Mar 08, 2012

Austin’s Video Game Industry Gears Up for SXSW

By Efren Salinas and Forrest Burnson
For Reporting Texas

AUSTIN – With South by Southwest kicking off this weekend, Austin’s video game developers are seeking to solidify their status as powerful players in the industry.

While industry heavyweights like Blizzard and Electronic Arts have branches in Austin, the growing popularity of smartphone and social media games has been a boon to the city’s independent developers.

“Everyone’s got an iPhone or an Android in their pocket,” said Dan Magaha, executive director for Seamless Entertainment, an Austin video game studio.

Games designed for smartphones, he said, “are probably more complex and better looking than even the best games a few years ago.”

As traditional games have become more graphically and technologically advanced, their production costs have risen. But for developers with smaller budgets and more limited resources, simpler games designed for smartphones and social media platforms such as Facebook have proven to be highly popular – and profitable.

“With social games, it’s engaged more female players and more casual players,” said Karen Ngo, a marketing representative for the SXSW Interactive Festival.

Last January, the department of computer science at the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Advanced Computing Center presented Infinite Resolution Zero Latency, a conference showcasing the newest advancements in the industry. Developers from Austin – both large and small – came to show off their latest games and hardware.

The conference highlighted Austin’s emergence as a serious player in an industry dominated by California-based developers.

The convergence of a wide variety of tech companies in the city has been crucial to Austin’s rise as the industry’s new hub for video game development, says Greg Zeschuk, general manager of BioWare in Austin.

“Austin has one of the key things, which is experts in all of these areas,” he said. “We have mobile experts, cloud computing experts, big console developers, and PC developers.”

For Austin developers, the conference was an opportunity to support the industry, said Donald Fussell, a University of Texas computer science professor.

“Anytime you get people that are in those worlds, crossing barriers and getting them to talk to each other, good things happen.”