PAX West 2017: Highlights from the Weekend
There’s a lot of game demos, cool displays & other items of interest from PAX West 2017 that don’t have enough on display to write a full post, but still deserve to be highlighted from the weekend festivities. Enjoy!
PAX West 2017: The Past, Present and Future of The Game Awards
Known for wearing many hats throughout his gaming journalism career, prolific host Geoff Keighley appeared at PAX West 2017 to host the Behind the Scenes of The Game Awards panel on the history of the event, the logistics required to operate it & a look at the future plans for the award show.
Geoff started writing about games at 13, leading to early opportunities such as Cybermania 94 with Jonathan Taylor Thomas & Leslie Nielsen (included below for your viewing pleasure) when the field was still in its infancy. As a long time viewer of the Electric Playground where a young Keighley spent some time as a correspondent, I can personally attest to the lo fi beginnings of gaming journalism on TV:
Eventually moving on to VGX, that show had a focus on adding mainstream stars to attract an audience. There were some really strong hosts such as Jack Black who appeared because he loved Tim Schaefer (due to their work together on Brutal Legend), but not every host was as passionate about the medium. This show also had an emphasis on trailers which were needed to “show forward momentum”, a topic that comes up again in the panel.
For the modern version of Keighley’s ceremony in The Game Awards which he now owns & operates independently, his focus is on getting to a place where the industry respects the awards. The TGAs are possible due to the rise of streaming, where he can now make the show he wants to make with no more excuses which is empowering after working for other people since 1994. He emphasized that it was important to recognize the community who are contributing to the experience.
Keighley addressed the concern that some games win a lot of categories, trying strategies such as making the awards platform agnostic & voting done by committee with the possibility of adding weighted fan voting in the future. Another important question that he’s considering is how to think about game of the year now that games change (like Overwatch which still has new characters & levels) or early access like PUBG.
As for the business model, the show costs millions to produce every year & Geoff fronted the money for the first year. Special offers on platforms such as Steam helps generate support, the show could do fan funding to replace the sponsors as well. He used the example of Unity as a good sponsor, it also raised awareness of how many games used them. When issues arise, he recommends trying to minimize the damage & say no to the brands that don’t get it (push back).
He spoke about the location switch from Las Vegas to Los Angeles as being largely due to where developers are located, as well as a long term interest in taking the awards around the world.
The trophy itself was designed by the famous Weta Workshop which he contacted through Valve, creating an award that weighs 15 pounds (by comparison, an Academy Award weighs 11 pounds):
Keighley’s passion for The Game Awards is apparent, his willingness to provide ample time for Q&A as well as suggestions from the PAX audience was a strong example of his commitment to continually listen to the audience. As a long time fan of his work, I’m excited to see what the future holds for the gaming industry’s Oscars in 2017 & beyond.
PAX West 2017: Is it the Era of VR?
VR continues to be a popular topic at gaming conventions such as PAX West 2017, with Seattle a hotbed of video game & virtual reality development talent working on cutting edge projects. Panelists at the Is THIS going to be the year of VR? discussion included Robin Hunicke, Ikrima Elhassan, Geoffrey Zatkin, Todd Hooper & Jeff Pobst.
Robin began the conversation with a discussion on the start of several years of VR from this point forward, a period where developers need to navigate the difference between what the marketplace has & what people want. She felt that VR was generally useful & it was awesome to have access to this kind of technology, as well as the huge amount of responsibility for how their products impact the culture.
Ikrima noted that development has moved a lot faster than anticipated; VR is a contact religion you have to try it to believe it & the industry needed to make it cheaper to accelerate that. Geoffrey advocated for the budget of AAA for VR games, as well as better tools for that development while Robin also advocated for more creativity tools to come out.
On the topic of price, Todd stressed the importance of getting price friction down to $300 or even $200. Jeff pointed out that exclusives are how the content exists today while Robin highlighted the need for better curated stores.
It might not happen for years to come, but I hope someone is looking into the possibility of live streaming future panels from PAX to VR as well as Twitch. It would be a context appropriate way to experience the convention remotely as well as allow panelists to provide 3D presentations & demos of the technology being discussed.