GDC Trends: Anxiety and the bandwagon. Also, hats.
From the first day at GDC – I’m mainly attending the AI Summit and Social Games Summit. Every year I watch and listen for trends, to get the vibe of where the game industry is and where it’s going. Thus far, I’ve seen a few things – an unnerving anxiety, a fast-rolling bandwagon. And hats.
Anxiety: Games as projects are rarely stable; everyone knows that any project can be canceled at any time. Good seemingly strong companies can be gone in an instant. But even with that background, there’s more anxiety here this year – from people looking for work, people afraid that they may have to start looking for work, and from companies sensing the sea change happening all around them (one talk title I saw: ‘”It’s not fair!” said the T-Rex’ — referring to the reaction to current shifts from established companies). There are rumblings that console games are tanking, and that AAA PC games are far too expensive and too risky to take on. Neither of those latter are really new, but they seem more intense this year — a VC on a panel just said the game industry “is in disarray;” something I haven’t heard so openly in past years.
Social Games: Maybe not surprising, but there is a huge buzz around social games. It seems to be the new bandwagon, the way DirectX, 3D, MMOs, and FPSs have been in the past. It will be interesting to see if this carries across into the rest of the conference. The message so far seems to be that yes, there is a bandwagon to jump on — and it’s a good one — but no, doing another x-wars or farming clone won’t really work now. There is at least talk about raising the bar on gameplay in these games. I’m wary of seeing the floodgates open as many new developers enter this space, but I’m hopeful that we’re actually going to see new, more innovative, more engaging gameplay than we’ve seen thus far.
Hats: It’s an odd data point, but so far I’ve seen a couple dozen hats — fedoras, pork-pies, other similar semi-formal hats (not baseball caps) being worn, as near as I can tell, as an accessory and without irony. I have no idea what that means, if anything. But it’s interesting to see a little blip like that.