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Question of the Week Responses: Video Game Oscars?

With the film industry's Oscars just wrapped up, we asked our readers, ""Will there ever be an 'Oscar ceremony' for the game industry, or is this a fallacious comparison, given the differences between the film and game biz? What's the perfect formula for the ideal video game award show in terms of voting, ceremony location, style, presenters, and scope?"

Quang Hong, Blogger

March 7, 2006

19 Min Read

Our latest Question of the Week asked our audience of game professionals: "Will there ever be an 'Oscar ceremony' for the game industry, or is this a fallacious comparison, given the differences between the film and game biz? What's the perfect formula for the ideal video game award show in terms of voting, ceremony location, style, presenters, and scope?"

With this in mind, our respondents sounded off on the current offerings in video game awards shows, from the more industry-minded AIAS and Game Developers Choice Awards to the more commercial and televised Spike TV Video Game Awards. They gave some very interesting thoughts on their visions for the perfect show - particularly interesting sections are highlighted in bold.

The only thing fallacious about comparing the game and film industries, is all the game developers who scream "games aren't films!" because they don't know anything about what goes into making a film. Those of us who have been learning from history rather than repeating it know better. So yes, we're going to have our Oscars someday. It may take 2 decades of cross-licensing deals with the film guys before game developers achieve any cultural relevance though.
-Brandon Van Every, Indie Game Design

Yes there will, and so there should be. The award won't be called 'The Oscars'. of course. There is the SpikeTV Video Game Awards (and probably some other ones too), but the industry needs something more official. Something that developers will strive to achieve. An award like that would help developers of lesser-known games get recognition - and at the very least (provided the categories are diverse enough) motivate developers/publishers to travel down other roads than those paved with dollar bills.
-Bjorn Johansen, Deadline Games

There are two: the AIAS awards and the Game Developers Choice awards. It will be interesting to see who comes out on top.

This question is difficult to answer without a good understanding of what constitutes an "Oscar Ceremony." Clearly, there are already numerous awards ceremonies for the games industry, the Choice Awards and the DICE Awards, probably being the 2 that are most similar to the Oscars.
I think that what this question is trying to get at, though, is whether or not either of these ceremonies (or something similar to them) will ever achieve the same level of mainstream recognition and significance as the Oscars. Personally, I think that it is likely that a games awards ceremony could achieve the same level of interest and awareness as the Emmys, Tonys, CMAs, Billboard Awards, MTV Video Awards, and other major award ceremonies for other media.
It is worth recognizing, though, that even these ceremonies pale in comparison to the Oscars in terms of interest and awareness. Obviously, one key difference between the games industry and the movie industry (on this subject), is that there are far fewer "celebrities" and "famous personalities" in our business, and that is unlikely to change. Even the Wrights and Miyamotos of our business enjoy only a fraction of the popular awareness given to even modestly successful celebrities in film and television. So, will a game awards ceremony ever capture the public interest to the same extent as a movie awards ceremony? I believe that the answer is clearly "no."
But that doesn't mean that there isn't an important place for such a ceremony and that it can't enjoy a respectable level of public awareness. And, I think that both the Choice Awards and the DICE Awards are on the right track when it comes to achieving this goal. The key, however, will be for the industry as a whole to recognize the significance and validity of these awards. We, as an industry, must show our consumers that we care about these awards.
Why don't we see games re-released after they are nominated for these awards, with special packaging that says "Nominated for 7 Choice Awards!" or "Winner of the DICE Award for Best Game Design!"? Why does it not seem to be as big of a priority for us, as game developers, to earn this praise and recognition as it is for actors and directors to win an Oscar? If we, as a group, decide that these are the awards that matter most to us , and if the gaming press can be convinced that these are the awards that should matter most to them (as opposed to their own awards), then together we can begin to drive the public's awareness of these awards as something THEY should care about.
I think that it is worth noting that the Oscars are not technically called "the Oscars," they are the "Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Awards." Perhaps the most fundamental difference between our industry and those for which these awards shows are more successful, is this that these industries can legitimately claim to have "an Academy" that represents it. To do that, one of these organizations (IGDA, AIAS, perhaps another), must offer a package of services that makes membership worthwhile, while also limiting that membership to truly qualified professionals. Only then will such an organization be able to really claim that it speaks with a voice that represents the opinions of the people who make games.
-Ben Hoyt, Electronic Arts - Chicago

While it's certainly possible, considering how self-aggrandizing and dull the Oscars are, I hope the game industry equivalent will never be televised.
-Eric Braxton

Most likely. But the award will have the same problems the Oscars do. It is not the quality of the film that counts; it is the political ties of the backers that count.
-Vernon Funkhouser

I imagine there will be, but only after we as an industry shed the juvenile Spike-TV-style awards shows that appeal only to teenage boys. The right formula will showcase the average age of gamers (29), and do so with the dignity that the Oscars brings to film.
-Christopher Dellario, WhatIF Productions LLC

There already is an Oscar ceremony for the video game industry. It's called the Game Developers Choice Awards. While it's not perfect, it's orders of magnitude better than anything else that's out there, period. It has the credibility inside the industry--all it really needs now is credibility outside the industry, and especially within the gaming press, which for some reason doesn't cover the awards very much.
-Darius Kazemi, Turbine Inc.

As I understand it, there already is! The Game Developers Choice Awards honors us game developers with awards voted on by our peers. Accordingly, it is the only legit show in town. While events like the Spike TV awards show are great for PR and are very good for the industry as a whole, they do not carry the weight of the GDCAs, which I would say are pretty close to the perfect formula. My only addition would be a high profile host--either a notable developer or "traditional media" celebrity--that would lend more PR weight to the event. The people recognized by these awards should be recognized outside of the industry too!
-Coray Seifert, THQ, Kaos Studios

I would hope an Oscar ceremony would not suffice for the style that gaming brings to the entertainment business. Actually, I wouldn't want to see gaming be reduced to pure entertainment value since the Oscars do just that. I don't know about the perfect formula for an ideal video game award show, but I would hope that tickets are cheap, free to students, with a casual dress code, and a fun party with LANs, tournaments, and demos of all sorts.
The location would be even more exciting if it happened in several small places that were connected via satellite video, with community voting and awards given in real time. This way everyone has a better chance of attending some part of the ceremony even if they are spread out across the US and other continents.
Presenters should range from fans, to developers, independent companies and designers, writers, and freelancers. Awards should take into account the usual: graphics, sound, gameplay innovation, interface design, but then add some excitement with open source categories, innovative code and programming, new ways of publishing and distribution, grassroots, etc. Like creating games, the awards should be a team process, not some giant auditorium with the big-wigs deciding who gets what on the red carpet because “they know best”...oh and there should be a glowing transparent runway “carpet,” not just red velvet.
-Benjamin Monlezun, Foris Studios, Limited

If the game industry ever creates a 'society' of developers that parallels the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, it is only natural that an awards ceremony will develop alongside it. Currently, the industry seems too infantile to support such an organization. But as games draw increasing attention from the rest of society, expect to see changes in the general demographics of the business that engender the development of creative organizations.
-Tony Ventrice, I-Play

Yes, but only if industry figures are accorded public relations on the level of the film, television, and music industries. A high profile awards ceremony is meant to honor an industry. This kind of honor is not interesting to the public at large because the industry is not generally a part of the public discourse in an artistic light. If I walked out onto the street right now and asked people if they knew Will Wright and/or Peter Jackson, they would only know Peter Jackson. So who cares if Will Wright wins an award? No one knows who he is. The industry needs to starting approaching public relations by identifying individuals associated with the creative process of electronic games. Get Tim Schafer on Conan O'Brian. Get Will Wright on the Today show. Once the public starts identifying individuals with the electronic game industry, more clout for an awards ceremony for the industry would exist.
-John Seggerson

It's incredibly important that game developers start publicly representing themselves as identifiable icons, in the same way that Hollywood celebs do – not to be idolized, but to be recognized – to be valued, and as a result, to be allowed to have an important say in key decisions, and to switch the balance of power between publisher and external developer. Look, this industry was founded a few decades ago by a bunch of computer nerds, and since then it's become big business. But it's now big biz in which the creators (game developers) aren't given any credit --- who was the designer of GTA? Who was the publisher? Far more consumers will know the answer to the latter, and in my opinion that's a real problem. It's a problem that consumers don't know who makes the games they play because it encourages a climate in which publishers and “suits” rule, where stock holders hold the real power, and where the creative minds are largely peons and worker-bees – that's what this industry is unless developers start empowering themselves by creating new business models, new types of games, and by thinking about games as brands that they have ownership over. So, bring on the award shows. They'll be a chance for consumers to see the real people who make the games they play -- a chance for developers to directly present their persona to consumers, not just game journalists or colleagues -- and that's an important step.
-Ross Popoff, Harmonix Music Systems, Inc.

The concept is absolutely faulty. The nature of Hollywood is very much based around the actors in the movies because they are actually being seen when the movie is being consumed (watched). Thus, it is only natural for "red carpet" events to focus primarily on these actors. However, games are only peripherally about the developers, because although their vision is being experienced by the consumer, they are not easily recognizable as the creators of particular games. Thus, having them stand up to receive awards yields little recognition or excitement from the viewers.
Movies are a fundamentally non-interactive medium, so the entirely passive viewing experience of watching the various Hollywood awards shows is entirely familiar to the movie (or TV-going audience). Because games are an interactive medium, the concept of simply watching as people hand one another awards is the wrong model to use when formulating a gaming event. The new interactive paradigm dictates that there should be some measure of interaction between the audience and the event.
Gaming already has its huge annual gala event: E3. The expo model is a far more appropriate model for interactive entertainment than the awards show. Even though the vast majority of people are unable to attend, or directly interact with, the E3 show floor, the interaction is able to take place at the reporter level, and the results are relayed back to the home viewer. (Even this is changing, as some companies have begun to hold publicly accessible E3 gaming events such as Arena.net's E3 For Everyone.)
Although much of the viewing of show floor coverage is passive, there is a great deal more interaction and involvement in simply sorting through the massive amounts of information available at E3. Although E3 is a "preview" event rather than a "review" event (such as an award show), this is simply different and not better or worse so long as it is understood that "Best in E3" awards represent appraisals of potential, not a review of the final product. As for whose "Best of E3" award is most valid, to ask this question is to miss the point! The multitude of viewpoints allows the consumer to interactively decide for him or herself!
Simply, gaming doesn't need an "Oscar ceremony," because the concept isn't even appropriate. gaming already has its major annual event that serves the specific needs of its community better than any awards ceremony could.
-Charles Wheeler, Gameloft

There will never be an award ceremony like the Oscars for games. People mainly watch the Oscars to see the movie stars. A game Oscar ceremony will be an industry event and not a public event.

Oscars provide an air of critical recognition, but they also promote the glamour and mystique of film. Our industry-mags do almost the same thing: they provide an air of critical recognition, and they boost the industry. However, if we want to have our own Academy, we need a group of impresarios whom we can trust to be less carnival-barker-frenzied about it; to provide more glamour and less glitz; to boost not just the industry, but the medium. As for the format: People watch movies downtown with a lot of people, and read books alone in the study. Their respective awards shows (or lack thereof) reflect that.
Games are in between, and their show is, too: An independent creative team gets together several months before Awards Season and starts making a mini-game. Three months before the ceremony, the Academy releases the mini-game and announces nominees; the mini-game includes cheat codes to each nominee. Nominated team-members and the interested public download the mini-game at home. Maybe it includes playable snippets of nominated games. People fool around with it for three months, become familiar with it, and try to find ways to plug it into the games they own.
On the night of the awards ceremony, they boot up the online portion of the mini-game, and everybody watches a digital ceremony happen inside it, at the same time. The show can require streaming video and broadband connections, because by the time video games are serious enough logistically and aesthetically to put an awards show together, those things will be common.
-Chris Sellers, Online Alchemy

The one thing that stands out is the difference in the 'cults' between game and film, specifically, the film industry's cult of celebrity versus the game industry's cult of technology. Since game makers will never be as culturally accepted as movie stars (this may be a good thing) and gamers don't care about glamour, the logical thing is to hold the awards ceremony on an interactive level. The only idea I can come up with is to broadcast it exclusively online, via Xbox Live and whatever online networks the other next-gen consoles support. The people that will be interested in a game awards will be gamers—so why not bring it to them on their own terms?
-Ben Serviss, Creo Ludus Entertainment

Yes. Hollywood has the Oscars, Detroit has Motortrend, Nashville (or LA or NY) has the Grammys and Hollywood has . . . uh . . . the Emmys . . . also. It's only a matter of time before Silicon Valley has . . . err . . . the Thumbstick? What may stand out in the games award system is the contrast in American and Japanese gaming. Tokyo will most likely have an equal "thumbstick" trophy since the two cultures approach games so differently. Like film, there will be more than one house-hold awards system.
Like the People's Choice Awards, there will be the Gamer's Choice Awards but it will always be biased towards games with large marketing budgets, familiar franchise names and frequent press coverage. Like the Golden Globe Awards, there will be the Global Games Awards, but being the arrogant American bastards we enjoy being, we'll pay attention but won't watch. There will be that yet-to-be-named awards show most watched on this side of the hemisphere and the voters should be like that of sports awards. No, not the ESPYs. I'm talking about season MVPs, Gold Glovers and Players of the Year. The votes should come from press veterans. It should be weighted with clout reserved for those with more years in the business and associated with more reputable publications.
It's only appropriate the location take place somewhere in the Silicon Valley in California . This region is the Hollywood equivalent for the games industry. As for the style, sophistication is timeless and offers an additional hand towards the establishment of major, cultural contribution to society. Stylistic and trendy presentations always die embarrassing deaths in their near futures. Presenters should be the industry celebrities of art, design and production (sorry programmers) and the scope should cover all major genres with only some specific platform awards. This would force PC games into the back seat but thus is the life of the never-perfect awards system.

I would say yes. We have the G-Phoria awards and the Spike TV gaming awards, so why not have an Oscars-style ceremony for the gaming industry? They work just as hard to turn out quality products as the movie industry does.
-Erin Chapasko

Before there can be a fair Oscar-like ceremony, there needs to be a working definition of each of the genres, and some way to assess hybrid games. Also, there needs to be a way to categorize the truly unique ones that don't fall into any genre. Drama and comedy need to be addressed as different approaches, and not rated against one another. Another issue is release dates - sometimes games are released in different regions of the world months or even years apart. Next issue is the platform - should a game be rated by PC, MAC, Xbox, Xbox 360, PS2, Gamecube, etc. as well as those for the handhelds? And for the Oscar itself, is this for the U.S. or the world? Only having it include the entire world seems fair. And how about indies ? Would they be rated alongside the commercial games or in a category by themselves? There are many questions that would need to be answered before a fair gaming ceremony could be developed. And who would be the judges? Who would vote for these - would it be a popularity contest only? Or would it be set up to be as fair as possible to all the game developers?
-Marilyn Nelson, Mysterymanor.net

The only purpose of the awards seems to be to give the involved people the chance to celebrate themselves on the red carpet. Every time human beings sit in a jury, the judgment will be subjective - and not objective. On the other side, sales could be a scale to decide first place. The problem will be, that many games with "full power" marketing will be on the first place - but probably only based on marketing and not of its own content. What will be the right criteria to find out the best video game, most is subjectively? Probably the gamers should be the jury - today that would be possible, using the Internet for the voting. The gamers should not only vote, they also should determine the ceremony location, as well as the style, presenters and scope of the event.
-Markus Werth, Complex Game

For all of the 'fun and games' that go on during the development of a title, it would be nice to have an awards ceremony that is all business and taken seriously. No one in the industry has taken the previous attempts at an award show seriously because they shows seem to offer up an award to the highest bidder and not the one most deserving. The only exception that I've seen come close to being a decent awards show is the Interactive Achievement Awards put on by AIAS. So how about we stop having rappers involved with the award shows based on the grounds that they like to play their Xbox? Or if we must have them involved, how about having Will Wright host the BET Awards Show? That makes about as much sense.
-Andrew Dovichi, Totally Games


[Please note that the opinions of individual employees responding to the Question Of The Week may not represent those of their company.

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Quang Hong


Quang Hong is the Features Editor of Gamasutra.com.

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