More than 45.2 million livestreams displayed the real-time action from The Game Awards earlier this month. The figure marks a 73 percent increase for the annual awards show, and demonstrates the continuing rise in interest around the world of video games. Viewership of livestreams is calculated differently than TV ratings, with the former counted by the number of streams open anywhere on the Internet, regardless of whether there's an active viewer on the other end or it's playing in a pop-up module on a background browser tab. It is also gathered from a global, rather than national audience. As such, you can't compare The Game Awards to an event like The Academy Awards, which this year attracted 29.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen. Regardless, the 6-year-old video game awards show continues to ascend in popularity, as does the medium the show celebrates, and in the process supplying several innovative and entertaining stunts.
Show creator Geoff Keighley doesn't mention the Oscars at all when considering the viewership numbers. Instead, he calls the figures "exciting but a little daunting."
"It's fascinating to see, and I really did not anticipate that kind of lift again," Keighley said, referring to how the show has grown since its 2014 start.
The Game Awards is an independently run show that airs live and free across dozens of digital video platforms, including YouTube, Twitch and Twitter. Last year, the show had 26.2 million livestreams.
"We saw increased growth in China, which I think was partially because we had the League of Legends announcements, and we opened up [the stream] in India," Keighley said.
While the show was received well, some fans were disappointed at the caliber of new announcements made. While Microsoft did unveil its next Xbox console, fans already knew it was on the way, it was only a matter of when it would be revealed. Keighley himself set the bar high with past shows, where he's debuted surprise items like a new Zelda trailer from Nintendo in 2014.
One issue may have been the circulation of rumors about projects and games that were never once in discussion for the show. For example, there were rampant rumors that a new Batman game from Rocksteady Studios would be announced. Keighley said that was never on the table.
Other games and announcements were planned, but scheduling conflicts arose, Keighley said.
"With the nature of the announcements, we can only present the content we're given," Keighley said. "It's always difficult! I'm a gamer too, and I want to see what everyone wants to see in the show. But sometimes these creators hit their deadlines, and sometimes they don't. Our show dramatically changes in the last three or four weeks."
Keighley's proudest moment at this year's show was the appearance of Muppets Bunsen and Beaker. Beaker even got to star in a skit inside Untitled Goose Game, the indie hit by studio House House.
Keighley, a childhood fan of the two puppets, came up with the concept two months ago. He called up House House and asked about incorporating the Muppets into their game.
It's all part of Keighley's vision to further explore video game storytelling in other media forms. One key example of this at the show was his live skit with Mirage, a character from the battle royale game Apex Legends. Keighley spoke with the game character on a screen in what at first glance appeared to be a rehearsed monologue timed to a recording of the character. As it turns out, the character was being performed live elsewhere.
Respawn Entertainment toyed with just playing a trailer at the awards, but marketing creative director Drew Stauffer asked himself, "What's the bigger idea?" He toyed with the idea of doing a conference call, but wanted it to be live. That's when Respawn called The Mill, the VFX and creative technology studio that worked to promote Apex Legends.
"With that challenge, what we found interesting was basically three technologies we've done before, all rammed together at the same time," said David Lawson, The Mill director. "We've done real-time rendering, motion capture and live events, and not all together at the same time."
Keighley, Respawn and The Mill wondered if they should show the audience that it was a live interaction, but preferred to keep up the magic trick-like illusion. It was only later revealed to be a live conversation.
"The audience kind of senses that it's live, and sees the inflections, and it breaks this shell that's over fully CG characters," Lawson said. "When you tell a story in a trailer, you use all these traditional techniques. But when it's live, like when the character takes a stumble, there's all these micro-behaviors humans can pick up on."
The Mill has been exploring how to tell stories through brand mascots for years. Its partnership with Apex Legends at the awards has opened the doors for other experiments.
"We realized we had this ability all of a sudden to make a bunch of content with Mirage," Stauffer said.
Keighley did his own experiment a few days after The Game Awards with the live Star Wars Fortnite event, which ended up feeling like a daytime TV talk show with guest J. J. Abrams, director of "The Rise of Skywalker."
Keighley said he's keen to explore more interactivity like what gamers saw inside Fortnite, including letting the audience dictate what happens during the event. In Fortnite, players were able to participate in a HQTrivia-like show where they got to vote on what they wanted to see.
"If you look at the ingredients there, you can start to figure out the opportunities that exist," Keighley said. "What we did was a prototype of a whole new era for programming. The concept of the metaverse is becoming real."
© The Washington Post 2019