Geoff Keighley details The Game Awards 2021 and Beyond
For one night in December, the video game industry comes together to celebrate its recent past and anticipate its innovative future, to revel in what was accomplished and tease what’s to come, to embrace celebrity from outside its industry and mint fame for those within it.
For those who play, make, invest in, and critique video games, The Game Awards takes over Dec. 9 with a one-night return to—if not normalcy—at least something approaching it.
Now in its eighth year, The Game Awards returns to a live event in the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles after a one-year hiatus to a virtual event that saw a mammoth jump in viewership that nearly doubled those watching, up to about 83 million.
And while by all accounts the show was a massive success, The Game Awards founder and host Geoff Keighley is delighted to be returning to the theater and a show more anchored to reality.
“Some people have said to us, ‘Oh, it worked really well last year, why don't you just do that again, and have everyone on Zoom and you don’t need to go back to the in-person event,” he said in a recent interview. “I think we all felt that it was great that we did that, but we really missed the energy of people accepting their awards live and the reactions and all that type of stuff.”
That isn’t to say there weren’t lessons learned in the purely virtual event from 2020. Keighley said that not having to worry about a seating chart for the theater and the red carpet, made things a bit more relaxed last year in some ways.
The audience also reaffirmed, he said, that its biggest interest is in the games.
“You know, it's great to have celebrities, it's great to have music, but I think focusing really on games is important,” he said. “Especially this year, there'll be a lot of content for 2022 and 2023 that will be showing us our kind of biggest lineup yet of world premieres and announcements.
“What we really learned last year was at the end of the day, it really is the games and the trailers that drive the show.”
Keighley said he expects the show to feature 40 to 50 games this year “someway or another.” He added that the number of new games being announced is probably in the double digits.
Planning for the show usually kicks into overdrive in the summer. It was the summer of 2020 that Keighley and The Game Awards team decided to not host last year’s event in person and pivot to a virtual show.
This summer, the decision was made that the show could be hosted live again, returning to the Microsoft Theater in LA. But there will be some key differences, including an audience wearing masks, vaccine requirements, and cutting live attendance in half to ensure safety.
“And honestly, things are still evolving,” he said.
What he does know is that The Game Awards 2021 will be a full-scale production with an orchestra on stage, special celebrity guests, the awards themselves, and a slew of new game announcements.
Keighley said this year’s massive lineup of games might, in some way, be tied to the pandemic, both because of changed game production schedules and a reduction in video game events where titles can be shown off.
“I do think generally, that because of the pandemic, developers are late on their games, things are being delayed, there's just a lot of churn,” he said. “So I think we benefited in that we are kind of a big event that people know is happening, and it doesn't require people physically flying anywhere to see.
“It's definitely a very busy year in terms of the number of games we’re being pitched. We're blessed that pretty much every developer and publisher wants to have some degree of content on the show.”
While Keighley couldn’t talk about the specifics of what was being shown—if for no other reason than a lot of things are still influx—he did say that the show is going to have some really cool next-gen stuff.
“I still feel like we've only kind of sort of touched the surface of what's possible on the PS5 and Xbox Series X, so I think you'll see some stuff in the show that is truly pretty stunning,” he said. “We’ll see footage of games that will remind people that the best of this industry is still to come.”
Of course, the awards themselves remain a big part of, well, The Game Awards.
“I think this year is a unique year and because a lot of things have been delayed and pushed,” Keighley said. “So you have a lot of big games, but it's kind of anyone's game this year, which as a show producer, you sometimes yearn for those years where it's a rivalry between like a God of War and Red Dead Redemption.
“There's great tension this year. I’d say the awards are about half the show and the other half is the announcements and premieres.”
Both those premieres and the awards may also soon be including a bit more from the world of traditional entertainment as well. Keighly said this year’s show will definitely see more trailers for things that aren’t video games, but are rather video games adjacent, like a television show or movie inspired by or recreating a video game.
There may even be some new categories in the awards.
“Probably next year, we may be able to add a best adaptation category to The Game Awards,” he said.
The audience itself may be home to a greater sampling of the game industry, as many seem to be treating this year’s award show as a chance to reconnect in person after pandemic-fueled isolation.
“One of the things I'm really excited about is that everyone sort of wants to be a part of the show and be there together,” Keighly said. “It is really the first time in two years that the industry will be able to gather. I think it'll be a special night, and I'm just very excited to see people again because I haven't really seen people either. I haven't traveled much at all in the past two years, which is kind of crazy to say.”
While the trajectory of the show will continue, Keighley continues to warn that it can’t keep up the staggering pace it seems to have hit since its inception. Each year sees sizable leaps in viewership, often jumping by double-digit growth. While last year’s jump from about 45 million to about 83 million was huge, it actually wasn’t the show’s largest percentage growth, which was more than 200 percent from 2016 to 2017.
That simply can’t continue, Keighly pointed out.
“You know, maybe if we hit 100 million that would be something, but yeah, I mean, we're obviously not going to be doubling every year,” he said. “That's not sustainable. But honestly, we don't really think that much about the numbers. We just make the best show we can.”
There aren’t many new markets for Keighley and The Game Awards to expand to. The show is already shown just about everywhere including China, India, Russia, South East Asia, and Brazil. But Keighley does see one substantial potential location for growing viewership: the emerging metaverse.
The Game Awards can already be watched inside some virtual worlds, via devices like Oculus, and games like Core, but the show is just starting to fully understand how best to tap into virtual world viewership.
“We're really interested in the metaverse style of how people watch the show,” he said. “We're starting to explore the idea of finding new ways to distribute it using games and game technology. That's actually kind of our next platform, right? We're a show about video games, so of course, we should be airing it inside of video games if we can.
“We're thinking about what can we do in Fortnite Creative. What can we do in Core? So it's early days with that stuff, but I do think in five years more people will watch our show or participate in our show from within a kind of real-time 3D environment than just watching a traditional video feed.”
There is one thing Keighley and The Game Awards aren’t currently interested in:
“We’re not,” he said, “doing any NFT stuff.”
The Game Awards kick off Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, at 8 p.m. EST, live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.