Opinion// What is Wrong with Video Game Awards

Notch up one point to a big-budget bias

Posted 21 Nov 2011 17:44 by
This is a trivial amount to take from the marketing budget of a ‘Triple A’ console title, but could be a significant sum of money for someone who's self-published a great little iOS title or developed an innovative Flash game, and the fee seems designed to discourage smaller games from becoming involved.

BAFTA have a 'Blink and you'll miss it' early-bird discount, waiving the £250 submission fee, but if you don’t check the BAFTA website every week you'll miss the short three-week window when this discount is available.

Notch up one point to a big-budget bias.

The Real Problem – Award Categories
OK, the submission system is one issue, reducing the chances of micro-budget games being recognised, but the real problem with the BAFTAs is the way the award categories are set up, with a massive in-built bias towards big budget AAA titles.

This is a list of the BAFTA video game award categories for 2012:

Artistic Achievement
Audio Achievement
Best Game
Browser Online (New Category)
Debut Game (New Category)
Game Innovation
Mobile And Handheld
Online Multiplayer (New Category)
Original Music
Performer (New Category)

The big problem with this list is that almost half of the awards are based not on a particular developer skill or talent, but on games in a particular genre (ACTION, FAMILY, ONLINE MULTIPLAYER, SPORTS/FITNESS, STRATEGY), or released on a particular platform (BROWSER ONLINE, MOBILE AND HANDHELD).

This is in marked contrast to the BAFTA film awards, the bulk of which are based on particular skills (LEADING ACTRESS, SUPPORTING ACTOR, DIRECTING, EDITING, CINEMATOGRAPHY, COSTUME DESIGN, etc.).

Genre is a terrible way to classify awards if you're on the lookout for excellence.

Would we respect film awards given out to the best Chick flick, best Buddy movie, best Horror movie, or best Action movie released each year? I think we'd rightly view such awards as no more than a marketing tool.

We’d understand that there may not be any outstanding work in the Buddy movie genre this year, or that maybe there’s lots of great work on show in this year’s Horror movies, across several different films. Dividing films up according to genre, then giving out a single award to each, risks rewarding mediocrity and overlooking brilliant work, and the same is true in video games.

Genres, by their nature, are an arbitrary set of rules, conventions and expectations; they are the enemy of originality and creativity. Some of the best and most innovative work (in all fields) comes from artists breaking the rules, smashing conventions and mixing up elements from different genres.

To celebrate and encourage excellence we should be on the lookout for games that break genre rules and defy convention. Categorising awards by genre deliberately excludes and marginalises such games, and instead celebrates more-of-the-same products, which is the exact opposite of BAFTAs stated aim of "educating and developing the taste" of audiences.

Indeed, one reason that BAFTA keep having to add new awards categories is because they're playing catch-up with the innovation that's happening outside of genre restraints (a recent example being the rise of free-to-play social games - a massive, industry-shaking innovation that was unrecognised in BAFTA award categories, until a they clumsily added a new one this year).

Categorising awards by platform is even worse than by genre.

There is an argument for a clear distinction based on delivery platform in the film world, where TV shows are made and consumed in such a radically different way to movies that it would be unfair to have a single 'Best actor' or 'Best director' award being contested by both TV shows and films. This is recognised by BAFTA, who have completely separate awards lists for Film and TV, which I think makes sense.

Delivery platform is not such a fundamental distinction in video games.

While different platforms tend to have different development budgets (360 / PS3 games usually cost a lot more to make than DS or PSP games, which in turn cost more than iOS games), the things that make or break a video game - game design, playability, controls and mechanics, immersion, addictiveness - work in the same way and can be just as good or bad on a handheld platform, a console or a PC.

It wouldn't be at all unusual for, say, a DS game to have perfectly balanced play control, while a more expensive AAA PS3 game has rubbish clunky controls, despite the bigger budget. Games on all platforms are made using broadly the same tools, often by the same staff, and utilising more or less the same skills.

The real clue as to why there are platform-specific awards is the fact that the smaller platforms (MOBILE, BROWSER) have their own award categories, but the big consoles don't. This is an implicit acknowledgement that all the 'main' awards are effectively reserved for console games (i.e. the big budget AAA titles), and the extra platform-specific categories are an attempt to give the odd 'little game' a shot at an award.

Ghettoising non-console games in other words.

However, the key issue here is that by giving awards to whole games - whether sliced by genre or platform - rather than giving awards to work within skill categories - as the film awards do - there's an inherent bias towards big budget, high production value titles.
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