GDC 2006 wrap-up

Another year has gone by and that means another Game Developer’s Conference! This is the biggest game development conference in the world, and this year set a new record with a purported 12,000 attendees. The conference isn’t cheap, but if you’re smart and/or well-connected you can go there on the cheap. Here’s my summary of the biggest highlights of the year.

This year had two big themes that I noticed: Guitar Hero and digital distribution. Nearly every party had a copy of Guitar Hero running, usually manned by tipsy game developers. Instead of the usual schmoozing and talking, we found ourselves ignoring our comrades and facing off on Texas Flood on Expert. Also, if there was ever a shred of doubt that digital distribution for games wouldn’t be successful, I think it was obliterated this year. Between the success of Steam, Sony’s EDI (more below) and Xbox Marketplace (with a reported 20x conversion rate, 10x that of most casual games), it is now abundantly clear that digital distribution is here and totally viable (unlike “E-book” sales, which seem like they’re going to take many years before becoming significant). Sony also announced their own initiative (below).

Probably the biggest glitz was around Phil Harrison’s Playstation III keynote. In it, he announced Sony’s new digital distribution initiative, called EDI. Right now it is only a one-way mailing list for “indie” developers, but I have high hopes. With the announcment of a standard hard drive in every PS3, this could be huge. Sony also announced that while they will include standard match-making and other network services for multiplayer developers, they will also allow 3rd-party servers to link into their network, something Microsoft dropped the ball on (resulting in the inability for most developers to create an MMO or support “master” servers for Xbox Live). I think the PS3 is learning from all of Microsoft’s mistakes and will be a superior system, if it is affordable. Sony also announced the support of an “archive server”, which looks like it will allow their back-catalog of games to be played on the PS3 (though details were scant).

Darwinia won tons of awards in the Independent Game Festival. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting them in the IGF pavillion and was even more impressed with them then I was previously. These guys are true artists and I’m sure they’re going nowhere but up. I also got a sneak preview of Defcon, which oozes style and character and which I can’t wait to play.

I was also happily surprised to be recognized by a few of the IGF finalists in the pavillion (link #1, link #2), which were apparently Natural Selection fans and now doing their own wild and interesting games! I guess that means we’ve been working on it too long…

Finally, this year marks the last time the conference will be in San Jose. We’ll miss you, Fairmont Lobby and La Victoria. GG orange sauce, always be thinking of you.

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