Oculus, Sony to (Also) Skip GDC Over COVID-19 Concerns

Out of an abundance of caution for their legal liability employees, both Sony Interactive Entertainment and Facebook’s Oculus VR division announced plans to skip this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, over concerns regarding the continued spread of COVID-19. GDC is currently scheduled for the week of March 16, and will be the second major North American event that Sony Interactive Entertainment has peaced out on due to COVID-19. Just yesterday, it announced that it would not be attending PAX East for the same reason.

(We are still attending PAX East and you should come to our live panel!)

“We have made the difficult decision to cancel our participation in Game Developers Conference due to increasing concerns related to COVID-19 (also known as coronavirus),” Sony Interactive Entertainment told GamesIndustry in a statement. “We felt this was the best option as the situation related to the virus and global travel restrictions are changing daily. We are disappointed to cancel our participation, but the health and safety of our global workforce is our highest concern. We look forward to participating in GDC in the future.”

Meanwhile, “out of concern for the health and safety of our employees, our dev partners, and the GDC community, Facebook will not be attending this year’s Game Developer Conference due to the evolving public health risks related to COVID-19,” so says a Facebook spokesperson. “We still plan to share the exciting announcements we had planned for the show through videos, online Q&As, and more, and will plan to host GDC partner meetings remotely in the coming weeks. We continue to collaborate with UBM, GDC’s parent company, and our partners, and thank them for their efforts.”

It might seem a little silly to be this concerned over a virus that has failed to penetrate the United States on a large scale, but it’s less ridiculous than you might think. First off, discouraging mass gatherings is pandemic prevention 101 — PAX East and GDC may be the first western conventions to see cancellations, but tech companies dropped out of the Barcelona-based Mobile World Congress left and right for the same reasons.

The San Francisco Armory, which is not the site of GDC, but is a landmark deeply familiar with disease transmission prevention measures.

Secondly, there’s plenty of evidence to go around that large North American video game conventions are effective disease vectors. In 2009, almost 100 cases of H1N1, aka the “Swine Flu,” were reported to have been commuted at that year’s PAX West, then simply known as the Penny Arcade Expo. Granted, H1N1 originated in the United States so it’s not a perfect one-to-one comparison, but you can see why it’s relevant. And even without bringing global pandemics into the conversation, most regular convention goers have at least one story about catching “PAX pox” or some other ailment shortly after a show.

And finally, the spread of COVID-19 is slowing down, but it hasn’t stopped. In addition to the thousands that have already died in China and elsewhere, new deaths were reported today in Japan, South Korea (where confirmed cases doubled in 24 hours), and Iran.

Elsewhere, the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Egypt, Hong Kong, Macao, India, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Australia, Canada, and of course, the United States, all harbor confirmed cases of COVID-19, in addition to hundreds more under quarantine, since COVID-19 has an incubation period of two weeks. To think that large gatherings of thousands from every corner of the world — including business and entertainment professionals whose jobs regularly require international travel — couldn’t contribute to further dissemination of the disease is, at least in my own personal IMO, a little arrogant.

So! Should you cancel your own personal trip to our uproariously hilarious live panel at PAX East? Nah, you’re probably fine. You’re a lot more likely to catch the regular ol’ flu at PAX East or GDC than you are COVID-19. But you’re also not Facebook or Sony, and aren’t responsible for sending hundreds of employees from areas of the world with higher infection rates to an area of the world with a lower infection rate.

Correction: This post originally referred to COVID-19 as the “Wuhan coronavirus,” which was a bad call on my part. World Health Organization guidelines specifically forbid the use of location names when classifying a disease, in order to prevent the spread of dangerous misinformation or inferences about specific locations and the people that live there. I regret having contributed to the growing stigma that Chinese- and other Asian-Americans are already facing, and have ensured that future coverage of the virus on Fanbyte will not contain this phrase. I’m also making these changes proactively and voluntarily, because we can always do better.