Last week marked the end of this year’s Game Developers Conference, an annual event held in San Jose, Calif. that focuses on everything relating to videogame development, programming and design. Since their first inception in the late ’80s, videogame conferences have been the lifeblood of the gaming community. Adoring gamers will wait with bated breath for coverage in their favorite magazine that base entire issues about that month’s conference. From the larger gaming showcases, like the Electronic Entertainment Expo and Germany’s Leipzig Games Convention, down to smaller showcases, like Nintendo’s SpaceWorld, game conventions have been a longstanding tradition for gamers in all corners of the world.
GDC stands out in the crowd of conventions as a “one-stop shop” for professional videogame developers, with events ranging from lectures and tutorials to industry-only roundtable discussions and awards. The Game Developer’s Choice Awards, in particular, helps give GDC a distinct edge over other conventions, since these awards are the only peer-based awards where all votes come from people within the industry. Usually, awards are determined by the readers of a magazine, Web site or people that work for the publication, and, as such, the GDCA carries elevated weight among the gaming community.
With the growth of the Internet, the need for large events to draw attention to companies and games has died down considerably. Back in the early ’90s, nerds everywhere lived from convention to convention, waiting to hear about the newest industry gossip about their favorite franchises. Now, with the Internet at our collective fingertips, juicy tidbits of information are just a few clicks away, even when the developers don’t necessarily want them to be. Whole sites are devoted to gaming gossip and leaks, delivering news on a daily rather than yearly basis.
With these changes must come some restructuring, and many conferences seem to be changing to better suit the times. The Electronic Entertainment Expo, known to fans as E3, was once the industry’s poster child for hedonism and excess, but the conference has switched over to a stricter “invite-only” system that focuses on making connections between companies and the press rather than putting on a huge show for fanboys to drool over. This newly reformulated “E3 Media& Business Summit” was a testament to video game’s progress over the past decade toward becoming a legitimate form of art rather than simply child’s play.
On top of all that, E3’s change is also a testament to how outlandish conferences have become over the past few years. With each company trying to outdo the others through massive displays including – but not limited to – scantily clad “booth babes,” questionable celebrity talent and more flashing lights and TV screens than some small countries, it was only a matter of time until the lavish display ceased to be cost-effective.
Because of this, last year’s E3 was reformulated to a small-scale mini-showcase in hotels and hangers throughout Santa Monica, to the displeasure of many. Every year, more and more conferences are looking to become “invite only,” in order to scale back and eliminate the added costs that the general public brings to the table. According to insiders, many open events like GDC and D.I.C.E. – Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain — will become “press only” next year, exemplifying how necessary it is for these conventions to adapt to new times.
As conferences continue to grow and change, it will be interesting to see where things go in the future. The sustainability of large, open displays, like the Penny Arcade and “E for All” Expo – E3’s spiritual replacement – remains to be seen, but as long as we have the Internet, gamers will never be as clueless as they once were in the early ’90s.