Since the game awards have existed, so has my criticism of it. They have continually been a representation of games becoming a more fervent force in our society while simultaneously showing what is so terrible about them. Each year we are faced with a new Game Awards that attempts to encapsulate gaming in easily one of the worst ways possible. Many games are ignored, choices are questionable, and the sponsorships are cringe-worthy. But each year we find ourselves in the same predicament and watching…another…Game Awards.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.

The Choices

The games that are nominated, and subsequently become the choices for the Game Awards have always been lackluster in nature. This is in part because the “best” games end up infecting every single category and winning many of them in the process. Take for example the 2016 Game Awards where Overwatch won Best Game of the Year, as well as:

  • Best Esports Game
  • Best Multiplayer
  • Best Game Direction

Not only did Overwatch win those categories; it was also nominated for Best Action Game on top of this. Of course, this isn’t the first time something similar has happened, 2015 had a very reminiscent outcome. While no game won as many awards as Overwatch in 2016, there were certainly games nominated in several categories:

  • The Witcher III received 6 nominations
  • Her Story received 4 nominations
  • Ori and the Blind Forest received 4 nominations
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain received 4 nominations

With an even longer list of games that received 3 nominations.

Every year there is a similar situation and 2017 looks to be no different. With past year’s being The Witcher III and Overwatch, this year, that looks to be Mario and Zelda in what results in the year’s best being the only winners. By consistently having the “best of’s” in every single category, it creates a situation where the “best of” becomes the best in everything when they are everything but. You expect the “best of” titles to be at least in a few categories that they excel in that—arguably—what put them in the position they are in, but not three, four, or even six categories!

For me personally, the best example of this issue existed in 2015 with the best Score/Soundtrack category. The nominees were:

  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – composed by Ludvig Forssell, Justin Burnett, and Daniel James
  • Fallout 4 – composed by Inon Zur
  • Halo 5: Guardians – composed by Kazuma Jinnouchi
  • Ori and the Blind Forest – composed by Gareth Coker
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – composed by Marcin Przybyłowicz, Mikolai Stroinski, and Percival

2015 was also the year that a certain title—that while it received criticism for censorship claims—is entirely based in music both in its story and the soundtrack itself, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. Here is a game that is thematically about JPop and features an entire soundtrack that is of that genre. I am certainly not claiming that this title should have won, but if a game that produced a whole soundtrack like this:

Isn’t even considered as a nominee, then there is an issue with the selection process.

Regardless of the award show, we are all going to argue about which title should have won or been nominated, but for the majority of the time even with those reservations, we should be able to see why a title made it into a specific category, even if we disagree. For titles like The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt and Halo 5, I am left scratching my head. How did these entries make it into these categories when there is such a large pantheon of other choices that are far more deserving?

Well, they simply get forgotten.

The Process

The Game Awards has a somewhat unique process when it comes to developing its list of nominees and winners for its games that creates this nomination issue. For those unfamiliar, here is how The Game Awards determines its nominees and winners per its FAQ:

Nominees for The Game Awards are selected by an international jury of 51 global media and influencer outlets, selected for their history of critically and editorially evaluating video games….

Each outlet completes a confidential, unranked ballot based on the collective and diverse opinion of its entire editorial staff, listing their 5 picks in each category. These ballots are tabulated, and the five games that appeared on the most ballots receive a nomination. In the event of a tie, six (or more) nominees will be announced in a category.

A separate eSports jury, comprised of leading media outlets focused on eSports coverage, determines the nominees in the three eSports categories.

In short, 51 news outlets and influences send in their picks for each category. Once all of the picks are in, then a vote for the best is held.

The winners in most categories are determined by the international jury (90%) and a public fan vote (10%) across and Google Search Voting. In the categories of Best Esports Game, Best Esports Player, Best Esports Team, Most Anticipated Game, and Trending Gamer, the public fan vote across Twitter DM, Facebook Messenger, and Google Search Voting solely determines the winner. Fan voting closes on Wednesday, December 6 at Midnight PT.

What this does is in effect is create a system that is forced to yield only popular results rather than attempting to decide what title is the best in a given category. Let’s take Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE again as an example. It was a somewhat obscure game on the Wii U (a not so popular console) whose theme was pandering to a very niche market: those who were aware and interested in Japanese idol culture. If you were a website who reviews and covers games, you might have completely looked over this title. Even if you were a website that did cover this title, due to its niche nature, only a very few and a select amount of people would have any experience with the game. When it finally comes time to vote on which games would make it into which category, the few people who might have potentially picked Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE as an option would be quickly outvoted by more popular games that more staff at a particular outlet would have experienced.

Because of this system, we are continually stuck with only the most popular titles, even when they are less deserving, winning so many of the available categories. The issues sadly don’t end there, there is another problem that exists simply because of the sheer amount of quality games released each and every year, and that’s time.

Consistently through each and every Game Awards, there is a notable shift in titles that get nominated towards games released most recently. Titles released at the start of the year or at the end of the previous year (which can be included in the next Game Awards) are more often than not passed over in favor of more recent games of similar quality in their given field. For example, in the 2017 nominees, does anyone truly believe that Destiny 2 should be considered for its art direction in comparison to titles like Cuphead and Persona 5? Would not a title like Gravity Rush 2 or RIME fit more appropriately there? Or was it simply forgotten due to releasing in January 2017? Of course, we will never know the true reason, but looking back year after year it seems apparent that more recently released games (in reference to the Game Awards) are simply nominated more often.

Gravity Rush 2
Source: Playstation – Gravity Rush 2’s aesthetics

While these problems exist due to the process on which they are voted, the next set of problems the Game Awards faces is derived from the category selection for nominees that is only further exacerbated from by the voting process.

Poor Categories

The categories that are voted on in the Game Awards have always been set up in such a way that creates the issue outlined above regarding many of the same games getting multiple awards. On top of this, many of the awards themselves can be impossible to “judge,” raising a lot of questions as to why they are included.

Best Score/Music and Best Audio design are two such examples that show how easily some can overlap. The Best Score/Music is described as “For outstanding music, inclusive of score, original song and/or licensed soundtrack.” On the other hand, Best Audio is described as “Recognizing the best in-game audio and sound design.” To me, Best Score/Music is related to a game’s soundtrack while Best Audio is in reference to the various sound effects and components within a game not related to the soundtrack. However, it seems this distinction is only held loosely where many times games that only belong in one, end up in another. Looking at this year’s title, Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild have managed to be nominated for both categories when in both cases their strength truly lies in their Audio design. That is the various sound effects and components outside of the soundtrack itself should be the portion to have been nominated, not their soundtracks. Another set of overlapping categories is the Game of The Year and Best Game Direction with one being the overall best and the other “Awarded to a game studio for outstanding creative vision and innovation in game direction and design.” Obviously, a game that would be considered for Best Game Direction could very easily fall into the Best Game of the Year due to the broadness of the Game Direction’s award.

Overwatch Junkrat
Source: Blizzard – Overwatch, nominated for several 2016 categories.

Once again, this isn’t the only issue when it comes to categories. We are also left with categories that simply cannot be judged in any meaningful way; the eSports categories. Best eSports players, Team, and Trending Gamer are all categories that do not have any real meaningful way of judging them against each other. What makes one team from another game better than another team for another game? What sets one eSports player apart from another when judging them? It would be the same as attempting to judge on the best sports player in all sports. It’s largely impossible as the one metric that that would be used to pick a winner is all within the same sport itself, not across them. This effectively turns them into a popularity contest, to which I ask, why even bother? If the winner of each category is just a popularity contest, then what is the purpose of the award if the supposed role of the Game Awards is to judge objective winners? It contradicts the supposed goal and only creates further issues with an already problematic award show.

Unfortunately, there is still one more set of problems that must be discussed and that’s the show itself.

The Show Itself

The final set of issues and complaints that the Game Awards have all lie with the show itself and how it’s conducted. The first of these problems is the inclusion of game announcements. During each year of the Game Awards there are several game announcements made during the actual show itself. In an award show whose goal is to hopefully at some point become the Grammys or the Emmys, to include game announcements within it diminishes the value of it being an award show that is based on judging other games. Of course, I am not ignorant to the reasons for its existence, money is needed to fund the awards and this is one way to do it, but that doesn’t detract from it still having a negative impact.

Another negative impact caused by the show’s structure is the surprising choice to not have all awards actually broadcasted. In many of the past Game Awards, viewers were treated to the pure wonderment of the Schick Hydro Bot and other advertisements while awards were still being announced. After a short break and an in-show advertisement later, a short message would appear quickly announcing what game won what awards. It seems counter intuitive to take what is an award show and not show awards, that is the entire point of the show after all…isn’t it?

schick hydrobot game
Schick Hydrobot

But out of all these things, there is but one left that trumps all of them; Geoff himself. Let’s make no mistake, this isn’t a dig at him personally nor at him creating and setting up the Game Awards. This is a criticism of his involvement. Every year, we must suffer through Geoff’s unpersonable nature in front of the camera giving speeches and introducing the next announcement or award and its just…painful. I can understand a want to be the host after creating such an event, but it’ss a role best left to professionals. Allow someone onstage who can properly do a show and whoo the crowd to the best of their ability rather than taking the stage yourself. 

While the Game Awards have come a long way since 2013, there is still a myriad of issues that are still present. With the 2017 Game Awards around the corner, many of the warning signs of past shows are already present, but perhaps there is some hope. Perhaps out of all these issues mentioned, one or two might be fixed. But right now, there is little sign of change on the horizon, and until then; the Game Awards Are, And Have Always Been, Terrible.