GDC 2019: Why avid gamers ought to truly care about this yr’s Sport Builders Convention

We don’t normally make an enormous deal concerning the annual Sport Builders Convention. Positive, we cowl it. Why not? It’s proper down the road from our workplace in San Francisco, and in previous years we’ve gotten some large tales out of it. It’s the place Microsoft gave us the primary particulars on DirectX 12, again in 2014—a transfer that’s simply now beginning to come to fruition. It’s additionally the place Epic made Unreal Engine free for builders. It’s the place real-time ray tracing turned, nicely, actual. And who might overlook the mythological Atari VCS, a console we “noticed” at GDC 2018 however nonetheless have but to see in any working kind.

Level being: There are all the time one or two attention-grabbing tales to return from the present.

However 2019 is seeking to be a GDC for the ages, an actual storm of reports from Google, Microsoft, Epic, Valve, and extra. New consoles! New companies! New questions on outdated companies! We normally don’t write up one in all these primers for GDC, however this yr’s present is one it’s best to most likely regulate, for all the explanations beneath.

Google

Let’s begin with Google, as its keynote is concurrently essentially the most predictable and essentially the most disruptive. For the final six months or so, Google’s been testing what it calls “Challenge Stream.” Those that signed as much as take part got a free copy of Murderer’s Creed: Odyssey at some stage in the take a look at. The catch? You didn’t personal a replica of Odyssey, nor had been you profiting from any upscale PC {hardware} you had available. As you would possibly count on from the identify, you had been streaming Murderer’s Creed from Google’s servers to your PC, through Chrome.

Ubisoft

Now clearly Google’s not the primary to do that. OnLive pioneered the concept greater than a decade in the past, and Sony at present provides the same service through PlayStation Now. You’ll be able to even stream PlayStation exclusives to your PC.

Indicators point out that Google will give Challenge Stream an official identify, pricing construction, and launch date subsequent week throughout GDC. We’ve been invited to an occasion scheduled for Tuesday, March 19 at 10 a.m. Pacific the place Google’s promised to unveil “the way forward for gaming.” And whereas I’d count on the already-tested Chrome performance to proceed, it’s price noting that is shaping as much as be an even bigger announcement than simply the PC. Google can also be anticipated to unveil a streaming-centric console throughout GDC, full with its personal controller. Different rumors have speculated there’s Chromecast performance as nicely, given the latest mannequin comprises Bluetooth and thus might assist Xbox One and PlayStation four controllers.

That’s what makes this theoretically such an enormous deal. Earlier than Google sells even a single console, it’s already carved a distinct segment into the video games trade that comprises each Chrome consumer and doubtlessly a major slice of Chromecast customers as nicely. Then all it wants is video games.

Microsoft xCloud

In fact, Google’s not the one one wanting towards a digital future. Microsoft’s rumored to be engaged on streaming on a number of fronts, a few of which could present up at GDC. The overarching umbrella is Challenge xCloud, Microsoft’s sport streaming answer. In the intervening time, xCloud appears primarily meant for next-gen. A brand new Xbox is true across the nook—so shut, the most recent whispers say we would hear particulars as early as E3. One rumor says we would get an inexpensive, streaming-centric Xbox as a part of Microsoft’s next-gen lineup, constructed on Challenge xCloud.

So what’s that must do with GDC? Nicely, on this situation Microsoft’s not only a {hardware} firm anymore, however a service firm. It doesn’t care the place you play its video games, so long as you pay to play them—a rumor that’s no less than partially supported by Microsoft’s friendlier angle towards the PC of late.

xbox one controller IDG

Thus there’s a lot of interest in a Microsoft panel at GDC titled, “Xbox Live: Growing & Engaging Your Gaming Community Across Platforms.” That seems to fit into Thursday’s news that Microsoft ported Xbox Live to iOS and Android. And that might be all we get next week! There’s a chance xCloud won’t be mentioned at all.

Yet further speculation (via Direct-Feed Games) suggests Microsoft will release its Game Pass subscription service on the Nintendo Switch in the near future. From there it’s a very short hop to “streaming Xbox games to Android, iOS, and Switch.” We’ll see what happens next week, and how much of this Microsoft saves for E3.

The expanding Xbox family

There’s more, though. Microsoft is swarming with rumors lately, and while none of these are necessarily showing up at GDC, it’s at least worth mentioning them.

First up, an Xbox One S sans-optical drive. A Windows Central rumor says Microsoft will release the “Xbox One S All-Digital Edition” in May, with preorders kicking off in April. There are only two industry shows between now and then, GDC and PAX East, so while none of Microsoft’s panels seem like an obvious place to announce a console the odds are still pretty good.

Even more of a long-shot: Native Xbox One games on PC. This rumor stems from some work at Thurrott last month, which saw the latest Windows Insider build downloading State of Decay from the Xbox servers and seemingly running the Xbox version natively on Windows 10. Extend that out a bit, and perhaps all Xbox One games will soon run on PC instead of just the current crop of universal Windows app ports. But will we get that news at GDC? Probably not. That seems much more suited for an E3 reveal.

Store war

Okay, so what else do we have at GDC? Epic and Valve.

It’s the competition that will define 2019, with the upstart Epic Games Store doing its damnedest to dethrone Steam. Already we’ve seen Metro Exodus and The Division 2 go Epic-exclusive, with more games likely to follow as the year goes on—which makes Epic’s usual Wednesday-morning “State of Unreal” keynote an interesting prospect. While Epic tends to keep that speech relatively developer-centric, there are usually one or two broader pieces of news included.

Metro Exodus IDG / Hayden Dingman

The more pertinent session takes place Thursday morning, though, when Epic hosts “Epic Games Store: An Update and Q&A.” Announcements of upcoming exclusives? Maybe. But I’d be more interested in seeing a road map for additional features—cloud saves, for instance.

Epic had better hope it has some solid news to deliver, because literally 15 minutes after the Epic Games Store session we’ll have the “Steam Business Update.” Again, it’s hard to know what Valve will talk about here, but given the smattering of interface updates recently I’m hoping we’ll get our first all-encompassing look at the long-awaited Steam overhaul, or some idea how Valve plans to address the discoverability problems that now plague the store. And that’s in addition to some discussion of the new Steam Link Anywhere streaming capabilities announced this week, of course.

Grab bag

There’s more, of course. GDC’s been an unofficial VR show for years, and that streak will continue this year I’m sure. Oculus’s standalone Quest headset is just a few months off now, so I expect we’ll see some more demos on that. HTC revealed two new Vive headsets at CES in January, so those also could be likely candidates to show up here. I’m excited to try the new Vive Pro with built-in eye-tracking, given how well our Tobii demo went last year.

Unity’s also hosting a keynote on Monday. I don’t expect that’ll be too consumer-oriented, but now that we live in a post-Epic Games Store world I don’t know what to think. It could simply be engine updates, new tools for developers—or Unity could also be launching a storefront. Who knows?

And then there will be the usual smattering of games, of course. GDC isn’t really known for game announcements or demos, but there are always rumors, and this year’s rumors are pretty exciting.

All in all, it’s set to be the most jam-packed GDC in recent memory. Stay tuned next week, as we’ll be bringing you updates from the show as quick as we can. Don’t expect any Atari VCS news though—I already asked, and it won’t be there. Quelle surprise.

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