The Ups and Downs of Awards
On Tuesday evening game developers from all over the world were dressed to impress at the London Hilton for the 9th annual British Academy Games Awards. As per tradition we saw celebrities read awkwardly from an autocue, developers thanking families and colleagues and witty guests creating comedy off the cuff. The award show is a well-tread orchestration that gaming has had a mixed history with but nonetheless awards have become central to us recognising the progress of games as art and culture.
The best of the industry were recognised and commended for their extraordinary achievements in the medium, ranging from breathtaking visuals to heart-string pulling audio and everything in-between. However the BAFTAs are far from the first award show to dish out weighty trophies for the past year’s efforts and they won’t be the last. So this begs the question, why do we have so many award ceremonies?
Journey alone won five of the nineteen awards handed out on the night, admittedly some of those awards have specific parameters but that’s still a pretty substantial haul. Many of those were categories that we’ve already seen the downloadable title dominate at the likes of the Spike VGAs and D.I.C.E. Summit. I don’t intend to diminish Journey’s quality, in fact I totally agree with many of the victories of thatgamecompany, acknowledging the serenity and innovative design offered by their game. But to date they have been nominated for almost forty awards, ten of which were specifically sound-based.
Equally, numerous award shows have their benefits. Specific shows or categories like the Independent Games Festival or the Ones to Watch award give more niche games the chance to stand on a stage next to the mainstream monsters. Although to the same point a game like Far Cry 3, which was released just outside of the Spike VGAs nomination window, fortunately had the chance to pick up the Action award at this week’s presentation. Games that surprise and excite us don’t deserve to be overlooked due to a technicality. And in a sea of entertainment, it can make a huge difference to a smaller developer to be rewarded for their unique contribution to the industry by bringing them praise and publicity.
This isn’t a phenomenon that’s limited to just the grand ceremonies though. Consider the increase in game of the year editions over the past five years. With the proliferation of digital publications a publisher can look to any website’s best of the year list and pluck an accolade out to justify a re-release. Dead Island was a fun gore-fest that was plagued with bugs yet received a game of the year edition based on a single award from GameCritics.com. If the editor of the aforementioned site felt that Dead Island was the best experience they had in 2011 then great, I enjoyed the game too. But for Deep Silver to use this as a marketing tool just seems a bit cheap. What is the point in having a distinct honour plastered across ten different products?
Perhaps it’s the fault of the Wild West that is the Internet. Everyone deserves his or her own opinion though. So perhaps it’s our industry and media’s fault for not better unifying our purposes and policing publishers. This is the same as the dilemma we face with all these award shows, every time one pops up it’s trying to fill a gap, yet we still have the past mistaken attempts returning year after year. If there were one major award show voted for by critics and the public, and we maintained the GDC Developer Awards we’d have the best of both worlds, an award given by the common people and an award given by peers and colleagues.
Despite all my issues with the repetition of Tuesday’s event, it’s still wonderful to see great games getting noticed but I’ll leave you with this thought. Does the purpose of an award not lose its effect when there’s hundreds to go around? To quote a Pixar villain, “when everyone’s super…no one will be”.