There's been a lot of talk in the past year or so about the global recession and its impact on the games industry. At first, many people assumed gaming would be recession proof, but we've since seen the lie of that. Last year was about as brutal a year for studio closures and layoffs as we've ever seen. So what now?
Some have said that times of economic hardship are when creativity flourishes. That's a nice thought. That something could come out of the ashes of the recent financial apocalypse would salve the wounds, if not fill the pockets. Luckily, then, judging from GDC 2010, it's not just a hollow platitude.
Having just returned from the industry's premier developer-focused event, I can say with some certainty that the creative spirit and driving passion that has led to the videogames industry becoming one of the most vibrant and profitable in the world is alive and well.
My first impression of the show was that it was definitely smaller. The GDC usually occupies most of the three large buildings of San Francisco's Moscone Center in the heart of the Market District. This year only two of the buildings were in play, and only portions of the spacious North Hall were open to the show.
The downsizing naturally led to some exclusions: a smaller independent developer attendance, smaller keynotes and quite a few standing-room-only presentations. But if economic hardship is good for creativity, it must also be good for GDC - that is, the spirit of GDC.
GDC is one of the biggest shows in industry, with multiple simultaneous lecture tracks and satellite conferences all tasking place at the same time. Game developers travel from across the globe to gather with their colleagues, share ideas and reveal their products. In boom years, the size of the show can be really outrageous, making it a burden for everyone and perhaps less meaningful. We've certainly had our hands full attempting to report on the happenings at past GDCs.
This year, however, was a different story. While I won't say it was a small show, it did feel more manageable, and the panels and lectures we attended seemed much more focused on getting to the nut of what makes games work than in years past. In spite of the shrinkage, or perhaps because of it, there was a brighter energy in the halls, the passion distilled to an almost palpable level.
There was much of the show we didn't get a chance to see, of course. It is still, after all, the GDC. But what we did see was inspiring. 2009 may have been a slow, sometimes painful year for the games industry, but I expect those days are well behind us. Judging from what we saw at GDC alone, I think the best is yet to come.