Game Developers Conference

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Game Developers Conference
Game Developers Conference logo.svg
Official Logo of the Game Developers Conference
Genre Video game development
InauguratedApril 1988;31 years ago (1988-04) (as Computer Game Developers Conference)
Organized by Informa

The Game Developers Conference (GDC) is an annual conference for video game developers.


The event has learning, inspiration, and networking. The event includes an expo, networking events, and awards shows like the Game Developers Choice Awards and Independent Games Festival, and a variety of tutorials, lectures, and roundtables by industry professionals on game-related topics covering programming, design, audio, production, business and management, and visual arts.


Outside the Moscone Center in San Francisco, 2019. GDC 2019.jpg
Outside the Moscone Center in San Francisco, 2019.

Originally called the Computer Game Developers Conference, the first conference was organized in April 1988 by Chris Crawford in his San Jose, California-area living room. [1] About twenty-seven designers attended, including Don Daglow, Brenda Laurel, Brian Moriarty, Gordon Walton, Tim Brengle, Cliff Johnson, Dave Menconi, and Carol and Ivan Manley. The second conference, held that same year at a Holiday Inn at Milpitas, attracted about 125 developers. Early conference directors included Brenda Laurel, Tim Brengle, Sara Reeder, Dave Menconi, Jeff Johannigman, Stephen Friedman, Chris Crawford, and Stephanie Barrett. Later directors include John Powers, Nicky Robinson, Anne Westfall, Susan Lee-Merrow, and Ernest W. Adams. In the early years the conference changed venue each year to accommodate its increases in size. Attendance in this period grew from 525 to 2,387. By 1994 the CGDC could afford to sponsor the creation of the Computer Game Developers Association with Adams as its founding director. Miller Freeman, Inc. took on the running of the conference in 1996, nearly doubling attendance to 4,000 that year. [2] In 2005, the GDC moved to the new Moscone Center West, in the heart of San Francisco's SOMA district, and reported over 12,000 attendees. The GDC returned to San Jose in 2006, reporting over 12,500 attendees, and moved to San Francisco in 2007 – where the organizers expect it will stay for the foreseeable future. Attendance figures continued to rise in following years, with 18,000 attendees in the 2008 event. [3] The 2009 Game Developers Conference was held in San Francisco, on March 23–27, 2009. [4] The IGDA awarded 25 scholarships to send qualified students to attend the 2009 GDC.

Crawford continued to give the conference keynote address for the first several years of the conference, including the famous "whip" speech in the early 1990s where he punctuated a point about game tuning and player involvement by cracking a bullwhip perilously close to the front row of the audience. Crawford also founded The Journal of Computer Game Design in 1987 in parallel to beginning the GDC, and served as publisher and editor of the academic-style journal through 1996.

During the late 1990s the conference expanded from its original strict focus on game design to include topics such as marketing and legal issues. [2]

The CGDC changed its name to "Game Developers Conference" in 1999. The GDC has also hosted the Spotlight Awards from 1997 to 1999, the Independent Games Festival since 1999 and the Game Developers Choice Awards since 2001. The GDC is also used for the annual meeting of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA).

The Independent Games Festival (IGF) is the first and largest competition for independent games, and highlights the innovative achievements of developers ranging in size from individuals building PC titles to studio teams creating console downloadable titles. A pool of judges from the game industry selects the finalists and winners, and the individual creators are named as the recipients of the awards. The IGF is managed and developed by UBM TechWeb, the organizer of the GDC.

GDC Main Stage, 2019 GDC Main Stage 2019.jpg
GDC Main Stage, 2019

The Game Developers Choice Awards is the game industry's only open, peer-based awards show. Any member of the IGDA may nominate games, and then the membership votes on the finalists. As with the IGF, the individual creators are named as the recipients of the awards. Specialty awards such as Lifetime Achievement and First Penguin are determined by the GDCA committee, and all are revealed at the Game Developers Choice Awards ceremony at the GDC. The IGF and the GDCA are presented back to back, in an awards show produced by UBM TechWeb, typically on the Wednesday of the GDC.

UBM TechWeb has added several other events to the GDC in recent years. At the GDC Expo, developers display the latest techniques useful in game development. "GDC Mobile," first held in 2002, focuses on developing games for mobile phones. Starting in 2004, the GDC partnered with Game Connection to present Game Connection @ GDC, a live matchmaking service for developers and publishers, which in 2007 expanded to include Game Connection Services for outsourcing and other services. Starting in 2006, the GDC partnered with Video Games Live to feature their symphonic performance of videogame music as the closing night event. In addition, the GDC has hosted a number of conference-wide game experiments designed by GameLab. The 2017 GDC included a Board Game Design Day, featuring talks from developers and publishers of tabletop games on their design processes. [5]

UBM TechWeb has also produced several spinoff events. For example, the first GDC Europe (GDCE) was featured at the European Computer Trade Show (ECTS) in London between August 31 and September 1, 2001. Other GDC-related events include the Serious Games Summit, first held in 2004 as a GDC tutorial, and spun off as a standalone event in 2005, focusing on developing games for practical purposes, such as education, corporate training, military, and health care applications; and the Hollywood and Games Summit in conjunction with The Hollywood Reporter first held in June 2006. Additional events include the Game Advertising Summit, the Game Outsourcing Summit, the Game Career Seminar, GDC Russia, the China Game Summit, GDC London, the London Games Summit, the London Game Career Fair, and many others. In late 2006, UBM TechWeb acquired The Game Initiative, and now produces the Austin Game Developers Conference.

The 2020 GDC notably was the first to be fully postponed from its planned March 2020 dates, as a result of several companies having pulled out due to fears from the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic. [6] However, by March 10, the organizers developed a scheme to run the GDC as a virtual conference on the same planned schedule using streaming media for nearly all scheduled events. [7]

GDC China

Recognizing the burgeoning games market in China, UBM TechWeb brought its flagship event to Shanghai in 2007. With the continued support of Ministry of Culture of the People's Republic of China, GDC China is held in Shanghai annually and approached its fifth year in November 2012. GDC China has since been cancelled. [8]

IGF China

GDC China hosted the annual Independent Games Festival China (IGF China) from 2009, calling for entries developed by the independent game studios and individuals in the Asia-Pacific region. IGF China includes the Independent Games Summit, the Independent Games Festival Pavilion, and the Independent Games Festival Awards Ceremony. [9]

Recurring highlights


About half of the time during the first two days of GDC are given over to tutorials, one- or two-day-long sessions on a given topic. Tutorials take the form of hands-on workshops and cover a variety of technical subjects such as game design, audio, topics in computer programming (such as physics, graphics programing or web technologies), production and business management.


A summit is a section of panels dedicated to a sub-segment of the game industry, also usually held on the first two days of the conference. Past and current summit topics include mobile games, independent games, game education (of students aspiring to join the industry), serious games, social games, artificial intelligence, and online games.

Console Maker's Keynotes

Regularly, Sony Computer Entertainment, Microsoft and Nintendo deliver keynotes at the conference showcasing upcoming products and technologies. Next to the Electronic Entertainment Expo, GDC keynotes are one of the more significant sources of news about upcoming console hardware and platforms, but with a focus on the developer audience instead of the wider press. A number of games in development or upcoming releases are also showcased, but generally far fewer than at E3.

Developer's Rant

Since 2005, the "rant" panel has been one of the most popular sessions at the conference. Moderated by Eric Zimmerman and Jason Della Rocca, a selection of notable industry figures are invited to speak on industry-related subjects they are passionate about. According to Zimmerman, the idea of the panel "is to really take those grumblings and mutterings and bring them out into the light, speak truth to power, cut through to the real s***, and talk about what is going on in our industry—what's wrong and what we can do to change it." [10] Many rants inspire controversy, discussion and a good deal of media coverage in industry press. Most rant sessions focus on a particular segment of the industry to draw their speakers from:

The Rant panel has inspired similarly structured sessions, with more specialized topics (e.g., "Game Educators Rant" during the Education Summit, or rants during the Indie Game Summit).

Game Design Challenge

Eric Zimmerman created the Game Design Challenge. [11] "The idea of the challenge, he said, was to give everyone a sense of the process behind game design, and to attempt to get everyone thinking about new kinds of games." No actual game needs to be built, just designed. The goal of the 2nd annual Game Design Challenge was to create a game based on Emily Dickinson. It was won by Will Wright who designed an Emily Dickinson personality simulator contained entirely on a USB flash drive. The personality would interact with the player by sending Instant Messages and email. The goal was to maintain a stable relationship and avoid the two extremes: romantic obsession with the player or suicidal depression. The first occurrence meant constant interruptions when using the computer. The latter occurrence allowed for the simulation to delete itself. The 3rd time, the task was to create a game worthy of a Nobel Prize. Harvey Smith won with his PeaceBomb game. It would utilize wireless devices to organize flash mobs to engage in random acts of charity. For the first 3 challenges, Eric Zimmerman has always ended the challenge by indicating that all the contestants' ideas could really be made into a game.

The goal of the 4th annual Game Design Challenge was to create a game which was a religion, or which could become one. It was won by Jason Rohrer who designed a one-player at a time multiplayer game named Chain World contained entirely on a USB flash drive. [12]

Experimental Gameplay Workshop

The Experimental Gameplay Workshop is a two-hour workshop that showcases experimental video games and game prototypes. [13] A number of experimental titles that were featured at EGW went on to become some of the most well-regarded in the industry, such as Katamari Damacy and Portal . [13]

Game Developers Choice Awards

Held at the main GDC event in the first part of the year, the presentation for the Game Developers Choice Awards (GDCA) is held. The GDCAs are available for any game made in the previous calendar year, nominated and voted on by members of the game development community.

Independent Games Festival

The Independent Games Festival Pavilion at the 2019 GDC IGF Pavilion at GDC 2019.jpg
The Independent Games Festival Pavilion at the 2019 GDC

The Independent Games Festival (IGF) is an event held during the main GDC in the early part of the year, open to games from small independent studios and from students at universities. The IGF culminates with the presentation of several awards to games which have been nominated and voted on in the months prior, and which are given space at the IGF to showcase their game. These awards have cash prizes associated with them, ranging from US$1,000 to US$30,000 for the Seumas McNally Grand Prize. The ceremony is typically held as the lead-in to the GDCA award ceremony.

Dates (incomplete)

GDC 2001 San Jose Convention Center
San Jose, California
March 20-24 [14]
GDC 2002 San Jose Convention Center
San Jose, California
March 19-23 [15] ~10,000 [16]
GDC 2003 San Jose Convention Center
San Jose, California
March 4-8 [17]
GDC 2005Moscone Center West, San Francisco, California [18] March 7-11 [18] ~12,000 [19]
GDC 2006 San Jose Convention Center
San Jose, California
March 22-24 [20] ~12,500 [21]
GDC 2009 San Francisco, CaliforniaMarch 23–27
GDC Europe 2009 Cologne, GermanyAugust 17–19
GDC Austin 2009 Austin, Texas September 15–28
GDC China 2009 Shanghai, ChinaOctober 11–13
GDC 2010San Francisco, CaliforniaMarch 9–13
GDC Canada 2010 Vancouver, CanadaMay 6–7
GDC Europe 2010Cologne, GermanyAugust 16–18
GDC Online 2010Austin, TexasOctober 5–8
GDC China 2010Shanghai, ChinaDecember 5–7
GDC 2011San Francisco, CaliforniaFebruary 28 – March 4
GDC Europe 2011Cologne, GermanyAugust 15–17
GDC Online 2011Austin, TexasOctober 10–13
GDC China 2011Shanghai, ChinaNovember 12–14
GDC 2012San Francisco, CaliforniaMarch 5–9
GDC Europe 2012Cologne, GermanyAugust 13–15
GDC Online 2012Austin, TexasOctober 9–11
GDC China 2012Shanghai, ChinaNovember 17–19
GDC 2013San Francisco, CaliforniaMarch 25–29
GDC Europe 2013Cologne, GermanyAugust 19–21
GDC China 2013Shanghai, ChinaSeptember 15–17
GDC Next 2013 Los Angeles, CaliforniaNovember 5–7
GDC 2014San Francisco, CaliforniaMarch 17–21
GDC Europe 2014Cologne, GermanyAugust 11–13
GDC China 2014Shanghai, ChinaOctober 19–21
GDC Next 2014Los Angeles, CaliforniaNovember 3–4
GDC 2015San Francisco, CaliforniaMarch 2–6
GDC Europe 2015Cologne, GermanyAugust 3–4
GDC China 2015Shanghai, ChinaOctober 25–27
GDC 2016San Francisco, CaliforniaMarch 14–18
GDC Europe 2016Cologne, GermanyAugust 15–16
GDC 2017San Francisco, CaliforniaFebruary 27 – March 3
GDC 2018San Francisco, CaliforniaMarch 19–23
GDC 2019 Moscone Convention Center
San Francisco, California
March 18–22 [22] 27,000 [23]
GDC 2020Moscone Convention Center
San Francisco, California
August 4-6 [24]


alt.ctrl.GDC is an exhibit taking place in the GDC Expo. Visitors can play games using alternative controllers and meet the developers behind the projects. One of these games win the alt.ctrl.GDC Award, which includes a $2,000 prize plus a special trophy, at the IGF ceremony during GDC, with judging taking place on-site. [25] [26]

See also

Related Research Articles

Independent Games Festival

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Game Developers Choice Awards annual award

The Game Developers Choice Awards are awards annually presented at the Game Developers Conference for outstanding game developers and games. Introduced in 2001, the Game Developers Choice Awards were preceded by the Spotlight Awards, which were presented from 1997 to 1999. Since then, the ceremony for the Independent Games Festival is held just prior to the Choice Awards ceremony.

<i>Game Developer</i> (magazine) magazine

Game Developer magazine was the premier publication for working video game creators, originally started in March 1994 by Miller Freeman, Inc as quarterly, later bimonthly, and finally monthly. In each issue, industry leaders and experts shared technical solutions, reviewed new game development tools, and discussed strategies for creating innovative, successful video games. Monthly postmortems dissected the industry’s leading games, from AAA console to social and mobile games and beyond, and columns gave insight into deeper development practices from across all disciplines, from design, to programming, to art, to business, and audio. It was closed in 2013 as part of a restructuring at parent company UBM Tech that included the closing of all print publications owned by that company.

International Game Developers Association organization

The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) is a nonprofit professional association whose stated mission is to "support and empower game developers around the world in achieving fulfilling and sustainable careers."

Bob Bates American computer games designer

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