Attempts to contain and mitigate the spread of novel coronavirus disease COVID-19 are wreaking havoc on travel plans around the globe, and the annual Game Developers Conference is no exception. The majority of major sponsors for GDC 2020 in San Francisco have already pulled out a little more than two weeks ahead of the event’s scheduled March 16 start. As of publication time, however, the event is still on, which raises the question: what would it take to make the GDC cancel?
On February 28 (Friday), GDC posted an update saying, “We are closely monitoring the COVID19 (coronavirus) situation and want to assure everyone that your health and safety are a top priority. If our assessment of the situation changes, based on new and evolving developments or updated information, we will promptly update this statement regarding the status of GDC 2020 accordingly.”
Sony and Facebook both backed out on February 20, the first of the dominoes to fall. Since then, other cancellations have followed rapidly. EA and Kojima Productions both backed out on February 24, then Unity, Microsoft, Epic Games (and Unreal Engine) bowed out on February 27, with Amazon and Activision/Blizzard following on February 28.
Most of those companies are not only major presenters and presences at the conference, they’re also major sponsors. While the companies that have backed out represent only a small fraction of the total planned exhibitors, they occupy an outsize amount of space at the show—extremely literally. A map of the show floor, where the scheduled booth space of companies that have cancelled is blacked out, looks dire:
GDC is not the first event to have to make the go/no-go call in the face of COVID-19, and it will not be the last. The world’s biggest telecom show, the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Spain, was cancelled earlier this month after vendors backed out. The Geneva Motor Show was also cancelled after Switzerland put a temporary ban on gatherings of more than 1,000 people. Nor are smaller gatherings immune: The Eve Online fanfest, scheduled for April in Reykjavik, has also been cancelled, as has Facebook’s own F8 developer conference , which would have started May 5.