The DeanBeat: what to expect at GDC 2022

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I’m really looking forward to attending the Game Developers Conference 2022 event in person at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco next week. And just a year ago, at the height of the pandemic, I thought I might never go to a GDC again.

I look forward to seeing many people in the gaming industry, watching their award sessions and hearing interesting conversations. But it will be different in some ways, Katie Stern, head of GDC, said in an interview with me.

In contrast to previous years, fewer press events will take place at the location. Companies like Microsoft, Epic Games, Google and others are not doing their usual events this time around. They don’t necessarily want to create big events where a lot of people will gather within GDC, Stern said. (Google held an online developer event this week instead of going to GDC; other companies like Unity are continuing with some GDC events).

“I’d say it’s a great mix of different types of games and talent,” Stern said. “And also in terms of makers it is quite diverse. So in that respect I think it’s one of our better years. We’re streaming it again on Twitch. So even if you’re not on the show, you can watch it online.”

Katie Stern is General Manager of GDC Events.Katie Stern runs the GDC.

I think going back to tradition is a good thing because it gives smaller developers a chance to shine, it gives me more time to see conference sessions, and it won’t be as busy with show-stealing announcements. In other words, we’re going back to the old GDC. Sure, those big company anchor speakers were a bit like the anchor stores in big malls—they were the reason the crowd turned up.


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“It creates some breathing room for the smaller developers that show up,” Stern said.

Featured sessions include “The Developer’s Renaissance”, featuring David Anfossi (head of studio, Eidos-Montréal), Davina Mackey (director & president, PlayStation Studios QA & Black@PlayStation), and Mike Wilson (founder of Devolver Digital) . It’s an introspection on how the pandemic allowed the industry to re-examine how things are done. Micaela Mantegna of the Berkman Kline Center in Harvard will talk about the ethics of XR and the metaverse, along with a group of other celebrities.

And perhaps one of the more interesting readings is that of Josh Wardle, creator of Wordle, the word game that took the world by storm and has been taken over by the New York Times. He will speak at 3 p.m. on Thursday.

Stern noted that the GDC will be introducing its Social Impact Award at the Game Developers Choice Awards on Wednesday.

“It’s specific to games that promote equality, justice, intersectionality or sustainability,” Stern said. “You will see this as a common thread as climate change is a big talk and the impact that the games community is having on it. So that was a place where you see it, but you also see it in a lot of the conference content we’re offering this year.”

Making sure the event has less carbon footprint, the GDC is doing little things like removing carpet in the aisle in the expo hall, Stern said. Participants can make donations to reduce carbon impact, the group uses digital signs instead of printed signs, donates money for carbon offsets, and supports community non-profits.

Stern didn’t say how many people are expected to come, but she said it won’t be a record and it will still be the biggest event San Francisco has had since the start of the pandemic.

“We have a good feeling about it,” she said. “There are travel restrictions for travelers from the Asian market, but only about 10% of registrations opt for the virtual program. Most of them plan to be on site.”

In light of the industry controversies surrounding sexual harassment in places like Riot Games and Activision Blizzard, we’ll see a “lot of conversations about diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI),” Stern said.

No #1 Reason to be

Camila Fisher speaks on the #1ReasonToBe panel.Camila Fisher speaks at the #1ReasonToBe virtual panel in 2021.

Unfortunately, one of the few sessions I’ve always been able to attend – the diversity-focused #1ReasonToBe – won’t be happening this year. That’s a bit of a mockery, in my view. Rami Ismail, the game developer who hosted some of those sessions, said it’s ridiculous that the GDC is holding that session again. But Stern said the advisory board has decided that many of the topics discussed during the #1ReasonToBe sessions will be discussed across the board in a number of other sessions — and so the board has decided not to rerun the session.

“We discussed this extensively with the advisory board meeting this year and the intent of those panels was very much at the outset to highlight topics that really needed extra conversation and attention. The advisory board has decided that we have continued with that and it is now just part of the normal program.”

I don’t really agree with that, considering how many times I’ve written about the session as the most moving part of my GDC experience. Ismail said, “There’s nothing like #1ReasonToBe.” But change is underway.

On the advocacy side, we can expect a lot of discussion about environmental impact and sustainability in games, and how that all ties into topics like culture, remote working, shorter workweeks, inclusiveness, crunch and other issues related to creating inclusive workplaces. Stern said.

Anita Sarkeesian started the games and online harassment hotline.Anita Sarkeesian started the games and online harassment hotline.

The event will feature postmortems such as John Romero speaking about the making of Wolfenstein 3D and Anita Sarkeesian speaking about the 10th anniversary of her reports on sexism in the gaming industry: Tropes vs. Women in video games.

Stern noted that we are seeing another renaissance for augmented reality and virtual reality as we wait for the metaverse. The war in Ukraine is on everyone’s mind, but the conference program was pretty baked before the events of the past month. Stern believes speakers will discuss it at heartfelt moments, such as during the awards ceremony.

Stern said non-replaceable tokens are likely to pop up a lot as a flashpoint for discussion, as some game developers believe passionately in NFTs and some absolutely hate them.

“Our goal with GDC has always been to inform and educate the industry and give them the tools and resources to make their own decisions and determine how best to use it,” Stern said. “All the conversations we have around it are a two-way conversation.”

Stern said the GDC had to take a calculated risk that, based on the numbers it saw at the start of the year, to go ahead with the event as Omicron infections were expected to drop rapidly. That’s exactly what’s happening, she said. The show is small and the show floor is smaller, but it should still be a fertile GDC with a lot of passion.

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