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Protocol Gaming
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Image: The Game Awards

Can you judge an industry by its awards shows?

Can you judge an industry by its awards shows?

This week in Protocol Gaming, your weekly guide to the business of video games: The Game Awards airs, World of Warcraft crushes a record and the PS5 is like the Wii.

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The Big Story

The biggest awards show of the year

For decades, it's seemed like the video game industry has suffered a strong case of Hollywood envy.

It's understandable. Film and television don't actually dominate global culture anymore, but you might think they did if all you judged by was highbrow arts and entertainment media. Even as games have grown to dwarf the film business, in particular, much of the mainstream "cultural conversation" is still stuck in the 1990s. Everyone at some level wants respect, and the game industry has long been, well, disrespected.

This year, however, has proven that any entertainment industry envy should be flowing the other direction. Hollywood was adrift even before the pandemic, while the game business is emerging as a paragon of the new world of global online entertainment.

You will see that clearly this week. First, if you can judge an industry by its award shows, check out The Game Awards on Thursday.

  • Created in 2014 by the game media entrepreneur Geoff Keighley, the awards attracted almost 50 million viewers last year because, unlike the Oscars, The Game Awards are a forward-looking news and entertainment show, not a backward-looking nostalgia vehicle.

Some of the biggest companies in gaming will use the show to announce, reveal and demonstrate some of their most important products for 2021, making the actual awards themselves almost an afterthought.

  • Keighley distributes the show live on almost 50 streaming services around the world, including around 20 platforms in China alone.
  • It helps that Tencent is on the show's advisory board along with every other big game company except Apple.

"My high goal is to make The Game Awards the biggest award show in the world," Keighley said as part of broader conversations I had with him last week. "[O]ur opportunity is to demonstrate and showcase gaming in a way that not only has meaning for core gamers but also represents the best of gaming as a global community."

It does seem like a nifty coincidence that The Game Awards will happen the same day that the most highly anticipated video game in many years is finally released.

  • Referring, of course, to Cyberpunk 2077 from Poland's CD Projekt Red.
  • Discussion of the game will certainly dominate game chatter for many months, no matter what technical state the game finally arrives in after its many delays.

I've been a huge fan of CDPR since reviewing The Witcher 2 in 2011. I haven't played the new game yet but am certainly looking forward to finding out just how edgy it really is. In any case, I am certain that Cyberpunk will generate more thinkpieces than any movie has this year.

Then maybe the industry can shed that envy problem.

— Seth Schiesel

Overheard

  • "We believe the market is consolidating. It makes sense for smaller entities to join a group that's financially sound and solid, that has the abilities you don't have if you're alone out there." — THQ Nordic CEO Klemens Kreuzer explained the company's acquisition binge.
  • "With so much still unknown about what is practical and safe, we do not plan to hold in-person events in 2021." — Despite the prospects of a vaccine rollout, Epic Games said in-person esports aren't coming back anytime soon.

A MESSAGE FROM AMAZON FIRE TV

Amazon Fire TV

The lockdowns this year have transformed our homes into offices, schools, concert halls, movie theaters and gyms. Our homes are working harder for us, but so is our technology. The device that is working the hardest is perhaps the TV—becoming our lifeline to a far more virtual world.

Learn more.

Lootbox

  • Activision Blizzard sued Netflix for hiring Spencer Neumann. It claims that Netflix induced the CFO to break his employment contract while he was actively negotiating with the company on a licensing deal.
  • World of Warcraft's new expansion is the fastest-selling computer game of all time, according to Blizzard. The company said the Shadowlands expansion sold more than 3.7 million units on its launch day, breaking the 3.5 million copy record set by Diablo III, also from Blizzard.
  • Manticore Games will share half of the revenue from its new Perks system with content creators. Manticore's Core platform allows users to make and play their own games. Manticore says the 50% payout dwarfs that of other user-generated content platforms.
  • Microsoft bought Smash.gg, the esports tournament management site. In other deals, Gfinity bought Epicstream; Kalypso Media fully acquired Realmforge Studios; MTG increased its stake in InnoGames; and MyGames continued its investment spree with three new deals.
  • Call of Duty brought in over $3 billion this year. Activision said the game has over 200 million players across the franchise's titles.
  • Casey Hudson and Mark Darrah left BioWare. Gary McKay will temporarily replace Hudson as general manager, while Christian Dailey will take over from Darrah on Dragon Age. In other moves, Naughty Dog promoted Neil Druckmann to co-president and Alison Mori and Christian Gyrling to vice president; Tencent's John Clark is the new CEO of Curve Digital; Keiichiro Toyama, Kazunobo Sato and Junya Okura left SIE Japan to set up Bokeh Game Studio; and Avalanche Studios co-founder Christofer Sundberg opened Liquid Swords.

Five Questions for …

Whalen Rozelle, senior director of global esports, Riot Games

What was your first gaming system?

Super Nintendo, graciously given as a present from a visiting aunt. From the moment I loaded up Super Mario World and Final Fantasy, I was hooked.

What is the most important trend in the game business in 2020?

Looking back, 2020 will be the year of COVID-19, and how it forced game studios and publishers to rethink how we make games or run esports: from remote development to online events, digital stadiums and, in the case of the League of Legends World Championship, a carefully managed "bubble." Necessity is the mother of invention, and I believe many of these creative solutions will carry forward and perpetually shape the game/esports business long after we get past this particular pandemic.

What has been the most overlooked aspect or development in the game business over the last year?

The strongest esports have thrived in a year when most traditional sports took a large step back in revenue and viewership. As a result, I've seen a large cohort of talented executives and professionals get into esports this year — many coming from traditional sports — willing to bet on its future.

What new technology or technical development are you most looking forward to?

I can't wait to see what gets unlocked by Unreal Engine 5. Not just future lifelike gaming experiences, but how we can bring those to life beyond the game, in streaming, community content and esports.

What games are you playing recently that don't come from your company?

The list is far too long, but between launching new esports and helping raise my two young kids, I'm juggling the new World of Warcraft expansion, Demon's Souls remake and Hades.

Look out for...

Dear Santa

It's like the Wii release all over again: PS5 shortages have entered the public consciousness, and now SNL has made a sketch about it. (It's very good.) The big question: Are the folks at Microsoft pleased or disappointed that they didn't get a mention?

— Shakeel Hashim

A MESSAGE FROM AMAZON FIRE TV

Amazon Fire TV

The lockdowns this year have transformed our homes into offices, schools, concert halls, movie theaters and gyms. Our homes are working harder for us, but so is our technology. The device that is working the hardest is perhaps the TV—becoming our lifeline to a far more virtual world.

Learn more.

Thanks for reading. Tell your friends and colleagues to subscribe here, and send tips, feedback and ideas to sschiesel@protocol.com and shakeel@protocol.com. See you next week.

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