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“It’s anyone’s game this year,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter, adding that because “there’s “not a frontrunner” for ‘game of the year,’ the nominated titles — Deathloop, It Takes Two, Metroid Dread, Psychonauts 2, Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart and Resident Evil Village — have created much conversation online amongst players and fans.
“We had more votes in the first 24 hours than we’ve ever had in the show,” he goes on to say, referring to the fact that fans can vote in for their favorite titles in all 30+ categories, which honor the best creative and technical achievements in studio and independent games. “We had over 7 million votes which is up significantly from last year. We haven’t said this publicly yet, but I think we crossed 10 million two days in. It’s well beyond what we thought.”
The Game Awards — which are returning to the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles this year after the coronavirus outbreak required 2020’s show be in a virtual format — have been “growing every year,” says Keighley, who created the event itself in 2014 and curates the robust program. Amid the height of COVID-19, last year saw over 83 million livestreams (up from 2019’s 45 million) and hosted appearances from top names in entertainment including Tom Holland and Christopher Nolan.
“I was worried there was a bit of a pandemic bubble – everyone’s home, streaming and watching – [so] I wasn’t sure what to expect this year,” says Keighley. “But it’s nice to see that the audience really does care enough about the nominees to vote for their favorite.”
Instead of the show being broadcast on television like traditional award ceremonies, it appears on Twitch, YouTube and numerous social networking sites. This specific element is part of the fun for Keighley, whose background includes the broadcast world where domestic Nielsen TV ratings were always a main concern. “It’s so heartening to see the excitement around the show. It’s not only the streams; the audiences really care about the show, they watch it, they’re passionate about it, they share it.”
He adds that the jury is comprised of 103 different media outlets in the world, including South Africa, Greece, France, Australia, China and Japan. “I think I’ve found out over the years [that] everyone plays the same games,” he says, pointing to “how truly global” the video game industry is.
A focus at the Dec. 9 show will be “a great look at where the next generation of games really are going,” says Keighley. “Even though the new PlayStation  and Xbox [Series S/X] have been out for a year, I think we’ve only started to scratch the surface of what’s possible on these systems.”
And by default, there will be a lot to talk about. “2021 was a little bit of a lighter year for releases; next year’s going to be really really busy and we are packed with game content.”
(Among 2022’s biggest releases will be the action-adventure Horizon Forbidden West, the sequel to Horizon Zero Dawn, and God of War: Ragnarok, which continues the revamped God of War game series, and Zelda Breath of the Wild 2, a sequel to 2017’s Breath of the Wild. All three of these titles are massive, potentially 100+ hour games.)
Keighley adds that another unique element of the show this year is that audiences are going to start to see more video game adaptations show up in the show “in interesting ways.” He doesn’t elaborate, but clarifies that the games themselves are “still the core of what we’re doing.”
The show will have a reduced capacity audience who will be required to be vaccinated, and wear masks throughout. “We’re taking a lot of health and safety precautions, but we are still doing the full scale show.” In fact, Keighley says it’s going to be the biggest show yet in terms of budget, with a live orchestra on stage, musical performances, game announcements, special guests and more.
“We want to have some theatricality to the show because we have that opportunity finally.”
Going by tradition, the event will also highlight the competitive esports scene — which Keighley says is an interesting space because some of those events became virtual too, amid the pandemic. “We’re a unique show in that we recognize not only the people who make the games, but also the people who play them, Keighley emphasizes. “That’s why we have content creator of the year award.”
He explains: “You’re never going to have the Oscars or the Grammys give an award to moviegoer of the year, but for us, players are part of the experience.”
Looking ahead to game day, Keighley teases that a lot of next-gen games will be at the show. “It’s our biggest lineup yet.”
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