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What We've Learned from GDC 2015

GDC 2015 is done and dusted. Here's what we've learned about video games.

Analysis by USgamer Team, .

GDC 2015 is officially finished. We're packing up our bags and going home after a long week. But before we go, here's a bit of what we learned about the state of gaming from GDC 2015. Have your own thoughts? Let's chat about it in the comments.

Kat Bailey Senior Editor

The Saturation is Real

It's not exactly breaking news that independent game development has become a very important segment of the industry. Walking around GDC, the influence of independent development is evident everywhere I go — in their prominence at the Microsoft and Sony booths, in the numerous events touting indie developers, and in talks like the Indie Soapbox. Small-scale independent development is everywhere.

But as indie development has grown, so has the noise around the space. At this year's events, I could hardly walk five feet without getting mugged by a student or ex-triple-A developer with a laptop and a controller. Some of the games I saw, like The Flock and Seasons After Fall, were outstanding. Many more were uninspiring, derivative, or half-baked.

I feel for the independent developers who have legitimately great games to show, because in many ways their games are getting drowned in a deluge of copycats and mediocrity. True, the cream can sometimes rise to the top. But as I was reminded during GDC, success is also as much a matter of having a sophisticated understanding of social media, an established community, and the attention of the media. In such an environment, mere quality isn't necessarily a recipe for success, especially if a dozen other developers simply go out and copy your idea — a problem that has become distressingly common of late, particularly in the mobile space.

In that light, I feel bad for the developers who have a genuinely great idea, since they have to battle with dozens of other studios to get noticed even if they happen to get selected for one of the many indie showcases that take place through the year. Honestly, it's a problem that is affecting the entire industry. The market has become saturated, forcing developers and publishers to go to increasingly absurd lengths to get the attention of their audience.

When I was talking with Bob about this, he asked what my solution for all this would be. In all honesty, I don't think there is a solution. I expect there to be a rather large shakeout as supply outpaces demand and smaller studios go bust, taking worthy developers with it. In the meantime, all I can do is try to do is seek out the diamonds in the rough, and hope.

Bob Mackey Senior Writer

VR Troupers

If you've grown up alongside video games, having a healthy sense of skepticism about The Next Big Thing comes naturally. And, with enough experience, it's easy to spot stinkers: When Microsoft revealed Kinect with a tedious and hyperbolic E3 celebration, anyone with half a brain could have guessed they were using sheer ostentation to cover up the fact that this new peripheral was just a "me too" device shamelessly cashing in on the motion control fad started by Nintendo. Now, it's an albatross around the neck of the Xbox One—well, it was, at least, until Microsoft washed their hands of it about a year ago.

VR, on the other hand, is something entirely different. Unlike the Kinect, VR has essentially been the far-off dream for anyone remotely interested in interactive technology—even if briefly we forgot about it after our Lawnmower Man-style fantasies didn't pan out in the '90s. Even though I'm a bit of a VR curmudgeon, my experience with the technology has been impressive, to say the least. Lots of people much smarter than me have worked countless hours to fool my brain into thinking the images within a headset are actually there, and in this respect, they've done an admirable job. And the technology keeps getting better!

While the VR worlds I've been thrown into were certainly immersive, the lesser ones I encountered were full of cheesy "gotcha" moments that would throw something in my face without warning—which reminded me a little too much of SCTV's parodies of 3D movies. (Kids, ask your parents—technically, I'm not even old enough to get that reference.) I realize not everyone is of my temperament—generally nervous and anxious—but, even so, some applications of VR on display felt pretty gimmicky. If you're a fan of horror games, I can easily see developers crafting an experience that could scar you for life—if you're into lasting mental damage.

The VR demos with more of a laid-back (and less of a literally in-your-face) vibe struck me as the most interesting, as they let me explore these virtual worlds at my own pace, without having to worry about whatever artificial objects would fly at my corneas next. The Morpheus demos by Japanese devs were essentially interactive toys, but they made for a much more charming (and less overwhelming) experience. While the first one simply let me command an army of tiny robots using a standard PS4 controller—which also served the role of a spotlight with the touch of a button—the second one just threw me into a room peppered with these tiny automatons, who would play out different cutesy animations if you fixed your vision on them.

If VR is going to be viable, I honestly think it can't just serve as a way to translate traditional TV-based gaming experiences into a headset. The nature of VR means that people probably won't have the stamina to, say, play through hours of an FPS in one sitting, so I'm hoping developers behind VR games start thinking of the most effective ways to design with the technology in mind. Honestly, I see VR as a boon to narrative-based experiences and adventure games; in that respect, something like 2013's Gone Home seems like perfectly suited for VR. I'm honestly looking forward to VR experiences that toss me into a thoroughly realized world, but don't rush me through it as if I'm moving down the tracks of an amusement park ride. Some of the most fun I had during Sony's "London Heist" demo involved rifling through drawers looking for a hidden diamond—the gunfight that followed afterwards wasn't all that entertaining.

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Comments 9

  • Avatar for gillijack #1 gillijack 2 years ago
    I hope there isn't too much damage to the indie shake-out. I would like some of these new developers to establish themselves so that we can revive the mid-tier game somewhat. They don't have to be the same as traditional mid-tier (and can't afford to be) but indies can do wonderful things once they become established such as Thatgamecompany and Supergiant Games.

    There's probably going to be a little crash soon, but then again, I've been predicting an app-store crash for the past five years. So I'm probably wrong anyhow.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #2 SatelliteOfLove 2 years ago
    A correction, rather. Fake cadre-spawned pushes and me-toos will get hit hardest and arguably, already are. The question I have is for the upper end of the group, the Larians and such, are they actually expand to a true mid-sized form and all the baggage and responsibility that goes along with that.
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  • Avatar for ojinnvoltz #3 ojinnvoltz 2 years ago
    I like reading about VR. I just read the Eurogamer interview with Yoshida and Marks. You can tell the people working on VR are passionate about what they're doing. I played Elite: Dangerous for a while with Oculus at a friend's house. It's neat technology, but I mostly play third-person action games which isn't conducive to a VR experience so I don't really care for it. It'll be neat to see if Valve makes Half-Life 3 the first FPS designed from the ground up with VR in mind.

    Regarding indies, I've been sour on them for a while. Sometimes I'd browse through the cheaper than $10 games on Steam and it's mostly derivative looking crap. Hardcore platformer with retro graphics? Atmospheric puzzle-platformer? Metroidvania with retro graphics? Great. I miss the middle-tier and its balance of bold ideas and modest budgets: Demon's Souls, Vanquish, Alpha Protocol, Valkyria Chonicles (Sega was pretty great in the early half of last gen).
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #4 Captain-Gonru 2 years ago
    @gillijack There is some room for a bit of a clear-out in the indie scene, though. Between the Flappy Bird clones and the games@ojinnvoltz referenced, we could do with one or two sacrificial lambs, just to remind the rest that we, the buying public, aren't going to give you money just because you tried real hard.
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  • Avatar for gillijack #5 gillijack 2 years ago
    @Captain-Gonru That's a good point. I'm probably fearing that good studios will be hurt, but, like the dot-com bubble, it'll more likely be all the clones and soulless corporate endeavors that get the axe.
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  • Avatar for Austin-C- #6 Austin-C- 2 years ago
    The sheer amount of games out there is so overwhelming it makes me want to crawl into a cave (with electricity) and simply play Persona 4 for the rest of my life. It's impossible to keep up with and that's disappointing for those of us who search for new, unique and fun experiences.
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  • Avatar for docexe #7 docexe 2 years ago
    I remain skeptical about this recent surge of VR headsets, but I have to admit some of things I have read about the demos sound pretty cool. Particularly that London Heist demo for the Morpheus.

    One of the major issues I see is the fact that they haven’t solved the problem with movement. The solutions I have read about sound impractical and/or ridiculously expensive.
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