San Francisco

Canceled Game Developers Conference Puts Student Dreams on Hold

The conference, which was scheduled to be held this week in San Francisco, provided a launchpad for students graduating from Academy of Art University's School of Game Development

NBCUniversal, Inc.

What to Know

  • The Game Developers Conference, held annually in San Francisco, was attended by about 27,000 in 2019
  • GDC is the biggest annual event in the video game industry that's focused entirely on the people who build games, rather than players or fans
  • This year's GDC sessions are being distributed online, but the expo and in-person events were canceled several weeks ago amid concern over the novel coronavirus

If you're passing the time with video games while the Bay Area's stay-at-home orders remain in place, consider this: In all likelihood, the people who created those games were supposed to be in San Francisco right now, showing off their latest creations as they network with fellow artists and designers.

The Game Developers Conference has been held annually in the Bay Area since 1988. It's an industry-only event where the creative and technical minds behind a huge and growing form of entertainment come to meet, mingle and master their craft. And this year, it's canceled.

"We haven't missed one since I started the department in 2009," said David Goodwine, executive director of Academy of Art University's School of Game Design.

Goodwine said the informal networking opportunities available at the conference are invaluable for students. Although the university often brings recruiters from Bay Area game studios to campus, students who attend the conference are able to get interviews with a multitude of companies in one place, and get their art portfolios critiqued by experts.

Students — especially those about to graduate — often spend weeks or months preparing for the conference. They've all heard tales of talented classmates who've attended GDC and been offered jobs on the spot.

"We were getting ready to get our portfolios together, and our business cards and our résumés, and then suddenly it's just — gone," said Jordan McCracken-Foster, a graduate student who's just weeks away from receiving his master's degree. "To have that opportunity, when we're so close to graduating, just taken away from us — it's an indescribable feeling."

Sitting next to him — six feet away — Shermond Wong had a word for that feeling: "devastated."

"I was devastated for a bit. It was sad when Kobe (Bryant) died, but I was sadder when i heard about GDC being canceled," Wong said. "Kobe was an influence in my life when I played basketball. But now, GDC affects my career directly, so this is devastating for me."

Goodwine said the university is working on alternative ways to get students face-to-face with recruiters to show off their portfolios — even though the campus is shut down, and all classes have moved online.

"With everything that's going on now, we'll probably have to do that virtually," he said — and added, with a chuckle, "Maybe we'll get into VR and do it that way."

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