Geoff Keighley is a busy man. After organising and hosting this year’s Summer Games Fest, he’s back to making the final preparations for his next big show. And this one isn’t a video game showcase – it’s a music concert.
The Game Awards 10-year Celebration takes place on Sunday, June 25 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, which will see the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra performing arrangements of music from Elden Ring, Final Fantasy XVI, League of Legends and more.
Of course, this isn’t the first time the Hollywood Bowl has opened its doors to video game music, nor is it the first time the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra has performed it. But if Keighley can manage to fill the Hollywood Bowl close to capacity, he’ll have pulled off one of the biggest video game concerts in the world. So, why a concert? After ten years of music at The Game Awards, it just makes sense.
“We thought it was a really cool opportunity to do something at the Hollywood Bowl, an iconic summer night of video game music and 70 minutes of orchestral music, which we’re really excited about,” Keighley told VGC in a video call.
It wasn’t until 2017 that Keighley could actually afford an orchestra to perform at The Game Awards. Since then, the show has culminated with an orchestral suite featuring the Game of the Year nominees. The biggest difference between the upcoming 10th-anniversary concert and the performances at The Game Awards is conductor Lorne Balfe and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra have had months to rehearse, while The Game Awards performances come together in a matter of weeks.
“It’s an amazing sprint because we don’t know the nominees until the middle of November. We can obviously guess – this year it’s likely that Tears of the Kingdom will be in a montage in some way so we can do some prep work – but we don’t really know until mid-November when it’s set,” Keighley explains. “It’s a real race to the finish for our production team and also our music team to make those orchestra moments happen.”
While the orchestra didn’t appear until 2017, music has always been an important part of The Game Awards, and Keighley spends just as much time playing music matchmaker behind the scenes as he does organising and hosting the show. When Keighley launched The Awards in 2014, he introduced Nintendo’s in-house composer Koji Kondo to American rockers Imagine Dragons, culminating in a seven-minute joint performance of Zelda melodies and the Imagine Dragons track ‘It’s Time’.
“The good thing with Imagine Dragons is they’re all huge gamers,” Keighley says. “The week of the show, we had Koji Kondo go down to the home studio where they were recording, and I still have this video on my phone where they’re having this jam session and collaborating. When you look at that clip [from The Game Awards], it’s amazing because you can tell that Imagine Dragons can’t believe they’re with Koji Kondo, and Koji Kondo can’t believe he’s playing on ‘It’s Time’.”
Special musical guests have been a mainstay of The Game Awards ever since, a tradition carried over from Keighley’s time at Spike TV’s Video Game Awards. It was Keighly who introduced Hideo Kojima to Chvrches, who went on to appear in Death Stranding and also played at the Awards in 2015 alongside Deadmau5, Stephanie Joosten, and Ben Harper. Other big names that have performed over the years include Run The Jewels, Avenged Sevenfold, Hans Zimmer, Grimes, Green Day and Hozier, while Tenacious D will perform at The Game Awards 10-year Celebration.
“The week of the show, we had Koji Kondo go down to the home studio where they were recording, and I still have this video on my phone where they’re having this jam session and collaborating.”
“I’ve always loved video game music and popular music, and I think bringing those worlds together in the right way makes a lot of sense,” explains Keighley. But bringing these worlds together in the right way means ensuring there’s a natural link between the artist(s) and the video game world. Keighley says he gets pitched some “amazingly huge names,” but there always has to be a reason for them to play the show.
In some cases, relationships between musicians and video game studios already exist outside of The Game Awards. PlayStation’s collaboration with Hozier for God of War: Ragnarok and Activision’s collaboration with Halsey for Diablo IV led to both artists performing at the 2022 Awards, while Riot Games always has enough going on with Arcane and League of Legends to slow in artists like JID and Sting. It’s collaborations such as these that Keighley wants to see more of in the gaming world.
“The thing I’m always pushing for is more real collaboration, not just licensing tracks but actually having artists help score games or write original songs,” he explains. “The scary thing with games sometimes is that the scores are hours and hours of music, so it’s a big effort. But I wish artists would be more involved creatively.
“I think the music industry still looks at it as just a platform for licensing, rather than a real platform for creative expression. My dream is to get an artist in a room with a game developer and for them to have a really close creative collaboration, which I think is happening on some games, just not on all. I hope there’s more of that moving forward.”
Creative collaborations between video games and the music industry have stepped up a notch in recent years, where ‘anthems’ for major franchises and gaming tournaments are fast becoming the norm.
Riot Games worked with Lil Nas X on the 2022 League of Legends World Championship anthem and a tongue-in-cheek video announcing the rapper as the ‘President’ of League of Legends. Halsey and Suga’s music video for ‘Lilith (Diablo IV Anthem)’ turns a church into a gateway to hell and is nearing 10 million views on YouTube, while Activision is promoting the launch of its latest season for Warzone with a Call of Duty anthem written by EDM DJ and COD enthusiast, Oliver Heldens.
“My dream is to get an artist in a room with a game developer and for them to have a really close creative collaboration, which I think is happening on some games, just not on all.”
As well as being a platform for creative expression, the video game world is now a powerful platform to reach millions of potential new listeners and generate new revenue streams. With a growing number of artists becoming increasingly frustrated with the low-pay economic model of streaming platforms, collaborations between music and the gaming industries are becoming more common.
Travis Scott reportedly made $20 million for his concert performances in Fortnite, and also set a record for the most-watched concert in a video game with 12.3 million concurrent viewers. By comparison, The Game Awards is already one of the biggest platforms in the world for music exposure. Hozier and Halsey’s performances at last year’s Awards were watched by 103 million people, a 20% increase from 2021’s figures. If this year’s figures reach another 20% growth, The Game Awards will be watched by more people than The Super Bowl.
It seems strange that an awards show for video games could become the most effective way for musicians to reach the largest simultaneous number of listeners, but it speaks volumes to the growth of the video game industry and its position in the wider entertainment market. Keighley says bringing these two worlds together in a bigger way is a “priority”, and doesn’t rule out moving into the physical concert space after the 10th anniversary concert has wrapped up.
“I think music will always be a big part of The Game Awards,” he says. “I would love to have a tour of video game music eventually, and I know there’s been Video Games Live and tours for individual games, but I think what makes our show special is that it’s all these franchises coming together on one stage with custom suites from the composers.
“We’re not just playing the theme, it’s more of a theatrical experience around a lot of those games, so we’ll see how it goes. I’d love to do this in London one night eventually, or New York, and kind of move it around. I guess we’ll see!”
The Game Awards 10-year Celebration takes place on Sunday, June 25 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. You can buy tickets here.