Austin Game Developers Conference 2007 Debrief

So my promised debrief on the Austin Game Developers Conference from two weeks ago…

Richard and I had worked separately on our halves of the presentation until we arrived in Austin. Richard concentrated on examples of audio games and I worked on the game accessibility bits — the need for, introducing the issues of audio for the hearing impaired (had to give them the other side of the audio issue). The presentation was titled “When Audio IS the Experience: Games for the Visually Impaired” and should be available on the web for download soon. I’ll post news when I learn about it.

We weren’t sure how the talk would be received given how few people often show for our sessions at GDC San Fran AND the fact we were in the audio track, which isn’t the usual track for us (although it made perfect sense once we were there). We’d been invited by the conference chairs — they tried to get us last year but they asked too late and we couldn’t make it but we could this year. So first of all…they wanted the session so badly that they contacted us at the earliest possible time to try to get the session this year. Impressive support for Game Accessibility from a non-traditional source!

So the audience…wow. The head count according to our session coordinator was about 60. GDC Austin is a LOT smaller than GDC San Fran — so an audience of apx 60 people was pretty huge considering all the multiple tracks going on simultaneously.

Richard and I argued a bit about my “closer” for the talk, which referenced social justice as a reason to care about game accessibility, as we were afraid that might turn off a dev audience who is concerned with the bottom line and not social messages. What was interesting was that we talked about game accessibility “why’s” at the END of the presentation so that they got to hear the audio games, get a taste of what we were talking about and then I did my evangelist work. 🙂 But taking the social justice chance worked and I think it was probably because we were talking to an audience of people who are already “right on” with the audio message and the idea that their work could serve another important purpose really sank in. We got wild applause at the end of the talk and we had people talking to us for about an hour AFTER the talk (we went ten minutes OVER time with audience questions alone (20 minutes total)).

In the week after AGDC, I’ve received some great emails from audience members and I’m hoping we’ll get more audio designers on the list very soon. Our talk was also sponsored by an anonymous donation — I’ll tell you who the source was if I can get his permission (I know who it is now). He’s an audio designer who first got interested in the idea of gamers with disabilities after DJ-ing a dance for a school for the deaf. He was perplexed as to why they wanted a DJ. The students showed up with balloons in their hands and, of course, he was now really interested in what the deal was. Turns out that as the music started, the students put the balloons up to the side of their faces and danced to the rhythms that they felt through the balloons. Wow. I’d heard some things like facing the speakers down to try and pipe the beat into the floor but with so many students, this was the better option.

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