The modern Game Awards were created by Geoff Keighley as a way of replacing his decade old ‘Spike Video Game Awards’, which ran from 2003 to 2013. After the 2013 show received significant controversy, Keighley left, believing its focus had become too commercial, a far cry from what he thought was most important in his show: a celebration of the achievements of modern video games.
Sometimes referred to as the ‘Video Game Oscars’, the popularity of the event is only growing, perhaps as a direct result of the ever-increasing relevance and prevalence of video games in popular culture today. While in 2014 the event’s debut show drew 1.9 million online viewers, this figure is dwarfed in comparison to the whopping 26.2 million viewers the show garnered in 2018, over double the number of people that tuned in just one year earlier.
This year’s Game Awards has nearly 30 different categories, some examples including ‘Best Family Game’, ‘Best Score/Soundtrack’, ‘Best Studio/Game Direction’, ‘Best Art Direction’ and ‘Best Esports Event’, to name just a few. However, by far the most prestigious and sought-after award given out at the ceremony is the infamous ‘Game of the Year’ award. This year’s nominees for the accolade include Death Stranding, Control, Resident Evil 2, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and The Outer Worlds.
Each of these categories can be voted on by the public via The Game Awards’ official website, but just how much does your vote count? Not much, it would seem. This is because the influence of just 80 gaming news outlets worldwide is weighted to make up a whopping 90 per cent of all votes counted, while votes cast by thousands, perhaps millions of fans influence just 10 per cent of the final result. This obviously places extreme emphasis on the opinions of mainstream gaming news critics, giving them priority over the views of more generalised gaming audiences. This sounds fine on paper, if one assumes that the opinions of gaming news organisations could be considered ‘in line’ with the typical views of gamers en masse, but many would argue that this is not the case. As such, many believe that the ratios of the input of ‘game critic’ to ‘gamer’ are incredibly disproportionate for truly determining the ‘best’ game in each category.
The event’s nomination process is as follows: first, a committee of representatives from hardware manufacturers and AAA game publishers select a number of globally influential gaming news outlets (in this case, 80). Then, each outlet compiles a list of worthy nominations for each given category. The selections are then compiled, and the five most selected titles (or more, if there is a tie) in each category are nominated. Winners are then determined by the aforementioned blended jury (90 per cent) and fan (10 per cent) vote. On the surface this process may seem satisfactory, but contains inherent problems.
First, the voting proceeds: an anonymous, unranked ballot vote is conducted in each organisation to determine their nominated titles. The games chosen reflect the opinions of a highly diverse editorial staff. This sounds fine; it’s a simple democratic process, but this brings me to my second point: the extent to which the review staff themselves could be considered to be familiar with each game wildly varies. Not all reviewers actually complete the games they play due to time constraints, and the gaming skill of each reviewer also varies, calling into question the eligibility of each person to vote on some of the more difficult games.
This isn’t to say that I believe the mass audience should have sole control over the voting process – it only takes two idiots to outvote a genius – but the opinions of critics shouldn’t be given such a grand inflated sway in the first place, certainly not 90 per cent. This is just one issue of many, to say nothing of the reasons behind why members of the advisory committee might choose which outlets should vote, what relationships these parties might have with each other, and the disproportionate number of US and UK gaming outlets selected versus the total number of total global outlets (35/80).
The internet has also speculated upon Keighley’s very close public relationship with Hideo Kojima, the director of Death Stranding, arguing that Keighley may have swayed the nomination process in a way that would ‘boost’ Kojima’s game. This comes after the title received incredibly mixed reception from both critics and wider gaming audiences on its release, yet has been nominated for awards in nine categories, more nominations than any other game has received this year. Controversy has also been drawn from the game’s inclusion in this year’s awards in the first place, having been released just 10 days before the nominations were revealed – an extremely small time window in which to consider its eligibility for awards, especially considering that at that time, the game likely remained untouched by a large number of players. The game is estimated to take 40-50 hours to complete, only amplifying already existing concerns that gaming outlets nominated this game prior to finishing it.
However, Keighley addressed these concerns in an email to Kotaku: “I respect and appreciate the concern. This is why we have the FAQ right at the top of the website to make the process clear. It’s also why I don’t vote on the nominees or winners… I work closely with game publishers and developers on a number of levels, so [I] leave the judging to media outlets that provide a wide critical assessment.”
Although the event may appear, to some, to be biased in a number of ways, it would seem that this is not due to Keighley himself; rather, the issues present with the ceremony perhaps seem more widely reflective of symbiotic relationships between organisations in the games industry as a whole. Ultimately however, these issues still affect the show, calling into question whether The Game Awards can truly be called a celebration of the achievements of modern video games.