Dominoes turned upside down for the game developer conference last week as fears of the corona virus (COVID-19) caused more large game companies to drop out of the conference.
Unity, Microsoft and Epic Games were released on Thursday in quick succession. Previously, Sony, Electronic Arts, PUBG, Kojima Productions and Facebook / Oculus failed.
[ Updated : 16:55. 28/02/20 – The GDC has confirmed that it will be postponed to summer.
The GDC is an institution that draws 29,000 developers to San Francisco each March and is a pioneer in the gaming industry when it comes to innovation. Problems and big starts. But the GDC was beaten up after a new case of coronavirus was discovered in Northern California on Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control warned of an out-of-control spread, and the Mayor of San Francisco made an emergency statement about the outbreak. The U.S. Department of State has issued travel warnings. Other events, from the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to the Facebook F8 developer conference scheduled for May, were also canceled. The decline of the GDC would only be a slip in this larger state around the world. It is possible that the Tokyo Olympic Games will be canceled.
We made the difficult decision to cancel our on-site activities at GDC 2020 due to the current conditions with COVID-19. The health and safety of our employees, partners and friends is our top priority. More information about the online information. https://t.co/xkujzb4v5c[19659002weibl-Unity(@entity3d) February 27, 2020
Like many of my colleagues and professionals in the gaming industry, I am struggling with this hysteria. It's a bit like the aging video game Plague Inc. (which disappeared from iOS this week in China) in which you see a fictional view of a pandemic. The GDC said this morning that the show will take place in March as expected, and that it "is watching closely for new developments related to the corona virus". Cancellation feels inevitable, but I would be sad if that happened.
Fear of a ghost town
Fear is profound and frightens the stock markets and society far beyond the GDC and beyond many other panics that I have seen.
Every time Of the big game companies that decided to skip the GDC, they stated the health and safety of their employees. I see on social media that a number of other participants drop out. I see a lot of dark humor about it.
GDC looks great this year. pic.twitter.com/77ERQAZMf1
– Martin van der Wolf (@Martin_Wolf) February 27, 2020
I joked that this is how the zombie apocalypse begins and is a reminder me to the dark days of the E3 in 2007 and 2008 when the show dropped from 50,000 to about 5,000 visitors. It was a ghost town.
A survey by the games developer website Gamesmith on Thursday among more than 1,000 game developers showed that 35% of those questioned are still running, 14% are undecided and 34% are definitely not going due to the corona virus. Another 14% said they would not leave for other reasons.
As someone who leads a conference (GamesBeat Summit), I can sympathize with the GDC. There's a lot of paranoia out there. But it's also heartbreaking to see as it's one of my favorite conferences of the year. And it feels like an overreaction. But I do see that far brighter people than I can make statements about how safe it is to participate. Many who want to leave say, "Don't panic."
Their general refrain is that more people have died of the flu each year than the corona virus has killed so far.
Irresponsible to attend?
In fact, one could argue that participation would be irresponsible. What if you pick up the coronavirus and pass it on to weaker people who may die from it? What if you pick up the germs and bring them home to your family? These are strong arguments that exceed our selfish need for business or networking meetings.
Let us not forget what is at stake and how quickly this crisis has developed day by day. A month ago, the virus killed 106 people and infected 4,515 people. To date, more than 2,800 people have been killed and more than 82,000 infected. It is nowhere near the 646,000 that kills the flu in a year. But doesn't the growth rate of the virus now in 48 countries hit fear in everyone's heart?
Part of this fear turns into anger. We have seen a lot of hatred of Chinese people for allegedly starting this mess. Some GDC attendees are trying to get their money back from airlines, hotels, and the show itself. The people who are exposed to this anger must tiptoe carefully.
Please review your Refund Policy for people who choose not to attend your conference to prioritize their health and wellbeing. Many developers spend their hard-earned money to participate, and they shouldn't be punished for their caution.
– ᴀᴅᴀᴍ ʙᴏʙᴏᴇs (@amboyes) February 27, 2020
The GDC [updated] says that those who reserve hotels through their website will receive refunds.
In the meantime, I continue to get slots from people still going to the GDC, including a number of smaller companies that would be hard to hit if the giants still did the show.
It's probably a good time to consider pure online events like Rami Ismail's GameDev.World event. But I don't want to go into this conversation too much now, as it suggests opportunism.
I rather mourn what the GDC has in front of it. I would like to see or interview a lot of people and now I know I will not see them. It will be sad and lonely to see a smaller show when games have become a huge industry that rises well over $ 100 billion and breaks into mainstream culture like no other. I see some amazing panels at GDC and I really appreciate them.
It is not just the GDC that is infected by this virus. Esports is at its peak, there are lots of deals and a lot of spectators are flocking to watch these events. But while they're broadcast online, the excitement at esports events is that they take place in physical locations where people gather nearby and cheer on their favorite cyberathletes. It suffers from the corona virus.
What comfort do we have? At the very least, people can stay at home, physically separate from each other, and play online games. At home, you can play games like Plague Inc., though you should heed the developers' warning: this is fiction, not a scientific model. Online games should experience some kind of boom while this virus is running. And when I think about playing Call of Duty online, I want to remind myself and everyone else how nice it is to meet friends and strangers and make new connections.
I'm still going to the GDC from now on. Part of me feels that this setback has a little silver lining as it will take us back to the classic GDC shows of the past. In the past few years, I have not had time to watch many sessions or panels. That's because big game companies appear with hours of game previews and platform companies host sponsored press conferences that I have to report on for news. This reduces my chances of going to panels and hearing about the clever ideas of prominent developers or hearing alternative views from indie developers. This year, all this mess that needs to be considered is not in the way, since the big companies have bailed out and the little people are left.
But I'm thinking about how much time I want to be there. And what would have to happen before I made up my mind – assuming GDC doesn't pull the plug itself – not to go? If many of the big companies are on bail, other people will likely do the same. Based on this survey, the GDC could shrink to under 10,000 people.
Is it safe for you to go? I don't give medical advice. However, some large companies are clearly not taking any risks. And as one of my own event consultants said: "Answer cloudy, ask again later" as the old Magic 8-Ball would have told us.
P.S.. Finally, don't forget all Californians and Super Tuesday voters to vote in the primaries. Your vote counts.