Inaugural Game Awards pulls in massive audience, blows last VGAs out of the water

Nearly 2 million people tuned in to the inaugural game awards show created by former VGAs host Geoff Keighley earlier this month, Keighley tells Polygon. The 1.93 million viewers of this year’s show is a more than 75 percent increase over the number of people that watched the finale to Spike TV’s long-running Video Game Awards last year.

“I am absolutely stunned by the results,” Keighley said. “We didn’t have any marketing budget or TV spots for the show. I’m used to having a lot of support resources — a promotional team, a digital media team, a PR team. All we had was the support of the game publishers and fans to spread the word and on social media.

“It’s empowering that we as a community can get the word out virally about a show like this. I always knew the show would get a better critical response from the community, but in many ways I was making a more serious show that risked not having as much mainstream appeal. That’s why Kiefer Sutherland, Conan O’Brien, Trey Parker and Imagine Dragons were such important bookings. All of them truly love games and came to celebrate our medium.”

The Game Awards, which ran a bit more than three hours, had a 96 percent “favorable” sentiment on social media, according to media monitoring and analytics company Sysmos. Viewers watched an average of 28 minutes of the show with audience members posting more than 350,000 chat messages on Twitch, YouTube and MLGtv.

It was a show that included nearly a dozen game reveals of one sort or another, live performances and, of course, the awards.

I was really happy with how things turned out.,” Keighley said. “Certainly the audience numbers were well beyond my wildest dreams, and creatively I’m proud of what we put on the screen. Moments like the tribute to Ken and Roberta Williams and the Koji Kondo/Imagine Dragons performance were once in a lifetime experiences.”

But the event wasn’t without some issues and Keighley said there are things he would have changed if he had it to do over again.

There should have been more awards on stage, he said, and perhaps a few less premieres. The show ran an hour longer than he would have wanted and there were some audio glitches.

This year we had to prove that the show is the right venue again for publishers,” he said. “We made The Game Awards in about 3 months, so a lot of dev teams just weren’t ready.

“In many ways I made a show more ambitious than the budget we had. I mean we had something crazy like six music performances, and I think that resulted in some of the audio glitches you heard. Things like that are easy fixes but you still beat yourself up about it after the fact. “

While the show felt like a success in terms of viewer numbers and reaction, it certainly wasn’t a financial success. The Las Vegas venue for the show wasn’t a sell out. Not even close. Of the 4,000 or so available seats, only about 3,000 were filled. And of those, only about half were paid-for $45 tickets. The rest were made up of industry attendees. And the show, which Keighley backed out of his own pocket, wasn’t a money-maker, at least not yet.

I didn’t make money on the show, but I always knew it would be an investment,” he said. “If I’m going to invest in anything it’s going to be to support the industry which has given me my whole career.”

Next year, if there is a next year, the costs for the show should be much less. That’s because it won’t have the same start-up costs which included things like having WETA design the trophy, recording the show’s theme with Marty O’Donnell and building the show’s website.

“That said a lot of the publishers stepped up to support the program so I’m happy with where we ended up,” he said. “This year was about earning the respect of the audience and proving that this ‘open source’ distribution model can work.”

With the investment in start-up costs and the proven audience, the show turning into an annual affair seems likely, but Keighley remains cautious about any commitment yet.

“I’m not sure what the plan will be for 2015, that’s something I need to discuss with the advisory board in the coming weeks,” he said. “No decision yet on location or if it would link in to a fan event, although personally I’d love to see all the platforms activate for their fans around the show.”

This year’s event happened the day before Sony’s big PlayStation Experience in Las Vegas, something that likely helped draw fans and attention to the show.

Details aside, will there be another show next year, I asked Keighley.

“I’d definitely like to see it continue on if publishers and fans want to keep it going,” he said. “But yeah, no idea what shape it will take.”