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The Game Developers Conference kicks off Monday with a week-long series of events in San Francisco.

The main conference runs Wednesday through Friday, but a bunch of summits run Monday and Tuesday. Attendance is expected to be down slightly from last year’s 18,000, according to Meggan Scavio, director of the GDC, in an interview with the Associated Press. The event should be a mix of celebration and gloom. While the larger economy is shrinking, U.S. sales of console games and hardware grew 10 percent in February. Overall U.S. game hardware and software sales grew 22 percent in 2008.

At the same time, companies are closing studios and laying off developers. As the AP noted, many of the sessions highlight how developers can get by in hard times. Titles include Business in a Red Ocean: Surviving the Squeeze, Stability in Stormy Weather, and Raising Capital in a Recession.

Given that Apple has more than 6,800 games on the iPhone and iPod Touch and has the fastest-growing game platform in the industry, I’d have expected it to have more of a presence at the show. But so far, it hasn’t announced the kind of events that other big platform owners have.

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By contrast, Sony is having a big party for game developers on Wednesday night. Microsoft and Nintendo will have a significant presence at the show, too, although, perhaps in recognition of big industry layoffs and the recession, they’re not holding big parties.

Highlights of the conference include a Wednesday morning keynote speech by Satoru Iwata, chief executive of Nintendo, in his third address and the first since the Wii became an industry sensation after its launch in 2006. He will talk about the DSi, the third version of the DS game handheld to launch since 2004.

And Hideo Kojima, creator of the Metal Gear series of games, will give a keynote on Thursday morning that will surely be popular with all of the game designers.

I also always enjoy attending the Independent Games Festival, which highlights the work of independent game developers and offers peer recognition.

The GDC, hosted and organized by Think Services, will be held at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco again. It’s also expected to draw about 300 exhibitors as it did last year. There are 400 sessions planned, which is fewer than usual. VentureBeat’s own conference, GamesBeat 09, will be on March 24, a couple of miles away at the Mission Bay Conference Center. Our event will focus on the business and technology of the video game industry.

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