An Evolving Game Award Show for an Evolving Industry

Judges now vote on incomplete games, titles from previous years

Next week the fourth annual Game Awards will stream to what will likely be its largest global audience yet, going live on a dozen and a half streaming platforms to audiences in North America and Europe, as well as China, Japan, Korea, Brazil and Russia.

But in some ways the show’s name is a bit of a misnomer, while the Game Awards will name winners in more than two dozen categories, what draws the biggest audiences is what takes place in the gaps between short acceptance speeches and flashes of recognition.

This year there will be a full live orchestra playing music from 20 games throughout the show, a performance by the band Phoenix and of course, most interestingly to fans of gaming, plenty of new insight into released and unreleased games.

Part award show, part a glimpse of the year to come in gaming, the Game Awards increasingly both holds the collective attention of gamers for one night and can deliver the sort of spotlight that could turn indie creation into mega-hit.

And Geoff Keighley, who created the show in 2014, knows full well both the power and the potential of what he and his team put together each year. That’s why they spend the months leading up to the show doing everything from working on the diversity of the panel of judges (Glixel is among that panel) that select award nominees, to ensuring that the future games to be highlighted on the show won’t overpromise on what they can deliver. On top of all of that, the Game Awards team is still trying to find the right voice for the game industry.

“For so long we have been trying to create the Oscars of gaming,” Keighly tells Glixel. “But when you look at the Oscar format, that’s good for movies, but not what works for games. I think as an industry we need to be strong enough to embrace our uniqueness.”

That includes that blend of awards and sneak peeks, a sort of stance that is designed to look both back at what the game industry created, but also toward what is to come in the game industry’s future. Another thing the team created was the idea of naming important gamers, people who don’t create video games but play them. This year, that comes in the form of the “trending gamer,” a streamer, influencer or media member who has made an important impact on the industry.

“I’m proud we have gamers win awards,” Keighley says. “You’d never see a music-listener or movie-goer win an award. I think this award is important because gaming is interactive and the players are a part of the experience. So why not award the player?”

Four years in, Keighley says he believes the show is still finding it’s success, searching for ways to increase the prestige of the show in an effort to create what he calls the gold standard for gaming award shows.

“We are a little more consumer-focused, while other shows are more peer-based,” he says. “I think there are a bunch of ways to approach it.”

One of the biggest changes to come to the show this year are the sorts of games eligible for inclusion. Specifically, the awards are reexamining what it means to be a released game and when a game needs to be made to be eligible.

Now, eligible games can still be in development if they are available to purchase and playable by the public. The best example of that is PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, which remains one of the most played computer games of 2017, despite having not been officially released yet.

The show also created a new category that looks to award the game with the best ongoing development and support over the years. That opens up games that may have released years ago, but continue to see major changes and support for players. For this category, the idea is that judges look at games in the same way the Emmy Awards might look at a season of a show, like Game of Thrones.

All of these changes are reflective of a creative industry in an incredible state of flux.

“The challenge is that there are all of these games that come out today that are unfinished,” Keighley says. “What is a finished game anymore? That’s kind of an open debate.”

And Keighly says that because of the changing nature of the game industry and the games it creates, the Game Awards need to be open to change as well.

“When we looked at the most important games this year, we asked, 'Do our rules accurately represent the industry and how games are being made'?” Keighley said. “And we realized that no, they didn’t. Some of the most creative works and inspiring game design happens on the existing base of a game that came out previously. Look at No Man’s Sky. Last year that wasn’t the game it should have been, but this year it has been improved a lot.”

The show also added a student project element which awards six games developed at the high school or college level, with a jury pick by a panel of prestigious developers. Finally, the show added in a new public vote, which accounts for 10 percent of the final vote for the winners. The new system has so far proven to be very popular.

“There were 2.5 million votes in the first day and over 5 million now,” he says. “And it’s not like people come in and vote for one category. Eighty-three percent of those voting, vote in all of the categories.

“It shows that this is a really engaged, passionate audience.”

The Game Awards airs on December 7th at 8:30 p.m. and will be streamed through a number of service, listed here.