Top Trends from SXSW Interactive

From “Yes, and… a design thinking bootcamp” workshop led by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, aka “the” Anna Ly was one of the coaches, along with representatives from IDEO, National Geographic, and Frog Design.

Following Jessica Millstone’s adventure at SXSWEdu, I had the opportunity to attend SXSW Interactive (SXSWi), which united 27,000 individuals hailing from a variety of industries including advertising, gaming, journalism, and aerospace (!). This crowd is extremely diverse compared to when SXSW first started as a music festival and even to several years before, which focused more on software and application development. Not only did the attendees vary, but so did the hundreds of compelling sessions, workshops, keynotes, and networking events that flooded everyone’s calendar from March 8-12. Emerging from the pandemonium that so aptly defined this year’s SXSW interactive were the following trends…

…From the Gaming Expo:

  1. Beyond Digital:  With the recent success of Skylanders, conversations were buzzing with questions about how to make the gaming experience go beyond digital. Rex Crowle, the lead designer of Media Molecule, discussed how to build a world one can actually feel  through a digital papercraft adventure called Tearaway. The touchy-feely experiences leverage Playstation Vita’s front touchscreen and rear touch pads. Mike North, the CTO at Nukotoys, talked about the future of play and how toys will play a part, especially when the #1 most requested toy by kids this past year was the iPad. Unsurprisingly, he discussed Skylanders, and how there is a new delivery model: “Toys-as-a-service.” This model consists of a customizable app, and an accompanying physical toy that can also be tweaked easily.
  2. Games for Good:  A common theme throughout the sessions was how games can be used beyond just entertainment. The Gaming Expo made a smooth transition from SXSWEdu with several sessions discussing games in the classroom. One panel, How to Start a Game Company Incubator in a School, mapped out exactly how one school, Pflugerville ISD, built a curriculum that taught their students how to start their own game design companies. Katie Salen, Paul Toprac, and Warren Spector discussed the importance of learning arts for 21st century success with one panelist even claiming “Video Games is [sic] the last best hope for a liberal education!” Other exciting mash-ups include fitness and gaming and teaching civics through gaming.
  3. Social Gaming:   Gaming is no longer about the lone ranger. These days social gaming is capturing the market. The discussion skewed towards online social interaction with an emphasis on multiplayer experiences and sharing content. Even the build of the console is becoming more interactive and collaborative —the new PS4 features a share button that you can click to share your screen or score with your network. Naturally, Minecraft was a part of the conversation with several panelists noting it is a “social revolution”  (Games R Art) and “designed to be viral” (Indie Gaming: Why Publishers Must Evolve or Die).
  4. Disruption of Traditional Models: Old traditional models won’t work in this day and age. Appropriately, there was a session Indie Gaming: Why Publishers Must Evolve or Die in which  panelists stressed that we’re at that point in the cycle where the public is frustrated with the current publishing processes dominated by the big names, thus encouraging others to do things differently. One of the disruptors was Ouya, a $99 Android based game console that took Kickstarter by storm, raising more than $8 million. During their keynote, the founder talked in detail about revitalizing TV gaming, and how any Ouya owner can be a developer. With the rise of app stores, it’ll be interesting to see how the model plays out in the TV space.


…And overall for SXSW Interactive

  1. LEGO guy lounges in front of the gaming expo at SXSW.

    Maker movement: For a conference that usually focuses on software applications, this year was quite exciting to see hardware in the limelight. Makerbot’s Bre Pettis, the opening speaker,  made it clear that he believes 3D printing will take global manufacturing by storm by dramatically reducing costs to iteratively build hardware. Beyond the current community of creators that upload thousands of their designs on Thingiverse, Pettis proposed that a 3D printer should be in every classroom to help students learn STEM principles. The maker theme was pervasive throughout the week with the second annual SXSW Create 2013 housing a tent full of inventive organizations like Tech Shop, MIT Media Lab and Instructables showing off their innovative tools and methods.

  2. The power of the crowd:  Crowdfunding was a hot topic, especially with different indie companies like Ouya proving that social strength really can move things forward. Minecraft again fell into this category with panelists talking about its socially driven success despite a limited budget. There were also several lively sessions around how social websites like Reddit can drive the market, jump start social campaigns, and even influence product development.
  3. With power comes responsibility: On the flip side, despite the crowd being able to enact change, there is also the possibility for social media to enact something negative. One session, Bullying: Social Media as a Problem & Solution juxtaposed the upsides and downsides of social media.
  4. Walking in someone else’s shoes: Although SXSWi wasn’t directed towards one particular industry, panelists and SXSWi goers alike expressed the importance of stepping outside of your focus to gain a peripheral view. In The New Serendipity, Joi Ito suggested going to something unfamiliar and figuring out how could it be used differently for one’s own field. Given that many of the education panels were at a beginner’s level, it might be fitting to take on this perspective for future conferences.
  5. To infinity and beyond!  A common conclusion from the conference was that there wasn’t a particular breakthrough app. Rather, SXSWi gave a glimpse into what technology could look like in the future. Thousands crowded Elon Musk’s (of SpaceX, PayPal, Tesla fame) keynote where he talked about the future of space travel and reusable rockets. He even touched upon education, and how it should be more like video games. According to Mashable, Google Glass (the eyewear computing device) took up an impressive 21% of the brand conversations at SXSWi. Question is, amongst this entire futuristic buzz, what will become the next big thing…?

If you didn’t have the opportunity to go to SXSW Interactive, don’t fret! You can listen to the keynote sessions and some of the other sessions on the SXSW website. Just go to the list of sessions, select the ones you’re interested in, click on “more detail” and click on the recording link. You can also go on twitter and search #sxsw, #sxswi, #sxsw2013, #sxswedu and read through the accounts that live tweeted sessions.


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