The big picture: There have been quite a few cancellations affecting the tech and gaming world as of late due to the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Sony, Facebook, EA, Kojima Productions, and Unity have all announced they are skipping the Game Developers Conference (GDC) due to coronavirus concerns. Microsoft and Epic are the latest to skip GDC amid the virus fears. With so many companies pulling out, this could cause GDC to be cancelled as well.
"After a close review of guidance by global health authorities and out of an abundance of caution, we’ve made the difficult decision to withdraw from participating at Game Developers Conference 2020 in San Francisco," Microsoft wrote in their Game Stack blog. "The health and safety of players, developers, employees, and our partners around the world is our top priority. Especially as the world is experiencing growing public health risks associated with coronavirus (COVID-19)."
In lieu of physically attending the event, Microsoft will instead run a digital-only event March 16-18th. The company will livestream game developer sessions, panel discussions, Xbox Series X hardware discussions, and Project xCloud talks. Microsoft usually hosts an ID@Xbox event at GDC to highlight indie developers and games but the company hasn't specified whether that's also cancelled.
Likewise, Epic has declined to attend GDC. As the developer behind the hugely popular Unreal Engine, Fortnite and the Epic Games Store, their absence will certainly be felt. Epic was set to hold multiple panels along with its annual "State of Unreal" briefing. This briefing normally yields major announcements concerning the future of the Unreal Engine.
Here at Epic we were excited about participating in GDC 2020. Regrettably, uncertainty around health concerns has made it unviable to send our employees, and so we have made the difficult decision to withdraw attendance.— Unreal Engine (@UnrealEngine) February 27, 2020
Stay tuned for Epic news and more through other channels.
According to the World Health Organization, the coronavirus has infected over 82,200 people and claimed 2,804 lives globally, mostly in mainland China. While there are about 60 confirmed cases in the United States, some U.S. cities such as San Francisco have already declared a state of emergency to prepare for a potential outbreak.
For the first time in its history, Mobile World Congress was cancelled due to similar concerns. With so many companies pulling out of GDC, one has to wonder if it will continue to proceed. If the virus continues to spread, it may threaten to cancel other major events this year including Google I/O, Apple's WWDC, and perhaps even the Tokyo Olympics.