The gaming industry does love a show. We’re through most of the major releases of 2016 (The Last Guardian notwithstanding), cold weather is settling in, and we get a second now to look back at the year that was, and see what’s around the corner. And wouldn’t you know it, we’ve got the Game Awards coming up on Thursday, a chance to argue about the best games that came out in 2016 and get excited for their followups in 2017 and beyond. The show is in its third year: an interesting transition for any institution looking to make it for the long haul. The first year you’re new, the second year people wonder if things are going to change or if you’ll be able to replicate your success, and the third year you’ve just sort of got to deliver. And that’s where the Game Awards is now: not yet the Oscars of video games, far from totally established, but not the new kid on the block either. It’s a proving moment, and excitement is building. Video games have long had GOTY competitions at every publication with keyboards, as well as bigger events like the GDC Awards and the DICE awards. But there’s yet to be a central prize that the industry chases, and that’s a niche that the Game Awards are still trying to fill. To that end, the Game Awards are going wide by broadcasting in VR, in China, and on pretty much every web platform that can support streaming video.
“This year is the year about expanding distribution to a bunch of new platforms,” Creator and host Geoff Keighley told Forbes. “The vision was to create a program that would unite gamers around the world, and this year we’re going about that in a much bigger way.”
Trying to fill that niche, of course, while trying to do its own thing. The thing is, the video game industry may never have a single award show that commands the same name recognition as equivalents in other industries. Institutions like the Oscars, the Grammys or Tonys were established in very different times, when there was a whole lot less media going around and that which we did have was centralized and tightly controlled, at least when compared to the last decade or so. But that doesn’t mean we won’t have shows, just that the shows will be different. Keighley describes the Game Awards as a celebration, first and foremost, of the industry as a whole and the best it has to offer.
“The reason I make the game awards is that I believe that gaming is probably the most powerful form of entertainment,” Keighley told Forbes. “And we need a vehicle that can communicate to the world what this medium is about and what the best of the best is. It’s really empowering that we can reach everyone we want through these digital platforms — I love that the show is free to access, it’s available globally, and available on over a dozen platforms. It gives us the freedom to really make the show that we want to make — we’re not really beholden to any one platform or marketing partner.
It’s why the Game Awards are more comfortable with unabashed marketing than traditional award shows: the spectacle doubles as a sort of winter E3, where we’ve become accustomed to seeing world premieres and trailers for upcoming games. It might not fit the reverent tone of a more traditional show, but it fits not only with the concept of celebration but with the new media concepts that the Game Awards is playing with — something tells me more people might tune into the Oscars if they knew they’d be seeing the first trailer for Star Wars: Episode VIII. This year, the show is focusing more on extended gameplay trailers, partially as a response to the controversy about the No Man’s Sky they first showed off at the show and the one we got earlier this year.
“We’re adding longer world premieres, with multiple games that will have multiple 5 minute+ looks at gameplay,” says Keighley. “Which is more important in an era of lets play and consumer concerns with heavily masked trailers – obviously what happened with no mans sky alarmed a lot of us, including me.”
At least, that’s what’s happening this year: a side effect of not being beholden to a single platform is likely a bit of flexibility. The whole show is something of a moving target. Video Games are a broad category: if you’re trying to figure out a “game of the year,” you’ve got to figure out a way to compare Clash Royale to Uncharted 4. Some games may not have been released in the calendar year but have nonetheless grown with new content: the eSports category contains a few titles that that the show felt deserved recognition despite not technically being released in the year. Ideas like best mobile game and best indie game still make sense in 2016, but they may well not make any sense in 2018. I’d be surprised if we didn’t see “best VR game” in 2017. The third year may be a codification year, but something as fluid as video games may never quite get nailed down. Which is sort of what’s fun about it.