7 key trends from GDC 2015

What we learned at San Francisco

7 key trends from GDC 2015

Aside from International Talk Like a Pirate Day (well, maybe), GDC is the most important date circled on the game developer's calendar.

As ever, Pocket Gamer swamped the show, with five events and hundreds of meetings.

But given there were over 26,000 of the industry's best and brightest in downtown San Francisco, the frantic nature of the week itself isn't the best time to take stock of trends and topics that will be shaping the industry over the next six months.

Which brings us to our What We Learned article, in which we condense down the week's insights and learnings from a mobile games perspective. 

Click here to view the list »
  • 1 VR is mobile

    VR is mobile logo

    With other systems still locked in pre-launch confusion, smartphones have established themselves as the most important (the only) VR devices now on the market.

    Samsung, Google, HTC, Avegant, Carl Zeiss, and even Dodocase have dipped their toes in the waters of mobile virtual reality. Even Oculus itself has embraced smartphone VR with Samsung's Galaxy-compatible Gear VR headset.

    At GDC 2015 John Carmack emphasised Oculus's connection with Samsung saying that "the official formal strategy is that Oculus goes big, full consumer [push] on Samsung’s next release cycle.”

    Meanwhile Chris Pruett, also of Oculus, delivered a packed-out talk on how to convert mobile games to VR.

    Aside from the technicalities, he also commented that in his experiences the constant refining and streamlining of mobile features forces devs to make a fundamentally better game.

  • 2 Mid-tier need to shrink to indie

    Digi-Capital founder Tim Merrel warned that mid-tier companies are going to be feeling the pinch in the coming months.

    More cumbersome than indies and lacking the clout of corportations, Merel told a GDC panel that mid-tier companies will be the ones who feel increased industry competition most keenly.

    He advised those businesses to shrink to indie size whereupon they can either operate leanly while waiting for a hit, and/or shape be acquired by high grossing companies and leapfrog the mid-tier altogether.

  • 3 Change the conversation

    Change the conversation logo

    A number of developers, publishers, and execs that PocketGamer.biz talked to are getting frustrated with the same industry conversations.

    While the pros and cons of F2P and differing UA strategies have been a key focus of recent months, GDC 2015 made it clear there other industry areas need attention.

    GREE COO Andrew Sheppard instead called for a greater focus on talent acquisition rather than user acquisition.

    Meanwhile, Heyzap CEO Jude Gomila, believes that developers are buckling under an overload of SDKs, while RevMob CEO Pedro Jahara believes more column inches should be dedicated to chart stasis.

  • 4 Brands are key to cost effective UA

    Warner Bros unveiled a slew of new brand-heavy titles, continuing the growing preocupation of designing games around existing IPs.

    The new titles are: Batman: Arkham Underworld from Turbine, Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham from TT Games, DC Comics Legends from WB Games San Francisco, Game of Thrones from Turbine, and Mortal Kombat X from NetherRealm Studios.

    Brands have been hailed as a useful tool in the increasingly competitive UA race, and have been a popular talking point at this year's GDC.

    Combined with a solid marketing strategy, launching a game based around a brand can open up a whole new audience that would otherwise have been hard to access.

    Indeed, Warners' Greg Ballard called them a vital part of cost effective UA.

  • 5 But what about the children?

    But what about the children? logo

    There are next-gen games, then there are games for the next generation, and the latter was a key focus of GDC 2015.

    In a talk by Nis Bojin of Zeroes to Heroes, he explained that just 8 percent of school age children in America meet the daily recommendation of 180 minutes of physical activity, yet rack up an average of 7 hours and 48 minutes of screen time a day.

    Children can still game, Bojin argued, but we need to turn their sedentary habits into active ones.

    Educational gaming company Biba does this by designing mobile games to play at the playground.

    For example, the phone assists imaginary games by becoming a pit stop for a racing car. Kids must run back to their parent holding a smartphone at regular intervals for fuel refills, changed tyres, and to put out engine fires.

    A mock playground replete with swing at Biba's stand was certainly one of the highlights of the expo floor, and the crowds it drew demonstrated that kids were a key focus of GDC 2015.

  • 6 Free-to-play becomes free-to-develop?

    Free-to-play becomes free-to-develop? logo

    The Moscone Center became a bloody battleground for dev tools at GDC 2015 where Unity and Epic Games fought to make their engines the most accessible.

    Epic axed its monthly subscription fee for Unreal Engine 4, aiming to woo developers with a royalties-based business model.

    Unity, meanwhile, whipped the cloak off Unity 5, its brand new engine that promises to deliver quality audio and visual features to both paying and non-paying customers.

    During the unveiling, Unity CEO John Riccitiello threw stones at Epic's new royalties-based model, saying that in contrast what Unity 5 offers is "no fucking around. It's simple."

  • 7 End games community abuse

    End games community abuse logo

    Fourteen years ago MMO veterans Ralph Koster, Richard Vogel and Gordon Walton got on stage at GDC to discuss managing games communties, and this year they stood up again.

    This time they were talking through "managing game communties within the culture wars," and blamed companies like Google for filtering search results to reaffirm what they believe users want to hear - thus perpetuating stereotypes and harrassment in the industry.

    Another panel saw industry experts Zoe Quinn, Elizabeth Sampat, Neha Nair and Donna Prior share their experiences of becoming targets of harassment campaigns, and how to deal with them.

    "We're dealing with Voldemort here," Quinn quipped. "We might as well learn some Defence Against the Dark Arts.

    "Harassment is not free speech. Tolerating abusive behaviour limits other people's ability to speak freely out of fear."

    The panel recommended limiting doxing by deleting old online accounts, making information online private and removing listings from third-party information vendors like Spokeo.

    They also recommended that companies do more to prevent harassment by applying more pressure to social media to improve policies, and moderating their own communties to not tolerate abuse among their players.


News Editor