Geoff Keighley launches Summer Game Fest to capture gaming’s biggest unveils

Geoff Keighley, organizer of The Game Awards, is announcing today the Summer Game Fest, a four-month-long season of game news events from the top platforms and game publishers.

The new festival will be a substitute for the now-canceled Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), and it will be organized around an online hub for announcements from May to August. One of the big events will include content related to the May 7 news for the Xbox Series X, and it will culminate with Keighley’s broadcast of opening night for the now all-digital Gamescom.

Major game companies participating include 2K, Activision Publishing, Bandai Namco Entertainment, Bethesda, Blizzard Entertainment, Bungie, CD Projekt Red, Digital Extremes, Electronic Arts, Microsoft (more details coming next week), Private Division, Riot Games, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Steam, Square Enix, and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.

Even before the pandemic took down E3, Keighley said in February that he was skipping this year’s show, as he didn’t agree with its direction and was heartbroken when Sony decided to drop out of the big show, which normally takes place in June in Los Angeles each year.

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To fill that void, Keighley will use the Summer Game Fest to gather news for gamers, support in-game events, release playable content and demos of select titles, and unveil other surprises that gamers can experience from the comfort of home, Keighley said in an interview with GamesBeat.

“E3 was a singular week, but now that things are digital, we can pull everything together into a season from May through August for video game events,” Keighley said. “I found every game company scattered away from E3, but everyone wanted some unifying principle to pull the industry together. I felt the need for it and came up with this idea and talked to everyone. It’s a great way to let fans know what is going to be out there.”

Keighley said he is funding the Summer Game Fest himself as a nonprofit effort to help the game industry. He described it as a free, global, completely digital festival, and a prototype for the future in case we are stuck with all-digital events for a long time.

“We will layer on top of it the idea of playable demos and content that you’ll be able to download as part of this, taking all of the best aspects of a consumer trade show but fully digitizing it,” he said. “We’re going to do a bunch of in-game events and other things that encourage people to engage with games over the summer. It’s all free, and you can do it from home. This is like the New World Order.”

The fest isn’t a singular show, but a whole season for events. Specific event details and times will be shared by each individual game platform and publisher. We’ll see a lot of other events, like IGN’s summer event and GameSpot’s.

“We’re not trying to compete with publisher events, but we’re trying to amplify them,” Keighley said. “They create their own event, but we’ll amplify it with our web site, which is like a hub for the events. The finale will be the Gamescom show that I do.”

Geoff Keighley, creator of The Game Awards.Geoff Keighley, creator of The Game Awards.

Above: Geoff Keighley, creator of The Game Awards.

Image Credit: The Game Awards

By spreading it out across the summer, more games will get noticed than at E3, where there is so much happening that it is easy to miss stuff, Keighley said.

“I think there will still be a center of gravity in June and July with big announcements, but it just isn’t going to line up in one week,” Keighley said.

Specific game content will vary by platform. The Steam Game Festival: Summer Edition will run June 9 to June 14, with other platform dates to be announced. With that kind of event, Keighley will add supporting programming that will add context or drill deeper on the announcements that happen there. Because the event is digital, Keighley said, “I don’t have to build a multimillion-dollar stage.”

Programming that is a part of the Summer Game Fest will be distributed across all major streaming platforms, including publisher owned and operated channels on Facebook, Mixer, Twitch, Twitter, YouTube Gaming, and more global outlets and media partners.

As part of Summer Game Fest, Geoff Keighley will produce and host special pre and post shows for certain flagship reveal events, in addition to producing and hosting Gamescom: Opening Night Live on Monday, August 24. Iam8Bit will serve as producers and curators of additional programming to be announced.

As for The Game Awards, Keighley said it will definitely happen this year, but what form it takes depends on how the pandemic plays out. If no one is allowed to gather, the awards will go digital, but Keighley said they have about five different contingency plans in the works, depending on what happens.

“We are going to produce the show this year in December,” he said. “99% of our audience is digital around the world. It has been 5,000 people gathering in a physical place. But I am realistic that you have to have backup scenarios.”

The DeanBeat: Learnings from our first online-only event

Thank you to those of you who tuned into our online-only GameBeat Summit 2020 event this week. I had a great time, even though I didn’t come within miles of anyone who attended the digital event.

This event was a wake-up for me and many of our guests. Many attendees told us that we proved it was possible to do a good digital event. But it wasn’t easy to pull off, as our plans kept changing in real-time. I’m very proud our team at VentureBeat stepped up to this challenge. And it turns out this was kind of an interesting lesson on how to take something meant only for the physical world into the digital future.

At our event on Tuesday and Wednesday, we had about 600 people in our summit’s Slack channels and about 1,800 registered to view the Zoom video proceedings across two different stages. We also streamed the event to the larger public on YouTube, Twitter, Mixer, and Twitch. We had 121 speakers in 59 sessions. It was a very complicated event to organize, particularly within the eight-week window that we had to pivot the event from a physical event in Los Angeles to a video conference event.

And we managed to grow our event year over year, as last year we had just 510 physical attendees.

Living in denial

GamesBeat Summit Digital speakers.GamesBeat Summit Digital speakers.

Above: GamesBeat Summit Digital speakers.

Image Credit: VentureBeat/GamesBeat

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We were not pre-programmed for success. All of this came together very quickly.

At the DICE Summit in Las Vegas in mid-February, I was booking speakers and talking with folks about our plans for the Women in Gaming breakfast. But after I returned, the coronavirus was gathering steam. Tech companies bailed out on Mobile World Congress, the big trade show in Barcelona. On February 21, Sony and Facebook pulled out of the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

On February 26, San Francisco declared a state of emergency. Then, when the last major sponsor Amazon pulled out on February 28, GDC was canceled (or rather postponed).

To me, during those days, it felt like we were dodging a bullet. Los Angeles, where we planned to do our event, was still open for business. I didn’t think the lockdown and fear of being social would last until the end of April. And companies that couldn’t show anything at GDC were now asking if they could come to the GamesBeat Summit on April 28-29. That seems so naive today. But back at the end of February, we still thought we could do a physical event, as it wasn’t going to be a massive collection of people.

On February 29, one of my college friends who works in epidemiology warned me that by the time April came around, the pandemic would be markedly worse, with lots of people dying and most people in no mood to gather for physical events. We wondered if people would attend a mostly digital event, and if a smaller group would come to a physical event.

By Monday, March 2, I spoke with my boss Matt Marshall, CEO of VentureBeat, and we reasoned that it would make no sense to move the event later in the year, when we might have even more people infected and more problems with a physical event. We decided to keep the event in April but started planning for an all-digital contingency. We thought we would bring people together to record sessions at a studio, with a small or no audience. We tried to hang on to that physical presence, as one CEO said he would skip it if it were just a digital event.

On March 3, we announced we would still do our event, perhaps as a small regional event, but we would reschedule it if necessary. On March 5, I attended the investor meeting for Advanced Micro Devices; it was my last physical event I went to as a journalist. Things were getting bad in Seattle, with lockdowns and deaths occurring in a major American city.

I was really starting to resent this “Force Majeure,” which was coming on so fast to ruin our plans as well as wreck the economy and endanger so many lives. I was getting dragged kicking and screaming into changing our event. And yet, I also realized this problem wasn’t just about me or my event. This was about being responsible and safe. We had to do the right thing.

Pulling it all together

We also realized that we had one of the biggest fights of our careers on our hands. The easy thing would be to cancel it outright.

I signaled to our advisers that we would do a “digital-first” event, where the audience would be mostly online but possibly with some small gathering at the recording studios in San Francisco and Los Angeles. But Bill Grosso, one of our advisers, cautioned us to just drop the physical part altogether.

And soon enough, on March 11, the NBA suspended its whole season after a player tested positive. E3, the big game event in June, was canceled the same day. Speakers were starting to tell us they would not be able to travel to a physical event. Niantic, one of our sponsors, said they would still support us if we had a digital event. That gave us some energy to move forward. During that week, we went all digital. But we had just about six weeks to make that transition.

By March 14, I had made my last trip to our local gym. We were locked down in our home, and I was unable to meet with the rest of our staff. On March 16, we told the public we would shift to a digital format. On March 19, we spoke with Rami Ismail, cofounder of Vlambeer and co-creator of the Gamedev.World event, which was an all-digital event for game developers. He had successfully staged that conference in 2019 and had great advice for us to take advantage of the digital format. He told us, for instance, that we should prerecord many talks.

By the end of March, we hired a production company that was familiar with digital events, Evergreen Creative. We had worked with them before and Rob Lee knew a lot about what we could do in a digital format. We toyed with different platforms but settled upon Zoom and Slack. We chose Zoom because it would enable us to keep our two simultaneous video stages, and we chose Slack as a means to communicate. We considered a mobile app for scheduling one-on-one meetings but felt that was going to be too many platforms.

We almost went with another platform. In a critical move, we decided to ditch it because it would have forced us to have only one main stage, and we had already booked speakers for simultaneous dual stages. We didn’t want to cut the speaker roster, which was excellent. So we settled on Zoom for good, even though it had its flaws and scary stories of “Zoombombing” proliferating.

Meanwhile, many speakers continued to commit to speaking at our event. We realized that we needed to fill out the time for things like lunch, so we signed up more speakers so we didn’t have any gaps in our day-long schedule, as we didn’t want to lose our online audience by going dark with dead air.

ah, crap, my wife has to go into work wednesday, so I'll have to step aside to handle kiddo stuff off-and-on during day.ah, crap, my wife has to go into work wednesday, so I'll have to step aside to handle kiddo stuff off-and-on during day.

Above: Kesiha Howard (left) of Sugar Games hosts a fireside chat with Entertainment Software Association CEO Stanley Pierre-Louis on the industry and gaming for good in the era of the coronavirus.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

We recorded a practice Zoom session with Fable Studio CEO Edward Saatchi on March 27. That was the first time we tried it, and we realized that internet connectivity was an issue for things like iPads and iPhones. Then we went into overdrive booking recordings with speakers on wired connections with good webcams, solid microphones, and desktops where possible. During the next three weeks, we recorded more than 35 of the 59 sessions with speakers, using Evergreen and our PC gaming editor Jeff Grubb. We even filmed a tutorial on how to use Slack and Zoom, and our GamesBeat writing team was able to pre-write stories about a lot of the talks and schedule them.

That took the edge off going live, as the majority of talks were now available as recordings that we could drop into the show. We arranged for many speakers to come on live only for the Q&A part of their talks. That part was critical for boosting engagement, while the recordings were crucial in reducing the number of things that could go wrong during a live event. About a week early, we opened up the Slack channels for the conference and people started pouring into it to chat.

In our rehearsals on April 24 and April 27, we uncovered some challenges in how we were orchestrating the speaker Q&A sessions, but we decided to move forward and leave it flexible. We pulled together volunteers from partners such as USC and veterans of the game industry. We needed them to tell us if any Zoombombing was happening.

We also put final details on touches that could make our event better, like our Visionary Awards presentation and a film excerpt from Insert Coin, a documentary about Midway Games, that we would show in a reception featuring the cool technologies of Oculus Venues and Hearo.Live. Oculus Venues let people watch the proceedings in virtual reality, while Hearo.Live let us watch with audio chat.

How it turned out

Xsolla's Xsolla's

Above: The IDGA’s Renee Gittins (right) and Xsolla’s Justin Berenbaum talk game subscriptions in the era of the coronavirus during GamesBeat Summit 2020.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

For our Visionary Awards, we were able to recognize the groundbreaking work on mental wellness by industry leaders Eve Crevoshay and John Smedley. Those awards were quite timely, as we all need more mental wellness in the stressful time of the coronavirus. The preparations for the awards came in hot, but no one on our organizing committee complained about the short time frame.

As April 28 and April 29 arrived, we were pleased to see the crowd had become more international than ever, and that we still had some of the highest-level people in the industry coming to listen to talks, chat with each other in video conferences, and write supportive messages and banter in the Slack channels. To me, this was a huge relief. And I had some very nice moments talking with industry friends on Zoom.

More than 100 women (sorry, some couldn’t get inside the virtual room) attended our first-ever Women in Gaming virtual breakfast, led by our Hero Stage emcee Andrea Rene of What’s Good Gaming. I was proud that we had diversity in our ranks. 25 speakers were women, or about 20%, roughly the same ratio of women in the industry; about 38% of the speakers were women or people of color.

In my final speech, I thanked 14 sponsors, eight media partners, and 34 individuals who were critical to the event. Most of our speakers we recruited before the event stayed with us, including some that I had to beg to stay on board with us. We did this with a small team, but one that was nimble and unwilling to give up.

What we learned

Women in games breakfast at GamesBeat Summit Digital.Women in games breakfast at GamesBeat Summit Digital.

Above: Women in games breakfast at GamesBeat Summit Digital.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

Our advisory board was very helpful in pushing us more and more digital. But it was good to figure out what we were capable of. We knew we could not have rescheduled 50 speakers to accommodate a new technology platform, so we stayed with an older one that people knew. Zoom and Slack aren’t perfect, but used together, they’re pretty good. And that was good enough to get this event done.

We learned that we had to reduce the number of moving parts, which represented things in the show that could go wrong. We had to have backups for everything. We could play a prerecording if a speaker didn’t show up in person. We had backup emcees in case the main emcees lost their internet connections. We had to make sure nothing fell through the cracks that would be visibly bad for the audience.

At the same time, we needed to leave some parts unscheduled. While I recorded that early session with Saatchi, we decided to go live with our talk on “We are what we pretend to be,” about designing virtual beings, or artificial people, for video games. It turned out to be a great seemingly spontaneous but well-rehearsed conversation — one that I’ll write about in the future.

Asked in advance, many speakers didn’t want to do live Q&A sessions. They were unfamiliar with this kind of format. But we left those parts vague in the schedule. When the speakers arrived onstage and started answering questions, they became more comfortable. So they agreed to move offstage and entertain questions, the same way that speakers do when they leave a physical stage and talk to people in a hallway. Some people stayed in these offstage Zoom rooms for a long time. That really boosted engagement, and it made the experience for the attendees much more special. Observers heard about this and upgraded to ticketholders from just watching free livestreams.

We had occasional problems, but overall, it was a success. In fact, it was one of the best conferences we’ve ever done. Now we’re planning on doing more digital conferences, such as our upcoming Transform event in July. In some ways, it feels like being pioneers. I don’t want to do digital events instead of physical events forever, but cold reality tells me we should get serious about being digital. Our team is even talking about doing this kind of event for other companies. That would be an entirely new business for us.

I’m very thankful that we survived this pivot from physical to digital. But I’m also very proud that our team enabled us to kick some ass in this transition.

Activision Blizzard donates $2 million to Call of Duty Endowment for veterans jobs

Activision Blizzard has donated $2 million to the Call of Duty Endowment to help fund emerging veteran employment needs.

The donation from the publisher of the Call of Duty video game series kicks off the company’s celebration of National Military Appreciation Month through the #CODEFearlessChallenge, a social media campaign that calls for followers to post a photo or name of a veteran or current member of the military to honor their service and sacrifice.

The #CODEFearlessChallenge coincides with a series of events in May supporting the endowment, which provides placement services for veterans.

Later this month, Call of Duty Endowment (C.O.D.E.) Fearless Pack will debut in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: Warzone. All of Activision’s proceeds from the pack will go to the endowment’s efforts to place veterans into high-quality jobs.

Veterans are hurting

Above: The latest Call of Duty Endowment campaign

Image Credit: Activision Blizzard

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In the last month alone, the endowment has seen an unprecedented increase in requests from veterans seeking employment assistance from its grantee charities — a more than 50% increase over the same period last year.

Activision Blizzard’s $2 million donation, as well as other funds raised through #CODEFearlessChallenge, will go directly to the endowment’s grantee charities to meet this heightened demand. Additionally, Humble Bundle is running a two-week promotion with the Call of Duty Endowment as the charity of choice. Titled: Humble Sierra the 3rd Bundle, this promotion will run starting on May 5 to May 19.

Call of Duty Endowment executive director Dan Goldenberg said in a statement that he has seen a huge increase in veterans asking for help in the pandemic. The charity has been around for a decade, but he said he has never seen anything like this and veterans will need help more than ever.

The Call of Duty Endowment has funded the placement of more than 69,000 vets in jobs since its inception and aims to place 100,000 veterans in meaningful jobs by 2024. The endowment’s 2019 cost to place a veteran was $499 — providing meaningful employment at a sixth of the cost of U.S. Department of Labor efforts. Nationally, American veterans make an average salary of $49,945, while those placed through the endowment’s grantees, with their focus on high-quality placements, made an average of $60,750, or 21% more.

Canalys: Cloud spending hit record $31 billion in Q1 2020, but growth continues to slow

Companies spent a record $31 billion on cloud infrastructure services in Q1 2020, though the full impact of COVID-19 is unlikely to be realized until the second quarter.

New figures from Canalys indicate cloud spending grew 34.5% year-on-year (YoY) from the $23.1 billion for the corresponding period last year. However, the cloud spending increase was an established trend, with Q1 2019 figures revealing a 39.3% YoY increase and Q4 2019 showing a 37.2% YoY increase. These numbers also show that while the overall dollar spend continues to rise, the rate of growth is slowing.

The numbers indicate that cloud spending only grew 2.6% quarter-on-quarter through the end of March 2020, or around $800 million in real terms.

Above: Canalys: Cloud spending: Q1 2020

Moreover, while Canalys attributes the growth in cloud infrastructure services spend to the sudden shift to remote working as COVID-19 hit, much of the global workforce didn’t begin working from home until March. That said, China — the second biggest cloud services market after the U.S. — embraced remote working earlier as it was first to feel the effects of the pandemic.

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It’s no secret that consumers and businesses have been flocking to cloud-based services and remote working tools. Netflix doubled its expected signups for new customers for the last quarter, while Microsoft announced that it grew its daily active user base for Teams by 70% to 75 million. Videoconferencing platform Zoom, meanwhile, saw its user base jump from 10 million in December to more than 200 million in March, and Google Meet passed 100 million daily active users — with 3 million new users joining daily.

But while cloud usage has certainly been up, service providers have experienced a downside — large enterprise projects such as SAP migrations, hybrid cloud deployments, and “other transformational projects” have been put on the back burner. This conservative approach to new spending may counter some of the growth seen elsewhere in the cloud services realm. Indeed, some of the industries hit worst by the global pandemic — such as hospitality, tourism, and construction — have cut or delayed planned cloud spending.

“We saw an unprecedented surge in demand and use of cloud-based applications primarily driven by remote working — not just collaboration tools, but also cloud security, which was also added to by increased ecommerce and other online activity,” Canalys chief analyst Matthew Ball told VentureBeat. “On the reverse, we saw an immediate slowdown of large enterprise consultative-led projects.”

In the cloud

All the major cloud service companies released their Q1 2020 figures this week, with global leader Amazon’s AWS passing the $10 billion milestone for the first time, a 33% YoY increase — however, its growth is also slowing. In Q2 2019, AWS saw its first sub-40% growth since Amazon began reporting AWS figures — growth dropped to 37%, followed by 35% in Q3 2019 and 34% in Q4 2019.

Elsewhere, Microsoft reported a 59% YoY revenue increase for Azure in the last quarter, compared to 62% for the preceding quarter and 73% for the corresponding period last year. And while Google only recently started breaking out its Cloud figures, we know its revenues in Q1 2020 were up 52% YoY to $2.78 billion, compared to the 53% YoY rise it reported in Q4 2019.

It’s difficult to read too much into the impact COVID-19 has had on the cloud services and infrastructure market so far — data for the next quarter should be much more revealing.

What is clear, however, is that cloud services will likely only grow in demand if remote working continues in the future. All the major providers were already investing heavily in their cloud infrastructure, with Amazon recently opening its first African datacenters, in addition to a new region in Italy, while Google added a new region in Las Vegas. Alibaba, meanwhile, revealed plans to invest $28 billion in cloud infrastructure over the next three years after a surge in uptake of its various services during the COVID-19 outbreak led to service issues.