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Facts, Figures and Fun of GDC and VRDC 2016

GDC16 expo
Attendees walk the floor at GDC 2016 in San Francisco./Photo by Paul Philleo

UBM Game Network’s 2016 Game Developers Conference started the Monday after the close of the show with a trumpet to proudly sound: This year, GDC organizers bumped last year’s attendee record by setting a new one, of more than 27,000 attendees.

That new record may have been helped in some measure due to the infusion of new blood (a new conference, that is) in the form of the Virtual Reality Developers Conference. The VRDC, an event dedicated to the creation of new video games, entertainment and technology around virtual and augmented reality, was held alongside the Monday-Tuesday Summit portion of the GDC. vrdc sign
In fact, coincidentally or not, after the long lines and packed rooms on Monday, VRDC talks were moved to larger rooms by Tuesday, the second day of the summit. During the VRDC, Sony announced its $399 price point of the PlayStation VR headset. A constellation of well-attended VR-focused after-hours events also took place on Monday and Tuesday, including by Oculus, Razer and VR collectives.

It seemed like it might be difficult to play host to a conference when one wing of the Moscone South building is being thoroughly renovated. GDC organizers moved the GDC Play into the North Hall, with the hiring booths and Independent Games Festival Pavilion, plus a healthy networking area that doubled as a lunch area around midday. The South Hall took on a look more akin to E3, with double-decker booths and large, splashy spaces. However, in GDC tradition, the expo area is generally more about the tools and platforms and not the finished product, so companies like Unity, NVIDIA, Oculus, Facebook, Google, Epic Games, Microsoft, Sony and Amazon, dominated the front and center of South Hall.

Throughout the conference areas, other areas were hosted that showcased games featured at other events, such as GDC Train Jam and Day of the Devs. A little Inception-y? Maybe, but it lent to the diversity of games and ideas shown throughout the conference.

GDC Interactive Spaces

From a GDC press release:

In addition to the expo floors, GDC hosted a variety of Interactive Spaces throughout the week. Independent developers and some of the latest indie games were featured in the GDC Train Jam, alt.ctrl.GDC and Mild Rumpus areas, a special edition of Double Fine’s Day of the Devs and the Indie MEGABOOTH showcase. The GDC VR Lounge featured a range of VR and AR demos across all the upcoming VR platforms. For fans of tabletop board games, “Shut Up and Sit Down” hosted a selection of the best board games of the year for all attendees to enjoy. iam8bit returned to GDC this year with a 1980s living room, where attendees could pose for pictures and pay homage to the very first Game Developers Conference, which was held in the living room of GDC founder and developer Chris Crawford’s house in the 1980s.

In terms of awards, it was a very good year for “Her Story“, created by developer Sam Barlow. Arguably the star of the show, this deep, complex FMV detective story won the IGF Seumas McNally Grand Prize award of $30,000, as well as the IGF award for Excellence in Narrative as well as the Game Developers Choice Awards (GDCA) for for Innovation, Best Narrative and Best Handheld/Mobile Game. The GDCA Game of the Year went to CD Projekt Red for their game, “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.” The full list of IGF 2016 award winners are here, while the full Game Developers Choice Awards list is here.

While a conference is generally focused on products and services that help attendees look to the future, it’s sometimes just as important to remember the past. As GDC reaches its 30th birthday, retrospectives and looks back were part of the conversation, too.

30 Years of GDC

GDC 2016 marked the 30th edition of the event, and to celebrate the history and legacy of the conference, the organizers hosted a comprehensive retrospective talk on the history of GDC.

From a press release:

On Wednesday, March 16, the main conference opened with the “Flash Backward: 30 Years of Making Games,” a session that brought together industry luminaries from GDC’s history. From conference founder Chris Crawford’s talk on the first GDC hosted at his house, to Lori Cole’s experiences crafting pioneering PC adventure games, to speakers including Phil Harrison, Ken Lobb, Tim Schafer, Palmer Luckey and others, the session covered insights into the history of game consoles, the birth of digital game distribution and the promising future of VR.

GDC San Francisco

Adding to the sense of the 30th anniversary GDC looking both forward and backward, Meggan Scavio, general manager of the Game Developers Conference said in a press release:

“This year’s GDC, paired with the inaugural VRDC, allows us to look both backwards at the legacy and lessons of previous years and forward to the future of games and VR experiences. Even in its 30th edition, GDC continues to evolve and grow to encompass all of the key lessons, advancements and artistic strides that the industry makes. Once again, the staff, volunteers, speakers, students and attendees have made GDC 2016 an amazing, fun and safe show all around.

“As technologies mature and tastes in games change, we’re happy to have a place for all of our friends, colleagues and soon-to-be-friends to meet, learn about and discuss the games and VR experiences that we love. Games are becoming the most popular form of entertainment in the modern world, so it’s only appropriate that GDC carry with it the same spirit of fun, adventure and discovery as the games themselves, just as it has since its beginning.”

Both GDC and VRDC will return to San Francisco and the Moscone Center in San Francisco, from Monday, February 27 to Friday, March 1, 2017. Expect an announcement for call for speaking submissions to open for both conferences this summer.


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