Last night was the inaugural presentation of The Game Awards, a new awards show coming from Geoff Keighley (the gaming industry’s Ryan Seacrest or Chris Hardwick equivalent, a sort of host-for-hire) and a team of backers that includes industry leaders from Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft, EA, Activision and others. It’s a spinoff from Spike TV’s VGAs, or Video Game Awards: a yearly spectacle that ran on the cable channel bringing stars and gaming veterans together for a big stage show complete with reveals for big upcoming titles.
It’s this heritage that has left many questioning the viability of The Game Awards, as the Spike VGAs were an affair that often showcased the worst of gaming just as often as it did the best. Bad physical comedy (one year’s show featured Charlie Sheen being “teabagged,” for reference), over-the-top advertisements and a sense of disrespect toward the actual awards portion of the show (most winners would be announced in a montage segment, leaving more room for promotional reveals). Toward the end of its yearly run in 2012, the show could best be described as “occasionally tolerable.” After a disastrous online-only version in 2013, Spike cut its ties to the show and left long-time executive producer Geoff Keighley to front The Game Awards.
The move clearly worked for the better, as The Game Awards boasted a genuine spirit and love for the industry that is often missed in shows’ past. The presentation opened with a live performance from Koji Kondo, the man who composed the original Super Mario Bros. music. A significant chunk of time was dedicated to celebrating Ken & Roberta Williams – creators of the classic King’s Quest franchise. The show even opted to have game developers, over hired celebrities, present awards. It felt like a deliberate counterpoint to the years of awful VGA shows that Keighley oversaw in the past.
As a more independent production, The Game Awards was completely free from the overbearing marketing presence of major brands that want to associate themselves with gaming. (Doritos and Mountain Dew, anyone?) In fact, this event was nothing but games – from top to bottom, for three straight hours. The homespun nature of the event also had some consequences. Audio problems were a constant and logistical problems were clearly being patched behind the scenes. (This included awards being given away to recipients who “couldn’t make it here today,” only to have them show up later in the presentation.)
The show’s “big reveals” were also limited to studios who didn’t mind a platform that wouldn’t be broadcast on TV. In the show’s previous iteration, huge games like Skyrim, The Last of Us, Metal Gear Solid V and Dark Souls II were first revealed. The Game Awards didn’t have anything of that caliber, but they did deliver in spades for indie studios.
The developers of indie hits Gone Home, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and The Banner Saga were all on hand to reveal their new projects, as well as new footage from No Man’s Sky. It was an impressive set of debuts, though I wonder if the lack of major publisher announcements was underwhelming to a crowd who may have been expecting more groundbreaking news. EA’s news in particular, a hyped “explosive” reveal, felt anticlimactic. It’s publishing the next game from Hazelight studios, developers of last year’s Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. However, there simply wasn’t much to show aside from ten seconds of footage, without even a title to attach to the project.
The actual awards portion of this awards show also left something to be desired. Big prizes like Developer of the Year, and Best Fighting Game were handed out backstage with little fanfare. Meanwhile, the presentation of a trailer for Metal Gear Solid V’s multiplayer mode was treated as a grandiose affair.
While The Game Awards didn’t have much to uncover in terms of new games, it did give us some new looks at 2015 titles to come, including No Man’s Sky, Mario Maker, Project STEAM, Until Dawn and The Legend of Zelda for WiiU.
The question that demands answering, however, is if this can truly be gaming’s equivalent of the Oscars. An award that is accepted as a historical mark of quality, something so prestigious that artists aspire to obtain one for themselves through their creations. However, while watching The Game Awards, that’s just not the atmosphere I felt in the room. Rather, got air of something far different: The MTV Movie Awards. It’s an event of spectacle and advertising frenzy where the trophy being handed out is secondary to the world premiere for the latest trailer that aims to sell you on next year’s latest and greatest. Tributes to the pioneers of games like Super Mario Bros, and King’s Quest is noble, but when it’s immediately followed by a trailer for the new game in those respective franchises, the intentions become warped.
But that doesn’t mean I think The Game Awards should stop. I like the MTV Movie Awards. They’re dumb, bloated and meaningless, but there’s still value in spectacle when it’s done right. The big trailer reveals are the main attraction and that’s acceptable. I tune in like a hawk to E3 presentations for the same thing. It’s fun to see what’s coming next. But, E3 presentations don’t hold themselves to a higher standard. They don’t declare themselves a voice of the whole industry. It’s this conflict that will keep The Game Awards from true prestige. If you emphasize the reveals, the award loses credibility. If you emphasize the awards, will anyone tune in? For a first year show, The Game Awards was a decent block of entertainment. But if it wants to truly achieve, it’s going to need to find its focus in the years to come.
Follow Chris Berg on Twitter @Mushroomer25