GDC | 2023 Recap

GDC | 2023 Recap

By Friday afternoon at GDC I was energized. I was floating around with a big smile on my face, frequently stopping to record a voice memo of a spark ignited by a demo or chat at a nearby booth before it escaped me.

My job is to discover new behaviours, and the new tech that is facilitating, supercharging or creating entirely new behaviours. From those insights and possibilities, ideas are born! And then of course I connect you to the creators and builders who can bring your ideas to life ;)

GDC - the Game Developers Conference - happens in San Francisco annually. And gaming is something that billions do daily.

So what got me so energized at GDC 2023? Read on for hot takes on NEX,, Unreal, Pico, Pimax, NReal, and more.

Unreal Alright

My GDC experience started with the State of Unreal keynote on Wednesday. The Epic and Unreal ecosystem is not only impressive in scale (hundreds of millions on their platforms/games), but their focus on creation is what really gets my heart racing. From the once small platforms they have acquired over the years including my faves Sketchfab (now FAB) and Capturing Reality (who recently launched RealityScan), to the announcement of UEFN: world-building for Fortnite. 

UEFN allows you to design, develop, and publish games and experiences directly into Fortnite, that can then be enjoyed by millions of players. Creators can work together across PC and console to develop and test islands in real-time, and easily create new game logic.

Next: NEX

Remember Wii? Then remember the next ten years when everyone wanted gesture and motion controlled experiences for brands and it was really technically complicated? Well NEX removes that complex technical barrier. Their motion engine (that integrates with Unity) uses the front-facing camera on any device screen to support “...motion-based entertainment that makes moving fun again.”

With experiences for Peppa Pig, Homecourt backed by the NBA, or my favourite Starri - basically Beat Saber without the headset - I could see possibilities abound. I literally jumped into a demo blowing and popping bubbles, and immediately an idea for Kit Kat popped into my head. I was just so struck by the joy of movement without any barrier to the user.

“Imagine Kit Kat creating a Have a Break campaign that gets you up from your desk and moving - then obviously reaching for a Kit Kat…”

In a World… of AI… 

I was hotly anticipating meeting They surpassed my expectations and the creative ideas came tumbling out. Inworld’s service offering is not hard to grasp:

“... a solution for building experiences with AI characters powered by 20+ machine learning models – that lets you say goodbye to the headaches of using large language models directly”

Once you wrap your head around it, your conceptual mind gets very, very excited. From my conversation with Florin Radu (head of partnerships) I understood that I could:

  • Quickly create one or many NPCs that could interact with users/players
  • Feed those characters with personality information, sure; but also
  • Feed in fourth wall parameters. As Florin explained, “a character in the Star Wars universe wouldn’t know about current Earth events, right?"
  • Feed in custom (brand/community) safety measures on top of those already in the platform
  • And because it’s AI-based, creating “existing characters” is easy, i.e. Smokey the Bear could find 80% of what it needed to be and know from the internet as a baseline

It was these points that got me finding the nearest pillar to lean against and record this nugget after floating away from the booth. My husband plays a lot of Skyrim:

The Quest for a Better Headset

NReal AR Glasses
I can’t believe I’d never tried the NReal glasses before, so I kept walking past until there was no line. They had a few demos set up showing off 3dof and 6dof experiences. Most centered on second-screen: plug into your laptop, phone, or gaming devices (very cool). Given the stats on how many folks love watching shows in VR (BigScreen, Netflix etc) I figure there’s a strong use case for this in both productivity and play. Their site extols the virtues of having bigger/more screen, not having to look down, wearing on a plane, etc. 

The other demo was a 6dof game. I admit that while the promise was exciting, the fov for the 6dof experience - and the overall fit - wasn’t ideal for frequent use. Given the right use-case though? SO MUCH EASIER to reach for than a VR headset. Speaking of VR headsets… Look, when I’m in VR, I love it. It’s just the hurdle to get in there to begin with when I’m often already on three other screens. But, I still adore VR and know it will continue to grow and evolve, because of the wildly engaging experience it provides. It’s so good at so many things. 

Pico VR Headset
So I was excited to see Pico show up so impressively this year. I’m calling it: the Meta presence was lame. It was big, but it was lame. The headset market is ripe for competition and disruption. The Pico booth was happening. There were headsets everywhere, and on everyone: sitting on beanbags, fighting in battle arenas, in a timeline on the wall, and deconstructed with all their inner bits on display. The booth was a delight!

Pimax VR Headset
Then there is Pimax. I tried their original headset in around 2017 at VRLA and it blew my mind with its wider-than-anyone-else FOV. Now they’re back to a more normal FOV, but the resolution is out of this world. I will let this cringey video do the talking for me - I mean, it’s me talking in the video, but in a really cringey way. In short, it was almost too real…

Reconnecting IRL

The reason I love catching up with friends and colleagues at conferences is because I get to see what they think is important and interesting, through their lens of experience and perspective. I got to meet up with two Robyn’s that I greatly admire on Thursday afternoon. While Robyn Selly was explaining how much she was enjoying leading a game development team at Consortium9, and how they are creating the future of interactive entertainment from a creator-centric pov, it sparked a thought for Voiijer... 

“Could NFTs unlock Pro features and power the flywheel of participation → exploration funding → creation? … rather than (or as well as) a traditional subscription model”

Catching up with the inimitable Robyn Moulder and her team at 3lb games gave me a game studio’s pov on the current VR headset landscape. Pico were going all-out to topple Oculus - sorry, Meta Quest - with a developer fund and helping studios port their games to the platform. 

FYI → Robyn Moulder will be speaking at at AWE, where my partners The Electric Factory will be speaking on AR. Check our events page for details.  

If you ever need panelists for your events on XR, metaverse, web3, AI, gaming or advertising I have an incredible network of wickedly smart people I consider friends, colleagues and confidants to recommend. 

Honorable Mentions

Friday on the Expo Floor was the best. I got free headshots at the NVidia and Oracle booth and penned this LinkedIn post about the experience. If you are an event organizer or brand, please consider booked Kinser Studios for your next IRL event.

For us #solopreneurs and #remoteworkers it can be tough to get good pics, and we need them all the time for talks/events/press. At GDC you have gamers, startups, influencers, students - this was the perfect gift for them (and me)!

And then I bumped into someone who was connected to me through a love of fashion. Business attire is what makes you feel confident and yourself: shop Punk Majesty here.