Austin American-Statesman Omar L. Gallaga column
Mar 11, 2013 (Austin American-Statesman - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Crowdfunding, one of the dominant themes of this year's South by Southwest Interactive Festival, has come to mean raising money from a big group of people toward a common goal or product.
It's a subject that the last two keynote speakers for the festival on Monday and Tuesday know a lot about. Both presentations at the Austin Convention Center will be live-streamed on sxsw.com for free.
Monday's speaker is OUYA Inc. chief executive Julie Uhrman, a veteran of video game-related media companies who last year raised $8.5 million on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter for her company. OUYA plans to sell a tiny, cube-shaped $99 game console, which will run free-to-play games based on the Android operating system. The first of these game consoles are expected to ship to supporters of the Kickstarter campaign as early as March 28, and it is expected to be sold in stores starting in June.
While Uhrman was relatively unknown before the success of OUYA's Kickstarter, Tuesday's keynote speaker parlayed his online fame and army of fans into funding two attention-grabbing crowdfunding campaigns. Matthew Inman, creator of the popular online comic the Oatmeal, raised $220,024 using the Kickstarter alternative Indiegogo last June for the World Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society as a way of drawing attention to the threat of a lawsuit from a website owner.
Emboldened by that success, Inman set a larger target: $1 million to fund a museum to honor inventor Nikola Tesla. That campaign on Indiegogo (which, unlike Kickstarter, can be used to raise money for charities and nonprofits) ended up raising almost $1.4 million.
In an interview with the American-Statesman earlier this year, Inman said that his comics work has allowed him to marshal his readers to worthy causes. "I've built up an audience on my website that's pretty massive," he said. "When I launched the Tesla campaign, that was definitely a kick in the butt."
Although the effect is perhaps unintentional, both Uhrman and Inman have become poster children for the crowdfunding movement, which has begun to upend the way video games, tech products, movies and music are made. Last month we witnessed the first Oscar win for a Kickstarter-funded film, the documentary "Inocente." And here in Austin, video game developer Chris Roberts of "Wing Commander" fame came roaring back to the gaming scene by using his own website in tandem with Kickstarter to raise $6.2 million for a new game, "Star Citizen." (Since the end of the campaign, Roberts' tally has risen to more than $8.3 million, according to his website for Cloud Imperium Games Corp.)
But Uhrman and Inman are more than just the sum of their raised funds. Even before her product has shipped, Uhrman is already considered a success and much-admired chief executive in a video game industry that has traditionally been male-dominated. For his part, Inman is wickedly funny, especially with a drawing pen in his hand, as is made clear in his book, "How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You," which he signed at Austin's BookPeople in October.
Both presentations should be lively and perhaps even inspiring for anyone with a great idea and the energy to corral enough backers to help make it happen.
Other SXSW Interactive notes: In addition to the keynote presentations, the festival will live-stream to the public on its website closing remarks by author Bruce Sterling and the SXSW Interactive Awards, hosted by actress and comedian Aisha Tyler. Sterling speaks at 5 p.m. Tuesday, and the Interactive Awards are scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
A free, open-to-the-public PhotoCamp happens 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday at the SXSW Create space, 101 Red River St.
As the festival winds down Tuesday, we should have a firm number on how many people had paid access to attend South by Southwest Interactive, but before it began, estimates from director Hugh Forrest suggested about 5 percent to 8 percent growth from 2012 to 2013. A spike in walk-up registration, however, could always bump growth upward.
What's next once SXSW Interactive is over The Las Vegas-based SXSW V2V conference, an expansion of Interactive focused on startups and entrepreneurship, will be held for the first time Aug. 11-14.
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