Soapbox: This Year, The Game Awards Failed The Industry

Soapbox: This Year, The Game Awards Failed The Industry

Game Awards
Image: Zion Grassl / Nintendo Life

Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they’ve been chewing over. Today, Zion speaks about his feelings after attending The Game Awards 2023, and why the show needs to do better at celebrating game developers.

When you first hear the name of the annual awards show known as ‘The Game Awards,’ you think you’d know what it’s all about. You’d expect a ceremonious celebration of video games, a place that brings people together to shine a literal spotlight (looking at your Ben Starr) on the best of the industry of that year.

While 2022’s award show had its fair share of hiccups in terms of runtime and safety, 2023’s event should have been called something else entirely. This year’s show did such a disappointing job of giving the people whose games were nominated and awarded a chance to say thanks and frankly, the showrunners should be disappointed in themselves.

Game Awards
Image: Zion Grassl / Nintendo Life

In 2022, Christopher Judge famously went well over his allotted time on stage while giving an acceptance speech for winning the award for Best Performance with his role as Kratos in God of War: Ragnarok. Some were moved by his dedication to his fans and family but others were frustrated at the idea he was abusing his given time, time which could have been used for others later on throughout the show. While it’s easy to wish he would have been more concise and considerate, it’s hard to imagine how much pressure he felt on the stage that day and while, sure, he could have been more concise, he’s only human and that could have easily happened to any of us.

2023’s event should have been called something else entirely.

So to combat that possibility this year, award winners were given roughly 30 seconds to unravel their emotions to the crowd and online audience, before a symphony of music would grow louder and louder, quickly drowning out their words entirely to anyone sitting in the audience. This year, Neil Newbon — who won Best Performance this year for his role in Baldur’s Gate 3 — was cut off right at the start of the show while giving an incredibly heartfelt speech. Not only that, many awards were revealed at rapid fire on a side stage by the show’s host and creator, Geoff Keighley. This has been a tactic used by the show in years before to keep the pacing going, but this year it felt worse than ever.

Sabotage Studio, the winner of the Best Independent Game for Sea of Stars, was in attendance and could have walked up on stage to give a speech, but instead were only given a five-second congrats and “thank you” from Geoff during the show. Even important categories like Best Family Game and Innovation in Accessibility were awarded during the pre-show instead of during the main event. In a world full of inventive and incredible games, those short moments on stage can mean everything to the developers. It likely means everything to be recognized in this way and to be able to give thanks back to the people who supported them and their adventures over the long years it can take to make a game.

Videos shared online show Zelda series producer Eiji Anouma being rushed along on stage by a massive screen prompt asking him to “Please Wrap It Up” while relaying his gratitude. Not to mention the fact he had a translator on stage, meaning they probably needed the extra time to get their feelings across. This is heartbreaking. Even Larian Studios, the developers of Baldur’s Gate 3, winner of the 2023 Game of the Year award were asked to wrap it up while honoring Jim Southworth, the lead cinematic artist on the game who passed away recently. Geoff did agree later in a post on Twitter that he felt the music was played too fast for award winners this year”, but by this point, the damage was already done. The moment had passed and you can’t go back and give those people another chance.

Thousands of people take time off work, fly thousands of miles from all over the world, book expensive hotels, and spend an inflated price on food and drinks in the city of Los Angeles just to attend this show. Whether they’re being nominated, or are just there to support their friends, family, or their favorite games and developers of the year, people sacrifice a lot.

I was fortunate enough to be in attendance with our contributor Alan Lopez, and while we were beyond excited to see Hideo Kojima take the stage with Jordan Peele to reveal their new project in partnership with Xbox, OD, I don’t understand why they were given a staggering 7 minutes to talk when so many of the award winners were shooed off stage as quickly as possible, and there was barely anything to show of the project, either. Heck, even Gonzo (yes, the Muppet Gonzo), was given an extended segment to talk about his favorite games.

That’s not to say the show shuttered everyone this year. Surgent Studios founder Abubakar Salim took the stage to share the first look at their studio’s first game, Tales of Kenzera: ZAU, he did so by honoring the stories his father told him in his youth, showed us his roots by shouting out Golden Sun, and shared thanks in a way not many others had the chance to. On top of this, his trailer was full of gameplay. As someone who’s been watching The Game Awards for years, Abubakar Salim understood the value, the weight of what it meant to be on that stage that day and respected every bit of it. While it may be a game reveal, it was a show of the passion, talent, and creativity of the industry that we should be celebrating. I thank him dearly for sharing that moment with all of us.

This year’s Game Awards ceremony was a great step forward for exciting announcements and memorable stage performances, but a massive step back for the industry and the people themselves. It’s so rare we get face-to-face time with the hearts and souls that give us their everything to make these games, and this year they gave more time to the Hollywood celebrities who are just dipping their toes into the world of games. I hope that next year The Game Awards team can find a way to put the focus back on the people that make this medium so special.

This year’s Game Awards ceremony was […] a massive step back for the industry and the people themselves.

Of course, I’m sure it takes a village to create such a smooth and exciting show like this, but was the cost worth it? Especially in a year that’s seen more games industry layoffs than ever before, it’s disappointing that Geoff and the team behind The Game Awards didn’t make any mention of this or even allow the developers to speak. This could be their last chance in an industry as nebulous as it is now. In order to grow, we need to be able to reflect on the problems the industry is facing as well, instead of just pretending those problems don’t exist.

In what ways could they truly make this better though? Would it be possible to see the event turn into a two-day show? One day for all of the awards and one for the reveals? In this year’s show, a lot of the announcements started to blend into one. Honestly, there are so many games shown off that you wouldn’t be blamed for forgetting the awards that had you the most excited that night! Shows like The Golden Joysticks and the BAFTA Game Awards get by just fine without all of the fancy game reveals and still give their winners their due time to speak.

Game Awards
Image: Zion Grassl / Nintendo Life

The Game Awards wants to be the most recognized and prestigious award show in the industry, but it will always fail in that regard if it continually forgets to recognize the people who make up this industry. As it stands now, it’s just a winter version of E3 or Summer Game Fest with an award show label slapped on.

To close this out on a lighter note, I’d like to congratulate the winners and nominees, those who all deservedly were recognised on the night. But, equally as important, I want to give thanks to all of the hard-working developers who sacrifice so much of their lives each and every day to make these worlds for us to play around in, learn from and explore to our heart’s content. I want you to know that none of us would be here without you and we hope you can see just how much color you add to our world.

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