While it may not have the same mainstream cachet as the Consumer Electronics Show or the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the annual Game Developers Conference, also known as GDC, is always one of the most interesting places to gauge the health of the video game industry.
So far, the games biz has managed to create the impression that it is largely recession-proof, free (for the most part) from the layoffs and closures that have affected so many other industries. But video games may be a textbook trailing indicator, buoyed by popular low-cost hardware such as the Nintendo Wii and DS, and the Xbox 360 Arcade, residual holiday season goodwill, and a small number of high-profile releases competing for sales in the early part of 2009.
The more expensive PlayStation 3 continues to struggle to find an audience, and the real test for the industry will comes as new hardware platforms, such as the upcoming Nintendo DSi handheld, are released.
From the works in progress on display at the show, it's clear that game publishers are hedging their bets, looking to create smaller, less-expensive software products that have potentially wide mainstream appeal, rather than a handful of huge movie-like tentpoles (all the better to avoid a "Watchmen"-like commercial disappointment).
Instead, we're seeing a focus on downloadable games--which can skip the capital-intensive process of pressing discs, shipping them to retail stores, and waiting for consumers to buy them and bring them home. Instead, by offering content directly to gamers via their PCs or game consoles, physical costs are reduced, products can be released more quickly, and games can be sold at a range of different prices.
The show isn't open to public, so we've put together a short video tour and photo gallery of some of the notable sights and scenes of GDC 2009.