Another Year, Another GDC

Posted on Sun 20 March 2016 in blog

It doesn’t take much super-secret industry-insider special knowledge to know that the big story this year was VR, VR and more VR – if the you had somehow managed to miss out on the pre-show hype the giant black Oculus booth looming like the Death Star right over the entrance to the expo floor told pretty much the whole story in one glance.

It is, however, interesting to note how cynical we’ve become as an industry about tech bubbles: from MMOs to Facebook games to In-app purchases and 3-D TVs, we’ve all lived through so many Next Big Things that we habitually reserve judgement – even on things like the latest crop of VR gear which sets our little nerdly hearts a-fluttering. I had a lot of conversations with people on the general theme of “wow, that’s cool. In three years most of them will be out of business, though.” – even with people in the VR business itself.

Personally, I think VR is going to survive but I don’t think it’ll be the kind of world-changing, ubiquitous tech that the broadband internet and handhelds have turned out to be. It’s an awesome geek toy and the gateway to many interesting and novel experiences. I see it sort of like that kayak in the garage: a cool thing that gets dusted off a few times a year but not a regular part of daily life, and never going to buffed up to the high consumerist gloss of an iPhone. Maybe in another decade, but for now it’s a really cool niche product. I hope all that crazy money sloshing around in VR land fuels some general purpose innovation : in particular, I hope that VR’s need for screaming framerates in two renders at once may make hardware that is more performant overall and also for split-screen friendly deferred rendering.

In the actual, as opposed to the virtual, world the highlight of the show for me is always the TA roundtables. It’s such a great resource for the community, and a chance for folks who often live a bit outside the main stream of their development teams to get together with people who share their unique and esoteric pain. Those three roundtables are the only room full of people who will chuckle at jokes about MaxScript and who truly appreciate the hopeless pathos of sending emails about proper check-in procedures to a team of artists. As always, hats off to +Jeff Hanna for running the roundtables and also the TA Bootcamp, which I had to miss this year but sounded really good. I’m anxiously awaiting the release of the talks I missed on the GDC Vault.

In these annual roundups I usually try to note the size and intensity of the job market. This year was kind of difficult to gauge. The big mega-booths from mega-teams were largely absent this year: I didn’t see many of the long lines of students queuing up to show their portfolios to Blizzard, Bungie, or 343. On the other hand the general commercial tempo seemed pretty up beat. I think this reflects the general trend away from big, highly institutionalized teams and toward smaller, more agile (but also more fragile) groupings: the job market is more fragmented but not necessarily smaller than in years gone by. I could be wrong about that one, though – this might just be a mid-console-cycle lull.

To all the folks I saw down at the show – it was awesome! To those who didn’t make it this year – don’t miss it next time!

PS - one important thing that came out of the round table is that more and more people are signing up to the Tech artists slack channel. If you’re not already a member, follow that link to sign up.