Finding Value in Festivals and Conferences

Virtual and augmented reality are in a nascent stage — a resurgent technology whose capabilities we are just beginning to discover and explore. Arcturus is focused on entertainment and our community of fellow developers and creators is not very large and spread around the globe. Festivals and conferences are an ideal way for us to meet, talk, share and exchange ideas, and see each others’ work. Recently, Arcturus attended a festival and two conferences in a month long period. It was a lot of travel in a short amount of time but worth every minute.

March was a very busy month for us. We timed the launch of The Way of Kings, Escape the Shattered Plains, our new VR experience based on a book by Brandon Sanderson to coincide with Emerald City Comic Con and it was a great opportunity for us to give back to the fans who waited so patiently to experience the land of Roshar. After teasing various screenshots and elements from the experience for months, it was finally time to go live. Timing was ideal. Brandon Sanderson was on various panels at the Con and was doing book signings. His fans were out in force! Though grateful he mentioned that we had a booth at the Con and were offering free demos to fans, we were swamped from day one. About 30 minutes after doors opened, our schedule was full for the entire day. We felt it best that people sign up for a timed slot so that they didn’t have to wait around our booth all day. They could wander and see all the other great booths and come back at their allotted time. It worked perfectly — if people finished the experience early, then we offered a chance for people who happened to be there a chance to jump in for a few minutes to check it out before the next scheduled appointment began. The four non-stop days we spent here were invaluable. We gained direct fan insight about the experience — what they liked, didn’t like, what they want more of, etc. All critical to helping us make decisions about next steps. It also provided us with beautiful moments like the below photo of a cosplayer, dressed as Syl, a character from the novels as well as our experience. She loved seeing herself being such an important element of what we created.

SXSW (South by SouthWest) has grown leaps and bounds since starting as a music festival 25 years ago. Over the years, they added Films and Interactive, then Eco and Education, and now Games to their various tracks. The purpose of SXSW is to create an opportunity for “creative people and the companies they work with to develop their careers, to bring together people from a wide area to meet and share ideas.” The first SXSW had 700 attendees, and while this year’s official numbers aren’t out yet, last year there were 421,000 attendees for the two week festival. It’s a beautiful, crazy madhouse with people from all walks of life gathering, listening, sharing and learning while eating BBQ and Tex-Mex, listening to great music within a comfortable, relaxed Austin, Texas setting. It was my first time and I loved it. It seemed like there were hundreds of interesting panels and keynotes to choose from. Among many speakers, I heard Elon Musk and Nonny de la Peña. It was inspiring. I saw VR experiences from the London Philharmonic, Meow Wolf, Felix & Paul, Madefire, and many others. I also met like minds who were working on similar things as us and I made many contacts for business opportunities; helping people navigate XR via new experiences or would find our software useful. The networking and information learned over those few days was worthwhile and I left exhausted after 5 days, realizing that next year, I have to stay longer. Andy Stack, our COO, stayed an extra day — this photo of him sums it up; exhausted but happy.

There was almost no turnaround before the entire team was off to GDC (Game Developers Conference) in San Francisco. Another first for me personally, this is old hunting ground for Arcturus senior staff. Knowing exactly how to navigate the Moscone convention center, what events are worthwhile, which booths we have to visit and meetings to take; their experience was invaluable in making connections and exchanging information for follow up later. It was like a race — the track laid out in front of us and we’re off, some things done together to showcase strength, others 1-on-1 perhaps requiring a softer touch or allow for more personal conversations to weave with work opportunities. The ability to listen intently to tech descriptions, weed out the irrelevant info, leaving the best to digest in the background was key. Also important was hearing in 360 — what were people talking about nearby? Were they conversations worth jumping in on to share our own ideas? It was invigorating! I understand why some people were able to stay out till morning the next day. Having an opportunity to mingle with people of similar loves and passions is intoxicating; add to that a global representation of the best of the best, it’s like gamer heaven. I witnessed why GDC is a must year after year.

The need to be open and brave about saying “hi” and willing to engage by discussing and sharing ideas are recurring themes. Finding value in festivals and conferences is often about how open you are and how closely you listen.

Of particular note, and I’ll sign off on this, at GDC I really enjoyed the fantastic creations in a section called “alt.ctrl.gdc.” Truly magical and with no specific reason why, other than why not, this area featured what could best be described as “game developers gone wild.” Games and game controls that have no good reason to be invented. It was silly and fun, with random people jumping in to play together on the various games presented. Check out a couple below: Voiceball uses players voices to block and propel a ball into a goal. The other one I couldn’t pronounce, much less spell, and yes, moisturizer pump bottles are the controllers.