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GDC 2020 – Were they right to cancel?

David Cullinane 06 March 2020

One of the biggest events in the Games Industry calendar, GDC, has been cancelled. The Games Developer Conference is arguably the beating heart of the industry and, with only two weeks to go its developers have decided to pull the plug in light of the risks that the spread of the Coronavirus may pose. Last year there were over 26,000 attendees to the event, all descending onto San Francisco from the furthest reaches of the planet to attend talks, learn, network, inspire and generally further the craft of games development. But have the organisers perhaps been a little over cautious in cancelling the event, and just why is GDC so important to the industry?

No-one can escape the headlines surrounding Coronavirus, or the more sinister sounding COVID-19 as it is fast becoming referred to in the media. Switch on the TV or open a newspaper and you’ll find plenty of references to ‘pandemic’ and ‘outbreaks’. Indeed, it all sounds like the plot of a Resident Evil game with the end of the world an inevitability, even though the spread of the virus itself is still (thankfully, at the time of writing) largely contained. From reading the apocalyptic headlines, you could be forgiven for thinking that if GDC were to go ahead, the streets of San Francisco would be filled with roaming zombies – spaced out marauders on the verge of collapse; wandering aimlessly without purpose and in need of shelter. Whereas, anyone with any familiarity with the streets surrounding Union Square will know that this scenario is already a grim reality already. –  where homelessness and social problems on the streets are a gritty reality for many already.

Regardless, the organisers of GDC have had to tread a very careful line in weighing up the many benefits that the show brings versus the very real risks of contagion. It’s no mean feat – The event has been many months in the making with many man hours of organising potentially wasted. To some degree, their hands were forced in the days running up to the announcement, with major sponsors including Microsoft, Facebook, Unity, Epic, Sony and Amazon all deciding to withdraw from the event. These decisions will not have been easy ones to make as it some of these brands that have helped GDC grow to the stature that the conference currently enjoys.  In recent years it has proven to be the perfect platform to unveil new technologies to developers and get their feedback – a ‘sweet spot’ event that avoids the glare of more consumer focused events like E3 yet still big enough to grab the attention of the major developers and publishers in the Industry.

In recent years, the conference has been used to showcase emerging technologies that will continue to have a major influence on the craft of Games Development and Storytelling for a long time to come. Of particular note, Epic Games’ ‘State of Unreal’ keynote speeches have been used to showcase the development and advances in Virtual Filmmaking. These talks are highly anticipated and continue to usher in technologies that are not limited to just Games Development, but the advancement of Film, TV and VFX.

GDC’s importance the industry cannot be overstated.  Whilst new technologies remain at the heart of the show, it’s the level to which they are embraced by the thousands of Artists, Animators, Coders and Producers in attendance that ultimately decide their fate. Without their creativity, the content cannot be produced, games developed, or new worlds realised – No matter how good the tools. So, although it’s disappointing that GDC should be cancelled at such a late stage, its undoubtedly the right thing to do.

Sadly, I WON’T be attending GDC this year, but if you want to get in touch to discuss our work in Trailers, Cinematics, Animation or VFX, drop me a line at [email protected].