Queues by the bucket load, tons of free swag, a packed lobby at the W and the return of the big gaming players. GDC 2023 proved that in-person events are very much back.
After a busy week for our gaming team, I took some time to reflect on our six big takeaways from the event.
servers.com team at GDC 2023
If NFTs were the hot topic for GDC 2022, Artificial Intelligence (AI) took the crown for this year’s event. Specifically, around generative AI for coding and the ability to train AI to generate an entire game.
It’s the same argument that we’ve seen across other industries; that by accelerating the speed of coding, it helps studios and their developers be more productive by freeing up time to focus on the important stuff.
But it’s hard to ignore the impact that will have on developer teams. Particularly within AAA studios. If AI fulfils its promise, we’re likely to see teams shrink significantly. We’ll no longer have separate teams working on terrain, buildings, people etc. but one team overseeing what AI is producing.
For smaller studios, that shrinking offers a lifeline. Rather than having to hire a full team of developers, they can hire one coder to work with AI on everything.
Unsurprisingly, from conversations with attendees, the general feeling was that the younger generation at the event were more receptive to this possible future than the industry’s veterans.
With its own dedicated summit and serious investment made in the event from companies in the space, Web3 had a big physical presence at this year’s GDC. It was impossible to miss WeMade’s enormous stand in prime position at the entrance to the event.
Web3 promises the development of virtual worlds without borders. These worlds offer trustless interactions between players and metaverses with the limitless expansion of NFTs and rich cross-game experiences that are unique to each player’s journey.
But attendees at the event seemed less than convinced.
In fact, despite seeing ‘Web3’ plastered all over the event, conversations around Web3 within gaming outside of the conference sessions were limited compared to last year’s event.
Those that we did speak to on the topic voiced concerns around the technology, echoing points made by NEXON’s Sunyoung Hwang during his talk around the challenges of controlling in-game inflation and illegal bot farms (although he believes that they’ve managed to overcome the issues for MapleStory Universe – NEXON’s new NFT-based ecosystem – by limiting the number of items per server). One to keep an eye on to see if this approach does in fact work.
VR was everywhere at this year’s event. From new VR games to a huge presence both from Meta, showcasing VR and MR experiences with Meta Quest, and what is predicted to be its biggest untapped threat - Pico - who was expected to announce Pico 4’s US rollout (delayed due to TikTok’s US congressional hearing).
With seven major headsets due to launch this year including the Pico Neo 57 and Quest 3, alongside lots of rumors about Apple potentially launching its first VR headset, the hype felt like a precursor to VR entering the gaming market in a big way this year. Particularly if the new headsets are smaller, lighter form factors. As Patrick O'Luanaigh, CEO of nDreams pointed out in his talk, if Apple meets expectations, it is likely to create huge momentum for the industry.
Our team here is divided on the potential that VR offers the games market so it will be interesting to see how the GDC VR hype plays out.
This was a big topic across the conference sessions at the event. In Unity’s 2023 gaming trends roundtable, for example, the panel discussed the statistic that in 2022 large studios released 16% more cross platform games than in 2021.
Launching a cross platform game is a lot of work. You need different compliance for each console, specific certification for each platform and every time you want to do content updates following launch and feedback from players, it requires multiple steps.
But the marketplace and consumers are asking for cross platform and so the gaming industry needs to respond. Particularly with mobile gaming on the rise, bringing in new geographies and demographics.
Traditionally seen as a purely defensive necessity, a brilliant panel discussion from Spectrum Labs on the topic of trust and safety within gaming argued that in the next few years it will be viewed as essential to profitability.
And here AI also plays a role - by automating the obviously bad and obviously good while retaining human moderation for when the decision is not formulaic. Not only does it help protect players but also the moderators themselves who are exposed to some of the worst of the human mind.
With the EU’s new Digital Services Act coming into force earlier this year, as well as contributing to profitability, content moderation will also be a legal requirement for those working and launching in the EU.
Especially when it’s decent stuff and you’re a flat white lover. Turns out we were the only provider of a flat white anywhere in GDC.
We served more than 1000 cups of coffee over three days to visitors and fellow exhibitors. So, if you’re at GDC next year, remember to pop by our stand for your (excellent) caffeine fix.
As always, GDC 2023 provided a whole host of opportunities to learn more about the big trends and conversations taking place in the industry, particularly about what’s next. Some of these topics, like AI, are clearly dividing opinion.
What everyone could agree on though was that they were excited to be back at a buzzing GDC.
For our wordsmith Hannah, content is about driving new perspectives and giving our industry experts the voice they deserve.
Outside work, you’ll find Hannah gymming, renovating or growing veg.