G4TV reinvented gaming culture. Can they do it again?
“I would like the industry to get its shit together.”
Adam Sessler thinks Metroid Dread sucks.
“TGI Fridays Jalapeno poppers and weak drinks,” the returning host of G4’s X-Play tells Inverse. “That’s how I feel about Metroid Dread.”
“Adam is not eating good in Metroid’s neighborhood,” adds Kevin Pereira, returning host of Attack of the Show.
Despite what the haters say, it’s no secret the video game industry loves a reboot — whether it’s one of Nintendo’s oldest franchises or the TV network that pretty much invented modern gaming culture. After shuttering back in 2014, G4 is back. And it wants to be your one-stop-shop for all things video games on cable TV, streaming, and social media.
To mark the return of G4, Inverse’s Jen Glennon and Mo Mozuch spoke with Sessler and Pereira about the ever-changing gaming landscape, the future of E3, Activision’s terrible year, and good old cannabis.
The interview below has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Jen: What do you see as the biggest opportunity for relaunching G4 now, and what's the biggest challenge?
Kevin: The media landscape has completely changed. We're in a very different world. But that's also what's so exciting.
When we first started putting YouTube videos on television, people said no one would want to watch that on TV. When we started putting tweets on TV, people were very confused. When we wanted interaction with our community, we had to physically mail these little USB flip cameras that fans could plug in and go to conventions with. Now the options are sort of limitless as to how we can get fans involved.
Adam: We’re dealing with all these different generations that like games. Each successive group has all found their own way of accessing media. For me, it was still television. For another group, it was YouTube. Now there's Twitch. We're trying to reach all of them at the same time. The opportunity here is a centralization of the discussion. We had that, then it fractured. It's a way we can bring everyone together.
Mo: Are you competing against yourselves on these platforms?
Adam: I don't see them competing — success on one obviously helps get the brand out there. But I cannot tell you how many times I've heard, even back with OG G4, that we’re dealing with “short attention spans.” But I also know people will just turn on the X-Play channel on YouTube or Twitch, and just kind of have it on all day long.
One of the most complimentary quotes I heard was from David Bowie, who we had on quite a few times. He said loved having TechTV on in the background while he worked. Which means at some point, when he did something awesome, maybe he heard me. Maybe!
Kevin: For us, it’s a bit easier — Attack of the Show was a live offering on a six-second delay. The only difference now is that we're on YouTube and Twitch and integrating chat streams. We're gonna deliver the best experience we can, which is usually unexpected, unpredictable, and something we might have to apologize for years later.
If a moment is perfectly clippable for TikTok, perfect. If it makes sense on Instagram, absolutely, we will go there. But what will we lose if we're constantly looking at every piece of content through that lens? We have to pick one and deliver the best experience for that.
Jen: How are you guys planning to tackle issues like harassment and crunch?
Adam: It needs to be addressed. Everything that went down happened on [November 16] when we were launching. It was live, but there's only so much fungibility we could have. We were doing kind of a pre-stream, and I made it known I want Bobby Kotick out. He's always lacked the moral leadership to run that company.
But now there are legal issues at play — not just the harassment in and of itself — but the misleading of shareholders. I still am crossing my fingers that he's not going to get through the week. At some point, it's just gonna become too toxic to the share price.
It can't be ignored. But we still want to be irreverent. There's no way that I can, in good conscience, have something like that happening at Activision and not acknowledge it.
Jen: Is there any pressure from above to make G4’s content more celebratory than critical?
Adam: I like to focus on the ‘too big to fail’ frame of mind. In the past, if a publisher was doing something I thought was kind of choady, I had things like Sessler’s Soapbox where I might just say that it was happening. I don't like to be that adversarial, but I don’t want to shortchange my opinion.
I know exactly what you speak to — I might lose the contact and the content. But there were pressures at the old G4 that are not present here now.
Since then, that kind of brand identification has become even more important. If we lost that confidence and trust of our audience, if we were just going to turn a blind eye to what's happening at Activision — that would be tanking.
I would like the industry to get its shit together because I hate having to report on this because it just makes me sad. I have lots of friends who work in the industry. There are people I know who were not aware of what was happening inside their own company. You might hear a whisper here and there, but it is not in your face. Imagine having to go into the office the next day, knowing something like that happened.
Mo: With so many companies and events based in California, what will it take before the industry acknowledges that cannabis is a big part of gaming culture?
Kevin: As the resident substance abuser here, I'll leap in. So for the events and the PR of it all, I don’t know that replacing one social crutch with another is necessarily the right solution. But why only alcohol? Let's have a flagrant — or fragrant! — ketamine bar, just a tasteful something to loosen the mood.
When I look at sponsored streams, I often see wipes where alcohol brands will transition from one shot to the other. It’s interesting that that seems to be okay, whereas why can't it be Lowell Farms or Dosist?
I would like to see the industry embrace that — parties probably would be a little more chill. I'd be okay with a cannabis bar at an event, but I'd also be okay with a sugar-free vegan event. There's all types of ways to loosen up and network.
Adam: I'm not a pot smoker because it doesn't agree with me, but I'm not against anybody doing it. But it needs to become a nationwide thing so that we're not running afoul of the law. There's always a politician with a bone to pick, which is why we have Josh Hawley acting like some kind of Neanderthal, saying that it's un-masculine for me to play a video game.
Jen: Is there still a place for large-scale, in-person events like E3?
Adam: I've been both in front of the camera and controller, and I've seen the pros and cons to something like E3. During the pandemic, people just couldn't get things ready in time. I don’t think word was able to get out as effectively that Square’s doing something today, or Sony's doing something today. They couldn’t get that same degree of focused attention at that massive scale.
Obviously, Sony can attract a degree of fanboy in very strong numbers. But that's not the person you need to reach. It's that other group of people, who check in now and again. E3 has always been so challenging for developers and publishers. It does slow down development, and a bad showing at E3 — that stink can follow you. Next year, I think people are still gonna be trying to figure out what the new solution is.
“There were pressures at the old G4 that are not present here now.”
K: The developer-publisher relationship is very different than the correspondent or passionate consumer relationship. To be a publisher, hyper-focused on this week, you're going to spend all this money to get your message out, but you're competing with literally every other publisher for five to seven days of real estate. The return on investment doesn't make a ton of sense, and also having to rush to get that code out could be tiresome to teams and an unnecessary crunch.
But as the consumer, there's nothing better than a week where everybody says all bets are off. I won't miss the hot dogs that have rotated under the heat lamp for an hour. But I really I hope it comes back — it was such a spectacle in its heyday.
Jen: What are some of your standout E3 moments?
Kevin: One year we had a sponsor that was one of those energy drink companies. I won't say which one, but it provided you several minutes worth of energy — maybe even hours of energy. Someone at the G4 booth drank about seven of them in the first hour of the stream.
“We might have to apologize years later.”
We had Steve Wiebe trying to beat his King Kong record. Behind that, I see a gurney and an EMT. (Everybody’s okay!) We're coming back from break, there's a developer trying to get a console to work to show off their things — stress and panic over there. Then I'm hearing in my ear, “We got to kill some time — but don't say kill because there's a paramedic! We're gonna try not to see it! We're gonna hope the big arcade covers that up!”
That was like, one minute of the E3 experience.
Adam: When Nintendo announced the Wii U, they never used the word console — they only used the word controller. There was a good period of time where it's like, does this work with the Wii box? Are we just buying a new controller that has a screen embedded in it?
We got the first interview with Nintendo. So I'm in my earpiece, asking “Is this a new console?” I'm asking everyone in the booth. Matt Kyle, with the big brain from X-Play, he's looking around online. He didn’t know. Nobody knew. I'm like, I don't know even how to conduct this interview. Reggie is coming over!
You see me going, “Reggie! I mean, Nintendo always surprises! Are we talking about a new console here?” But it’s really me saying, I have no clue what you just showed.
Mo: Who is taking the best approach to this new generation of gaming?
Adam: Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony have really carved out their own specialty in a way I've never seen before. Sony with the first-party games, and Nintendo with whatever the hell it is doing that so many people seem to love. Microsoft has a smart strategy with Game Pass — I see Sony and Nintendo having to adapt to the path they're paving.
Sony's gonna do it sooner than Nintendo. What's frustrating is Nintendo’s sitting on this pile of gold called Our Old Franchises. The way they sold Mario Galaxy and Sunshine was just so needlessly bizarre.
Kevin: I was always a PC kid at heart. But I go to my PlayStation when I want a first-party exclusive. Ratchet and Clank blew my mind. Then I hop over to the Xbox when I want to play everything else because Game Pass is such a great value.
Microsoft gets to leverage the efforts of every title in Game Pass to figure out how people are searching for it. What thumbnails are grabbing their attention? What are they bouncing to? All that data, for a company that is pretty good at managing and sifting through data — that's very valuable.
Jen: What are your thoughts on the metaverse? Will this meaningfully shape how we play games? Or is this just like the latest iteration of 3D TVs?
Kevin: I have strong opinions on this one. The short answer is, yeah, it's going to matter. The long answer is it's not going to matter on the timeline that any company is making you think it's gonna matter. We keep seeing iterations on VR chats, rec rooms, all these shared spaces. Unless they make the leap to a more augmented reality approach, they're only going to live in a very narrow, curated ecosystem.
I'm a believer in blockchain technology. I like NFTs, the notion of an ownable asset adding value to a shared virtual world. Facebook is (or Meta) is going to have their approach for their metaverse. Google is gonna have their version. Apple's gonna have their version because Tim Cook has made no qualms about augmented reality being as disruptive as smartphones and apps were to our daily lives and workflows.
When we all have a layer of reality that's augmented right under our eyes, is that the metaverse? If so, yeah, it's inevitable.
Adam: I like the 3D TV analogy. The whole reason that happened is TVs became too good and we needed to find a way to sell someone a TV again. The metaverse is already here — it's called Roblox and Fortnite. They don't require VR or AR. That's why they’re successful.
One thing I learned from doing tech in Silicon Valley is that VCs hate video games. They don't understand the cultural logic you're dropping these concepts into.
The most impressive display I ever saw of the promise of AR was from Microsoft. They showed things with an immediate practical application, like someone trying to fix their plumbing. That was brilliant. I will never fix my plumbing, but for cooking, wearing an AR headset could actually improve my life.
I’m gonna keep bagging on Silicon Valley people because I like doing it. These aren't normal people that do normal things. They don't know what it's like to cook. They don't know what it's like to fix plumbing. They think everyone else is into VC and that world domination is something that's going to get us all atwitter, like we can’t wait to be one of your loyal horde as you soak everyone for a few more dollars and enjoy fascism.
There, I'm done.