It's no secret that over the years, Spike TV's Video Game Awards show slowly lost favor with video game fanatics. The glitsy gala of celebrities mixed with leaders on the gaming front took on an oil and water type of appeal. The groans of disatisfaction didn't fall on deaf ears though. Executive Producer/Executive Vice-President of Viacom Entertainment, Casey Patterson has taken all the feedback from the video games community and has completely torn down and rebuilt the event from the ground up.
Casey spoke with Complex about the show's new format and what the team has learned in order to create a show that will resonate with gamers as much as possible. Less celebrity fluff and more gaming stuff is the new approach and it looks like Casey is on to something.
Spike started doing an awards show for video games before it became such a mainstream darling. What was it that led you guys to take a chance on it?
It's interesting because i was among the first few people hired to develop this network for men. Before it had a name and any of that, we were looking at the initial research and were trying to find our place in the wold. We were looking at the demographic of young adult guys and what they were really spending their time doing, what was important and what was next for them. The power of video games in their lives was undeniable as far as how passionate they were about them to the amount of time they spent playing. It felt like if we were going to go for that demographic, this would be the next big thing. MTV Networks was the ahead of the curve with music videos front, the captured the people behind and in front of the camera and honored what they did. It was an art form and we feel the same way about video games.
In the last few years, we've heard that we were trying too hard to make it look like everyone else's award show. Gamers are not like everyone else and that's not what they want to see.
When we started the Spike TV Video Game Awards, we felt that all of these creative people of the community making video games deserved to be honored in the same way as people who make music and movies. We approached it from the same kind of format; a two-hour TV special with awards and celebrities and for a while during the early years, celebrites were really jumping into the space. That was sort of the trend at the time. We felt like the format fit but over time we've seen that it's not neccessarily a celebrity format. Gaming has their own stars and the video games community doesn't need big celebrities to voice these games and they've created their own superstars. The two-hour Hollywood awards show format just didn't seem to fit anymore. What we heard from gamers over and over through the years was—in kinder language—stop, don't feel like you need to put celebrities up there for celebrity's sake. That's how they felt, they wanted to see the games, breaking news and more world premieres. They've waited all year to see their gaming heroes who get very little time to talk about their games in the mainstream. Before, we'd open up an envelope and they would run up say "thank you" for 30 seconds or less and be gone. We've heard from gamers that that's not what they want; they want to hear them talk about their games, how and why they made them and see more in-depth looks and demos with roundtable discussions. Before we were in a place where this needed a 3D experience where gamers could interact, and it was very flat and one-dimensional.
Now with the birth of the new consoles and digital being where it is, it's a really exciting time for this show. It can be put on all digitaly over all platforms and demographics—MTV, BET, Comedy Central, Spike—everywhere there's a natural audience and be interactive. This will be a small step towards that with it being the first year of the consoles, but in time, this will be the first show you can fully interact with. It's the first show like this that you can actually play and gamers can be in control of it to some degree. You have to begin somewhere and we felt like this was the exact time to start.
What exactly do you mean by interaction?
This year, the idea is to change the format. It's to do away with the Hollywood award show and all the trappings that go along with it. We're putting it on the digital platforms to stream for all the demo[graphics] across the company. It's going to be a smaller setting in a studio environment where we can have real discussions and talent can stop by. When I say talent, it could be Matt Stone and Trey Parker coming by and show the new South Park game. They can really spend time with us and instead of 60 seconds, they can have 10 minutes. They can talk about the game, go in-depth and demo it. This new format gives us time to do that with the core audience. It's more tearing down the TV awards show, putting the programming where it naturally belongs and setting it up for full interactivity in years to come. The technology isn't quite there yet, but it's almost at the tipping point. So after 10 years, this is the year to take it off TV, set it up here and lay a great foundation for the very exciting years ahead.
Will it just be chatrooms, Twitter feeds and stuff like that?
We haven't announced what each platform is doing yet, but everyone is taking the stream and they will all have their own interface and plans around it. I don't know if I can make this claim yet but given the partners like Hulu, Yahoo, MTV, BET, Xbox, Spike, PlayStation and Comedy Central, I think the reach will be bigger than television. The show is finally living where it naturally and organically belongs.
Between the last event and now, a lot has happened in the video game world. Was it difficult to choose exactly what to focus on?
It wasn't because everything is moving so fast and all of it is good news and unbelievably cool. It's very easy to focus when you're obliterating one format and taking a step into a brave new world. We knew that our focus would be on putting it where it belongs, setting it up for success in the future and reaching more gamers. The focus isn't on trying to convert TV fans into gamers but to reach gamers anywhere and everywhere they live and breathe. That was an easy decision given how exciting the future of technology is here.
You're not going to get around the fact that Grand Theft Auto V had a great year but everyone will be very well represented.
Did the feedback you got come mostly from the last show?
No, it was over time. When we first launched, there were a lot of celebrities jumping into the game opening up studios, doing voiceovers and publishers were hiring them left and right. Eventually, it evolved into the publishers and games creating their own superstars. The celebrities became less important in the mix. We followed the the gaming industry as it's gone along, and in the last few years, we've heard that we were trying too hard to make it look like everyone else's award show. Gamers are not like everyone else and that's not what they want to see. They don't care about what people are wearing, the red carpet, our shiny floor or teleprompter. All gamers care about are the games and the people who make them.
It's pretty cool to see a company as large as Viacom take viewer feedback and actually act on it.
We want to be a part of the future and not the past. To be honest, the technology is there where you can interact with content and there's no other audience more poised to take that step than video gamers. Not only can they do it, they expect it. So when we talk about an awards show with shiny floors and all those things, it feels really old-fashioned when you think about the potential of the technology. It's a little scary stepping away from traditional TV but that's the way the world is going. I feel like someone standing on a stage opening an envelope is wasted time that could be filled with more world premieres, breaking news and discussions with the people who making the games.
Will there be any awards given out?
Absolutely, we will still give out key awards but it won't be presented in a traditional awards show format. There's going to be a small studio, a small audience and will be more broken down like an in-studio show with some Comic Con elements. I only reference that because of the great panels and discussions. When talent stops by, it'll be for a reason, because they're bringing something.
How much will indie games be represented?
All of gaming is very, very important to us. We want to celebrate the whole world of gaming; you're not going to get around the fact that Grand Theft Auto V had a great year but everyone will be very well represented. Again, this is the next great experiment. This year is small but big in reach and we're resetting.
How long will the show run?
Three hours in a continuous stream but we're going to have shoulder programming and other things happening around it all day. It's an all day, all digital binge for gamers. We're slowly rebuilding this thing into what it should be and if you're a gamer, you know exactly what I'm talking about.