This year's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco has been postponed, the organisers announced tonight. GDC 2020 was was due to run March 16-20 in San Francisco with hundreds of sessions and tens of thousands attending. The organisers say it is postponed, not cancelled, and they "fully intend to host a GDC event later in the summer." This is not a big surprise. Companies including Blizzard, Microsoft, Epic Games, Sony, Unity, Amazon, and Facebook/Oculus had already pulled out of GDC as a precautionary measure against the new coronavirus going round. The mayor of San Francisco has (unrelated to GDC) declared a local emergency too. GDC pass refunds are on offer, and a grassroots effort is forming to help marginalised developers who've blown precious money on attending.
Disclosure: The Wild Rumpus, a collective to which I belong, have run our Mild Rumpus showcase at GDC for several years and were due to do so again.
"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 organisers said in tonight's statement.
It's not yet clear what the alternative "GDC event later in the summer" will be. It's surely impossible for it to be the same. They say they "will be working with our partners to finalise the details and will share more information about our plans in the coming weeks." They do still have plans for the GDC that would have been, mind.
An FAQ (tweeted after their site burst) says they plan to "make many of the presentations that would have been given at GDC 2020 available for free online", with video too if the speakers record it. "We also intend to stream a steam 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)," they add.
That FAQ also notes that yes, they will offer full refunds to passholders. They also say that people who reserved hotels through GDC won't have to pay reservation fees or penalties but hell, I know a lot of people who've gone to GDC and none who've done it that fancy way. Any others costs or problems with accommodation or travel are on you. I cannot imagine how much strife this is causing some. Attending GDC is hugely expensive without a company covering your pass, travel, and room but it's an investment many make for their careers.
Several organisations and companies are already organising a GDC Relief Fund. This will include fundraising with a week of livestreamed talks and a game bundle from the gang behind Gamedev.World, 2019's online free game development conference, for the Relief Fund and "the marginalised developers most affected by these cancellations."
Several cases of Covid-19 have already been confirmed in California, and an event with such international draw brings the extra concerns of folks flying in from all over the world. It was first discovered in December 2019 in China and cases are now confirmed in 53 countries. Thousands of people coming together from all over then returning is a concern to many.
GDC's organisers first addressed the Covid-19 virus on February 13th, saying that they were monitoring the situation and assuring that increased cleanliness protocols were in place at the venue. They issued increasingly cautious updates as more companies pulled out but as recently as this morning said GDC was on. Their hesitance isn't a surprise, mind. Cancelling such a huge, expensive, and complex event is not a quick decision or easy procedure.
Along with hundreds of presentations and panels from developers and experts, GDC also hosts the Independent Games Festival awards, the Game Developers Choice Awards, the alt.ctrl.GDC showcase of strange controllers, and an industry expo. The biggest chunks of the GDC Expo space were once to be filled by companies who had already pulled out - your Microsofts and Epics and that.
Many gaming events are being affected by anti-virus precautions. Today alone, CCP Games cancelled April's Eve Fanfest, several big companies are skipping PAX East, and the esports event IEM Katowice has been forced to go ahead without anyone in the audience.