Reflections On GDC 2014

The Buzz

Of course, the buzziest part of the show belonged to the burgeoning field of VR, fueled by Sony’s announcement of its Project Morpheus VR headset and Oculus’ debut of a new Oculus Rift development kit. There were several other VR projects being shown at smaller booths, too. Sony looked to have an interesting advantage with its Move controllers being quite useful with a VR headset. The larger issue, though, is just how big the audience will be for VR. Much depends on the pricing of the hardware, but ultimately it comes down to the experience being delivered. If there’s a compelling enough game (or other experience), people will pay the hundreds of dollars and put up with inconveniences to get that experience.

While Sony and Nintendo occupied massive booths in the Expo, Nintendo had an odd presence showing off the Nintendo Web Framework (a development environment for the Wii U) and Unity for the Wii U. The booth was not particularly crowded, as you might expect. Nintendo’s presence elsewhere in the GDC program was muted, too. While there were many sponsored sessions for Microsoft and Sony, Nintendo had none. It was probably a good call, because the attendance would have been light. The primary attractant for these sponsored seminars is installed base and rate of sales. Sony’s PS4 has already exceeded the total number of Wii U’s sold, and the Xbox One soon will if it hasn’t already. By the end of this year, the Wii U will have fallen far behind in the installed base of consoles.

Mobile, free-to-play games and startups were the subject of many panels, and interest in all of those were high. What we don’t see as clearly are the failures in those categories. For every Flappy Bird, there are thousands of mobile apps that fail to generate much interest or revenue. We hear about the launch of a new game company, especially when it’s founded by people with previous successes, but when those founders take jobs a few months later at a big tech company we don’t hear about it unless we’re connected to them on LinkedIn. The game company continues, but clearly the game didn’t get much traction if one of the founders got a job elsewhere.

The GDC itself was quite successful, setting a new record for attendance with over 24,000 people showing up. A survey of more than 2600 developers who attended last year showed some interesting trends. Some 20 percent will release their next game on a PS4, and 17 percent will release their next game on the Xbox One. Even current-gen consoles get some love, with 14 percent targeting the PS3 and 12 percent targeting the Xbox 360. The Wii U is only a target for 4 percent of developers. Meanwhile, some 51 percent said their next game would be on mobile, while 52 percent plan a PC or Mac game. That’s telling you something important about where the game industry’s key resource, talent, is aiming.


The Career Center was packed with people at all times, and many companies were there looking for talent. Sony and Microsoft had prime positions there, as well as Warner Bros Interactive and Riot Games. Even SpaceX showed up displaying a rocket engine and hoping to lure top programmers away from coding virtual spaceships into a job coding real spaceships.

It’s who wasn’t there that was perhaps more revealing. No Activision Blizzard, no Electronic Arts, no TakeTwo, and no Nintendo. A company insider noted that GDC gets lots of job seekers, but many have little experience. His company gets better results with other recruiting efforts, having tried GDC in the past. Still, the companies that are growing rapidly find it useful to have booths at GDC, since they don’t want to overlook any source of applicants. Big publishers, for the most part, don’t seem to be expanding rapidly and thus don’t need to attract masses of applicants.

The Zeitgeist

Best quotes from the not-for-attribution, behind-the-scenes discussions at GDC:

Game designer and consultant: “I have made the jump from game designer to useless overhead.”

A former studio head, talking to executives: “They were giving me detailed advice on exactly how I should proceed with the game I was producing. I finally asked them, ‘Have either of you ever even been inside a building where a game was being made Lots of hemming and hawing, but I said ‘It’s a simple yes or no question/ Which is it ‘ And the answer came back, ‘No.'”

An industry veteran talking about the Expo: “Why is it that I have absolutely no idea what some of these booths are there for ”

Best tchotchke of the show had to go to the SpaceX coffe mug, which had “Occupy Mars” on one side and image of Mars on the other side. When you put a hot drink in it, the image of Mars turned into a beautiful Earthlike blue and green globe. Runner up was the drinking horn given out by Machine Zone to potential job applicants — dishwasher safe!

Visual of the show: The Career Center booth for Warner Bros. Interactive, with a line of people waiting to look for jobs, and the women behind the counter under the Professionals sign . . . wearing bunny ears! Yup, that’s the game industry.

‘Assassin’s Creed Unity’ Breaks Cover

Following an apparently unplanned leak of the game, Ubisoft has announced officially Assassin’s Creed Unity. Set in France during the 18th century, this trailer does a great job of conveying the general mood of the times without any dialog, simply using sound effects and shots of the Paris landscape.


Hawking Gives His Voice To Syrian Children

Save the Children has launched another ad marking the third anniversary of the Syrian conflict. Professor Stephen Hawking gives his voice to the children of Syria, which Save the Children calls “the worst humanitarian crisis of our generation.”


Can You Survive ‘The Forest’?

While there are plenty survivalist games out there that are vaguely Minecraft-like in their construction, The Forest seems to genuinely take those elements to make a genuinely horrifying game – the trailer itself makes great use of music to convey tension and is great for dislodging a scream that might be stuck in the back of your throat.


E*Trade Baby Over And Out

One of the more recognizable ad icons of the 21st century, the E*Trade baby, is apparently being retired. While there are practical reasons behind this (new ad agency, the bit getting stale) it’s contextualized in an amusing fashion with an annoying talking cat as a sidekick.



Xbox One Price Drop

Those of you who haven’t picked up the Xbox One system yet probably won’t find a better time than now to do so, as a pair of major retailers has slashed the price of the system by $50. This means the Xbox One is less than the cost of a PS4, if you count the $60 game included for free.

Both Walmart and Best Buy are selling Microsoft’s new system at $449, including both the original console bundle and the newly released package that features Titanfall.

However, this doesn’t indicate a permanent price drop for the system. Both Best Buy and Walmart confirmed that the discount is only available “for a limited time,” although a specific date wasn’t given as to when the promotion will end.

As for Microsoft’s say on the discount, the company stated, “This offer is available at Walmart and Best Buy retail stores in the U.S. for a limited time. Microsoft sets a suggested retail price, but specific pricing and offers vary by retailer.” It will be interesting to see what impact this has on sales, and whether other discounts or bundles appear when these expire.

Source: Polygon

PlayStation Gets Original Show

Following the example made by the likes of Netflix, Hulu Plus and Microsoft, Sony has announced that it will develop original TV shows for its PlayStation video game consoles.

The publisher already confirmed the first series, under the name Powers. Based on a graphic novel, the series will revolve around a noir detective living in a world where people have superpowers. Sony’s TV division will produce the show, which was originally being considered for FX. Around 10 episodes have been ordered so far.

No other series have yet been announced, but more are likely to be revealed in a few months at the Electronic Entertainment Expo.

Source: Forbes

Microsoft Renewing Focus On PC Gaming

Even though it’s going full steam ahead with its Xbox One console, Microsoft isn’t losing focus on its Windows PC gaming market.

According to Microsoft Studios head Phil Spencer, the company has a “renewed focus on Windows and PC gaming.” This comes as a response to a question revolving around Valve’s SteamOS and Steam Machines, which are set to debut sometime this year.

“I think Valve’s an incredible company,” said Spencer. “They’ve been the backbone of PC gaming for the last decade, and as the Windows company, I appreciate what they’ve done. They have, in a lot of ways, focused more on PC gaming than we have.”

However, Spencer sees Valve’s competition as an opportunity. “We learn a ton from Sony and Nintendo,” he stated. “so more people competing in this space is a good thing.”

As far as the focus goes, Spencer was confident. “You will see more focus from us – not to go compete with what Valve has done, but because we also understand as the platform holder it’s important for us to invest in the platform in a real way. We’re fundamentally committed to that.”

More announcements are likely ahead within the next few months.

Source: Polygon

PlayStation 4: Short Supplies Until Summer

The PlayStation 4 continues to be in massive demand, especially behind the strength of such games as the recently released Infamous: Second Son and Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes. However, some folks are concerned that the company won’t catch up on said demand.

According to Sony, however, it hopes to catch up. Andrew House, Sony Computer Entertainment president and CEO, spoke out on the situation.

“We’re struggling to keep up with demand,” said House. “Conservatively, as we get into the early summer months, we’ll be closer to a full supply situation.”

Source: Wall Street Journal

F2P Games Grow 50% For Sony Consoles

Free-to-play games may be somewhat new to consoles, but there’s no question that they’re picking up in popularity.

During this past week’s Game Developers Conference, Sony held a panel to discuss the growth of F2P games on its PlayStation platforms. According to the company, revenues from such titles have increased by 50 percent year-over-year, and that’s coming from a small amount of the business model’s potential.

Games such as Dust 514, Warframe and DC Universe Online have done big business on these systems, and others are on the way, including console versions of EverQuest Next and the highly popular Planetside 2.

The PlayStation 3 has a more developed eco-system when it comes to the F2P market, but the PS4 market is also growing, and shows a lot of potential for the coming year, according to the company.

Source: VentureBeat