Insights from GDC 2018

GDC has changed a lot since 2014 when I last attended while working for Kabam. This year there was a lot of focus on BaaS offerings, VR has toned down and is finally more focused, and Cryptocurrencies were trying to make a dent in gaming. Also, news flash if you’ve been living under a rock: China was everywhere.

This was my third GDC after also attending in 2011 and 2012, as part of my work at LucasArts and, while I’ve been out of the game industry as my primary day job for the last 4 years, I currently lead a small games startup with a few friends.  

But, the changes I saw weren’t due to my professional shift - the industry is experiencing some major trends that demonstrate what an interesting time it is to be an indie developer as well as where the future of advertisement, of course what everyone loves to hate, microtransactions, go.


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Indie devs and the BaaS providers supporting them

Things have changed for indie developers. It’s more difficult than ever to stand out and have a big hit. But it’s also easier than ever to make a living as an indie developer. GDC is a clear indication of that, with hundreds of developers from small countries and lots of money flying around from big Chinese publishers.

BaaS, or Backend as a Service providers, such as PlayFab (recently bought by Microsoft) and GameSparks (recently bought by Amazon) are the best new solutions for connected games. They provide all the infrastructure needed to support games. They have a centralized place to store data, handle transactions, and provide live-game support.

Companies like Apple, Amazon and Microsoft know that services are the next battleground, and they’ve bought up-and-coming startups in hopes of becoming pillars to game developers.


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VR < AR? Only time will tell

VR has toned down its approach and matured a bit. Gone are the VR experiences on every booth, and now there are more grown-up, less gimmicky.

VR has potential and a lot of momentum, but it also runs the risk of becoming the next “3D TV” fad. My hope is that developers interested in VR finally find the right application for the technology and stop shoehorning every game into VR for the sake of having something new.

AR is also becoming more widespread, and, to me, more important than VR. It’s more accessible (no glasses, no external sensors, no need for lots of physical space), and support from Apple and Google is pretty mature now. Game engines like Unity and Unreal have support and provide access to the native APIs.


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Dolla’ yuan, dolla’ yuan bills, y’all

China has money to spend and they want to do two things; first, support and buy western developers and, second, bring western games to China to help them take advantage of the enormous amount of users the Chinese market has.

This is an interesting move, especially for western companies which have no experience in China. It requires a completely different payment and revenue model to succeed, given that Chinese players are used to paying using their carrier’s payment system, and don’t mind watching reward videos instead of putting down cash.

To sum it all up, services will be the next focus of big providers. This means new opportunities for indie developers, who now not only have new service offerings, but also lots of support from Chinese producers to move their games to China and reap the benefits of their massive player base!