An Afternoon at SXSW: Gaming Expo & Create

SXSW Interactive kicked off today, bringing with it SXSW Gaming and SXSW Create, both of which are free and open the public.

As has become our spring break tradition, I took the kids out of school early so we could be waiting at the front doors of the Palmer Events Center when the Gaming Expo opened at 1 p.m. We were greeted by friendly SXSW employees who were distributing free souvenir lanyards – complete with mini disco balls – and free Guest Pass wristbands.  Admission to SXSW Gaming Expo is still free this year, but everyone age 13 and up needs a free wristband to get in the door.

SXSW Gaming has always been a hit with my kids, but this year the expo has even more family-friendly exhibitors and countless opportunities for interactive play.  The layout of the expo floor has changed from previous years, opening up the exhibitor space to make it much easier – and more enjoyable – to navigate. 

We wandered the aisles, bouncing from photo ops to app demos to board games. The kids were given balloons and stickers and candy and pins at every turn. They watched demos of 3D printers and virtual reality games, played air hockey on an oversized tablet, and sat on a retro couch to play Super Mario on a Nintendo 64. 

As a heads up, the weekend will see much larger crowds at the Gaming Expo, so your experience may differ from ours.  Many parents who went last year mentioned that their children were disappointed by the lines to try different games.  

If you find there are too many people for your comfort level, head out to the LEGO Pit in the hallway or check out the Mario Kart race track behind Palmer Events Center. Go Kart drivers must be 18, but you may catch a glimpse of Luigi!

The Gaming Expo also offers sessions which are free to attend. Saturday highlights include a Marvel: Your Universe panel and a Minecraft session. Sunday will feature a SXSW Cosplay CompetitionYou can see the Saturday schedule here and the Sunday schedule here

Next door to the Gaming Expo is SXSW Create.  If you went to this event last year, you are in for a surprise!  Besides the much more convenient location, Create has grown and the new exhibitors are lots of fun.  There are remote control robots and duct tape projects, plus opportunities to sew, and solder, and make your own nail polish. There’s even a fun photo op with the TARDIS.

My kids’ favorite activity at Create was the Austin Tinkering School‘s Nerdy Derby booth.  They spent more than an hour crafting personalized wooden race cars and testing them out on tracks (then rebuilding the cars after they smashed). The three teachers from Austin Tinkering School were amazing – so helpful and encouraging.  They had my boys using a drill and a hot glue gun!

Plan to spend some time at Create because your little makers will love it.  Most activities in the big white tent on the Long Center City Terrace are free, including Nerdy Derby, but a few project kits have a cost. 

If you go:

  • Plan to arrive early, as in half an hour before Create opens early.  The Long Center/Palmer Events Center parking lot will fill up in a hurry! Once that lot is full, parking nearby will be tricky (especially on Sunday, due to the Zilker Park Kite Festival).
  • Bring $7 to park in the lot. They do accept credit cards.
  • Pick up a free SXSW Gaming Expo program at the entrance.  This lists all of the exhibitors and has a handy map of the Expo Floor. It also lists the scheduled sessions.
  • Keep in mind that the splash pad in Butler Park is right next door to the Palmer Events Center.  The water is on, if you don’t mind wet kids!
  • There are food trailers parked on the west side of the Long Center City Terrace, if you need a bite to eat. 
  • We spent an hour and a half in the Gaming Expo and two hours at Create.
  • You might consider bringing a stroller.  We had acquired quite a bit of stuff by the time we left (3 t-shirts, 4 balloons, 4 wooden derby cars…).
SXSW Gaming Expo
Saturday, March 8 | 12:00pm-8:00pm
Sunday, March 9 | 12:00pm-8:00pm
Palmer Events Center
900 Barton Springs Road
Austin, Texas 78704
SXSW Create
Saturday, March 8 
| 11:00am to 6:00pm
Sunday, March 9 | 11:00am to 6:00pm
City Terrace of the Long Center 
701 W. Riverside
Austin, Texas
You may also be interested in these 10 FREE Kid-Friendly SXSW Events.
Catherine Prystup
About Catherine Prystup 2157 Articles
Catherine Prystup founded out of a desire to build a better community for Austin-area moms. She has three children, ages seventeen, eight and three years old.