Computer game development is, well, no longer a game. It's big business. Retail sales have risen dramatically, thanks to the latest-generation consoles. These new platforms, along with suped-up PCs, advanced wireless devices, and powerful handhelds, are bringing a new level of realism and immersion to the genre that's great for gamers but challenging for developers. Looking for inventive ways to create unique, compelling content more efficiently, developers, designers, artists, and programmers last month descended on
for the 20th annual Game Developers Conference. Over the years, GDC has evolved from a programming show to one that embraces other aspects of game development, including design, audio, visual arts, production, and business and management for PCs, consoles, portable devices, and mobile gaming. As a result, attendance has been steadily rising. This year, GDC boasted more than 16,000 conference-goers, expo attendees, exhibitors, speakers, media, and analysts a figure that represents a 30 percent increase from last year.
One factor contributing to that growth is the new consoles, which are requiring developers to look beyond standard game development tools and technology. To that end, it was not surprising to see a much bigger expo floor area filled with the latest software and hardware offerings geared to game development. This year, there were 262 exhibitors, including those in the Career Pavilion, representing a 32 percent increase from 2006.
The game industry is growing, and GDC typically follows the budget growth of video games, says Jamil Moledina, executive director of GDC. The new generation of game platforms require larger budgets, and developers need to hire more people and investigate new content-creation tools and GDC can help make sense of those needs.
With E3 becoming an intimate, invite-only event this year, some attendees were curious as to whether GDC would fill any void left by that shows demise. However, as Moledina stresses, GDC will not turn into an E3-like show for playable games; rather, it will continue to focus on game development and provide an atmosphere of learning and community for the industry.
If there is one thing to take away from this years GDC, it is that game development is expanding and growing in sophistication as an art form. Now more than ever, digital art students are looking at the game industry for a career. Video game development is perceived as something that people want to pursue, Moledina says. College students are very excited about participating in this sector. Helping to foster this new-found attitude are the art schools and colleges, many of which are now offering game development programs, resulting in a more mature and defined career path for students, not to mention graduates with game development experience. Moreover, the industry itself is emerging with a more polished reputation. In general, games are being played by a diverse demographic; thanks to casual gaming and the Nintendo Wii, it is now difficult to describe the stereotype gamer. And within the digital arts arena, game development is accepted as an art form, leading to parallel roles across other DCC fields, such as film.
Summing up the show, Moledina says: I think you are seeing a coming of age of an essential show for the game industry. I think we are seeing a coming of age for the game industry in general.