Jan 102007

Techie events are a mixed bag.  Some are actually fun to attend, while others are more like work on a stick.  Here are a few picks and pans for 2007.

GDC07   March 5 – 9  San Francisco

The Game Developers Conference is an entertaining booth crawl for the same reason gaming conventions are fun – you see glimpses of next-gen gaming engines or game storylines and meet some of the people behind the screen.  Oh, and there are technical sessions, too.  I was a regular at the first few GDC’s in San Jose years ago (when Michael Abrash gave a session on the making of the Quake engine), but have been absent from that scene for too long.  I’ll have to see if I can invent some sort of official reason for the Windows Live team to send an emissary to San Francisco in March.

MIX07  April 30 – May 2  Las Vegas

MIX07 is now accepting registrations!  On the tails of the smashing success of MIX06, this year’s event at the Venetian in Las Vegas hopes to repeat the funky informality and cross-discipline blender effect that made last year’s experiment so memorable.  MIX is part UI design, part app development, and all web.  Alas, I missed out on last year’s event (by this >< much…  I started at Microsoft the week after) but I’ve been hearing its echoes all year.  It’s downright irritating, constantly smelling the pie you didn’t get any of.  I aim to correct that this year!

Part of the MIX formula for success is to keep it small to encourage face to face conversations and networking, between attendees and speakers as well as between the attendees themselves.  You won’t find PDC’s cast of thousands or TechEd’s football stadium keynotes here.

If you’re interested, you’d better hustle.  Register early and often.

TechEd 2007   June 4-8  Orlando

TechEd is the place to be to learn about all the Microsoft stuff that’s in the field today.  Practical, hands on, here-it-is sessions and labs.  Tons of people, great networking.  Originally billed as an “IT focused” event, TechEd quickly evolved to include a healthy dose of developer sessions as well as IT/system administration topics.  Slightly overshadowed this year by PDC – not everyone can justify attending two major conferences in one year.  Registration opens January 22, and usually sells out.

E3  July 11-13(?)  Santa Monica

The Electronic Entertainment Expo was legend in its day.  Alas, it has gone the way of Comdex – micromanaged right into the ground.

Five years ago, you could walk into E3 off the street with a over-18 drivers license and $50 and spend the rest of the day lost in millions of square feet of expo mazes, decked out floor to 100 foot ceiling in banners, massive video displays, and thunderous speakers.  The official literature swore up and down that E3 was (and is) a “trade only event” intended to be the meeting place where game producers can bargain with retailers for Christmas shelf space.  I never quite saw the connection.  Why are 100 foot banners, massive video displays, and dancing girls necessary to secure a distribution contract?  The effects were never about the deal.  They were about the consumer.  Over the past several years, E3 became progressively more difficult for consumers – the people the game producers and retailers are trying to get the attention of – to get into the show.  Each year, E3 jacked up the fee for the one-day expo pass.  Last year, it topped $500.  And, you needed a letter from your mother on company letterhead declaring that you worked in some business related to the entertainment software industry.

Well, the plan worked.  They successfully drove those gamer riffraff out of the show.  And then the show imploded.  The E3 expo web site now extols the virtues of the “new E3”, the E3 Media and Business Summit to be held in Santa Monica.  By invitation only.  No offense to Santa Monica, but the old E3 at the LA Convention Center was so huge it could easily eat Santa Monica and still have room for a bite of Beverly Hills.

PAX07   August-ish  Seattle

The Penny Arcade Expo was borne out of the failings of E3.  Everything that consumers wanted from E3 but couldn’t get, PAX delivers.  Entry fee:  $35.  Age restrictions:  none.  Note from mommy: only if you look younger than 13.  Exhibitors:  all the majors, and anybody who’s anybody.  Scheduling:  main events on Saturday, entire event during summer break.  Hands-on demos:  yes, please!  Hands-on dancing girls:  Uh, no.  Dancing girls really aren’t necessary to sell game titles to this audience.  (Unless your game is really awful.)

PAX has only been going two years now, and already has a huge grass-roots following among the 13 to 30 gamer crowd.  On my first PAX I assumed it would be dominated by local high school kids.  I was pleasantly surprised to find a broad spectrum of age groups (median 20something), geography (cross-continent and a few overseas), and lifestyles.  And gamers are so nice.  Snapshot:  Mr Scary Spikey Mohawk Raver Goth passing the demo game controller to Eddie Bauer yuppie couple and 4-year old.  “Go for it, lil’ dude.”

It’s not often that you see new message forums created for the sole purpose of coordinating hotel room sharing and cross-country caravan pilgrimages to a conference.  Take it from my Delphi experience:  those are the best customers to have, for they will move worlds for you and thank you for the opportunity.

Dates and specifics have not yet been announced for PAX07, other than the site will be moving from Bellevue to Seattle for more elbow room.

Kudos to Jerry and Mike and the rest of the Penny Arcade team for recognizing a glaring market need and stepping up to answer it.  Long may she run!

PDC07   October 2-5  Los Angeles

Well, at least PDC hasn’t moved to Santa Monica.  Microsoft’s king of software development events, the Professional Developers Conference, is back for 2007, and will again send 10,000+ technology crazed developers swarming through the LA Convention Center.  Where TechEd tends to be more tactical in nature (how to use what’s available now), PDC tends to be more strategic, discussing roadmaps and near horizon scenarios and how to prepare for it.  TechEd is a regular event, every year, repeated in many locations worldwide throughout the year.  PDC is not a regularly scheduled event – it’s held as needed, typically with two to three years between events.

Windows XP’s official launch was upstaged by the unveiling of the .NET Framework at PDC 2001.  PDC 2003 was where .NET 1.0 went gold and .NET 2.0 (with generics and 64 bit support) stepped out of the shadows.  Vista was the headliner at PDC 2005.  What does PDC07 hold in store for us?  I haven’t a clue.  I’d imagine Ray Ozzie’s vision for Microsoft will feature prominently.