GDC 2020 isn't dead because big names aren't the most important part

Gdc 2019 Hero
Gdc 2019 Hero (Image credit: Carli Velocci/Android Central)

The Game Developers Conference (GDC) is going to have a few less companies this year. Both Sony and Facebook have announced that they've pulled out of the event, citing coronavirus concerns. This comes a couple of weeks after another major tech conference, Mobile World Congress (MWC), was canceled completely after companies backed out due to similar health concerns — even if the Spanish government denies this was the case.

Though MWC won't have a show this year, GDC isn't going to face a similar fate. This is partially because while Sony and Facebook are big names, they aren't that important to the event.

Source: IGF (Image credit: Source: IGF)

Another thing to keep in mind is that MCW was set to take place in Spain. GDC, while having a significant international audience with developers from all over the world, takes place in San Francisco. That MWC was based in Europe likely played a role in its cancelation as well.

Whatever announcements had been planned to take place, at least in Facebook's case, will instead happen online. So you don't need to worry too much that this threw a large wrench in any reveals, though I can't speak for what Sony had in mind with the PS5, which is still set to release holiday 2020. Either way, a dedicated reveal event for the PlayStation 5 seems more likely than it would have at GDC, where other announcements take take up some of the spotlight.

Related: Coronavirus: How COVID-19 shut down the tech industry

GDC isn't a show like E3 or Gamescom. It's more of an inside baseball event for game developers, students, companies, and press. That's not to say companies don't show off their latest products for consumers (Google revealed Stadia at GDC last year), but it's generally not the focus for AAA studios. A significant portion of GDC is dedicated to independent developers. The Indie Megabooth has a large showcase, and it's featured over 700 indie titles at events around the world since 2011. The Independent Games Festival (IGF), one of the largest of its kind, even takes place at GDC, complete with a summit and awards show. It's here that the industry can promote indie devs and innovation within the community.

Source: GDC (Image credit: Source: GDC)

The event is as much for networking as it is for showing off your latest project. It's about collaboration, learning, and recognizing each others' successes, or finding the right relationships to grow your audience. It's a place for developers to talk unionizing and to celebrate each others' achievements at the Game Developers Choice Awards. This is a huge event for the industry where discussions of all kinds take place. That shouldn't be overlooked; you don't need Sony or Facebook for that.

And if you haven't heard of alt.ctrl.GDC, then I have some news for you. It's amazing. Visitors can test out games that can't be played using traditional controllers, mice, or keyboards. Some of 2020's entries include games that can be played using a stuffed giraffe and riding it like a horse. There's even a mow milking simulator with "realistic udders."

While Sony and Facebook are big names, they aren't that important to the event.

The organization behind GDC, Informa, even noted that though its China-based exhibitors either had to push their participation or would only send North American staff to their booths, the situation only affected "around 2% of the total GDC attendance" and around "10 out of 550 companies hosted at GDC this year."

Informa is not canceling the event, and a statement from GDC outlines that it will follow Center for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) protocol.

We believe that, based on the strict U.S. quarantine around coronavirus and a large number of enhanced on-site measures, we are able to execute a safe and successful event for our community. Locally, the Department of Health for both the State of California and the City of San Francisco support the convening of public events.

GDC 2020 will take place from March 16-20 in San Francisco, and they're still be plenty to show. Sony and Facebook's absence isn't nearly as major as some people think.

Jennifer Locke
Games Editor - PlayStation, Android, VR

Jennifer Locke has been playing video games nearly her entire life. You can find her posting pictures of her dog and obsessing over PlayStation and Xbox, Star Wars, and other geeky things.