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The Game Awards will debut on December 8 as an online and physical show that will be as close to the 2019 pre-pandemic event as possible, said host Geoff Keighley.
Keighley does not expect to see record viewing this year since a lot of things have been impacting games, whether it’s delays in titles or macroeconomic factors. But the team is proceeding with a show in the Microsoft Theater at LA Live in downtown Los Angeles, as it can sell tickets to the public once again, said Keighley and producer Kimmie Kim in an interview with GamesBeat.
They have produced the show for nine years. The rate of growth soared online by 84% in 2020 to 83 million viewers, but the growth of 2.4% in 2021 to 85 million viewers, reflecting how the pandemic boom effect topped out. Keighley does not expect to break records in 2022.
As for the nine years, Keighley said, “I can’t believe it has been that many years. I think it’s going to be a good show. We’ve got some elements that we’ve been wanting to do since 2019. It’s going back to a full show, having the energy of the orchestra and some pretty cool theatrical moments in the show.”
The Game Awards has opened its tickets for sale to the public, a contrast to last year when the crowd only consisted of private invitees and award candidates.
“It feels like we’re back to somewhere like 2019, where we have fans buying tickets,” he said. “On the production side, there are certainly still number restrictions.”
Kim thinks the show will see more international travelers this year, particularly from Japan, as restrictions on travel have loosened. Larger teams will have representation at the awards as well.
“I’m hopeful that things will be a little bit more human this year in the show, which leads to a better experience,” Keighley said.
Not much has changed in terms of the production, management, and interface with the talent, Kim said. The show will feature a big orchestra playing video game music, lots of awards, and world premieres. But the big difference is that public attendance. The crowd has to be less than a couple of thousand so that the event won’t be classified as a mega event, subject to more restrictions.
The Game Awards will be trying to hit as many new markets as it can, including Instagram Live for this year. Last year, it added a lot of streaming partners in India, in addition to its usual worldwide audience. It will have more new partners this year.
“It’s pretty much on every live platform that is out there,” Keighley said.
Last year, the show was able to have an in-person event since it predated much of the omicron variant wave of COVID-19 late last year. Sydnee Goodman will host a 30-minute opening act which leads into a 2.5-hour or so main show. But the goal is to reduce the length of the show and Keighley said the show is saying no to more pitches.
“Who knows how long Josef Fares is going to talk for,” Keighley said.
As for the balance between time for awards and game announcements at the show, Keighley said he did a poll recently asking what fans value. About 75% favored the world premieres, but he noted the game industry and many in the community value the awards.
“That’s the constant battle,” he said. “It’s always a balance.”
Some late pitches are still coming in and they always do up to the last minute, Keighley said. Keighley said the collaboration with the game companies will be special.
He added, “One of the things that I love about our show is that, after so many years of being on Zoom, one of the great things about game shows is that we can have our orchestra there. We can do things live and bring these games into the room. And I think the game companies agree with that and have really wanted to do some bigger things this year.”
As for the games in the awards, Keighley believes it will be a good competition among titles like Elden Ring, Sifu, Destiny, Horizon: Forbidden West, Xenoblade Chronicles 3, Bayonetta 3 and God of War: Ragnarok.
“Everyone thought I think was going to be a landslide of Elden Ring love across the industry. And it was an incredible game. But now I think we’re seeing amazing reviews on God of War: Ragnarok,” he said. “I think there is going to be a good rivalry for Game of the Year.”
Earlier this year, fans were fretting about all of the delays for major games, and that signaled how much impact COVID-19 had on game development, Keighley said.
“We felt it too as a show in terms of producing the show,” Keighley said. “I think by next year, the lineups will be really strong. We have a really strong lineup of games that will be showcased for coming out in the future.”
Keighley said a lot of game companies are supporting the show and making announcements of titles coming out despite the harsh economic environment and geopolitical problems in the world.
“There’s a lot of positive momentum around the gaming industry but we’re mindful of the larger macroeconomic situation that is going on,” Keighley said. “We see the layoffs of Meta and the challenges of advertising digitally. Everyone has been impacted to different degrees. And it was interesting that through the pandemic the market was doing great and games were through the roof.”
But he believes we’re seeing a natural correction to all of the pandemic surge as people go back into going out in public. The huge surge in streaming numbers has begun to subside. So Keighley does not expect to break records that were set in the last couple of years.
“There’s going to be a year where we’re not going to grow, where we’re going to shrink a little bit. And I think that could be this year, just because of many other forces at play,” Keighley said.
At the same time, Keighley said the company doesn’t put an emphasis on growing every year.
Still, The Game Awards is doing what it can to further embrace gamer culture. It added a new category this year of movie adaptations based on games.
“We try and evolve with the times a little bit,” Keighley said. “The other traditional award shows never add new categories. It’s so steeped in tradition. I like that we can be a little more flexible. The adaptation thing is something that we thought about and we wanted to wait until there would be five worthy nominees in the category. So we never want to create a category where it’s there are only five things. And this year, I think there have been a lot of adaptations.”
One of the goals is to embrace gaming culture.
“We all feel this opportunity but also obligation to represent this community. In 2020, we did these Zoom calls every week with fans and really felt the energy of this community and how much they care about the show. The community holds us accountable and really cares about it. They care about literally every second on the screen.”
“Some people are not gamers and they understand or hear about games from the show on the streaming platform,” said Kim. “It widens the viewers and the fan base, even if you’re not a gamer. You start learning about it, reading about it. So to me, that’s very rewarding.”
The show will have its usual emphasis on social good. It has a Games for Impact category, and its “future class” program is expanding with highlights of 50 new people across the industry who represent its future.
“We feel a tremendous obligation with the platform to recognize the future of games but also the future of the industry,” Keighley said.
Plans for 2023
Keighley also said he plans to do more things during the rest of the year now that physical events are opening up again. We will see another Summer Game Fest in 2023 around the June timeframe and another Opening Night Live show at Gamescom in August 2023.
“There are a few other things we’re working on now behind the scenes,” Keighley said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to announce in the coming months.”
Keighley said he has talked to the folks at Reed Pop, which is producing the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) show for June 2023, and he is hopeful E3 and the Summer Game Fest will coexist.
“We found tremendous success with the Summer Game Fest. All the game companies have been very supportive of what we’re doing and have told us to keep marching ahead and doing what we’re doing. So that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” Keighley said. “I hope that those the two shows coexist. They’re focusing more on a physical trade show experience, and we’re focused on much more of a digital consumer event. So I hope they’re going to live together in some way. And I will say just that the general June time period is a great time for video game news and content.”
I noted I would love to see a business-to-business game conference around the E3 time frame, as we used to see many years ago. Keighley said his focus remains on mass consumer events.
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