DonAithnen (donaithnen) wrote,

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The Game Awards

Last friday was The Game Awards, which is a "new" award show that would like to be the Oscars for video games. I say "new" because although they're claiming it's the first one it's clearly the successor to the Spike Video Game Awards (the VGAs), which did their final show last year, and produced and MCed by Geoff Keighley, who was also the same person who produced and MCed the VGAs.

If you wish to watch it yourself, it's still up on youtube:

I did not watch the VGAs, but from what i heard they were, if not actually a disaster, certainly very underwhelming. The biggest complaints were A: the shows were clearly targeted at what Spike TV imagined their demographic was, ie lots of stupid humor, and B: they featured appearances by numerous Hollywood people who very obviously didn't know anything about games and were only there because of the paycheck.

After Spike TV discontinued the Video Game Awards the Game Awards show was clearly intended to address those faults, and is much more in line with what one would expect from a "normal" awards show. (Which presumably means that either the faults with the VGAs were things pressed on Geoff Keighley by Spike TV, or that he learned a lot from his mistakes.)

What They Got Right:

The appearances were much more appropriate. They had a single Hollywood celebrity at the beginning, Kiefer Sutherland, however he's actually been involved in the production of a couple video games and managed not to sound like a disinterested outsider, so that was relatively okay. After that i believe all the rest of the presenters were primarily involved in the game industry in one way or another. The one disconnect was when the next presenter immediately after Kiefer joked about how they hadn't hired a bunch of Hollywood types who didn't want to be there, and had instead gone with industry professionals because they were... cheaper. It was a well delivered jab clearly directed at the Spike VGAs and it _was_ funny, but it was also slightly undercut by being told immediately after a Hollywood celebrity had spoken.

There were no stupid stunts in between the award presentations. They had several musical interludes and a lot of "world premiere" trailers and commercials for current games. There was a great (CGI) skit for Dragon Age Inquisition, and one little video skit-like thing "halfway" through the show that i didn't really get. Oh, and the brief segments they did with Conan O'Brien to introduce the Game of the Year nominees, which was a great idea in theory though it sometimes came off a little stilted and flat in practice.

What They Got Wrong:

Three big things jumped out at me, all related to each other.

For a number of awards they did not list the nominees. More than once they just cut to Geoff standing next to the winner off stage. They have a brief discussion about something mostly unrelated and then have an abrupt shift to "and by the way you won this award." In other cases they at least did a proper announcement of what the category was before announcing the winner, but still skipped listing the nominees. I think i counted 7 different awards that got abbreviated in that manner, and based on the length of the regular presentations it would have taken them about 15 minutes to cover all the nominees properly. Or even less if they skipped the "fancy" presentation and just listed the names.

And just to add insult to injury, in two different cases it was actually "and by the way, you won these two awards." They lumped two awards together into a single announcement that was just awkwardly dropped into a conversation.

And finally i can kind of understand the argument that they don't have time to fully cover all the awards. (I don't agree, i think they could easily have cut a couple of the commercials or world premieres, or just added 15 minutes to the 2 hour and 45 minute show to make it an even three hours. But the argument isn't inherently invalid.) However some of the ones they chose to neglect in that manner were MAJOR awards! Best Online Experience, Best Soundtrack, and Best Developer!!! But the worst case of all was the "Games For Change" award. This is award category designed to bring a spotlight to games that are focused on social change and/or commentary. This is important because they often push the medium in new directions, and because if anything is going to convince the mainstream that games can be art, these kinds of games will probably be it. This category really deserved the full award treatment, with clips of the games in question. At the very least the other nominees should have at least been _mentioned_. But no, unless you go check the web after the fact you'll have no idea which other four games were considered socially important.

One minor thing they got wrong is weird camera angles and cuts, especially during the various interviews. On a number of occasions they would zoom in on the interviewee until the front half of their profile was filling up an entire third of the screen. It seemed really odd to me.

Noteworthy Things That I'm Not Sure Were Right Or Wrong:

There was a big focus on "World Premiere" trailers and promotional videos for games coming out next year (or possible later.) On the one hand, you never see trailers for upcoming movies during the Oscars. On the other hand The Game Awards don't have the cachet of the Oscars, and presumably feel they need to do something to draw in more viewers. Also presumably the Game Awards get a fee from the company whose trailers they show. So you could almost view it as a win-win-win. The companies get exposure, the show gets the money it needs to run, and the viewers get to see brand new trailers. On the other hand you never see trailers for upcoming movies shown as part of the Oscars.

On a very related yet subtly different note, there were also a number of regular trailers/commercials for games that are already out. Some or all of them were also nominated for something in the show, but these were not the shorter "nominated for" clips. I'd really need to rewatch it to check if there were any non-featured games that got a non-premiere trailer spot. This is an even more complicated comparison. The Oscars do reference current movies quite a lot of course. However that's usually in the form of the skits and the musical numbers, not straight up trailers.

On the other hand, and this relates back to the first item as well, there _are_ commercials when the Oscars are broadcast on TV. It's been a couple years since i've watched the broadcast version, but i'm sure there are trailers for movies, both current and upcoming, during the Oscars. There's a cognitive disconnect there because even though those commercials clearly pay for the show it's at a degree of removal and one doesn't think of the commercials being fundamentally part of the show. (I believe the only event for which that's usually considered to be the case is the Superbowl.) For the Game Awards they're broadcasting it themselves on the internet and thus have to get the funding directly, thus the World Premiere trailers and more regular commercials.

The issue is they don't have clear commercial breaks. They occasionally make announcements about "stay tuned for this and that" while showing the crowd dancing to the DJ between sets, but they don't actually cut away after that and it's clear that both the premiere and regular trailers are a part of the show itself. It might actually be advantageous if they did "fake" commercial breaks to provide a little mental distance between the show and the blatant (though totally understandable) commercialization.

And speaking of the dancing crowd and DJ, that's another part i'm not sure what to think about. The Oscars and other award shows are usually kind of stodgy, with people in suits and fancy dresses and such. Here they've got a lot of people in regular clothes, and a standing room only area right in front of the stage with a big crowd and a DJ playing chiptunes during the breaks. I feel really conflicted about this. I hate suits and dresses. Every morning i rue having to wear pants and a button down shirt to work instead of the t-shirt and shorts i could get away with when i was working in the games industry. And if i'd ever done well enough in the games industry to get invited to an event like this i'd resent it if i had to dress up formally. And yet i wonder if the awards would get a little more draw with mainstream press if they looked more like a regular awards show and less like a party? I'd love to believe we could gain more social cachet without having to give up our casualness, i just don't know if that's possible or not.

How To Improve It (aka TLDR):

If i were Geoff, here are the first things i would change for next year.

#1 Find a way to at least mention all the nominees for all the awards. It doesn't have to be a full presentation with clips, though a lot of the ones that were skipped this year clearly deserved that. Make it 15 minutes longer or cut 15 minutes of commercials, it doesn't matter. This is what we're supposed to be watching for.

#2 Make "fake" commercial breaks to stick the regular commercials in. It's debatable whether or not the "World Premiere" promotions should be included in such breaks, but it should certainly be looked into.

#3 Encourage more companies to create skits rather than regular trailers/commercials. The Dragon Age Inquisition one was brilliant, and since i still remember that one but can't tell you what any of the other commercials were it clearly did its job. They should also consider producing some shorts of their own, especially if they have trouble getting the companies to follow through on the idea. Perhaps they should talk to the How It Should Have Ended or Rooster Teeth (the Red vs Blue people) or some other group like that.

Finally, as a "bonus," here's everything i tweeted about the show while watching it. You'll notice some obvious similarities to my later thoughts :)


Wow, the sound level on the YouTube feed of the #GameAwards2014 really sucks.

I guess Kiefer Sutherland gets a pass since he actually worked on a game, but given last year's #TheGameAwards it's not a good precedent

A game about a space station named after a truck named after a city named after a mountain in Washington? #Tacoma #TheGameAwards

There's something wrong if you're so busy showing trailers you don't have time to list the nominees for some of the awards #TheGameAwards

From the creators of "Brothers", "Hobos"? #TheGameAwards

Whichever camera person keeps choosing to go with the extreme closeup of half the face in profile, it's not flattering. #TheGameAwards

Huh, #CodenameSteam is a streampunk themed #XCOM or #ValkyriaChronicles for 3DS? I could be down with that! #TheGameAwards

Chrome just popped up a small window titled Page Not Responding. Can't tell what's in the window, because it's not responding.

Sounds like "Adrift" is the game of the movie "Gravity", and "Before" is the game of the game "Tail of the Sun". #TheGameAwards

Though i should note there's nothing wrong with making a modern adaptation of a 20 year old overlooked game that was ahead of its time!

One could almost feel sorry for EA making their new Battlefield game be about killer cops given the current news. Almost. #TheGameAwards

This! This is not a good camera angle for an interview!

OMG! When #TheGameAwards did the first musical act I thought "too bad they couldn't get @LindseyStirling", but now there she is!

If I kept track properly, #TheGameAwards skipped nominees for 7 awards. It would only have taken about 15 minutes to cover them all.

All in all I think the #TheGameAwards this year was a big improvement, but there are still a lot of issues that need to be addressed.
Tags: video games

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