Geoff Keighley: The Game Awards 2022 will be biggest show yet
As The Game Awards approaches what will be its ninth show in as many years, the annual celebration of the best games of the year and peek into what’s to come returns to its pre-COVID, in-person glory while continuing to grow its reach online.
This year’s show promises a new category for the awards (bumping the total to 31 with the inclusion of Best Adaptation), glimpses of 40 to 50 games (a handful of which will be brand-new teasers), and perhaps even a showing of game dev auteur Hideo Kojima’s latest project (He is, showrunner Geoff Keighley points out, a “dear friend of the show.”)
Over the past nearly decade, The Game Awards steadily built up a platform from its humble 1.9 million viewership start in 2014 to last year’s 85 million viewers, who watched the streamed show from seemingly all points around the world, including China, India, and Brazil.
The show’s success hinged on the ability of Keighley and his team to present an evening that walks a tightrope between award acceptance speeches and dazzling, over-the-top video game premiers and musical performances. These two halves of the show meld seamlessly in the night’s festivities but come together in very different ways.
The awards are in the hands of a voting jury of more than 100 media and influencer outlets from around the world. Most of the 31 categories are voted on by the entire pool, though specialized juries are put together for categories like esports, accessibility, and best adaptation.
To be eligible for an award, the games must be available to the public on or before Nov. 18 this year. While it’s not a usual step to set an eligibility cut-off, that has caused some drama in the past for Keighley and the show.
For instance, during an AMA on Twitter this year, a number of people brought up Forza Horizon 5 – a game that hit early access in a window between when judges were asked to submit their votes and the final deadline for changing votes. The resulting confusion led some to believe the game wasn’t considered or that it was slighted personally by Keighley, despite having won awards during the show.
“I mean, it was crazy,” Keighley said. “People on Twitter were like, ‘Why wasn't Forza eligible last year? And I'm like, ‘Well, it won three awards at the show.’ People don't even fact check.
“The thing that always happens with this show is that because I'm the producer and face of the show, there's still – I think – a percentage of people that think somehow I decide who the winners are. I have nothing to do with who wins or the nominees of the show.”
Ultimately, Keighley said, the team running the show needs to have a line in the sand for when a game has to be out to be eligible, and they try to keep it to about the same date every year.
“We don't have to necessarily be on a full calendar year,” he added. “We've had many cases of December games that have come back the next year and been eligible for Game of the Year and done well.”
This year’s show adds Best Adaptation to the mix. Keighley explained that it means a creative work that adapts a video game’s worlds or characters to another medium.
“Obviously, it could be movies; it could be streaming shows,” he said. “We had an interesting conversation where Universal Parks reached out to us and said, ‘Hey, would Super Nintendo World be considered an adaptation?’ And I'm like, ‘Technically, yeah, I guess it would be.’ It could be comic books. It could be a podcast, a narrative podcast.”
“The sexiest stuff is the Netflix series, or the movies and things like that. But we really hope that's a category that grows.”
Perhaps surprisingly, one well-known Netflix show often connected by fans to a video game –The Witcher – isn’t eligible.
“It's based on the books, not the games.”
The non-awards portion of this year’s Dec. 8 evening is the culmination of half a year of travel, vetting, and conversations by Keighley. Where the awards are the result of more than 100 people, those reveals are almost singularly Keighley’s vision.
“The people on my team and I collaborate, but most of the announcements are things that I ultimately make the call on,” he said.
While some of the game reveals are the results of years of conversations, a bulk of the decisions come out of a whirlwind tour of studios Keighley typically does over the summer each year.
“Like this summer, I was traveling through Europe, in the States and Canada, kind of visiting a bunch of studios, looking at games,” he said. “We talk to people. We get lots of things pitched to the point that we have to say no, unfortunately, to a lot of stuff. And then we start down the path of working with teams.”
Inevitably, that process also includes teams and games pulling out after making the cut for a myriad of reasons.
“We don't talk about a lot of the reveals early because things are still being figured out,” Keighley said, adding that he is also very involved on the creative side with how things will be shown or revealed.
“Like, I'm just reviewing a trailer this morning with a developer and giving notes and feedback on it,” he said. “We are pretty involved creatively, which people may not realize, in terms of the trailers and how we present them in the show and how we introduce them and kind of create the theatricality around those moments.”
Increasingly, especially in a year where there was no E3, Keighley finds himself having to make very hard judgment calls about what can be in a show that he and the team are working on ensuring doesn’t go too long.
“It’s devastating sometimes for teams when they can't get in The Game Awards, but we just don't have enough time,” he said. “And we're purposely actually trying to cut down the length of the show this year and do a little bit less, just because we thought it was getting a little too long and too much stuff last year.”
As is always the case in the run-up to the show, Keighley was a bit cagey about what exactly to expect from this year’s show.
What he did say was that The Game Awards would probably have 40 to 50 games across the show – some reveals, some existing titles.
“It’s a strong year for us, for new game announcements for sure,” he added. “I don’t want to get in trouble by promising, like, 12 Elden Rings or something, but we feel good. This will be one of our stronger line-ups. There are probably more than a dozen new things you’ll see at the show.”
And what about Hideo Kojima? Kojima has a long history of collaborating with Keighley on reveals, is on the show’s advisory board, and was not too long ago teasing his new creation.
“No updates on Hideo’s status,” Keighley said. “But he is obviously a dear friend of the show. I'm sure he will participate in some way. I think he's still figuring out his plans. So I'm sure in some way he will play a role. I think we're still trying to figure out what he exactly is going to do.”
While the awards, trailers, and musical performances make up a bulk of the show, Keighley is also aware that The Game Awards’ massive audience means it can be a meaningful platform for addressing issues that face the industry. What to do with that platform hasn’t quite been nailed down yet.
“It's something that's a constant debate and discussion,” Keighley said. “ What role do we play with the powerful platform we have? What's the right way to approach it? And I think we're thoughtful about it.”
With no firm guidelines in place, each year brings up issues that have to be discussed internally to figure out what to do. Last year, the big question was Activision Blizzard’s role in the show in light of claims about the company’s toxic culture and allegations against CEO Bobby Kotick.
Keighley announced days before last year’s show that, beyond its nominations, Activision Blizzard would not be a part of the show that year.
“The Activision thing last year, that was kind of a joint decision between Activision and us about sort of how to approach it,” Keighley said. “We don't ban companies from the show.”
Instead, he said, the team reviews any ongoing situations and tries to work through the issues with everyone involved, he said.
“What I always come back to is that we want to be a place of celebration of all the amazing work that developers do in the industry,” he said.
“They're amazing games made across the industry by great creators, and sometimes business and other forces affect that, but we really want to focus on the games.”
The reality, though, is that real-world events can overlap with the making of video games and their celebration.
For instance, while there are no plans for an announcement about the decision, Keighley said, this year the show won’t be partnering with anyone in Russia to steam The Game Awards. Last year, Russia was one of the countries that had a local partner for streaming. This year, while the show won’t block the stream in Russian, it also won’t have that partner.
“Much like many other companies have kind of pulled out of Russia; we're not planning to do specific Russia distribution,” he said.
And while Keighley and his team are keeping a close eye on the turmoil at Twitter, kicked off by the recent purchase of the company by Elon Musk, there isn’t any concern that issues there would affect The Game Awards or things like the public voting for award winners.
“All our voting is really on our website that we own and operate, and that’s our system,” he said. “So we're not reliant on that. We're working with Discord this year for voting, where you can vote on our Discord server. But we're very platform-agnostic and have been from the get-go. We stream on 14 different platforms out there, and Twitter is one of those platforms.
“We're fascinated and curious. And I think we all are sort of worried about how it's all going to play out with some of these platforms, but I don't think it's gonna have a dramatic impact on the show.”
While The Game Awards remains deeply rooted online, this year’s show is once more opening its doors fully to an in-person audience. It’s also expanding its availability at IMAX theaters in the U.S., Canada, and now in the U.K. and Asia.
The jump in viewership numbers each year, and the show’s struggle to pack in as much as they can in a reasonable-length show, does beg the question if Keighley has any plans to create another award show. The answer is currently “No.”
But Keighley points out that he and his team also produce the annual Summer Game Fest and that he is also in talks with the new E3 showrunners.
E3, which will now be run in partnership with Reedpop, returns in 2023. In recent years, though, Keighley’s Summer Game Fest has been seen as a rival of sorts for the show. At one point, four or five years ago, Keighley approached the Entertainment Software Association, which created E3, about potentially purchasing E3. But they passed.
Now Keighley and his team are once more talking with the folks who run the show, but this time about how they can work together.
“We’ve had extensive conversations with ReedPop about E3,” Keighley said. “I'm curious to sort of see what they do with it. We're pretty focused on sticking with Summer Game Fest, and it's worked really well.”
While plans for SGF 2023 haven’t yet been detailed, Keighley said the plan is to do things in a “much bigger way.” He added, though, that he thinks that E3 and SGF can coexist and that the two showrunners are even coordinating their dates.
“I think it'll kind of fit together and flow kind of from what we're doing into what they're doing and stuff,” he said. “E3, to me, is this kind of master brand that represents gaming news in June.
Don’t forget to watch The Game Awards when it goes live on Dec. 8 from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. You can see the full list of nominees right here.