After a year filled with generation-defining games and devastating layoffs, the gaming industry got a moment to celebrate its wins at The Game Awards 2023. The 10th annual event, produced by host Geoff Keighley, was another watercooler spectacle for creators and fans to discuss. This year’s eclectic show featured tons of game trailers, celebrity cameos, Muppets, and a hair metal musical performance complete with interpretive dancing. There was only one thing missing: the awards.
As has been increasingly the case as the show has grown in scale over the years, the actual awards took a back seat to pageantry. Most winners were hastily rattled off in short breaks between trailers, and the few that actually did get to accept awards didn’t get much time to do so. The show garnered a mixed reaction from viewers as a result, with many questioning if the show is an effective celebration of those who make games.
After 10 years, The Game Awards finally finds itself at a breaking point. It’s becoming clear that it can’t be both a sincere ode to game makers and an E3 showcase that caters to hyped-up fans – at least not in its current, lucrative form.
For viewers who just come to The Game Awards to see game trailers, 2023’s show had no shortage of “world premieres.” Arkane’s Blade game got the loudest reaction of the night, while God of War Ragnarok’s free roguelike DLC was a genuine surprise. Keighley managed to keep the historically leaky show under lock and key this year, creating some left-field moments that players expect (a Crazy Taxi revival certainly wouldn’t have been on any bingo cards).
Though there were a handful of highs, the barrage of trailers seemed to exhaust the crowd by the end of the show. Games like Stormgate got light reactions from fans as a long third hour winded down. Potentially exciting announcements felt diluted in the context of a marathon show where expectations are always too high. A final reveal of Monster Hunter Wilds, which isn’t set to release until 2025, served as a final clue that next year might be a slower one for big-budget games.
While the show delivered a glut of forward-facing trailers, it often failed to celebrate the creators behind 2023’s biggest games. As has been the case in previous years, only a handful of awards were formally presented to winners at the show. Most categories, including heavy hitters like Best RPG and Best Action, were breathlessly rattled off in lightning-fast segments between trailers. The developers of Street Fighter 6 or Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon didn’t even get to walk on stage to accept their trophies.
That’s not new for the show, but there was a significant change for those who actually did get to address the crowd. This year, winners only got 30 seconds to give an acceptance speech. A massive teleprompter in the crowd ticked down the seconds before warning speakers to “Wrap it up.” Most speeches were played off by music in under a minute, while one was prematurely cut off by a trigger-happy toss to the next segment. It was an immediate point of contention among viewers as industry legends like Remedy’s Sam Lake and Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma barely got time to thank their teams. Developers I spoke to on the ground after the event expressed frustration over the show’s setup.
The short speeches might not have stung so much if other moments had felt equally rushed, but there was some uneven prioritizing throughout the night. Death Stranding creator Hideo Kojima got an enormous segment in the middle of the show to introduce his new game OD despite only having a short, cryptic teaser to show. Celebrities like Matthew McConaughey and Anthony Mackie got ample time to go off-script and ham it up with the crowd. Gonzo of the Muppets got to do an extended bit about his love of chickens ahead of a truncated acceptance speech for Cocoon.
And yet, the show didn’t have a second to spare to address real issues the industry had urged Keighley to speak on ahead of the show. The ceremony didn’t acknowledge the current layoff wave in the industry, which has left thousands out of work. It was a glaring omission considering that Keighley had previously used the platform to call out toxicity and abuse issues in the industry. Keighley also ignored calls from the show’s previous Future Class recipients (an annual selection of diverse voices meant to represent the future of the industry) to address the current humanitarian crisis in Palestine. The request wasn’t unfounded; last year’s show featured vocal acknowledgment of the war in Ukraine and offered words of support for the country.
Regardless of where one stands on the issues, it was a night defined by double standards.
There’s likely a very cold, clinical explanation for the way this year’s show was constructed: money. The Game Awards has become a lucrative event for Keighley and his crew as the show has pulled in more viewers. Getting a trailer into the show can cost studios in the high six-figure range, according to industry professionals I spoke to at the event. Those eye-popping costs help fund a big gala at the expensive Peacock Theater in Los Angeles, featuring head-scratching cameos from disinterested celebrities like Timothée Chalamet.
When I spoke to Keighley ahead of last year’s ceremony, he stressed that the show was “for the fans.” It’s an approach that invites skepticism. Isn’t an awards show the one night that shouldn’t be for the fans? Shouldn’t it be for the creators receiving awards?
It’s an especially odd justification considering that acceptance speeches are a large appeal for awards shows like this. Ceremonies like the Oscars have built their reputation on memorable speeches that become viral moments on social media every year. Speeches can build iconic moments for shows like this, whether they inspire viewers or deliver taboo statements that get people talking. That’s even true of The Game Awards; viewers may struggle to name a single trailer that debuted during last year’s show, but I’d bet many still remember Christopher Judge’s long, impassioned acceptance speech for God of War Ragnarok. The moment was so memorable that Judge got to kick the show off this year with a self-referential callback to the moment that had the crowd in stitches. This year’s Game Awards didn’t give any winners the same opportunity to create their own moment.
Humanity was in short supply during the mechanical ceremony, and that made the show’s few shreds of sincerity stand out. The night’s best segment saw Surgent Studios founder Abubakar Salim taking the stage to introduce Tales of Kenzera: Zau. Salim gave an emotional speech before showing off the standout trailer, explaining how the game was built to help him process grief after his father passed away. It was a moment the show desperately needed, one that reminded viewers that video games don’t just magically appear. They’re made by passionate people with stories to tell. Those efforts deserve to be celebrated, not hastily rushed off the stage to squeeze in another world premiere.
The longer the ceremony dragged on, the more its audience philosophy rang hollow. The Game Awards isn’t even for the fans; it’s for the advertisers. It’s a great way to get ads in front of millions of eyes without the fear that they’ll appear next to a controversy. That reality became clear when I rewatched Keighley’s opening address, which set the stage for the night with an advertiser-friendly line that almost taunted anyone who wished the platform would do more to support a troubled industry and world.
“More than anything, this is a show about bringing our community together … to focus on something we can all agree on: There’s nothing more powerful or more immersive than an extraordinary video game,” Keighley proudly declared before the show’s most dissected night yet.
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