What does it mean to hold gaming's biggest annual awards show in the metaverse?
That's a question Geoff Keighley has been puzzling over since 2019 when he partnered with JJ Abrams to tease a new Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker clip at The Game Awards. This clip then debuted within Fortnite just two days after.
Keighley says it was "really powerful" to go from The Game Awards backstage to the Fortnite live event with millions of people gathered online in-game to watch the clip. He recalls a moment before the clip went live when the event was delayed for a moment to give more people a chance to join in. While they were waiting, someone on the Fortnite side suggested he speak to everyone.
"I talked into this mic and suddenly ten million people around the world were listening to me," Keighley says. "I had friends texting me, 'I just heard you in Fortnite, it was so insane!'
"It was such a powerful moment for me. It made me realize that the future of a lot of the stuff I do is going to be inside these game worlds and game environments. I always say that The Game Awards, even though it's a massive show, it's still just a TV show that gets streamed over the internet. That was really innovative eight years ago, but…to me the next generation of what I want to do is build programming within these game worlds using game technology to gather the community and make something more interactive."
Two years later, Keighley is preparing to dip back into interactive, live video game spaces again, this time with his entire show. Today, he's announcing that The Game Awards will be broadcast not just on TV and streaming services, but also within the game creation platform Core, via an experience called "Axial Tilt."
Axial Tilt is an interactive experience set in a floating city that "tilts" between different worlds and experiences, regularly changing up different minigames, themes, mechanics that are available over time. Beginning on December 9 at 7 pm ET/4 pm PT, Axial Tilt will incorporate a number of activities geared towards The Game Awards. There will be a photo opp, the opportunity to predict award winners and win exclusive in-game rewards, a DJ following the show, and a full in-game livestream of the awards themselves that people can watch together with their friends simply by joining Core and Axial Tilt.
The world of Axial Tilt was previously given a trial run back in August through Fortnite Creative, just to test the concept and collect feedback. It has since been taken down, but once it's brought back for The Game Awards, Axial Tilt will remain available going forward across both Fortnite Creative and Core. Though the experiences and minigames across the two platforms will be a bit different.
But The Game Awards' experience is entirely exclusive to Core, not Fortnite. Why? Because, Keighley says, Fortnite doesn't yet have the ability to stream live events into its platform — just pre-recorded video content so far. Core does, though this event will be the first test run of the technology in front of a large audience. And Keighley says he hopes in future years they'll be able to livestream The Game Awards in other games too.
"My goal is to have people join from within all these communities. Maybe one day you'll watch The Game Awards from within FIFA or Apex [Legends]."
Keighley emphasizes that what we're seeing this year is very much a "Version 1" of the experience he eventually wants to build. For instance, in future years he suggests we might see developers, publishers, or other industry figures stopping by a virtual red carpet, or maybe giving talks in breakout rooms after the show. And he also hopes that he can expand this beyond just The Game Awards, doing more programming year-round to bring the games industry together. "My head is spinning with the possibilities," he says.
"When I launched The Game Awards, the idea was: why don't we just bring The Game Awards to all the screens where people play video games? …Now the next vision is: how do we actually take The Game Awards inside the games and game engines that you actually play? We're gathered in this amazing, real-time, virtual space, games get announced, and maybe you get to walk down a hallway and you actually jump into that game or play that demo…I think it will turn into more of a Coachella, a festival for games around the show."
Core is pitching The Game Awards event as a "metaverse" event, and if looked at as a harbinger of Keighley's vision, it's easy enough to see why. It's not yet met most practical definitions of what a metaverse is, as that would involve a persistent space across all platforms and incarnations, some sort of universal economy for content creation, a lot more freedom for users to do what they wanted within the space, and plenty more. But then again, just about every other company that's called anything a "metaverse" this year has had similar issues. After all, there’s still no metaverse yet.
Keighley agrees that what they've built out this year isn't a metaverse by definition, but says he sees The Game Awards itself as somewhat metaverse-like with how it brings people together around a singular experience via the live event, social media, livestreams, and now this experience in Axial Tilt.
"I see the metaverse as being a blend between a social network and a gaming experience, and I think this very much delivers on that," Keighley concludes. "So yeah, to some degree, I think that is some of the early steps toward where this is going to go. This is very much a V1. There's a lot more to do."
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.