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Plugged In

What to expect at this year’s Game Developer’s Conference

Plugged In

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When it comes to video game conventions, GDC -- the Game Developer's Conference, if you'd care to be formal about it -- tends to live in the shadow of E3.

Unlike its flashier cousin, which is loaded with new console details and flagship game announcements, GDC is more about how those games are made. While it might not have the consumer pull of E3, however, GDC delivers an unvarnished look at the games business and often tells us where, exactly, we’re all headed.

Here are five topics we expect to dominate this year's show, which runs from March 25 – March 29 in San Francisco.

Free-to-play games

For the first time, free-to-play titles will be the focus of a two-day summit at GDC, a sign that this burgeoning style of play is about to burst into the big time. The rise of F2P in mobile games and on the PC has been rapid. Sony has even mentioned that it could support them with the PlayStation 4.

Alternate business models like this are proving extremely lucrative. At GDC, expect to hear more about games built entirely upon microtransactions that somehow don't turn off players by nickel and diming them to death.

Big game reveals

E3 is still the epicenter of major game reveals in this industry, but a few big titles always make their debut at GDC. Last year, EA pulled back the curtain on SimCity. This year, it will show off the first footage from Battlefield 4, its big gun for the holiday season.

Also, Konami’s Hideo Kojima is expected to reveal a few more details about The Phantom Pain, a mysterious title announced in December, which many expect is, in fact, a viral campaign that will result in the next Metal Gear Solid installment.

The next big Indie game

GDC's Independent Games Festival is often likened to the Sundance Film Festival. Independent games that are showcased there often go on to much greater things, with notable alum including Limbo, Bastion, Fez (the focus of the documentary film "Indie Game: The Movie") and, most famously, Minecraft.

All finalists in the show’s Independent Games Festival this year will be offered a distribution agreement on the Steam digital distribution system -- and it’s not uncommon for one or two to end up on consoles as well.

Historical perspective

To see the future, it helps to know the past. And for the past several years, GDC has hosted seminars where makers of classic games tell behind the scenes stories about big titles like Pac-Man and Doom.

This year, the teams behind Myst and X-COM: UFO Defense will discuss those two trendsetting titles. The makers of several more recent favorites – like Halo 4 and social/mobile sensation Candy Crush Saga -- will look at what went right and what went wrong with the development of those games.

Peeks into the future

It's not just future games that are on display at GDC, it's future game technologies. However, while the PlayStation 4 and next Xbox are in the spotlight these days, neither will have an especially strong presence at the show.

Instead, attendees will learn more about the Android-based Ouya console as it prepares for launch. And they'll get a chance to experience the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that has been capturing the attention of more and more game makers over the past year.

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