Not only are The Game Awards still happening this year — they’re taking place in three different locations.
The 2020 ceremony will stream live from Los Angeles, London and Tokyo on Dec. 10, it was announced on Wednesday, airing in 4K UHD from audience-less, in-studio locations. It will stream across 45 global video platforms and, barring a live audience, see fans “participate and virtually interact with the show across social media, through live in-game experiences, and via interactive extensions on leading streaming platforms,” according to the announcement.
Additionally, this year’s ceremony will introduce the new innovation in accessibly award, recognizing software and/or hardware developers that are pushing the medium forward by adding features, technology and content to help games be played and enjoyed by a wider audience. The Game Festival, first launched last year, will also return, featuring a weekend of playable game content, in-game drops, demos and live-streams.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to change the way live events operate, the restrictions are obviously apparent. But host and executive producer Geoff Keighley tells Variety that The Game Awards were going to happen regardless, even if it had to just be him presenting awards from his home set-up. But once he reached out to his board, made up of the heads of the top game companies, the message was clear: do it, and do it big.
“The response back from everyone was like, ‘no, it’s actually really, really important that we do The Game Awards this year,'” he says.
“The message was also like, ‘no, you should still try and do the show in a big way.’ So it’s not like we’re doing it with a drastically reduced budget or it’s just gonna be me in one location,” he adds. “Let’s do three cities. Let’s try and make it a big moment for the industry.”
Keighley says he previously played with the idea of having the show, which has taken place at L.A.’s Microsoft Theatre for the past five years, in a different city, similar to the Olympics. Once it became clear that the state of the COVID-19 pandemic still wouldn’t allow for large, in-person events by December, it enabled a different kind of opportunity.
For inspiration, he points to last year’s “Death Stranding,” Hideo Kojima’s hit that saw the players reconnecting the United States.
“I was like ‘well, maybe we could do this on a world scale.’ So that was really the impetus for the idea — we would never normally be able to do that, to have three cities live. But I’m like, ‘this is a unique year of circumstances, so let’s try that.’ I think it sends a really great message, and I think it’s what I’d like to do more of.”
The Game Awards certainly isn’t the first awards show to happen amid the pandemic. There’s been the Video Music Awards, virtual conventions for San Diego Comic-Con and DC FanDome and even this past weekend’s Emmy Awards, which Keighley praised for its ability to connect everyone technically. And Keighley himself even hosted Gamescom Opening Night Live, which took place late last month, as well as the Summer Game Fest.
He and his team have been watching all these virtual events, he says, to glean what’s working and not working, and notes that The Game Awards might do something similar to the Emmys, where each city has isolated guests that present on stage alone, with nominees on video.
He’s also been listening to fans: last Friday, he held a Zoom call with 100 of them to talk about what they wanted to see. Mostly, he says, he’s been hearing that they want “to make sure that the show accurately portrays how much games mean to them.” But they also want to see how it reflects gaming’s role in society — including the more difficult subjects.
“We look at some of the issues and some of the concerns around Ubisoft and the culture there — you look at some of the challenges in the streaming world and all that, some of the challenges this industry has had this year,” he says. “How do you be aware of that and reflect that in the show in the right way? I feel as a show, we have an obligation. We have so many people watching the show. It’s like, what’s the voice of the show, and how do we sort of represent the industry accurately and do some good?”
Aside from the unique circumstances, Keighley says the core elements of every Game Awards ceremony will still be there, which include the awards themselves, world premieres, big reveals and live musical performances. As for those performances, Keighley says they’re still figuring out what that will look like, as well as trying to find a way to get their orchestra back safely.
And luckily, the gaming industry has continued to churn out products amid the pandemic, making it possible to secure some of the big announcements The Game Awards has become known for. It also makes for an eclectic mix of potential game of the year nominees — Keighley points to everything from “Animal Crossing” to “The Last of Us Part II” to “Fall Guys” to “Ghost of Tsushima” as possible candidates in that race (“Cyberpunk 2077” comes out on Nov. 19, right on the edge of eligibility, “so we’re still figuring out how that’s going to work out,” he notes).
“The thing that I’m worried about more than anything is that — there’s so much anticipation for the show — is that we don’t have big games to announce to the fans, then that becomes a disappointment too. So I talked to all the game companies and they’re like ‘no, we’ve got great content to kind of show fans around games,’ and they’re really excited to show that,” he says. “So yeah, it’s gonna be a super interesting at the end of the year to see what comes out at the top.”