The Game Awards 2014 got a lot right, but they also got a whole lot wrong.
Let’s start with the good stuff- this was a much better show than VGX last year. Or the VGAs the year before that. Or, in general, just better than any other awards show we have had so far. It was a sincere first effort, with some great bits, and some really rough edges. There are ways it could be improved, and if there is a follow up next year, I hope that they work the issues out, iron the kinks out. They’re on to something here. Geoff Keighley had a vision, and the vision was to deliver to this industry a proper, respectable awards show. Tonight’s show was not it. There were too many things that went wrong. But it was still good, as first efforts go, and I really want to see where he takes this.
The Game Awards was generally well produced, with neat graphics and transitions, and some innovative ideas on how to present awards. There were issues with the sound mixing- the sound was way too low and seemed disconnected from what was actually going on on screen. Another issue was with pacing and structure- at nearly four hours long, the show outstayed its welcome, and generally dragged on in several portions where it didn’t need to. By trimming off so much of the excessive fat, they could have had a faster, leaner, just more interesting show overall with a whole lot more momentum.
Another issue was with how a lot of the awards themselves were presented- major awards were just given off stage, without even the list of nominees being read through. When awards like ‘Best Online Experience of the Year,’ ‘Best Soundtrack of the Year,’ and yes, ‘Best Developer of the Year,’ were simply given off stage, to make room for Geoff’s buddy performing a trippy light and music show that had little to do with video games, you know you had issues with how the show was structured and paced.
Actually, that was a big issue- this was a video game awards show, but they had a lot of time given to music performances. Which, believe me guys, I’m a big fan of music in video games, good music can single handedly save a bad video game for me (or vice versa), but when there were at least five different music performances, with only maybe one of them actually relevant, and each of them taking up a lot of time, you have to question the wisdom of your show pacing.
Also annoying was the crowd- I’m not sure if it was a real crowd, or paid groups that cheer on cue, but they applauded and cheered at all the worst possible moments, or moments that didn’t need a cheer at all, and just generally ruined the mood and atmosphere.
With all of that negativity aside, there was also a lot being done here that was done right– in particular, I appreciated the Industry Icon segment. This was the portion where classic PC developers Sierra were given an award for all that they have contributed to the industry- and believe me, they have contributed a lot– starting, first, with a personal anecdote by Uncharted director Neil Druckmann, then a montage showing off everything that Sierra did and why they were relevant, and then, finally presenting the award to those two industry legends, the founders of Sierra, who made the modern industry what it is to such a large degree. It was heart warming stuff, and it was, single handedly, probably one of the best things to have ever come out of a games award show.
The actual awards themselves were pretty great too, with me having very little reason to complain- Dragon Age: Inquisition won overall honors, while Nintendo cleaned house elsewhere, with Mario Kart 8 winning Racing Game of the Year, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U winning Fighting Game of the Year, and Nintendo overall winning developer of the year; Shovel Knight was deemed the best indie game, Far Cry 4 was Shooter of the year, Destiny won Best Soundtrack and Best Online Experience, and Hearthstone won Best Handheld Game of the Year.
The award picks were great, really, and there was nothing to complain about, no inconsistency between the picks like in previous years, and no feeling of the awards having been bought out by advertising dollars. It felt, for the first time, that games that actually deserve to win were winning these awards.
I also have to credit the show for being so industry inclusive- at a time when there seems to be such a chasm between the western game industry and the Japanese game industry, it went out of its way to make sure that the best of both, Japanese and western game developers, were venerated. The show started out with Nintendo legend Koji Kondo, who gave us the iconic music for Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, performing live, on stage, following up with a major Nintendo ‘world premier’ for Mario Maker (while they also touched upon Splatoon, Majora’s Mask, and Star Fox); by not excluding Nintendo like so much of western media tries to, it lent the entire show an air of legitimacy- Nintendo is the pioneer of the gaming industry after all, and it was good to see it included for a change.
There was actually a lot of Nintendo throughout the show, but they weren’t the only big ‘World Premier’ reveals- Metal Gear Online for Metal Gear Solid V looked amazing, Bloodborne looks great, The Order I am still not sold on, No Man’s Sky will be wonderful, STEAM looks intriguing, the whole host of indie games that were shown off legitimately looked interesting, and of course, to end the show, we had The Legend of Zelda for Wii U, which looks as great as you would expect it to.
The one problem that there was with all of this, really, was Microsoft being a no-show. Sony showed off multiple of their games ahead of the PlayStation Experience at the show; Valve was there, with their corresponding Steam sales for multiple winners and nominees throughout; Nintendo was a huge presence throughout the show, even debuting The Legend of Zelda gameplay there. But Microsoft was a no show, outside of one ad for Forza Horizon 2. I wonder why.
All said and done, there was a lot these awards did wrong, yes, but there was also a lot they did right. There is scope for a lot of improvement next year- and I hope they do these again next year, because I see some good ideas here. And if they do, I hope we’ll have more segments like Koji Kondo playing on stage, or the Sierra Industry Icon Awards, and less of ‘Geoff’s buddy performing on stage.’