What makes a good video game award show?

Geoff Keighley’s annual “The Game Awards” returns next month, so I think it’s the perfect time to examine what makes a good awards show. For game award shows to grow, it’s always useful to examine what could be done to improve them and what they should look like in 2019.

The Game Awards began in 2014 at The AXIS auditorium in Las Vegas. Photo courtesy of The Game Awards.

Award shows are meant to celebrate the people who make great things. Video game award shows aren’t an exception. However, sometimes award shows can lose their way and the producers forget that original purpose. A show could have numerous problems, such as being too long, not explaining why the person or creation won or including a deluge of sponsored messages. So what makes a good award show?

Focusing on the people who made the video game is certainly the most important aspect. Without recognizing the incredible talent of the artists, what’s the point? The awards would just be meaningless. Hearing from these people is also a great opportunity for the audience to learn more about the developers who create their favorite games. I want to know what winning or being nominated means to them because it’s a huge deal to be recognized on such a high level.

So why then would an award show feature reveal trailers for new games? I love the trailers as much as the next person, however, it distracts from the awards. Instead of celebrating the artistic achievements of the current year, the audience is too busy looking forward to the next big game, not to mention that there’s often an intrusive and distracting timer in the corner of the screen counting down until the next trailer.

Especially in 2019, publishers and developers don’t really need a centralized place or event to announce their games. They could easily fire up a live stream on Twitch and announce it themselves. If a company is set on announcing it at a big event, there are plenty of conventions scattered throughout the year that they could take advantage of, such as E3, PAX and Gamescom.

Having an excess of sponsored messages results in the same issue. It steals the spotlight from the people and games. I don’t want to learn how Geico could save me 15% or more when I’m trying to listen to industry professionals talk about why they love what they do.

It’s also critical to have transparency in the decision-making process. The audience should know why the game or person won, how the winner was chosen and who decided it or they should win. Without the reasoning, the audience just has to assume it was based on popularity, which may be taken into account but certainly isn’t the deciding factor in the decision.

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There’s also the matter of who chose the winner. Was it by audience vote or by a select group of judges? Were the judges from the media side of the games industry or was the group mostly made up of developers? Did the judges use a voting system where they selected their choices for each category or was there some verbal debate? These are all questions that should be communicated before the show even starts. Transparency is crucial to establishing trust with the audience and legitimizing the awards.

The unexpected moments of genuine emotion are what attracts me to these shows. Whether it’s a heartfelt eulogy for an industry icon such as Reggie Fils Aime’s, former Nintendo of America spokesperson, speech about Satoru Iwata, former CEO of Nintendo, or a completely unscripted off-the-rails outburst such as Josef Fares’, creator of A Tale of Two Sons, Oscar rant (vulgar language warning).

Video game award shows are a good way to take stock of what’s happened in the industry over the year and look forward to where the industry is heading.

The Game Awards 2019 will take place at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles and streamed live on Twitch and YouTube on Dec. 12.

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