They devote their careers to building virtual worlds.
Yet, when it comes to the conference where they meet every year, game developers say virtual events just haven't been cutting it.
"Lines are long, everyone's happy to be here to get that great experience again," said Eric Chou, founder of startup Honor Games.
The longest lines on the eve of the five-day conference were for the COVID testing and vaccination checkpoints at the entrance to the Moscone Center. Attendees are required to wear masks indoors and show proof of vaccination plus a booster shot, or vaccination plus a negative test. Developers who traveled across oceans to be in San Francisco didn't mind the extra delay.
"I think what this represents, especially after three years of being away, is human beings need to connect," said Charles Sekwalor, who traveled to the conference from London.
Though GDC's attendance has reached nearly 30,000 in recent years, some estimates have put the 2022 crowd at half that number. Still, organizers have put on a full program of sessions and exhibits throughout the week. Exhibitors and indie game developers will get to show off their wares Wednesday through Friday on the expo floor, spanning the north, south and central halls of the Moscone Center.
But developers arriving at the registration desk on Monday said the true value of the conference for them will come in between the exhibits and sessions.
"Everybody's been sitting in their living rooms thinking about ideas, and communicating over Zoom, but there's no coffee chat — where wonderful things come out of," said Marcus Jones. "Talking about interesting ideas, and having some person from over there overhear it — which can't happen online — and be like, 'Wow, I'm really interested in that, let's hear more about it!'"
Networking among strangers has been a tough nut for virtual events to crack. Some game developers suggest it's their own industry that should be coming up with solutions for that, on the path toward an ever-more-immersive metaverse. But at this point, they say, nothing is quite like meeting in person — especially when those meetings are long overdue.
"I'm looking forward to getting to meet the people I've been working with on my game," said Chris Weisiger, who's building a game called Waves of Steel. "It is pretty weird, I gotta say — we've worked together now for over a year, but we've never met in person before."