‘VGA TEN’ Producers Mark Burnett and Casey Patterson Discuss How Games Are Changing Entertainment (Q&A)

The producers behind Spike TV’s VGA TEN explain how gamers are leading the way with multi-screen viewing in this exclusive interview.

Spike TV will broadcast VGA TEN live from Sony Pictures Studios on December 7 at 9:00 PM ET. The 10th anniversary of the Video Game Awards will feature Samuel L. Jackson as host for the fourth time. The awards show will also bring back previous hosts, including Snoop Lion (formerly Snoop Dogg), Zachary Levi and Neil Patrick Harris

Presenters will include Jessica Alba, Marlon Wayans, Adam Scott and Norman Reedus and Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead, among others. Gustavo Santaolalla is scheduled for a live musical performance while Wolfgang Gartner will perform as the House DJ throughout the entire show. 

Mark Burnett, executive producer of the VGAs, and Casey Patterson, executive vice president, Event Production, Talent Development and Studio Relations for the Viacom Entertainment Group, talks about the changing video game landscape and how gamers are on the cutting of multi screen entertainment in this exclusive interview.

The Hollywood Reporter: How have you seen gamers evolve when it comes to consuming entertainment?

Mark Burnett: Gaming has become more and more mainstream. Call of Duty, Halo, and other game franchises are now more popular than movies and television shows. And casual games on the iPhone have completely changed who's playing. The term "gamers" doesn't just apply to young men anymore. Women, parents, and young children are all starting to buy and play games in a meaningful way. 

Casey Patterson: I've seen the expectations evolve. Expectations about everything from the look, sound, acting and technology, all the way to where gamers can expect to play, which is everywhere and anytime on any screen and device no matter where they  are in the world. Gaming is a universal language.

THR: What opportunities do you see with the second screen in television entertainment?

Burnett: I think that viewers are starting to demand more interaction and ownership over their favorite television programs. They've got computers and phones that have incredible amounts of power, but that are completely ignored by most TV shows. We need to find ways to drive engagement and let the viewers affect the programming through their own decisions. That's what we're doing with Xbox Live and the VGAs this year. 

Patterson: The second screen means that fans are able to do a deep dive into the experience on every level - from live interaction, to more information about every aspect of the show. It's also incredibly valuable to the people making the content. We know where our fans (and critics) are and know they are thinking about every aspect of what we're making, in real time.

THR: Knowing the gaming audience you get with the VGAs, what type of experimentation are you doing with second screen viewing during the broadcast?

Burnett: For the first time ever, viewers will be able to watch the VGAs in real time via Xbox Live and use their controllers to vote on polling questions. They'll actually make decisions that will affect the show. It's very exciting, because we're really pushing the boundaries of what's been done on television and I think the viewers will love the power that we're putting in their hands.

Patterson: Gamers have always interacted with their content on some level, so the second screen interaction is not only organic but it's something they do with or without an application from us. Gamers are way out in front in this regard, they've been waiting for us to catch up.

THR: How do you see this type of second screen content impacting Spike moving forward outside of the VGAs?

Burnett: Spike has been amazing at pushing the boundaries of the VGAs year after year. From augmented reality, to this year's use of Xbox SmartGlass, I fully expect that Spike will continue to be a leader in merging second screen and traditional broadcast. 

Patterson: What Mark said. Spike knows its audience wants more access to more content, in more places and is fully committed to delivering on all of our shows.

THR: How have tablets changed the entertainment landscape?

Burnett: With tablets and phones, the audience has greater access to games, HD shows, and other forms of entertainment. This means that we have to offer programming that engages those platforms, but that is also compelling enough to draw the attention of the viewer. It's about strong narratives, great visuals, and in terms of unscripted, great format and game play. 

Patterson: No matter how convenient it is to watch shows or play games on our phones, you can’t help but miss the scale and drama of seeing your favorite content on a larger screen. Tablets have given us the mobility without the compromise and as a result I think we watch more.

THR: What are your thoughts on things like Xbox SmartGlass and Nintendo Wii U GamePad and how that will further impact TV viewing?

Burnett: The technology is making it easier and easier for television producers to reach out and engage audiences via a second screen. It will take creative partnerships to see where that goes. But now it's all about who will be willing to take a risk and engage the audience dynamically. I'm happy that we're able to do something with Xbox Live that hasn't been done on an award show. 

Patterson: It's a brave new world of live global viewing and feedback and fandom. Passive viewing is a thing of the past and I think as a result the fans are more passionate and invested. The audience is engaged in a deeper way. It's now up to us to interact with them on a new level, and deliver in new ways. It's all very exciting.

THR: How have you seen video games evolve over the decade the VGAs have existed?

Burnett: The technology, graphics, and reach of the games have obviously increased, but the common thread of great games has always been great storytelling. I'm really excited to have the Game of the Decade award as a centerpiece of our show. Fans are really going to love seeing their favorite all-time games going head-to-head. 

Patterson: The cinematic quality of games is awe inspiring. Our partnership with Entertainment Weekly for Game of the Decade will show the evolution and it's striking to see how the publishers and developers have continued push the boundaries.

THR: How have you seen Hollywood's acceptance of games as an art form change over that period of time?

Burnett: It's obvious from Call of Duty, Assassin's Creed, and other big titles that video games are one of the most popular forms of entertainment and art in our culture. Now we're seeing composers, directors, producers and writers getting involved in the industry, because they know how important it has become to the average person. Many of the music composers that work on video game music scores also work on mainstream film and television scores. This year, we will be giving a special nod to the music scores in video games. It's going to be epic. 

Patterson: This goes back to passive viewing vs. content that you can affect and interact with and immerse yourself in. Hollywood or any storyteller can relate to that connection and how important it is. The experience is more personal which is why gamers are so passionate and will ultimately rule the world.

THR: What role does Hollywood talent play during the VGAs this year?

Burnett: It's important to us that our celebrities resonate with our audience, and that they truly love video games. Having star power is nice, but the focus is on amazing World Premieres and celebrating the most popular games of the year. These games are bigger than many movies and television shows, and deserve this level of recognition. 

Patterson: I don’t think we see it as Hollywood vs. Gamer talent anymore. Everyone is a gamer in one way or another and the show is inclusive. The most important thing is that you love and respect the genre.

THR: How easy is it to get bigger names in Hollywood given the popularity of gaming today?

Burnett: The stereotype of what a gamer looks like is completely outdated. It's great to be able to book celebrities who don't necessary fit the norm of a gamer, but who are genuinely excited to be in the room and to meet game publishers and developers.

THR: How has the role of game creators evolved for this broadcast?

Burnett: The game publishers are the true stars of this show. They're the ones who are making the games that we're celebrating, and we've tried to honor their work with some truly epic moments. We've reached out to them for new footage, new music, and new animations, and I think they've all delivered. It's going to be an amazing show. 

Patterson: The publishers are as involved in the show as we are. They know their fans and they work year round with us on what you will see Friday night, including some incredible World Premieres and surprise announcements. Mark has a bold, modern vision for the 10th anniversary of the VGAs and the fans will love it.