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Stateside: The US mobile scene needs to can its obsession with San Francisco

Time for the west coast to look east?

Stateside: The US mobile scene needs to can its obsession with San Francisco

Chicago-based Carter Dotson is a senior writer at 148Apps.com, which was acquired by PocketGamer.biz publisher Steel Media in 2012.

The United States of America is a huge country. The state of Texas alone sizes up to Western Continental Europe.

We're a weirdly diverse country too: the Deep South and Pacific Northwest are technically part of the same country, yet are radically different. Oh, and we can't even come to a consensus on what to call soda.

But yet, the fact that the country is in fact, one country, and not 50 different ones, gives it a unique cultural advantage.

One can travel to a radically-different place yet still know that this is America: that some things are always the same, just slightly different based on the local region's own quirks. And that's part of what makes the country great.

So, why is it that if you want to talk about mobile gaming with other people in person, you gotta keep heading out to the west coast?

West is best?

Yes, mobile gaming, the market that took off in no small part thanks to the fact that off-the-shelf hardware could be used for development and testing, enabing anyone working from anywhere to release games.

Yet, so many events take place on the west coast - San Francisco in particular - and the number feels like it's only increasing. GDC has become particularly-entrenched in the Bay Area over the last five years.

WWDC and Google IO, events that are taking on an increased importance to mobile gaming, take place in Apple and Google's backyard...in San Francisco.

Casual Connect made the move from Seattle to San Francisco in the last couple of years. And of course, there are plenty of smaller events and industry meetups that happen in the Bay Area in part because it's become the capitol of the tech and mobile scene in the US, and to a certain extent the world.

Los Angeles too has its fair share of events: E3 has had a long-time home in Los Angeles, with only brief excursions to Atlanta and Santa Monica.

GDC Online has evolved into GDC Next and App Developers Conference - conferences with promising focuses - and yet they've moved from a unique location in Austin to...Los Angeles. A short flight from San Francisco.

On the surface, there's nothing wrong with any of this. Silicon Valley has been an important part of the tech industry for decades now, and Los Angeles is naturally important to a wide variety of industries.

But none of this means that the area needs to have a monopoly on opportunities to put faces to the industry's brightest and best.

In fact, I think it's a very bad thing.

Local issues

It means that other local communities - ones that can thrive thanks to the independent nature of mobile development – become unnecessarily marginalised because the major players will never stray far from their confines to legitimise their scenes.

And for developers who can't travel often, not having the opportunity to attend nearby events weakens the influence of diverse voices who could have important things to say – and, importantly, could help lead mobile to its next steps.

It's something that I've seen in Chicago. It has a burgeoning tech scene of its own, and an independent game development community that has risen from the ashes of Midway and EA Chicago's shuttering over the past few years.

But even Chicago's scene feels so insular because the industry is so Pacific-centric. There are so few opportunities for outsiders to see the scene for themselves.

And when a scene becomes insular, it reinforces common problem. I think the sexism issues at the TechCrunch Hackathon were caused by the fact that the obsession with local scenes can create an echo chamber effect - when only the same type of people are working together, it's easy for people's heads to get stuck in the sand and for absolutely terrible and tone-deaf ideas to make it out.

Oh, and similar issues arose in Chicago in the same month.

Because mobile and the tech industries in the US have become built around these monolithic locations and insular communities, it becomes unfriendly and unwelcoming to new voices.

Everything everywhere

And that's the problem. The cultural diversity that comes from experiencing new places just isn't a feature within mobile communities across the US right now.

It's about independent developers, sure, but people need support groups, and the local development communities that spring up can be powerful resources. What Silicon Valley and the mobile gaming industry in particular needs is not to keep dragging people out to the Bay Area for yet another convention in their backyard.

What they need is to see the power and diversity of the communities that have sprung up around the US, to see the new ideas and hear the original voices that come from the different circumstances.

Mobile has succeeded because of that diversity, and the industry needs to start going to where the diversity is in America: everywhere else.

Plus, seriously, San Francisco ain't a cheap city.


Stateside columnist

Freelance writer covering mobile and gaming for @toucharcade, @Gamezebo, and more!

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Paul Acevedo
San Francisco does have the best public transit system of anywhere I've visited though. BART is affordable and easy to use for traveling from the airport to event locations and hotels.