San Francisco’s Game Developers Conference canceled over coronavirus fears

The annual Game Developers Conference was canceled two weeks before it was to begin due to coronavirus fears.
The annual Game Developers Conference was canceled two weeks before it was to begin due to coronavirus fears.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

The annual Game Developers Conference, a professional gathering of close to 30,000 interactive industry professionals, was abruptly canceled Friday afternoon — just two weeks before the 2020 edition was to launch — due to fears of a coronavirus pandemic.

A number of top gaming companies, including Microsoft, Sony Interactive Entertainment and Electronic Arts, had already pulled out of this year’s conference in San Francisco in recent days because of the spreading coronavirus, prompting many on social media to call for GDC to postpone the event.

“After close consultation with our partners in the game development industry and community around the world, we’ve made the difficult decision to postpone the Game Developers Conference this March,” read a statement distributed via email and posted on the official GDC site late Friday afternoon. “Having spent the past year preparing for the show with our advisory boards, speakers, exhibitors, and event partners, we’re genuinely upset and disappointed not to be able to host you at this time.”


As recently as Tuesday, GDC had pledged that this year’s event, slated for the week of March 16, would be held. Yet each day brought news of companies and professionals who were withdrawing, resulting in a number of the conference’s planned talks to be axed. GDC said it intends to stage the conference this summer, details for which it said it would release in the coming weeks.

Even before San Francisco declared a preventive local emergency amid coronavirus fears, GDC had lost Sony Interactive Entertainment, Facebook Gaming and Facebook’s virtual reality arm Oculus. Those were swiftly followed by Microsoft, Electronic Arts, Unity, Amazon, Activison Blizzard and others.

In a brief FAQ posted on social media and sent to attendees, GDC pledged that registrants would be receiving a full refund. Additionally, those who booked a hotel through the conference would not incur cancellation penalties, said the group. An email sent to GDC speakers said the organization would accept recorded versions of talks and would post them online. GDC said they would not be held behind the paywall of its archival GDC Vault.

“As a way for speakers to still participate in the event and share their message with the community, we will be accepting pre-recorded versions of lectures that would have been presented at GDC 2020,” read the email. “After speakers contribute their talk(s) in video format, they will be distributed on the GDC YouTube channel and the free part of GDC Vault.”

GDC, which earlier this week had announced that gaming trailblazer Roberta Williams (“King’s Quest”) would receive a pioneer award, said it intended for its Game Developer’s Choice Awards to air on Twitch, as would a number of events planned for the Independent Games Festival.

“We also intend to stream a set of these GDC 2020 talks and the Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Choice Awards via Twitch during the week that the event would have taken place in San Francisco, so that our community can continue to learn and be inspired,” read an email sent to speakers.

Microsoft in a blog post Thursday stated that “after a close review of guidance by global health authorities and out of an abundance of caution, we’ve made the difficult decision to withdraw from participating at Game Developers Conference 2020 in San Francisco. The health and safety of players, developers, employees, and our partners around the world is our top priority. Especially as the world is experiencing growing public health risks associated with coronavirus (COVID-19).”

Microsoft added that the company intends to livestream a number of its planned talks. Software development firm Unity on Thursday made a similar statement and also pledged to share a number of its planned GDC sessions online. “We’ve made the tough decision to cancel our on-the-ground activity at GDC 2020, due to current conditions with COVID-19. The health and safety of our employees, partners and friends is our top priority,” read a statement.

GDC is an especially noteworthy conference as it melds new tech with experimental games in addition to numerous talks and roundtables on important cultural issues affecting the industry.

Each year the group releases a comprehensive developer’s survey, which provides a peek behind the curtain of the game industry’s working conditions. March’s event was hotly anticipated as the game industry is in a major transitional year, with new consoles from Sony and Microsoft in development and emerging technologies such as virtual and augmented reality continuing to gain traction.

Famed developer Hideo Kojima, the artist behind last year’s acclaimed and polarizing PlayStation 4 game “Death Stranding,” noted earlier that he and his company were passing on the opportunity to give a keynote talk at the conference, held each year in and around the Moscone Center.

“It would been 11 years since I did keynote speech at GDC so I was really looking forward to this opportunity. But under the current circumstances we, Kojima Productions decided not to attend GDC this year. I feel sorry for those who looked forward to it,” the developer posted on Twitter.

Following news of GDC’s cancellation, Rami Ismail, a prominent game developer and executive director of online conference, said the organization was staging a fundraising event March 27 through April 3 to raise funds for those impacted by the GDC news.

“Even though GDC has committed to refunding the tickets of attendees that haven’t cancelled, many developers around the world do not have a way to refund their visas, lodging, and travel costs,” read a post on the site. “Many worry that they did not just lose the opportunity of attending this years’ conference, but also the possibility to re-route the funds spent to other opportunities throughout the year.”

As part of the fundraising efforts, is planning to release game bundles for sale and host a number of online talks, among other initiatives.