(From the pages of the March 26 issue of Variety.)

Independent filmmakers may have Sundance, but indie gamemakers head to San Francisco.

More than 20,000 are gathered at the city’s annual Game Developers Conference through March 29, looking to generate buzz — and hopefully land distribution — given it’s the only show where smaller titles made by teams of fewer than a dozen people can stand on even footing with deep-pocketed studios.

Independent Games Festival finalists, including “Kentucky Route Zero” and “Cart:Life,” for example, will be offered on digital distribution services including Xbox Live, PlayStation Network and Steam.

With more than 500 million people playing mobile or digitally distributed games worldwide, Hollywood’s stepped up its presence at GDC, namely mobile app-makers backed by the major talent agencies, and producers looking for new properties to exploit as films or TV shows, or developers to partner on projects. Disney’s showing “Disney: Infinity,” its answer to Activision’s “Skylanders,” while Warner Bros. opened a San Francisco-based studio to focus on mobile and social games days before the confab.

“In general, I think more folks in Hollywood are realizing that the old days of easy licensing into games is largely over and they need to consider their own packaging,” says Joe Minton, president of Digital Development Management.

Outside of E3, in Los Angeles each summer, and Las Vegas’ Dice Summit in February, few other events give content producers a chance to network with gamemakers or peak behind the curtain and see the future of the games biz like GDC, elevating its importance as a place for dealmaking.

The big boys of gaming already have embraced GDC as another launchpad for product. Sony is bringing its PlayStation 4; EA’s unveiling “Battlefield 4,” and Konami’s Hideo Kojima is expected to introduce the next installment of the “Metal Gear Solid” franchise.