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Game Developers Conference Cancelled Due to Coronavirus Fears

A decision that seemed increasingly inevitable, after companies like Sony, Microsoft, and others decided to drop out.

by Patrick Klepek
Feb 29 2020, 12:04am

Photo courtesy of Game Developers Conference

The Game Developers Conference (GDC) scheduled for next month in San Francisco has been cancelled, the organizers of GDC said in a shocking but anticipated announcement. The organizers blamed escalating concerns over the novel coronavirus, which has prompted a growing series of high-profile video game companies to announce they would not attend.

"After close consultation with our partners in the game development industry and community around the world, we’ve made the difficult decision to postpone the Game Developers Conference this March," the organizers said in a statement. "Having spent the past year preparing for the show with our advisory boards, speakers, exhibitors, and event partners, we're genuinely upset and disappointed not to be able to host you at this time."

A GDC event of some sort is being planned for the "summer." Some talks will apparently be distributed online in various formats, and the awards show will still happen and be streamed on Twitch.

An email to attendees said a refund will be issued for GDC attendees, despite the window for requesting refunds having closed earlier this week. Attending GDC is a pricey affair—$249 for a basic pass to $2,399 for all access—and refunding every attendee is likely to have a notable impact on GDC’s bottom line. The revenue GDC has earned from selling its infamously expensive passes was characterized as “significant,” according to a source familiar with GDC’s financial history.

It’s unclear what consequences and fallout the cancellation might have on the future of GDC, and the event’s organizers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The refund question was one causing stress for many, and prior to the event announcing it would offer full refunds, game developers were openly calling for clarification on the issue because of the unfair burden it puts on small developers and students who’d paid to attend.

A conference only works if people show up, and increasingly, people were decided to not show up to GDC, which specializes in presentations from developers, an awards show, socializing, and press seeing games. In the past few weeks, the list of dropouts included Epic Games, Kojima Productions, Electronic Arts, Sony, Unity, and Facebook. In the past 24 hours, even more have come to the same conclusion, including Activision Blizzard, Iron Galaxy Studios, Gearbox, Modus Games, and Amazon. Facebook already cancelled its F8 conference, which doesn’t happen until May.

For GDC, the momentum was heading in a single direction. Their hand was forced.

The leadup to this announcement has filled a number of people in the gaming industry with anxiety because so much had remained unknown. Publicists haven’t been sure what to do about blocks of hotels they’ve secured to show games because they can’t book press to show up. Kotaku, Polygon, The Verge, and other outlets all cancelled plans to attend.

One high-profile developer, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak on the subject, told VICE Games its employer was offering to cover the costs of anyone attending GDC out of pocket. That same developer was already fronting the cost to send some employees to give talks, and decided to let individuals make the choice on whether to attend. If they went to GDC, however, there was a chance they may be required to work from home for some period, rather than immediately returning to the office.

While some attendees might be saved by their employers, it’s unclear what happens to small developers, students, and others. Expensive travel accommodations might not be eligible for a refund, depending on where you booked, their cancellations policies, and whether or not you paid extra for travel insurance. Even though GDC has been cancelled, it’s likely many people are still going to show up in San Francisco. Smaller events may be organized in GDC’s absence, but they’re unlikely to replace the chance to brush shoulders and network with the powerful and influential who attend GDC. That’s a huge reason to attend GDC itself.

In its cancellation announcement, the organizers of GDC said it had worked out full hotel refunds for anyone who'd booked through the event's official block of hotels.

GDC has hardly been the only event impacted by ongoing coronavirus concerns. Dozens of esports events have been cancelled in the past few weeks, including IEM Katowice, a large event for Counter-Strike and StarCraft esports, which attracts nearly 200,000 attendees. The competition will still happen—but without an audience. Earlier today, Capcom announced it would be cancelling a series of events on its Capcom Pro Tour. Separately, EVE Online developer CCP said it would be cancelling its annual EVE Fanfest event held in Iceland.

GDC’s cancellation comes the same week a coronavirus case of “unknown origin” was reported in Northern California, according to The Washington Post, and days after San Francisco declared a state of emergency, despite no reported cases. A second case was discovered this afternoon. To date, there’s been 73,332 reported cases and 1,873 deaths, according to World Health Organization data.

With GDC no longer happening, it’s an open question about what happens to the next big event on the gaming calendar, E3. With Sony and Microsoft poised to launch the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X this year, kicking off a new generation of hardware, it was likely to be the most important E3 in years, even if Sony has said it’s not formally attending the event.

"Everyone is watching the situation very closely" said the Entertainment Software Association, who organizes E3, in a statement. "We will continue to be vigilant, as our first priority is the health, wellness and safety of all of our exhibitors and attendees. Given what we know at this time, we are moving ahead full speed with E3 2020 planning. Exhibit and registration sales are on track for an exciting show in June."

Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).

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Coronavirus
Game Developers Conference