Over 27,000 visitors went to the 20th Game Developers Conference 2016 (GDC) in San Francisco, USA last week from 14th – 18th March. It was the biggest GDC event yet with more exhibitors, more attendees, more tech and more games to see and play than ever before.
Numbers were boosted by Game Republic’s contribution – leading a UK Trade & Investment “Northern Powerhouse” mission to the show and appearing on the superb Ukie stand at the GDC Expo (pictured above).
UKTI and GR took more than 40 companies from across Yorkshire and the North of England (as well as a few smuggled in from the West Midlands) to the event to meet with major publishers and platform-holders, including Microsoft, Sony and Google. The meetings could well result in new opportunities for the companies that joined us to produce new titles and gain greater global interest in the fantastic games we produce in the North.
Fest Of Fun
GDC is the must-attend event for games companies with global ambition. No wonder really when the programme includes world-class technical bootcamps, networking drinks, superb industry talks, star panels, networking drinks, incredible games showcases (such as the IGF – Independent Games Festival), award shows, mindblowing live demos, pop-up shops and dozens of industry networking parties – did I mention those? It’s a festival of games.
Alongside GDC is Game Connection, a separate speed-dating business event that took place over three days of the week. Not in any old meeting room though – this year the networking took place at the San Francisco Giants’ baseball stadium, AT&T Park. The space was a popular spot for developers to have more than 20 meetings a day (using the online meeting schedule system) to hook up with platform-holders, publishers and other developers.
Back to GDC, where there were some great talks, including discussions on how to encourage more diversity in the games industry – ensuring more women get the support and opportunities in games. Other presentations included the funding of games and the different models to get support, the increasing visibility of games (with so many releases every week) plus the growing importance (and profits) of eSports.
Virtual Reality Check
As well as the getting insider and global insights on securing real opportunities for the developers, a huge focus for GDC this year was Virtual Reality (VR). I have seen VR at GDC over the years, but this year there has been a major gearshift, with three major platforms to be launched over next few months – the Oculus Rift, HTC/Valve Vive and PlayStation VR – plus a dedicated VR track for attendees.
How rapidly mainstream VR is going to get adopted across markets remains to be seen, but there looked to be a good appetite for it from games fans and the industry. Our companies were able to see many, many VR demos at GDC, from virtual rollercoasters to flying experiences complete with full physical rig and wind machine (see photo – left).
For me Epic Games’ Bullet Train on the Oculus VR was very impressive (nicely demonstrating the power of Unreal Engine 4 in VR), and the Vive continues to amaze with its full room virtual experience.
However, it was Sony’s PlayStation VR announcement that grabbed most of the headlines, with an announcement that the PlayStation 4 headset add-on would be £349 and launched in October, along with more than 200 games to be released before the end of the year. Pre-orders sold out within 45 minutes on Amazon (and I bagged one of them).
One of the most impressive design features of the Sony headset at GDC was the comfort with easy functionality to move the headset backwards and forwards meaning it can fit over glasses and avoids the tight straps that have often been an issue with the other VR head sets. I was lucky to get a chance to play a few multiplayer games, including one where I was a virtual Ghostbuster. The game involved shining a torch in a virtual playroom to find ghosts and hitting the PlayStation controller pad to suck up the spirits, while the other players helped to locate the remaining ghouls on the main TV. Not particularly complex but looks really nice in VR.
Other impressive demos in VR included Rebellion’s Battlezone (based on the old coin-op) and a new virtual version of Mizuguchi’s mesmerizing game Rez Infinite.
North at its Heights
Stepping away from VR was a challenge, but just two of the new games worth watching out for in reality were Dreams by Media Molecule, an incredible game/creative tool that allows players to make environments, characters and animations, play with them and share online and Astroneer by System Era, a beautiful planet exploration game with you as an astronaut armed with the ability to instantly terraform the landscape around them.
GDC 2016 showed the global games industry in good health, forging ahead with new tech innovations, and creating incredible titles on mobile, console, PC and web. It was great and inspiring that our Yorkshire and Northern companies such as Cardboard Sword, Red Kite Games, Team17, Double Eleven, Sumo Digital, Team Pesky, Draw & Code and Revolution Software are right there at the cutting edge of development, leading the world, innovating and developing amazing games.
Managing Director, Game Republic
23rd March 2016