Game Developers Conference organizers are still moving ahead with the annual conference, despite losing exhibitors such as Epic, Microsoft, and Unity amid coronavirus concerns. In a statement published on its website today, organizers said they are “closely monitoring the COVID19 (coronavirus) situation and want to assure everyone that your health and safety are a top priority.”
The novel coronavirus has had an unexpected impact on the gaming industry, from delays to game league cancellations. Developers have pulled out of annual events like PAX East, citing health safety concerns. In the weeks leading up to March’s annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, companies like Sony, Electronic Arts, Facebook, and Kojima Productions have announced that they’re skipping the event. As GDC draws near, many within the games industry have wondered if it will continue as planned or wind up canceled like Facebook’s F8 or Mobile World Congress.
“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,” reads the statement from today.
On February 25th, organizers told The Verge that the conference would be “moving forward as planned” in San Francisco next month, despite concerns over the international coronavirus outbreaks. A spokesperson told The Verge that “the California Department of Public Health, the San Francisco Department of Public Health, and the San Francisco Travel Association continue to support the convening of public events.”
On February 27th, companies began to pull out more rapidly, including two of the industry’s biggest game engines. Unity, the company behind one of the most popular game engines in the world, says it is canceling all GDC-related activities and advising employees not to travel to the event. “We take our employees’ wellbeing very seriously,” Unity said in a statement. “We do not want any Unity employee or partner to compromise their health and safety unnecessarily.”
Epic followed suit on Twitter. “Here at Epic we were excited about participating in GDC 2020,” the company said. “Regrettably, uncertainty around health concerns has made it unviable to send our employees, and so we have made the difficult decision to withdraw attendance.”
Microsoft’s Game Stack team announced that it would also withdraw from the event, citing “an abundance of caution” after reviewing guidance from global health authorities. “The health and safety of players, developers, employees, and our partners around the world is our top priority,” the team announced in a blog post. “Especially as the world is experiencing growing public health risks associated with coronavirus (COVID-19).” It will instead hold a digital-only event from March 16th–18th.
Despite there being no reported cases of the virus in San Francisco, Mayor London Breed declared a state of emergency for the city on Tuesday; the move will allow the city to respond to potential infections more quickly. In a letter, San Francisco Travel Association president and CEO Joe D’Alessandro assured attendees that “the official agencies are being extremely proactive to keep visitors and residents safe and healthy.” Residents and attendees alike are encouraged to “practice common sense prevention,” such as hand washing, and avoid attending if they are ill.
It’s still unclear how the coronavirus scare will impact this year’s conference overall; last year’s event was its biggest yet with more than 29,000 people in attendance. The conference is set to take place from March 16th–20th.
Update February 27th, 9:30AM ET: Added details about Unity canceling GDC presence and its impact on the event.
Update February 27th, 12:35PM ET: Added details about Microsoft’s Game Stack team pulling out of GDC.
Update February 27th, 2:01PM ET: Added details about Epic’s withdrawal.
Update February 28th, 10:10AM ET: Updated with GDC’s latest statement.