The Game Awards will be held on Thursday, December 10, the shows producers announced today. As usual, it will be held as a free digital livestream, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the show runners and host Geoff Keighley are making some significant changes.
Instead of a single live theater audience, The Game Awards 2020 will take place across studios in Los Angeles, Tokyo, and London. Those three stages will host award presentations and musical performances. As always, the award show will also debut trailers from game publishers, and drop news of content drops, special game sales, and limited-time demos.
The show is also introducing a new award this year, Innovation in Accessibility. The new category is said to recognize software and developers that add features to help games be enjoyed by a wider audience.
GameSpot spoke with Keighley ahead of the announcement. An interview, edited for length and clarity, can be found below.
GameSpot: How has COVID impacted planning for the show? When did you know that you had to make a plan B and then when did that become plan A?
Keighley: I think in the spring it was obviously clear that things were going to change this year. Initially we were developing a plan B in the spring because we knew likely things were probably going to change. I think we held out hope for a while that we were in December, so maybe over the summer things would get better and we might be able to go back to the traditional model. And then, obviously, I think by July it became clear to us that we were probably going to need to change our approach.
But we had started in the spring thinking of well, what are the other ways we can produce the show? What does it look like? The first question we had to answer was like, “Do we still do the show? What does it look like?” And I talked to all the game company CEOs this summer and just had a very frank conversation about what should the show look like, what’s the right way to approach it.
And there were spots where everyone was like, “No, it’s really important that we do the show and we use this year as an opportunity both to celebrate what games have meant to all of us and the world in 2020, but also maybe try some new things.” And I’ve always dreamed of the show having a presence in Europe and in Asia and this year, because of the unique circumstances, we’re going to be able to have live stages in London and Tokyo, which I’m really, really excited to do.
What lessons did you take from Gamescom Opening Night Live into the Game Awards?
I think the biggest thing for us with Gamescom was learning how to do a show safely with COVID protocols. So our team worked really hard on that, we did an amazing job keeping everybody safe around Gamescom. So that was definitely sort of first learnings there that we’re applying on a much bigger scale to Game Awards, but we normally do open that live in front of 1500 fans in Germany. This year, we did it with me by my lonesome here in Los Angeles. So we figured out how to do things that are very visually oriented. We had a lot of cool screens and whatnot that we used for Gamescom. So it’s going to be different for sure, but I think Gamescom taught us that it is possible to do something with a bit of scale and spectacle and doing it live.
That’s the other thing that from the get-go was really important to me is that we do a live show and not any pre-taped show where we’re telling winners the week before that they won, instead of an acceptance speech. The art–the magic of our show is that live energy of announcing games and showing games for the first time. And Gamescom was a live show and that was, I think, one of the first live events that had been happening in the game industry over the summer.
So how are you coordinating acceptance speeches?
You look at the way the Emmys did it and that’ll be similar to some of our thinking now. We’ll have potentially a live presenter that will introduce the category, but the nominees will join us remotely in most circumstances, I think in terms of being able to accept on video. Because with travel it’s tough. And we also don’t want to have scenarios where it’s like one nominee is there and then the other four are on video. We wouldn’t be telling people in advance: they’d find out live on video conference.
Obviously a big part of the Game Awards is the trailers and game reveals. This year a lot of publishers have been shuffling their plans last minute. So as you’re discussing with publishers what you’re going to show, have you had to pivot and change your own plans?
That’s always my greatest fear, going into these things the expectations are off the charts for fans, right? And I always say I can still do the Game Awards from my bedroom, but what I can’t do is make the games and make the trailers, so that’s where I need the help from all these talented developers around the world. And I think things have definitely been shifting around this year. But very early on, I felt pretty good momentum from the game studios that they thought they would have announcements to share about games.
And there will be hopefully some big AAA blockbuster games that get announced, but also increasingly our show, we’ve been doing things with updates on existing live service games. Or even a couple of years ago, we announced Joker for Smash Brothers. Or a couple years before we did the Zelda DLC.
I think in many ways we’ve probably benefited a little bit from some games that have been delayed a little bit and they were planning to do things earlier this year, but weren’t able to, or they got delayed. So like, “Oh, well, let’s do Game Awards.” That becomes the next big moment to do something in the industry. It’s also a great time because the new consoles will have just come out. We have a big audience. So I’m always cautiously optimistic about the games we’ll have in the show, but I also don’t control the development of these games or what’s happening.
How do you respond to criticism that the Game Awards is focused too much on AAA or more generally that the awards don’t get enough focus?
I think we have a pretty good record of indie games being a big part of our show. Celeste, a few years ago was nominated for Game of the Year. Dead Cells, Cuphead. I mean, we’ve had lots of indie games that get a ton of attention. We also do a couple of new categories, Best Independent Game and Best New Indie Game, which were really cool. We have the biggest games in the world, but also smaller, independent teams that can all be on the same stage together. And that’s what I think makes our show special is that everyone plays together. And I think then all boats rise and these new developers are in front of tens of millions of people, which is exciting, but we still need those really big games. Because honestly, those are the ones that drive a lot of eyeballs too.
What’s a key area of improvement that people give you feedback on last year or in years prior that you wanted to focus on for this year?
I think that’s an important thing for people is the balance between awards and [announcements]. That’s always going to be an ongoing debate and we’re never going to solve that because for some of the audience all they want are announcements and some of the audience just want awards. And to me, again, it’s like the blend of the two is what is the magic alchemy that is our show. But we’re never going to get that balance perfect. It’s always managing it and trying to make it fit right. So that’s feedback we sometimes get.
The other thing that I think is just a general note from fans is they want our show to be as diverse as possible in terms of which games we’re covering, which people in the industry we’re covering. And also, part of our view of going to three cities is let’s be a little more global in our thinking around this show because we make the show in Los Angeles and it’s sometimes seen as U.S.-centric, but it really is a global show. And most of our viewership of the show is outside of the U.S., 50+% come from outside the States. So I think trying to be a little more global in our thinking is important.