The Game Awards interview — Geoff Keighley readies gaming’s biggest gala
If gaming has a gala, it is The Game Awards. Coming December 6, the awards show for the video game industry will be streamed live across 40 global video networks.
Fans will be able to vote on all of the awards on Discord servers, Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant. Love it or hate it, it’s been called the “Oscars of gaming,” and that very phrasing gets it all wrong, as games have become bigger than movies in terms of blockbuster hits, revenues, and audience size. As Josef Fares said at last year’s The Game Awards, “F*** the Oscars!“, as you can see below.
The man behind the show, which will take place at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles, is host Geoff Keighley. Just four years old, the show reached more than 18 million viewers in 2017. I like it because it brings together game developers, Esports champions, digital influencers, and Hollywood names for a night about celebrating games. And it gives us the first glimpse of the next year’s big games.
Nominees will be announced on November 13. I talked to Keighley about this year’s show, which will air from China to Brazil and will cost millions of dollars to produce. I’m hoping it will be a platform for bringing us all together.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: The Game Awards are already very successful. What are you doing this year to make it bigger than last year?
Geoff Keighley: Last year it was a massive success. We were very happy with the results. But it was also very daunting, because we grew so much last year. We more than doubled the audience. Doing that year after year is going to be very difficult. This year we focused on how we could expand in more places. We’re doing a lot in China this year. Stephen Ma from Tencent joined [as an adviser]. We’re going to be live on more than 15 platforms over there. More global distribution in China, Taiwan, Brazil. Generally we’re increasing our global distribution around the show.
We’re also finding new ways to let fans vote and be part of the show. We added fan voting last year to help fans select the winners. That was very successful. We’re adding voting via Alexa. You can vote with your voice. We’re partnering with Discord to have live voting on Discord servers. More places to watch the show and more ways to be part of the show and interact. Beyond that, with Fortnite and all these other titles that are getting so much attention — the show gets stronger because games get stronger.
GamesBeat: Do you see yourselves doing some things that are very different from traditional award shows?
Keighley: Our show is unique. “Awards” is in the name, and at the end of the day that’s why we do the show, but the forward-looking content, the new game announcements, that’s a big part of what drives people to the show. It’s always a balance between awards and first looks. This year we probably have our biggest lineup ever in terms of new game announcements at the show. Most of the major publishers will be sharing news on what they’re doing in the future.
It’s a big event for the industry. I’m really proud that we have so many companies on the same stage, putting competition aside to share a first look at where games are going in 2019 and beyond. That’s something a lot of awards shows don’t do. We think the urgency and excitement around that drives a lot of viewers.
GamesBeat: Do we all agree with Josef Fares we should just say, f*** the Oscars, this isn’t the Oscars?
Keighley: [Laughs] A lot of people asked me what I thought about his rant. What I say about that is, he wasn’t attacking our show. He was attacking, as you said, the suggestion that we have to be validated by other forms of entertainment. That’s something I constantly think about, because I love that sometimes we can bring pop culture together on our show. We can have Guillermo del Toro at our show, which elevates all these media. It shows that film people respect games and game people respect film.
But yeah, the idea that our show is questing to become the Oscars — we’re a very different show. The Oscars has its own struggles with the way the Academy is set up. You probably saw the news that they’re trying to add a “popular” Oscar category. They announced that and pulled back. They’re trying to figure out how to relate to the audience. We found a different model for the Game Awards.
The tagline of “the Oscars for the game world,” that’s just a shorthand to help explain that this is a ceremony that matters for games. But when you actually look into it, it’s very different. Our awards are selected by a jury of media and fans. It’s a blended vote, which is a very unique process. That’s what we’ve found works best for this industry, to have gamers and publications vote on it. The Oscars, once you’re in the Academy you’re in for life. We have a revolving group of people, or outlets really, that have collective opinions. It’s a very different model. Having done these shows for a long time, we’ve found that’s what works for games.
Again, the forward-looking aspect of this industry — people like to be marketed to. They like to hear about where games are going in the future. It’s like E3. That’s one big marketing event, but gamers love it, because that gets them excited about what’s coming up in the future. The other thing this year is that the jury is very global. We have more international outlets involved. We have outlets from China and Peru and Australia and Japan, everywhere around the world. That’s one of the big selling points of the show, that it really is global in how it looks at the industry. That’s powerful and exciting for me.
Our show is unique. Its signature is what works for the game industry. A lot of people have tried to understand why this show works and why other award shows keep losing ratings. It’s very different. We’re all digital. We’re interactive. We have a very different approach to how we distribute the show. It’s been working for us. We’re not questing to take down the Oscars or anything like that. The film industry is incredible, and it’s inspired a lot of people in the game industry. We’re just creating a show that works for our audience and honors the people that create these games and devote their lives to them. That’s why we do the show.
GamesBeat: Is Content Creator of the Year — is that a different name for what you’ve had before as Trending Gamer?
Keighley: Yeah. We’ve sort of evolved that category. What’s happened in the past, we’ve had this category which is a blend of streamers and personalities and people who’ve done good in the community. The thing we’ve found, especially if you involve fan voting, is that it’s not necessarily fair to have these massive streamers that have huge built-up audience along with folks who really do deserve to be recognized for what they’re doing.
We’ve split the category in two halves, in effect. We’re partnering with Facebook on this program called Global Gaming Citizens. That’s recognizing people throughout the world, throughout the community, that are doing great work. They’re being active in their community. They’re evangelizing gaming. They’re doing great things. We’ll talk more about that as we get closer to the show, but we’re going to honor a bunch of people that way. Multiple people, not just one.
The Content Creator of the Year, that’s really going to be looking at creators in the community that are espousing the positive benefits of gaming, that are doing great things for the community. Obviously there are a lot of incredible creators on Facebook and Twitch and YouTube and Twitter and all these other platforms that communicate to the gaming audience. It’s important to recognize the players in the show.
That’s something, again, that’s unique compared to the Oscars. They’re not going to give an award to the moviegoer of the year. But we feel that gaming is an inherently interactive medium. The player is partly the author of the experience. Having an award that recognizes an individual from the community is important. We’re evolving that category and recognizing people that do good in the community exclusively, and then also look at these creators who’ve had the most impact on the industry this year. We don’t know the nominees yet, but we know that a lot of streamers have crossed over in popular culture in a big way this year.
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