Let me preface my words below with a little background. I am not a long time gamer. Games have been in my life since my memory kicked in at age 4 with Crash Bandicoot and Metal Gear Solid on the PSOne, however I distanced myself away from games 2-3 years ago to focus on my studies and ensure the best possible future. I then ended up in hospital and didn’t leave for a month. My education took a hit. I could not attend university as planned. I am now on an unintentional gap year. I am 18 years old. It took these series of events for me to realise that nothing gives me joy like experiencing a great video game, not high achievement, not admission to the greatest universities not skydiving nothing. I love books and films and HBO dramas but there’s just something special about storytelling in Video Games. Having the worst day ever and instantly remedying it by playing Journey is incomparable. Losing hours to the wondrous plains of Skyrim or following the story of Lee and Clementine in The Walking Dead only to have it break your heart in ways you didn’t know it could break are feelings only games can give you in that way. I was drawn back in and now cannot let go. Every gamer has their own definitive title that’s closest to their heart with significance beyond comprehension to those that didn’t experience it from their point of view. This is what makes video games a great and unique art form (yes, if you can interpret, then it is art). What makes video games not so great however is an award show like the recent VGX.
I’ll be honest and say this is my first viewing of the annual VGA’s, now VGX. The general consensus on previous VGA’s seem not so stellar however this year seems to have taken the award for being the worst. The advantage I have is no prior reference point except other award shows for other media e.g: The Oscars, The Emmy’s, VMA’s, BAFTA’s, Golden Globes etc. Though pretension has continued to plague these shows there are some central themes that are absolutely crucial and cannot be excluded under any circumstances. This is the core of VGX’s failure. There have been some excellent suggestions and criticisms of the VGX’s by great gaming voices such as Joe Vargas of the Angry Joe Show or Boogie2988 – special praises for Kotaku who instantly recognised and called out the show for it’s crippling awkwardness – as well as countless voices across: Reddit, NeoGaf, Youtube and more. What is most important to take away from the immediate response is how desperately the community wanted a video game award ceremony to be done proper. And why not? If Grand Theft Auto V can generate more revenue after 5 years of development than the most successful film in history. Avatar did in 15, how is it possible that the game is not recognised by a ceremony worthy of it’s success? Of course financial success does not warrant accolade outright but it does deserve the opportunity for serious recognition by a united and legitimate source. Needless to say, Saturday’s attempt this was not. I want to establish what the fundamental flaws of VGX were and how they could be done in a successful manner and what a video game award show should become. Might as well start with Number. 1:
1. Leave the most coveted award to the end! Imagine best short film being announced after best picture at the Oscars. There is no way this would work, nor is there any instance of this approach being implemented successfully in the history of award shows. It’s award show class 101: build up suspense by dishing out awards one by one until you reach the climax of the evening with your most important award, in this case Game of The Year.
2. Structure your award distribution like a pyramid. Announce a group of awards that share a common theme which lays the foundation for explaining why these games were nominated. Then consecutively build upon these groups with added levels that define the games and help support your decisions. Each subsequent group should be smaller than the previous and carry more weight. This way methodology is established and the audience can appreciate reasoning. Here is a thought out and well designed award structure:
Genre’s – establish the variety of great games that came out that year and what the cream of the crop was for each of them, proving your medium not only something for everyone but something incredible at that:
- Best RPG, Best Action/Adventure, Best Casual, Best Sports, Best Racing, Best Fighting, Best Shooter, Best Indie, Best Co-op Multiplayer, Best Competitive Multiplayer, Best Platformer, Best Strategy and Best DLC
Performance and Presentation – what qualities have made the games this year special in a way that should evolve gaming for the better:
- Best Art Direction, Best Sound Design, Best Graphics, Best Mechanics, Most Innovative Gameplay, Best New IP, Best Sequel,
Ecosystem’s – recognise the best exclusives available within each gaming ecosystem, proving each of them are the best place to play and no matter where you do your gaming, there is great choice and the industry is doing well:
- Best Playstation Exclusive, Best Xbox Exclusive, Best Nintendo Exclusive, Best PC Exclusive
Platform Types – Building on ecosystem’s, look at what each type of gaming device has been supporting over the past year and what a gamer on that platform should not have gone without:
- Best Console Game, Best PC Game, Best Handheld Game
The Game’s Soul – What have individuals and artists put into these games that have made them that special gem this year. What has given this game its essence –
- Best Soundtrack, Best Song, Best Voice Actor/Actress, Best Character
Makers – Who has been making these games this year and who has been the best at doing so. Recognising not only the programmers and artists but also publishers and supporters of these games that helped them get made:
- Best Studio, Best Publisher
Next Year – Penultimately, what appears to be the game to keep an eye on and to look forward to in the year to come. Perhaps special attention could be given to an Indie game coming out the following year that looks great but hasn’t been getting a lot of buzz, thereby supporting smaller developers in an exclusive manner:
- Best Upcoming Game, Best Upcoming Indie
And after ALL of that, you then announce:
- Game of the Year
Between these groups of awards, Input world premieres that are exclusively in-game footage, announcements and release dates to keep your audience surprised and rewarded for viewing your show. There should also be awards and recognition throughout that do not focus on the games but rather the gaming medium. For example:
Best Internet Personality, Developer Of The Generation, Biggest Surprises Of The Year, a montage of what’s to come next year. Combine this with the announcements and a pyramid-structured award scheme, then you have a real award show that is captivating and engaging. Yes, you are allowed to put in commercials we understand you need to make money however the technique is to trick your audience into thinking the commercial are a side project and the awards themselves are the main act, not that you lured them into a trap so they can buy a bunch of products being adverts. It’s nuanced but there’s a craft there.
3. Audience. you need an audience. No award should be accepted in front of just a camera crew and host. Even if ready-made video acceptances stand (as some of these were great, Irrational, Naughty Dog, Ubisoft Montreal), there should always be an audience to applaud and congratulate. This is to fill the deathly creepy silence that’s present otherwise, demonstrated perfectly on Saturday. Media outlets and personalities across the world are watching carefully to report on your show, why not invite them to the evening so they can view live and be your audience. As much as I thought the laid back ceremony was interesting and different, it is still essential that the game of the year nominee’s be present in the building to accept that award in person if it is to carry the weight you wish it to. There has to be something that separates you from the best there is and by being their to collect it in person, the developer is making a statement that the award in their hands is that difference maker.
4. Choose your hosts carefully. I have no problem with Joel McHale. I have no problem with Geoff Keighley. I have a problem with either and especially both hosting the Award Show. I understand the attraction of selecting a celebrity to host a gaming ceremony as it legitimises the event by bringing in outside heavyweights. However their needs to be a mutual respect for the chosen celebrity host and the Company (Viacom) choosing the host. I have no idea if McHale plays/played video games. He certainly joked that he kinda knew about Borderlands yet his ridiculously outdated nerd-gamer jokes prove otherwise. The answer to this is irrelevant. What is relevant however is that the person chosen to award individuals and companies for their accomplishments should understand the importance of those figures and appreciate their significance. It is also the responsibility of whoever is in charge of the ceremony, be it Viacom or SpikeTV, knows the personality of their selected hosts and if that is what will work in the mood they are trying to create. A 3 hour live casual award show is not the place for a sarcastic, bemused and mocking host as the jokes have nobody to bounce off of, be challenged by and to be demonstrated as satire instead of insult. “yes all us gamers are useless, antisocial, basement dwelling, virgin teens. Now the award for a multi-billion dollar generating game goes to..” A documentary in the United Kingdom, “How Video Games Changed The World” interviewed several celebrities who are/were insanely passionate about games and projected that passion in an inviting manner. Use one of those guys.
5. Never, ever, ever, ever interrupt an artist promoting his product by asking if he got high while creating it. I’m sorry you had to go through that Tim Schafer.
6. Don’t announce your Award Ceremony starts at a specific time (3pm Pacific, 6pm Eastern, 11pm GMT) if you’re going to have a pre-show where you start handing out awards. That’s what your audience wants to see.
7. If you want live music as part of the evening that is relevant to the awards being distributed, one suggestion might be to try and get the nominees for Best Song in Game to play their best songs in game so that viewers and your audience can appreciate those songs in game. If this is not possible because the stars are too expensive or busy then find other incredible songs that are part of the best soundtrack awards and use them, but sparingly. Don’t make it a 20 minute segment everybody is waiting to end because it doesn’t fit with the tone. Also, do not get irrelevant jackasses to stand outside and stall for time without any preparation or instruction. Even if they got both of those things in advance the fact that I think they didn’t proves that they didn’t. It was embarrassing and by far the low point of the evening. Yes we all know you can kill people in GTAV. That’s kinda been the crux of the game since forever. No I don’t want to chant potato.
The games that were highlighted and nominated on Saturday are the reason I am a gamer and why I want to dedicate myself to games by becoming a game critic. Bioshock Infinite, The Last Of Us, Gone Home, Ni No Kuni: these are not just good for a game they are incredible marvels that deserve to stand their with the best across history. The VGX awards are why they do not stand their with the best across history. They have not been awarded that chance. It’s sad. They deserve better.
There were some really great moments scattered through the show. Though previously revealed by IGN, confirmation of a Game of Thrones Telltale game is good news. On top of that a Borderlands game by Telltale is pretty cool. I love The Walking Dead and the first episode of The Wolf Among Us was excellent. I just hope the studio isn’t overburdened by 4 simultaneous projects. No Man’s Sky might be the stand out of the entire evening, Broken Age by Tim Schafer looks interesting but that was really it. Aside from a few extra seconds of big games like The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, Destiny and Thief, there wasn’t much to be excited about. Tom Clancy’s: The Division looks to have fascinating weather physics but no doubt streaming the video over the internet does not do it justice. Release dates, beta’s, new games, DLC, these are announcements there needed to be more of but it was definitely not the weakest element of the evening.
IGN, Gamespot, Polygon, Kotaku, Game Informer, Revision3 Games, Eurogamer, Rock Paper Shotgun. There are people at these companies that I wait every single day to hear their opinions from. What they say matters to me and carries weight. Listening to RebelFM with Arthur Gies or Spoiled Games on Rev3 helps me find my own voice and discover my thoughts. I care about what these guys think when united. I do not understand how this has not happened already, and maybe the VGA’ was an attempt at this but the ideal award show is won hosted in unison by these companies, and chosen by people from these companies. Colin Moriarty announcing best PS3 exclusive, Kevin Vanord announcing the nominees for Best RPG, The McElroy quintuplets or however many there are awarding most innovative gameplay. Hundreds of people travelled from all over the world to be with the Podcast Beyond crew for their 300th podcast. A podcast. imagine the flurry of support one true award show created and voted by games journalist across the globe could have. Each site has their own game of the year awards and then come together to generate an ultimate version. This is what is needed. I only wish it were possible or there were something fans like me of websites and podcasts and reviews and games could do to make this happen.