Making the World a Better Place – One Buzzword at a Time

What do you get if you cross SXSW with the the Game Developers Conference? Substance misuse! That is, from the hollows of Austin where anything goes, and material substance is unquestioned (all that glitters is gold) to San Francisco, and the oft misunderstood cognitive dissonance of game developers, with their quest for evidence of substance in the latest-greatest-new-found-fangled-thing-around! To attend both conferences consecutively equals a strange week, which is what this writer experienced.

First SXSW in Austin, Texas, then the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. While it started out as a music festival, these days SXSW is just as much associated with digital technology. One might think that two digital industry events in one country would be very similar, but it turns out they could hardly be more different. SXSW Interactive is dominated by big tech companies, each with its own cool downtown hang-out replete with DJs, free beer and surprise appearances by music stars. Venture-backed digital entrepreneurs are a-plenty. A line from the 1991 movie Barton Fink springs to mind. Producer Geisler says: “Jesus, throw a rock in here, you’ll hit [a writer]. And do me a favor, Fink: throw it hard.” (Except in my case of course that writer would be an entrepreneur with a vision and a mission statement.) Don’t get me wrong, some of these may offer great services for users and make some people’s life easier. It’s just I can’t shake the feeling of déjà vu.

Late 90’s, I was half-involved in the red hot internet scene in Stockholm. While nobody really used the word startup back then, a lot of companies were fueled by risk capital, getting users was the priority and making money a very distant second. But the main thing is the attitude: hip and sorrowless, anything is possible. Cut to game developers, driven by angst and often with a self-image as the misunderstood outsider, they create great entertainment and in some cases tons of money. There is a curious appetite for what’s around the corner, just like at SXSW, and most are quick to embrace new technologies and opportunities. VR was a big topic at both, but at GDC no one said anything about “Internet of things”. But the greatest difference is in the scope of ambition. If at SXSW people say they want to make the world a better place, the game developers say “that’s never gonna work”. If I was king for a day, I would put one pessimist game developers in every room at SXSW and have him or her say that line in every meeting. Does this make me sound bitter? Not really, more like I guess I’d feel more at home at the music festival part of SXSW. Maybe next year…