A peek at the future of live events
Image: The Game Awards

A peek at the future of live events

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Good morning! This Friday, everyone should take a page from The Game Awards, Meta’s first metaverse app is here, and if you’ve been looking for a song NFT based on the RNA of COVID-19, you’re in luck.

Not your typical awards show

The Game Awards, effectively the Oscars of video games, has through sheer force of will become the most vital event in the industry, growing larger and more ambitious year after year and now eclipsing in importance many of the shows and events that have predated it.

The eighth annual show was held at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Thursday evening, attracting tens of millions of viewers online across more than 40 video, social and gaming platforms. It is perhaps the prime example of how the video game industry has finally found its seat at the mainstream entertainment table.

The Game Awards has perfected its unique formula. The event, the brainchild of longtime TV host Geoff Keighley, doubles as both an awards show and a marketing extravaganza of new trailers and product announcements.

  • As such, the show has managed to attract a level of mainstream recognition and status, with celebrity presenters and ballooning online viewership, not afforded to more industry-specific conferences and gatherings, namely the flagging Electronic Entertainment Expo.
  • Major game trailers and announcements are peppered in between awards like Best Independent Game and Game of the Year. This mix ensures that gaming fans have a vested interest in tuning in if they want to see big reveals, while a blended voting process lets viewers have a say in which games take home the top awards.
  • “You know, it's great to have celebrities, it's great to have music, but I think focusing really on games is important,” Keighley told journalist Brian Crecente in an interview last month. “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.”

The Game Awards adapted with the times, while most other gaming events haven’t. The pandemic made in-person gatherings especially difficult, and many of the game industry’s biggest events suffered as a result. The Game Awards, however, did not. Last year, the first ever virtual show jumped to 84 million live streams, up from 42.5 million stream of the in-person gathering the year prior.

  • The Game Awards has landed some of the biggest and most anticipated game reveals and trailers in the industry by promoting a platform-agnostic approach and an unabashed love of gaming as an art form.
  • Many gaming events these days are livestreams put on by major publishers like Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Sony and Ubisoft that take on the feel of an overpolished advertisement for just that company’s products.
    • But The Game Awards doesn’t focus on any one company or platform. Instead, it features a diverse slate of announcements and treats the whole affair less like a shameless ad (though in many ways it is) and more like a celebration of gaming as a pillar of culture.

Keighley and his team understand the future of live events. The Game Awards have become a focal point for the industry because they lean into how younger audiences want to consume live broadcasts.

  • The show doesn’t aspire to be just like the Oscars or Grammys with a slot on prime-time TV and big ad spots, nor does it take any cues from antiquated live sports. You don’t need a streaming service free trial or your friend’s parents’ cable login to tune in.
  • Gaming fans watch these kinds of events entirely online, through social media, YouTube, Twitch and now even on virtual screens inside of game worlds. The Game Awards meets these audiences where they are, and it gives streamers and other online channels the freedom to rebroadcast the stream live.
  • This year, The Game Awards worked with game-making platform Core to create a virtual red carpet, broadcast and afterparty experience, so players who’ve become accustomed to Fortnite and Roblox’s metaverse-style live events can get their virtual world fix.

To those not well-versed in the marketing-heavy culture of gaming, it’s easy to balk at an awards show filled with trailers, ads and what ultimately amounts to very little time dedicated to giving out awards.

But Keighley, who’s spent years evangelizing the merits of gaming and pushing it ever closer to the mainstream, knows your run-of-the-mill awards show doesn’t cut it anymore. Viewers simply don’t care enough. Make it easy to watch and give people things they’ve never seen before, though, and you’ll find that viewers will show up in droves. It’s a lesson Hollywood might need to learn if it wants to stay remotely as relevant as gaming in the future.

— Nick Statt (email | twitter)

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