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With E3 officially dead and publishers seemingly retreating from the in-person scene, The Game Awards – now in its tenth year – is undoubtedly the biggest consumer event in the industry.
However, while Thursday’s Los Angeles showpiece delivered a blockbuster cavalcade of game reveals and celebrity appearances, many have voiced frustration that for an event that’s become integral to the industry calendar, it didn’t spend enough time highlighting the issues and people behind the games it celebrates.
To be clear, I thought this year’s show was one of the best host and producer Geoff Keighley has put out. Especially within the mandate of what it’s designed for: to appeal to a broad audience of consumers.
From the off, TGA delivered a conveyor belt of genuinely brilliant surprises and huge exlcusives. That included some stellar guest appearances – from developer and celebrity alike – and some of the best live performances it’s ever done (Remedy Games, bravo). This is what The Game Awards is good at, and it did it extremely well.
And unlike the constricted pandemic release schedule of recent past, 2023’s show had genuine competition and anticipation in each awards category, with arguably any of the main Game of the Year nominees deserving to walk away with the angel-shaped trophy.
As is often the case with Geoff’s shows, it was let down somewhat by an overly lengthy run time and some curation issues in the latter half (for me, most of the games shown merged into one by the end). It’s clear The Game Awards is still an event trying to do far too much, with the actual awards frequently getting lost in the glitz and fanfare (and Samsung advertisements).
But as the curtains closed and I shuffled through the protestors outside downtown LA’s Peacock Theatre, I was reminded again that, to properly acknowledge and authentically celebrate the games industry, TGA faces a bigger challenge than just deciding how many Nexon anime games is too much for a four-hour live stream.
2023 has not just been an incredible year for game releases, but it’s also been a downright awful year for video game creators, with thousands of layoffs across the industry as corporations appease their shareholders. The Game Awards didn’t reflect that – and as the industry’s premier event, I think it should have, even if it might only matter to part of the audience.
“The Game Awards is still an event trying to do far too much, with the actual awards frequently getting lost in the glitz and fanfare”
Clearly I’m not the only one who felt let down in this regard: following the show, many prominent game developers took to social media to criticise The Game Award’s perceived imbalance away from the people who the event is supposed to honour.
Viewers can debate all day (and certainly will) about TGA’s credibility as an awards event versus a marketing vehicle, but from my experience working with them and various other gaming award shows, I believe it’s the best run awards vehicle in the industry. Running these shows is not easy, and Geoff and his team do an incredible job every year. But if you call yourself an awards show, that comes with obligation, and this year’s show felt like it didn’t properly respect the creators in the room.
If TGA aspires to grow beyond just a consumer hype vehicle into a truly credible celebration of game culture – and hey, maybe it doesn’t – it needs to spend more time highlighting developers.
I empathise with the TGA team’s challenges of putting on – and funding – an event of this scale, not to mention making it appeal to both a broad audience and hardcore players.
But acknowledging the industry doesn’t have to mean fireside chats with the Game Workers Union. No mention of the industry’s current challenges felt jarringly absent in Keighley’s opening remarks, for example, and rather tone deaf to how game developers are feeling right now.
Worse were the several instances of developers who were rushed through their speeches this year – especially those for whom winning an award represented significant closure in their development journeys, like Alan Wake 2 and Cyberpunk 2077.
This felt jarring next to the rambling celeb segments, especially when many studios in certain categories didn’t get a chance to accept their awards at all.
Larian’s leadership – the biggest winners of the night – would surely have been a melting pot of emotion had they needed to struggle on stage in their suits of armour five separate times, like comparable big winners at the Oscars, but it felt like we were robbed of that moment, as the show’s bursting pace demanded their categories make room for yet more (highly paid for) game trailers.
TGA doesn’t need to tackle these issues to continue being incredibly a successful consumer event – and I’m sure many developers aren’t bothered when they see what appearing on the show does for their sales. But as the industry’s biggest annual event, I think it probably should, because it would be even better for it.