serve as the Austin arm of CMP’s developer-centric GDC series of trade shows, and the new management has made some changes.

For starters, the show doesn’t feel nearly as laid back as did last year. It’s also, thanks in no small part to CMP’s marketing efforts, gotten a lot bigger, more popular and far more chaotic. This can be good and bad, but standing in line for 20 minutes merely to sign in (whereas last year’s registration involved a hand shake, a five minute conversation and a discussion of the best bars in town) is a bit of a set back.

Those minor quibbles aside, once you’re in, you’re in. Unless you only have an expo pass, in which case you can see the show floor, but not the panels. Or unless you have a press pass, in which case you can see whatever you want, just not the show floor. But even if you did want to see the show floor, you can’t, because it isn’t open yet. It’s all a bit confusing, but ultimately not much to worry about because as everyone knows, a game industry conference is about the parties.

“My boss offered me a $10,000 bonus to not come here,” said one developer I shared a cab with last night. I asked him why he’d be so foolish.

“I needed to get out of there,” he said. “I’ve been looking forward to unwinding in Austin all year.” His game, a major MMOG, is set to ship this holiday season, but as far as he’s concerned, the only game in town is getting a groove on at one of AGDC’s various after parties.

This year the festivities are being kicked off by Richard Garriott, who’s hosting a massive press event/party at his Austin ranch Wednesday evening. The event, scheduled to last over seven hours, will supposedly initiate potential users to the world of Tabula Rasa, but I’m guessing there will be a fair amount of boozing involved as well.

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Sony, Gamecock, AGDC itself and others are also hosting parties at this three-day conference, and seeing the exuberant looks on the faces of the various attendees waiting in line, shaking hands and greeting colleagues and friends, it became clear to me that AGDC, like any trade show, is as much about getting out of the office and having a few out of town adventures as it is about anything else. We’ll be sure to keep you informed on that aspect as the days wear on.

For the everything else, however, AGDC offers three days of panels and speeches on everything from how Star Trek can inform clever game writing to a room full of successful independent MMOG makers describing how they did it their way plus the usual assortment of various industry luminaries saying things they probably shouldn’t.

With only a handful of attendees offering anything in the way of breaking announcements – or even hands-on demos – it’s safe to say Austin’s little game conference has lost the battle to become the next E3. The question, however, is whether it was even fighting that battle to begin with. If not, what is AGDC, and why should you care? We hope to find out before the end of the week.

What’s AGDC is not, however, is relatively clear: It’s not the new E3, the old AGC or all that attendee friendly. Last year all attendees queried lauded the show for being one of the rare conventions at which attendees could hold a conversation. This year all panels are standing room only and the noise of the crowd alone rivals the decibel levels set at other conventions.

It’s quite possible that AGDC is now just like the hundreds of developers watching Michael Morhaine’s keynote on how to take over the world (with World of WarCraft): aware that the paradigm has shifted, but not quite sure what to do about it. Perhaps Gordon Walton’s “Business Lessons for Post-WoW Games” panel will provide some answers to them at least. Unfortunately, due to the convention’s ballooning attendance numbers, that one was closed to attendees 1 minutes before it was scheduled to start (no more seats), which may also provide an answer to what Austin’s game convention has become: too big for its britches.

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