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.