When word came last year that the influential Game Developers Conference Online was moving the event from Austin to Los Angeles, there were concerns that losing the event would leave a void for Austin’s gaming and high-tech communities.
The answer was the new Captivate tech conference, which wrapped up its inaugeral run on Tuesday at Austin’s Palmer Events Center.
While replacing GDC Online is no easy task, Captivate’s organizers say the first year was a success.
“We’re a first-year conference and I pressed 1,000 badges, so that’s really good,” said Jennifer Bullard, Captivate’s executive director. That total includes all attendees, including speakers, sponsors and ticket holders for the three-day event, she said.
Unlike GDC Online, the new conference also encompassed music, film and education. Bullard said it drew a total of 46 exhibitors to the Palmer Events Center. They ran the gamut from software developers to an Austin nonprofit seeking to build a museum of classic computers.
“We believe that computers deserve the same treatment (as video games), said Stephen Torrence, a member of the nonprofit Museum of Computer Culture. “Putting it up on a pedestal, turned off, is not preserving 95 percent of what it is to be a computer – that interaction, the functionality, the interplay between human and computer. That’s the historical preservation we enjoy.”
On Tuesday morning, a sparse crowd trickled in to hear Austin entrepreneur Gary Hoover give advice on starting a business. He pointed to self-educated entrepreneurs like Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey, who dropped out of college and started a wildly successful business.
“I know people with two and three Ph.Ds who can’t finish a dinner conversation,” Hoover said. “And I know other people who are high school dropouts who are incredibly well-educated. So don’t confuse education with the classroom, or with whatever paper degree is on the wall. They are not the same thing.”
Judging by the vendor booths Tuesday, Captivate seemed largely focused around video games. These are times of radical change in the gaming industry, with the advent of mobile devices and wearable computers like Google Glass on the horizon.
That has caused major upheaval in gaming, with major publishers sinking more and more bets into larger budget games, and a proliferation of smaller independent studios. That seemed to be the audience that Captivate was trying to attract.
“Some of the best comments that I’ve heard so far have been (from) people (who) have met someone they would not normally meet and it was valuable to meet that person,” Bullard said.
Hoover said that gaming is still in an embryonic stage, and no one knows what the future will hold.
“Every day I meet people in this industry who think they have all the answers,” he said. “We haven’t even begun yet.”