Game Developers Conference

The Game Developers Conference is an annual conference for video game developers.
The event has learning, inspiration, and networking. The event includes an expo, networking events, and awards shows like the Game Developers Choice Awards and Independent Games Festival, and a variety of tutorials, lectures, and roundtables by industry professionals on game-related topics covering programming, design, audio, production, business and management, and visual arts.


Originally called the Computer Game Developers Conference, the first conference was organized in April 1988 by Chris Crawford in his San Jose, California-area living room. About twenty-seven designers attended, including Don Daglow, Brenda Laurel, Brian Moriarty, Gordon Walton, Tim Brengle, Cliff Johnson, Dave Menconi, and Carol and Ivan Manley. The second conference, held that same year at a Holiday Inn at Milpitas, attracted about 125 developers. Early conference directors included Brenda Laurel, Tim Brengle, Sara Reeder, Dave Menconi, Jeff Johannigman, Stephen Friedman, Chris Crawford, and Stephanie Barrett. Later directors include John Powers, Nicky Robinson, Anne Westfall, Susan Lee-Merrow, and Ernest W. Adams. In the early years the conference changed venue each year to accommodate its increases in size. Attendance in this period grew from 525 to 2,387. By 1994 the CGDC could afford to sponsor the creation of the Computer Game Developers Association with Adams as its founding director. Miller Freeman, Inc. took on the running of the conference in 1996, nearly doubling attendance to 4,000 that year. In 2005, the GDC moved to the new Moscone Center West, in the heart of San Francisco's SOMA district, and reported over 12,000 attendees. The GDC returned to San Jose in 2006, reporting over 12,500 attendees, and moved to San Francisco in 2007 – where the organizers expect it will stay for the foreseeable future. Attendance figures continued to rise in following years, with 18,000 attendees in the 2008 event. The 2009 Game Developers Conference was held in San Francisco, on March 23–27, 2009. The IGDA awarded 25 scholarships to send qualified students to attend the 2009 GDC.
Crawford continued to give the conference keynote address for the first several years of the conference, including the famous "whip" speech in the early 1990s where he punctuated a point about game tuning and player involvement by cracking a bullwhip perilously close to the front row of the audience. Crawford also founded The Journal of Computer Game Design in 1987 in parallel to beginning the GDC, and served as publisher and editor of the academic-style journal through 1996.
During the late 1990s the conference expanded from its original strict focus on game design to include topics such as marketing and legal issues.
The CGDC changed its name to "Game Developers Conference" in 1999. The GDC has also hosted the Spotlight Awards from 1997 to 1999, the Independent Games Festival since 1999 and the Game Developers Choice Awards since 2001. The GDC is also used for the annual meeting of the International Game Developers Association.
The Independent Games Festival is the first and largest competition for independent games, and highlights the innovative achievements of developers ranging in size from individuals building PC titles to studio teams creating console downloadable titles. A pool of judges from the game industry selects the finalists and winners, and the individual creators are named as the recipients of the awards. The IGF is managed and developed by UBM TechWeb, the organizer of the GDC.
The Game Developers Choice Awards is the game industry's only open, peer-based awards show. Any member of the IGDA may nominate games, and then the membership votes on the finalists. As with the IGF, the individual creators are named as the recipients of the awards. Specialty awards such as Lifetime Achievement and First Penguin are determined by the GDCA committee, and all are revealed at the Game Developers Choice Awards ceremony at the GDC. The IGF and the GDCA are presented back to back, in an awards show produced by UBM TechWeb, typically on the Wednesday of the GDC.
UBM TechWeb has added several other events to the GDC in recent years. At the GDC Expo, developers display the latest techniques useful in game development. "GDC Mobile," first held in 2002, focuses on developing games for mobile phones. Starting in 2004, the GDC partnered with Game Connection to present Game Connection @ GDC, a live matchmaking service for developers and publishers, which in 2007 expanded to include Game Connection Services for outsourcing and other services. Starting in 2006, the GDC partnered with Video Games Live to feature their symphonic performance of videogame music as the closing night event. In addition, the GDC has hosted a number of conference-wide game experiments designed by GameLab. The 2017 GDC included a Board Game Design Day, featuring talks from developers and publishers of tabletop games on their design processes.
UBM TechWeb has also produced several spinoff events. For example, the first GDC Europe was featured at the European Computer Trade Show in London between August 31 and September 1, 2001. Other GDC-related events include the Serious Games Summit, first held in 2004 as a GDC tutorial, and spun off as a standalone event in 2005, focusing on developing games for practical purposes, such as education, corporate training, military, and health care applications; and the Hollywood and Games Summit in conjunction with The Hollywood Reporter first held in June 2006. Additional events include the Game Advertising Summit, the Game Outsourcing Summit, the Game Career Seminar, GDC Russia, the China Game Summit, GDC London, the London Games Summit, the London Game Career Fair, and many others. In late 2006, UBM TechWeb acquired The Game Initiative, and now produces the Austin Game Developers Conference.
The 2020 GDC notably was the first to be fully postponed from its planned March 2020 dates, as a result of several companies having pulled out due to fears from the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers ran the 2020 GDC as a virtual conference and announced GDC Summer as the next live event to take place in August.

GDC China

Recognizing the burgeoning games market in China, UBM TechWeb brought its flagship event to Shanghai in 2007. With the continued support of Ministry of Culture of the People's Republic of China, GDC China is held in Shanghai annually until 2015.

IGF China

GDC China hosted the annual Independent Games Festival China from 2009, calling for entries developed by the independent game studios and individuals in the Asia-Pacific region. IGF China includes the Independent Games Summit, the Independent Games Festival Pavilion, and the Independent Games Festival Awards Ceremony.

Recurring highlights


About half of the time during the first two days of GDC are given over to tutorials, one- or two-day-long sessions on a given topic. Tutorials take the form of hands-on workshops and cover a variety of technical subjects such as game design, audio, topics in computer programming, production and business management.


A summit is a section of panels dedicated to a sub-segment of the game industry, also usually held on the first two days of the conference. Past and current summit topics include mobile games, independent games, game education, serious games, social games, artificial intelligence, and online games.

Console Maker's Keynotes

Regularly, Sony Computer Entertainment, Microsoft and Nintendo deliver keynotes at the conference showcasing upcoming products and technologies. Next to the Electronic Entertainment Expo, GDC keynotes are one of the more significant sources of news about upcoming console hardware and platforms, but with a focus on the developer audience instead of the wider press. A number of games in development or upcoming releases are also showcased, but generally far fewer than at E3.

Developer's Rant

Since 2005, the "rant" panel has been one of the most popular sessions at the conference. Moderated by Eric Zimmerman and Jason Della Rocca, a selection of notable industry figures are invited to speak on industry-related subjects they are passionate about. According to Zimmerman, the idea of the panel "is to really take those grumblings and mutterings and bring them out into the light, speak truth to power, cut through to the real s***, and talk about what is going on in our industry—what's wrong and what we can do to change it." Many rants inspire controversy, discussion and a good deal of media coverage in industry press. Most rant sessions focus on a particular segment of the industry to draw their speakers from:
The Rant panel has inspired similarly structured sessions, with more specialized topics.

Game Design Challenge

created the Game Design Challenge. "The idea of the challenge, he said, was to give everyone a sense of the process behind game design, and to attempt to get everyone thinking about new kinds of games." No actual game needs to be built, just designed. The goal of the 2nd annual Game Design Challenge was to create a game based on Emily Dickinson. It was won by Will Wright who designed an Emily Dickinson personality simulator contained entirely on a USB flash drive. The personality would interact with the player by sending Instant Messages and email. The goal was to maintain a stable relationship and avoid the two extremes: romantic obsession with the player or suicidal depression. The first occurrence meant constant interruptions when using the computer. The latter occurrence allowed for the simulation to delete itself. The 3rd time, the task was to create a game worthy of a Nobel Prize. Harvey Smith won with his PeaceBomb game. It would utilize wireless devices to organize flash mobs to engage in random acts of charity. For the first 3 challenges, Eric Zimmerman has always ended the challenge by indicating that all the contestants' ideas could really be made into a game.
The goal of the 4th annual Game Design Challenge was to create a game which was a religion, or which could become one. It was won by Jason Rohrer who designed a one-player at a time multiplayer game named Chain World contained entirely on a USB flash drive.

Experimental Gameplay Workshop

The Experimental Gameplay Workshop is a two-hour workshop that showcases experimental video games and game prototypes. A number of experimental titles that were featured at EGW went on to become some of the most well-regarded in the industry, such as Katamari Damacy and Portal.

Game Developers Choice Awards

Held at the main GDC event in the first part of the year, the presentation for the Game Developers Choice Awards is held. The GDCAs are available for any game made in the previous calendar year, nominated and voted on by members of the game development community.

Independent Games Festival

The Independent Games Festival is an event held during the main GDC in the early part of the year, open to games from small independent studios and from students at universities. The IGF culminates with the presentation of several awards to games which have been nominated and voted on in the months prior, and which are given space at the IGF to showcase their game. These awards have cash prizes associated with them, ranging from to for the Seumas McNally Grand Prize. The ceremony is typically held as the lead-in to the GDCA award ceremony.



alt.ctrl.GDC is an exhibit taking place in the GDC Expo. Visitors can play games using alternative controllers and meet the developers behind the projects. One of these games win the alt.ctrl.GDC Award, which includes a $2,000 prize plus a special trophy, at the IGF ceremony during GDC, with judging taking place on-site.