SIEGE 2008 attracts expansive gaming audience

With video game sales and popularity still on the rise with a continually increasing base of fans across the world, competition and ambitions are growing just as quickly.

SIEGE (Southern Interactive Entertainment and Game Expo) is a newcomer that’s set to make a splash in the gaming industry. SIEGE 2008 took place last weekend from Oct. 3-5 at the Hyatt Regency in Marietta.

Only in its second year, the conference attracted local game studios, executives from larger companies such as Microsoft and Turner Broadcasting and students and professors from schools across the state. Over 375 attendees arrived for professional advice, knowledge, networking and fun over the three days that SIEGE took place.

It was directed largely by members of the GGDA (Georgia Game Developers Association), a non-profit trade organization committed to the growth of the industry. Like most conferences, SIEGE was divided into panels, presentations and events that spanned across a range of interests and skills in game development such as programming, art and design. Speakers and panelists who moderated many of these sessions were from an equally broad spectrum of companies, ranging from local game studios and artists to company executives and professors.

Some events were also devoted to networking, allowing students to talk to veterans of the industry or allowing entrepreneurs to pitch ideas to other businesses for funding. Networking events were particularly emphasized this year with night-time parties, sponsored by various schools and companies, where attendees dined and mingled.

The SIEGE College and Career Fair was held on Saturday morning for students to attend and play, whether it was watching the latest trailer for Hi-Rez Studio’s sci-fi MMOG Global Agenda or joining up for a Halo 3 contest to win an Xbox360 Elite console.

A considerable number of Tech students and faculty were present at the Career and College Fair, including professors like Jay Bolter, Celia Pearce and Ian Bogost. In addition to recruiting new students to the CM and DM majors, Tech professors were also panelists in several of the events.

“I’ve been following the industry for a long time now, and here in the Southeast, it’s kind of gone like this [wave-like motions]. So I thought it’d be a good idea to get students, companies and such together to help develop the game industry better in this area,” said Andrew Greenburg, SIEGE director and long-time game developer in Georgia.

Many of the volunteers and staff at the conference were college students, as well as people who work in the game industry in Georgia.

New developments since the last SIEGE conference brought representatives from state and national agencies. Asante Bradford from the Georgia Film, Music, and Digital Entertainment Office was one of the first speakers of the conference, identifying and promoting the slew of incentives that Governor Sonny Perdue signed to attract game companies to Georgia.

From the Entertainment Software Alliance was Rich Taylor, representing the association’s interest in helping Georgia’s video game industry grow and prosper.

Last but not least, Blake Lewin, inventor of the GameTap entertainment network for Turner Broadcasting, spoke about his opinions of what the future of digital entertainment would bring for the industry and for Georgia.

A sign of such progress was made during this first panel, as Bradford commented that the state of Georgia was involved with talks with several large companies including Electronic Arts, though no concrete details were offered to follow up on this.

The conference ended Sunday afternoon with a unique experience in a contest known as “The Experiment,” where teams signed up to create games with particularly innovative features, artwork and technical merit.

Judging was done by the crowd during a break from a lengthy Q&A and feedback session with the SIEGE directors, where the teams showcased their demos to attendees to gain their votes.

SIEGE will continue to be held in Atlanta for the foreseeable future, and there are hopes to attract even more representatives from schools, businesses and government agencies to help promote the growth of the video game industry in Georgia.