SXSW 2016 had a lot to offer the gamer for those who were not at GDC.
The two shows overlapped this year forcing many game publishers and press to choose between San Francisco and Austin.
Luckily, several made it to SXSW and delivered a very special experience for the fans.
A hit in the making
Thousands of the littlest gamers attended SXSW Gaming which ran from March 17-19 in the Austin Convention Center, and was free and open to the public.
Thanks to Twitch, Devolver, Insomniac, Hasbro, Curse, IGN and KindaFunny the show had a level of polish similar to PAX with the thrills of livestreaming gameplay, tournaments, a free arcade, panels, chiptunes, karaoke, and a glitzy awards show in which Sam Barlow's Her Story took Mobile Game of the Year.
Robots in disguise
At SXSW Interactive, Hasbro had an exciting mobile game activation when they landed a giant autobot at MashableHouse for the pre-launch party of Transformers: Earth Wars, a free-to-play real-time strategy mobile game launching on iOS and Android later this Spring.
Although the game was not yet playable, the LA-based Mount Holly band performed an explosive set of Transformers music and I had the special experience of playing rock'em sock'em Transformers with Mashable's Founder and CEO Pete Cashmore.
Geek culture represents
Mobile games played a surprising role in the SXSW Film premiere of The Preacher.
The audience watched in horror as a tablet was obliterated in the midst of a character leveling up, and then burst out laughing.
This ultraviolent sci fi thriller debuts May 22, 10pm ET/PT on AMC and is sure to be a hit with Walking Dead fans.
Pocket Gamer had a chance to interview the producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad), showrunner Sam Catlin (Breaking Bad), comics creator Garth Ennis and lead actor Dominic Cooper (Avengers).
Father of gaming gives sage advice
Cautioning that we're spending more time with our phones than with people, Atari and ChuckECheese founder, Nolan Bushnell, brought his family to SXSW Interactive to discuss how to get physically back into the game.
"If you think about it, the escape room is VR at the highest resolution. You're there solving problems in real time," said Bushnell,
"Pong worked brilliantly as the first dating app because it required two players. Interactions need to be designed intuitively and in a way that force people to work together."
At the IEEE afterparty, Two Bit Circus' Brent Bushnell gave a tour of their whimsical carnival with rocking horses, embedded sensors and AR technology.
The future is now
Most notable about SXSW 2016 was the ubiquity of mobile VR.
It was everywhere gamifying the entire experience.
Sam Barlow's Her Story took Mobile Game of the Year.
My personal favorite was a superfun VR demo of the Skully AR helmet that put you in on a Ducati riding around Lake Tahoe.
If you were there for the entire ten days and had a platinum pass, there were tons of special performances to enjoy. T-Pain did a DJ set at the Kiip Never Sleeps party and then appeared onstage days later for an intimate session that highlighted his career accomplishments, the dangers of being labeled, and his unabashed geek love for SpongeBob.
In a session that I produced, the legendary rock duo Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo talked with USA Today's Mike Snider about what it was to rock the MTV era, and how important it is to stand up for your craft and never let yourself be abused artistically.
Jack Garratt, Elijah Wood and Steve Aoki were among favorite DJs ruling the midnight hour, there were impressive performances by Third Eye Blind and the Dandy Warhols, and if you got on the good side of Samsung VR, you had a shot of seeing The Strokes and Elle King at their afterparties.
Making it happen
In summary, SXSW 2016 was a cacophony of greatness with sometimes too much of a good thing. There were lines for lines and so many choices that even complex gdocs didn't prevent the most experienced attendees from missing what they planned for.
The show has grown so large in the last 30 years that it now sprawls a massive distance, from Rainey Street to beyond 6th Street, from the far west to the far east.
For the uninitiated, SXSW can be the worst FOMO hell ever, but if you embrace that it's about serendipity, stamina and soloing, there's the potential to have a wonderfully inspirational time.