This year's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco brought together leading gaming and virtual reality (VR) companies for a week of meetings, panels, demos and events. Manatt Digital hosted a meetup at Mourad near the convention center on Thursday night to wind down the week's activities with some good wine and conversation with digital industry executives. Reports that ticketed conference attendance dropped slightly from last year did not slow down the crowds in the surrounding coffee shops, restaurants and hotel lobby bars, as business folks from the industry planted and shuffled from seat to seat for meetings and networking. It was a busy week.
While the 2016 conference was focused on launching VR experiences with still-to-be-released devices, this year's conference shifted to more practical applications and learnings from those launches. The gaming industry has a leg up on conventional cinematic and narrative content for VR due to the interactive nature of gaming, but there is still much to be learned and shared amongst the creative and development community. Experiences like "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" on the Google Daydream and "Dear Angelica" on the Oculus Rift held presentations to discuss their approach and learnings. Facebook's Oculus installation gave convention-goers the opportunity to experience the new game "Robo Recall" in all its robot-destroying glory. Unity and Unreal both showcased the power of their game engines that have been fueling innovation in the space and beyond.
The week was noticeably quieter than last year in the convention hall. Last year's VRDC schedule on Monday and Tuesday was chock full of major announcements and presentations from leading game publishers, developers and platforms. For example, last year PlayStation VR announced the price of their system, while clarifying specs and requirements for game developers, months before PSVR was released to the public. This year was lighter on those types of big events, especially with a follow-up VRDC conference that just took place in November of 2016. Convention burnout may have lessened the need for attendance at the full GDC event this year. The other reality is that VR has become more mainstream after 2016 saw multiple devices reaching consumers for the first time.
I expect GDC 2018 to be a little noisier for VR with a large slate of content still being developed and headset makers working on new iterations of the hardware as we speak. The big push in 2017 will be around increased customer acquisition and monetization. The mobile, console and PC markets are still robust and I spoke with a number of independent game creators on various platforms that were excited about their opportunities to get great content in front of audiences. The mobile market is especially busy right now as developers and publishers vie to attract attention to their IP amongst a crowded and ever-growing supply of games and competing entertainment options. However, the ability to attract an audience on mobile, if executed correctly, provides a significant opportunity for a return on investment.
The atmosphere at GDC on the whole was full of energy and positivity during a whirlwind week. Everyone I talked to was bullish on the next wave of content and user experiences coming down the pike. From console and PC to VR and mobile, we're surrounded by innovative gaming content. The real challenge will be finding time to try it all.