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It’s official: GDC 2020 is cancelled (but alternatives and relief efforts are underway)

The organisers of GDC 2020 say it’s “postponed” until “later in the summer” but the effects of the conference’s absence are far more immediate.

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GDC 2020 cancelled
Official GDC Flickr

The organisers of GDC 2020 say it’s “postponed” until “later in the summer” but the effects of the conference’s absence are far more immediate.

Ever since Sony/PlayStation and Facebook Gaming/Oculus pulled out of GDC citing health fears – just days after the deadline for attendees to cancel and refund passes – the writing has been on the wall of the Moscone Center in San Francisco. It seemed inevitable that GDC 2020 would be cancelled, but its organisers weren’t flinching.

Over the past week or so, big-name attendees – including almost all of GDC’s Diamond Partner sponsors – pulled out. It’s been like watching a slow-motion domino rally. Microsoft/Xbox, Unity Technologies, Epic Games/Unreal Engine, Activision Blizzard, Gearbox; they all pulled out. Even smaller publishers like Annapurna withdrew, while individual attendees and press also revealed they would be missing the event.

The inevitable cancellation

Then, last night, the inevitable happened: GDC 2020 was cancelled. Or rather, it was “postponed” until “later in the summer”. Here’s the full statement from the GDC website:

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.

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.

We want to thank all our customers and partners for their support, open discussions and encouragement. As everyone has been reminding us, great things happen when the community comes together and connects at GDC. For this reason, we fully intend to host a GDC event later in the summer. We will be working with our partners to finalize the details and will share more information about our plans in the coming weeks.

The initial statement didn’t indicate what would be happening with regard to refunds. The mention of “postponement” made people worry that passes would be transferred to a later event, while travel plans might not be. Luckily, the official GDC Twitter account followed up with an additional set of FAQs on the original announcement:

Q: I am a current GDC 2020 paid conference or expo registrant – now the event is not taking place in March. can I receive a refund of my pass money?
A: If you are a currently registered passholder. you will be receiving an email about your registration status and any next steps regarding refunds, which conference and expo attendees will be receiving in full.

Q: What is the situation with hotels if I booked through the GDC hotel website/room blocks?
A: Individuals who have made hotel reservations inside the GDC room block will not have to pay penalties or fees associated with their reservations. More information will be available early next week on next steps.

Q: What is happening to the talks that would have been presented at Game Developers Conference 2020?
A: In order to allow our conference speakers to still participate in the event. we are intending to make many of the presentations that would have been given at GDC 2020 available for free online. After speakers (optionally) contribute their talks in video format. they will be distributed on the GDC YouTube channel and the free part of GDC Vault.

Q: What is happening to the Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Choice Awards – will they still take place?
A: We also intend to stream a set of these GDC 2020 talks and the Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Choice Awards via Twitch during the week that the event would have taken place in San Francisco (March 16th to 20th). so that our community can continue to honor & celebrate its best games.

So in summary:

  • GDC 2020 is postponed for several months effectively cancelled
  • Attendees will receive refunds on their passes
  • Hotels that were booked through GDC’s allocation will waive cancellation fees
  • GDC will host video talks for free through its vault (that speakers can voluntarily contribute)
  • The IGF and GDC Choice Awards will be live-streamed instead

Now we know what’s going on, but what are the implications? And what’s next for developers displaced by the effective cancellation?

The alternatives

Big companies pulling out of GDC 2020 are grabbing the headlines, and the inevitable cancellation has come as no surprise, but it’s the indie developers and individuals planning to attend GDC who will really suffer.

GDC passes are extremely costly, while San Francisco is one of the most expensive places in the world to visit and live. As a result, most people hoping to attend can only do so if their employer pays for it, or if they can grab a free pass as a speaker. Even so, a trip to GDC can set you back thousands of pounds. For some, it’s literally a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

And that’s if you’re able to attend at all. Aside from the travel costs, hosting the conference in the USA severely limits who is able to attend. Obtaining visas to travel to the US has never been straightforward if you’re not from the “right” country, but since the disturbing regime change of 2017, it has become practically impossible.

In the wake of GDC 2020’s cancellation, it brings a decentralised “event” like #notGDC to the fore. It’s a loosely collected group of talks, networking and educational opportunities, delivered by a ragtag band of peers who are unwilling or otherwise unable to attend GDC proper. We spoke to the organisers of #notGDC in 2018 about the importance of an accessible, global event, and the way the last 24 hours have unfolded, it’s clear that #notGDC – with a revamped website launching soon – will be more relevant than ever in 2020.

“The thing that makes #notGDC really special,” Mike Cook, game developer, AI researcher, and one of the organisers of #notGDC told Thumbsticks in 2018, “is passion – people are writing because they’re excited. You can see the energy and motivation in their tweets. I always think that makes it extra special. It’s also a chance to meet new people and learn about what they care about. You see new faces, new names, new perspectives. We’re hoping people will also write in languages other than English too – we want to make people feel welcome and support everyone in sharing their ideas.”

To try and ensure that planned talks still get to go ahead, various events – including #notGDC – are offering homes for displaced GDC talks that will no longer be delivered. Gamedev.world, Rami Ismail’s decentralised virtual game developer’s conference, will host video talks with translation into a number of languages, ones often not served in the games industry. LudoNarraCon, another virtual conference exclusively for narrative-focused indie games, has re-opened its submissions for displaced GDC speakers.

And for those who can’t cancel their travel plans or recoup their costs, a number of initiatives are trying to find ways to bring game developers together in San Francisco, in the hole left by GDC 2020’s cancellation. Impromptu talks in the park are no surprise at GDC, so there’s no doubt that there will be plenty of ad-hoc social and networking opportunities on offer. Emily Rose, of Rebind.io, is trying to collate all of the available options to that alternative event ideas can be organised.

The relief effort

It’s not just the loss of the educational and social aspects of GDC that will be felt in the wake of its cancellation, however. Passes can be refunded, but some portion of travel costs will be unrecoverable. And if you’re a small indie developer or individual attending GDC, one year’s attendance could equate to several years travel, events, training and marketing budgets, all rolled into one. Often, people have to pay their own travel costs out of pocket.

To try and redress the balance and help the financially disadvantaged recoup costs, developers are doing what they do best: banding together.

Wings, the indie publishing fund, has teamed up with Landfall Games, Raw Fury, Modern Wolf & The Games, Online Harassment Hotline, and Gamedev.world to create a GDC Relief Fund that can “help alleviate the burden” for indie developers who are struggling with the cost of GDC’s cancellation.

“For an indie developer travelling to and attending GDC is a significant investment,” reads a statement on the Wings website, “between the GDC ticket, the flight, the accommodation, the visa sometimes. It’s also a lot of time invested in demos, pitches and travels. The investment is made to meet key partners: investors, publishers, business partners and journalists – in addition to learning and sharing with industry peers.”

The fund has already raised $35,000 and is open to all indie developers who are affected by GDC’s cancellation. Wings is also hoping for further sponsors to come on board with the GDC Relief Fund, and more information on the amount of funding available will be released on Monday, March 2 2020.

“We understand how much effort and investment, financial or otherwise, comes with attending GDC for independent developers,” says Wings co-founder, Cassia Curran. “Postponing the event so close to the date can have a disproportionate financial impact on small teams working on a game outside of a full-time job for example, or travelling from abroad. We hope the GDC Relief Fund will make it easier to deal with the recent developments.”

Gamedev.world is also working with digital storefront Itch.io to raise funds for developers that have been impacted financially by GDC 2020’s cancellation. Fundraising events will happen between March 28 and April 3, and at the forefront will be a game jam.

“To further support that fundraiser,” a statement reads, “gamedev.world is also organizing a bundle and game jam in collaboration with Itch.io. All submitted games – whether resulting from the jam or from developers that have made their existing games available – will be made available as a Pay-What-You-Want bundle, with all proceeds going towards the same goals of alleviating the financial burden of the developers most affected by these events.”

It’s not just big organisations who are offering to help, though. Glumberland, the developer behind Ooblets that recently received funding from the Epic Game Store for exclusivity, is offering to help indie developers in any way they can.

It’s a shame these things happen, and GDC will be sorely missed this year, but it’s always remarkable to see the way the game development community comes together in the face of adversity.

“As we continue to organize these efforts, we’re heartened by the solidarity and excitement amongst all layers of the industry to support those who are affected most by the heartbreaking cancellation of such a central event in our industry,” says Rami Ismail, executive director of Gamedev.world. “While there is no way to replace all the opportunities of the Game Developer’s Conference, we hope to help alleviate and minimize the loss of opportunity and the financial damage to those that had hoped to attend.”


If you’re a developer (indie or otherwise) who has been impacted by the closure of GDC 2020 and you would like to offer your take on the story (anonymously if required) please email [email protected] or DM @Thumb_Sticks or @TomThumbsticks on Twitter.


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Tom is an itinerant freelance technology writer who found a home as an Editor with Thumbsticks. Powered by coffee, RPGs, and local co-op.