With 15,000 attendees, SXSW Interactive was bigger than ever. Pushing the event into the lime light, last year Interactive was barely a blip on my radar as I never really thought of it as much more than straight laced work zone in the middle of a fantastic party. This year not much had changed, but the crowd did seem a little more open to having more fun.
While most of my Interactive time was spent in the Screenburn Arcade it was nice to see the gaming industry have more of a presence this year, even in the parties, music included. If it wasn’t a new hip indie game designer it was a retro classic. It seemed that any amount of bare space was filled with some kind of shrine to gaming. This was felt greatly by the fact that Playstation set up right across the street from the Convention Center. With their full line up of games and a new look at 3D gaming just screaming “Play With Me!” to the thousands of tech geeks across the street it was hard to resist the temptation.
The Screenburn Arcade was a huge hit this year with a line up from Warner Bros Games that included one of my own personal highlights of the festival. Mortal Kombat! A game that I currently can’t put down. Right when you walked into the arcade you could feel the game’s presence as it was definitely the highlight of anyone’s gaming experience. I’ll have a more in-depth review of the game itself soon. Along with Mortal Kombat, Warner brought their new LOTR game War of the North. This role-playing game seems to stray a little closer to the role playing aspect than the LOTR titles. I say this as mildly as I can as the game still has it’s smash and grab mentality. It’s an easy pick up for just moderate players and still intriguing enough for long term gaming.
While gaming was my biggest draw to all things Interactive you can’t resist the things that foursquare and Gowalla have going on every year at SXSW. The slew of free stuff and badges just waiting to be unlocked is draw enough for any tech geek. This year Gowalla took it up a notch with a physical passport that could be stamped at venues across SXSW. With enough check ins you could even win a Gowalla t-shirt and more. I love that foursqure and Gowolla actually push the Interactive crowd out the door and into the city. Once a geek discovers things like The Highball or Mondo Tees you can tell they are in heaven. I say this with all due respect as I consider myself to be one of these people.
Now on to a nagging complaint, bare in mind I say this as my iPhone rests next to me. There was one glaring moment at SXSW that I just could not understand, as Apple unleashed it iPad 2 through a pop up store exclusively selling all things iPad2. Once this store opened it seemed to have a never ending line of badge holders hoping to become the next to hold apple’s next release. The first day alone toted a line of over a hundred people and never stopped for the duration of the festival. While I am a tech connoisseur and I myself am getting the iPad itch (mostly due to Disney’s Second Screen feature) I just don’t understand how you can give away so much of your time to a brand. There are things going on at SXSW that you will never see again. While it may be a little harder to get in the first few months of it’s release the iPad 2 will be there when you get home. Moments like having a drink with Jason Ritter will not.
In this moment I realize that ‘Apple worship’ has gone way too far. When someone can’t take themselves away from a brand long enough to enjoy one of the world’s greatest all inclusive festivals they may have a problem. I also get the draw of having something first, hell I was a 3DO early adopter, but I have never let this obsession remove me from life around me. I guess what you really have to ask yourself is how much time should you be spending in that apple store and is it worth missing out on something that could really change your life, an “experience”? There may be an app for that one day but as of now it’s something that Apple just hasn’t branded yet.
By Ryan Davis