Marketing games has become both easier and more difficult as gaming has expanded massively. Games now reach over a billion people, social media and other technologies make it easy to distribute information, and the cultural influence of games has never been greater. At the same time, there are far more distractions that grab people’s attention, and tens of thousands of games released every year all competing to be noticed.

One key marketing tactic is to reach out to consumers directly with hands-on experience, and one of the most cost-effective ways to do this is at a consumer show focused on games. Game publishers are looking for ways to connect to customers, and this has propelled the growth of consumer game shows and events. Shows that cross the streams of consumer media, like the San Diego Comic Con, offer an audience of over 100,000 media fans eager for a celebration of their favorite media properties.

The South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival (SXSW) was first held in 1987 in Austin, Texas. In 1994 SXSW added film and interactive sections to its growing event, and now the show has become a major venue for interactive software and gaming while continuing to attract massive crowds for music and film. The [a]list daily spoke with Justin Burnham, SXSW Gaming Producer, about the show and its cultural impact.

The SXSW show has been on a strong growth curve in recent years. “For SXSW Gaming, we had 20k+ attendees in 2012 and 40k+ in 2013,” Burnham said. “We’re expecting to see the attendance numbers up again this year!” Those are the kind of numbers that get marketer’s attention, and it’s clear from the events planned that there will be plenty of attention focused on SXSW.

Throughout the three days of the show, there are events such as Into the Pixel Art Gallery presented by the Entertainment Software Association; the SXSW LANFest presented by Intel and Dell with featured tournaments including Chivalry, Kerbal Space Program, Minecraft, and League of Legends; and the eSports Tournament Stage presented by Monster and Logitech courtesy of the Evil Geniuses with DOTA 2 as the battleground The Karting Reimagined event is Powered by Pennzoil, which partnered with Nintendo, to create a life-sized Mario Kart track.

The marketing benefit of a show like SXSW Gaming extends beyond the attendees in this era of social media. “Twitter was practically launched at SXSW Interactive in 2007,” Burnham notes. “Although the service had actually gone live nine months before the show, it caught on like crazy at SXSW that year. The audience of connected people were using it to discuss panels they were in, discover content that they might be missing out and — most importantly — to track where all the great parties were. Over 350,000 people Like SXSW on Facebook and nearly the same follow on Twitter.” In other words, marketers can expect good social amplification for events and information from the show.

The lineup of gaming guests will also help generate interest. “SXSW is huge for software, tech and gaming, with some of the most influential people and companies from those worlds attending,” Burnham said. “At Gaming alone, the people who come to the show will have the chance to see Randy Pitchford, Jade Raymond, Phil Spencer, Palmer Luckey, Andrew Wilson, Feargus Urquhart, Chris DeWolfe, Matias Myllyrinne and many more.”

Game publishers are also represented at the show. “This year, we have publishers like Microsoft, Nintendo, Intel and Wargaming on hand, along with an entire area dedicated to the Oculus Rift,” noted Burnham. “We’ve also built out an Indie Corner that highlights some of the best and most creative games I’ve ever seen.”

The SXSW show highlights the cultural importance of games and how they intersect with movies, music, and other pieces of pop culture. “Games are a critical part of modern culture in the same way that film and music are,” Burnham declared. “A few years ago, video games were just a small part of Interactive, but it quickly became obvious that we had a huge audience of gamers willing to come to Austin that couldn’t make it to places like Seattle or Boston for PAX or San Diego for Comic-con. Not to mention that there’s a thriving development scene here in Texas, with an amazing amount of talented people in Austin and nearby cities.”

“SXSW Gaming is a huge win for game developers and publishers looking to reach people and grow their audience outside of traditional channels,” Burnham continued. “My hope is that we’re able to turn SXSW Gaming into a huge pop culture event in the same way that Comic-con has evolved over the years.”