SAN FRANCISCO — Whether they’re in town to pitch products, apply for jobs or ponder the next big thing, the Game Developers Conference is an annual rite of passage for gaming geeks of all sizes, shapes and economic persuasions.
More than 24,000 game developers, publishers and journalists cram into Moscone Center for a weeklong dive into the latest gaming trends. In between panels like “Adventures of a Video Game Drag Queen,” “How Players Engage with Morality” and “Designing for Mobile VR in Dead Secret,” they mix and mingle — at least the ones who don’t have VR goggles strapped to their heads.
Here’s a taste of the action on the ground.
Game Developers Conference doesn’t deliver the fan-fueled frenzy of PAX or the corporate glitz of E3. Instead, it’s an educational conference with more than 400 lectures, panels, tutorials and round-table discussions about every kind of game development topic. You can learn how to best make money off your mobile game, best practices for building virtual characters for your high-end console game or take a crash course in writing, audio design or programming.
GDC attendees spend all week attending sessions, setting up meetings, visiting booths to see the latest hardware and software, and hitting as many parties as possible in the evenings, sometimes going into the wee hours of the morning. It’s no wonder that many of them end up chilling in various spots set up for relaxing and connecting with colleagues right on the conference floor.
With this many folks in attendance, getting from place to place can be a chore. The crowds of gamers, programmers, artists and PR folks generally move as one large organism, but it helps to keep your eyes up and off your smartphone as you move from booth to booth and session to session. If you don’t have the right badge, watch out: Security will detain you.
What’s up with this giant rope swing? Climb onto this strangely positioned oddity with two or three buddies and you can collaboratively swing back and forth while your mobile phone powers a kids’ game to launch a rocket. The folks at app maker Biba partnered with playground equipment company PlayPower to create a playground ecosystem that encourages parents to interact with their kids via mobile games. While we might wonder why parents need a mobile app to get their offspring out to the park, it’s a pretty great new way to play.
The conference tries to create a fun environment, including things like photo booths and this year’s Wheel of Whimsy, where you can drop by between heavy sessions on coding to test your knowledge of GDC trivia. It’s like bar trivia without the drinking, complete with a smarmy host personality who runs things, keeping the experience lively for all who take part.
One of GDC’s more unique exhibits, alt.ctrl.gdc celebrates the many ways in which we can interact with games. We don’t always have to use a DualShock or even a joystick, as this mask controller proves. You use buttons on the mask itself, pressing its ear, nose, mouth, antenna or other bits to interact with the video game homunculus that resides in the game and transmits its demands to your ears inside the pink mask. The game, Homies, is a project to showcase just how interesting video games can be.
It’s hard to overlook people dressed like breakfast meat. This exceptionally engaging bacon man waited on a corner outside Moscone Center, hawking free bacon-flavored lunches for mobile analytics company Chartboost. He also gave out some bacon-filled chocolate bars, hugs and a distinctive beard-tastic charm.