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The Game Developers Conference 2023 event next week could draw as many as 24,000 people in person in San Francisco, about double the number last year.
Stephenie Hawkins, director of event production for media & entertainment at Informa Tech, said in an interview with GamesBeat that the projected GDC attendance reflects the sentiment among game developers to get back together in real life in the wake of a few tough pandemic years.
“We are definitely on target to exceed that. In fact, I think we are just a couple of thousand short as of right now,” Hawkins said. “So it’s really exciting to see.”
She also said the expo halls at the Moscone Convention Center will be completely full, with 330 exhibitors, up from 200 last year, when there were only 12,000 in-person attendees. GDC 2023 will have a total of 730 talks, up from more than 600 last year. Those talks will range from a session about Wordle to Electronic Arts’ remake of the Dead Space horror survival game.
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This is going to be big on a scale that goes way beyond the gaming crowds I saw this week at SXSW Gaming in Austin, Texas, where there about three days of gaming programming amid the larger SXSW entertainment and technology show. SXSW had good crowds, though they were spread all over town. By comparison, GDC is very concentrated around downtown San Francisco.
And much of the old intimacy and community will be back to help developers establish human connections, said Hawkins. Attendees will have to show proof of vaccination to get in.
“It’s our most exhibitors ever,” Hawkins said. “We’re using all of our conference rooms. It’s a good problem to have.”
Hawkins said the core themes will focus on jobs and the future of the industry; community spaces for partners; and accessibility with lower price points for passes for those breaking into the industry.
“We have quite a bit around those areas we’re bringing back or if you remember the giant job board that we’ve had, and you can stick jobs on it,” Hawkins said.
Of course, the event is taking place in San Francisco, where hotel rooms are very expensive still. And it won’t be easy for people to get to the city from many of the poorest countries of the world where game developers are struggling.
Rami Ismail, a developer advocate, pointed out that GDC decided to kill off the #1ReasonToBe panel that highlighted developers from all over the world and paid for them to give talks. I loved hearing those talks in years past. It started as a women’s panel and Ismail turned it into a global diversity session. Then he turned over to another developer but GDC decided not to fund it, he said. He was “furious” about that and decided to skip GDC for that reason.
Ashley Corrigan, a senior conference producer at GDC, said in an interview that GDC 2023 has worked a lot of diversity issues into its program, including an advocacy track with a lot of sessions. The talks include Advocacy Microtalks: Cultivate Your Karass; Black Excellence in Game Development: The Designer’s Dilemma; Games as Cultural Representation Roundtable; It Takes A Village: Building a Gaming and Disability Program; and What It’s Like for Muslims Working in Games Roundtable (Presented by the IGDA).
“It’s very important to us to support and uplift underrepresented and marginalized voices at GDC,” Corrigan said. “Most of the program is created by the (114-person) advisory board and they work hard” to represent different topics and issues.
These talks show th industry more through the lens of different things game creators are doing to spark discussion or make you think differently about how you develop your game – all in the spirit of forming and engaging your community.
Bringing community back
Hawkins hopes people will find enough reasons to make it to GDC, where there will be networking sessions and hiring resources at a time when the industry is facing a tough global economy. The GDC has a Game Career Seminar as a resource for attendees and there will be “speed dating” sessions for devs.
There will be interactive events where devs can play board games together. The audio lounge will have acoustic instruments where devs can have jam sessions. There will be a game narrative space where devs can create a group narrative. Day of the Devs will also be back inside the GDC.
Curated by the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (MADE) in Oakland and featuring their community partner Civic Design Studios, GDC Arcade Play is a community space offering attendees a
spot to play and enjoy over a dozen games that helped shape the industry.
Hawkins noted Xsolla is doing a game night on Tuesday evening as a partner event and it will be inside the GDC and be an alcohol-free event (the alcohol version is Monday night). And devs can connect with other attendees and sponsors to exchange contact information through the event mobile app.
There will be 60-minute topical discussions focusing on pressing issues in the industry from mental health to being an effective ally to navigating gender-based discrimination and more. The Black in Gaming Awards will take place on March 23 at 6 p.m. Pacific time.
And on Sunday, the GDC will be preceded by Amplifying New Voices, where young and diverse developers are trained to be good public speakers. The event will also have its first student day on March 24, where high school students and older students will get career advice.
The two-dozen or so developer summits take place on Monday and Tuesday and they cover familiar areas of interest to developers. A sampling includes the AI summit, free-to-play summit, tabletop summit, visual effects summit, educators summit, and future realities summit.
The latter covers topics like virtual reality, augmented reality and human spatial computing. You’ll probably also spot a lot of sponsored blockchain gaming and metaverse sessions as well. It’s always a nice way to see what’s hot at the moment by looking at the sessions with long lines.
Jon Radoff is also organizing an off-site meetup for generative AI. The session is at capacity for 450 attendees, and the waitlist is more than 500 people long, Radoff said.
Lots of awards
The awards program will return with both the Independent Games Festival (IGF) and Game Developers Choice Awards (GDCA) ceremonies on Wednesday March 22, where developers and attendees can get an
opportunity to reflect upon and honor the craft and dedication of the artists behind the year’s finest titles.
John Romero, co-creator of Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake and many other titles, will receive the Lifetime Achievement at the 23rd annual Game Developers Choice Awards, which are selected by peers.
Mabel Addis, recognized as the first female game designer, will posthumously receive the Pioneer Award, which honors breakthrough business, tech, and game design milestones. Addis was the lead designer of 1964’s The Sumerian Game. She was a grade school teacher and developed the title on the side, making use of her degree in ancient history from Barnard College. She died in 2004.
The main session of the GDC will be about the Future of Play on March 22, with talks from speakers like former Blizzard president Jen Oneal, who recently announced her startup Magic Soup Games with cofounders J. Allen Brack and John Donham. Oneal will talk about working remotely. Other speakers at the Future of Play include Chandana Ekanayake, creative director at Outerloop Games and Robert Anderberg, CEO of ControlZee. Ekanayake will talk about designing narratives for games that shed light on underrepresented communities, and Anderberg will speak about user-generated content.
We’ll also see a lot of parties. The most common kind of party I’ve seen invites for are game venture capital funds and M&A advisers. Clearly, the game industry is still hot and attracting all of the big money people in the world.
I’m going to do a live broadcast of a chat with Xsolla president Chris Hewish on Thursday at around 10:30 a.m. Pacific at the Xsolla booth. And I’ll be bouncing around town on a fully booked schedule from the morning to late at night. See ya folks there.
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