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Game of the Year

In terms of Game of the Year, the last generation started off pretty predictably. The large AAA games were the ones to take the centre stage. Games like Mass Effect, Bioshock, Oblivion and GTA 4 were the names thrown around in most of the conversations and most of those conversations were centered on a handful of games. However, as things progressed, we began to see smaller titles like Braid and Limbo start making it into the conversation with greater frequency and in increased numbers. Eventually, games like Journey, The Walking Dead, Gone Home and Brothers were not just mentioned. They actually won the award from certain publications. In this post, I want to explore some of the things that contributed to this phenomenon.

A number of factors led to the rise of these titles. One of these was the establishment of the digital marketplace pioneered by Valve with Steam, and emulated by other services on the PC and on home consoles. This now meant that you could sell a game to a wide audience without having to justify a full $60 price tag. This meant that the scale of projects could be changed for a more streamlined experience without filler.

Take the Telltale games for instance. Their offerings are more akin to digital novels with little or no traditional gameplay elements. If this game had to be released as a full retail game for $60, a lot of things would have to be added to justify the price, things that may have simply detracted from the focus of the experience – the incredible story and character development taking place. Smaller titles with lowered price and expectations, could lead to greater focus and thus, in some instances, a better piece of entertainment.

Digital platforms also meant that they could now get their game to a large market with great visibility without having to surrender large portions of their income to a publisher. The ability to self-publish further increased the financial viability of being a small studio and lead to rapid growth in this sector.

The last gen also saw some upheaval in the game development space. A number of studio acquisitions and closures now means that the majority of third party AAA gaming is now controlled by Ubisoft, Square Enix, Activison and EA. The need for these companies to be able to target large audiences to justify rising costs means that games from them have become a bit predictable and even sterile. A lot of the experimentation and inventiveness seen in the days of the PS2 was also missed thanks to Japanese Developers migrating to mobile platforms for a number of reasons, chief among them being rising development costs. Who else would make a game like Mr Mosquito? As it turns out, these guys would, as evidenced by games like Octodad.

This vacuum of creativity saw consumers looking towards these smaller developers to “scratch that itch”. It also saw the explosion of Kickstarter which allowed gamers to finance these developers and the games they wanted to see made. Many platform holders also began to take note and many now have financing available (eg Sony’s Pub Fund) to these devs to help the process along and help their own game libraries expand. With better financing and cheaper development tools with which to work, they have begun to close the visual gap between themselves and AAA, paving the way for their ascension into the vacant AA niche.

Thus far, I’ve spoken about the developmental side of why these games are doing better – Digital distribution, better financing options, an open niche left by studio closures and migration of devs to mobile have led to better opportunities, critical reception and quality of product. These games have gotten a lot better, of that there is no doubt. However, there are other reasons for these games making it to the top of Game of the Year lists, and a lot of it has to do with the review process in the industry.

As the quality of these games improved, they began to be included in the conversations for game of the year. However, instead of games being assigned categories like “Best Mobile Game” or “Best digital Game”, all games were thrown into a melting pot from which to choose. I want to believe that this is due to the good intentions of the gaming media. It gave every game a chance to be crowned King, irrespective of platform, scope or budget. The question arises though as to whether this makes sense or is even fair. Good intentions do not always make Good sense.

When awards are given to movies, there are usually assigned different categories in which they compete, for example, Best Documentary or Best Short Film. However, a lot of gaming media outlets have decided to forgo this stratification and instead lump all of them into one category for “Game of the Year”. I understand the intent of this. In the movie awards, nobody really cares about or remembers the winners in many categories. However, a larger proportion will remember the “Best Picture” category. So, instead of relegating Mobile or Digital-only games to an obscure category that will later be largely ignored, all contenders are given a shot at one overall prize and widespread recognition.

Now, you would expect that the larger AAA games with more to offer would come out on top consistently, but this has not always been the case. In fact, the process may be skewed to favor the smaller titles. Let me explain why I say this. Games are released largely in two main seasons. From February to May and then from September to Mid-December, most major titles are showcased. This means that a lot of journalists have a very small window to play all the contenders released from September to December, arguably the busiest time of the game release calendar. Furthermore, many may not have even played the games released earlier in the year as it may not be part of their purview. Those assigned to cover one platform may not have played any games on the other platforms until it is brought to their attention as a potential GOTY contender. So, for each person trying to make an honest selection, they have 3-4 months to play 20 or more titles. That is an easy task for a movie critic, but no mean feat for a game critic. in fact, its impossible, and many of them readily admit it.

So what happens? Let’s say we have a committee of 20 people choosing the Game of the Year. All of them will have the time to play a small game like Journey or Gone Home. Very few will be able to find the time to experience everything that a game like Skyrim has to offer. Some may make it through The Last of Us, but fewer will have the time to fully appreciate its multiplayer aspects. My argument is simple, shorter games are more likely to be fully appreciated than larger more time consuming games, and that this process is well intentioned, but fundamentally flawed. Is it truly fair to compare the efforts of a team trying to make a 4 hour game to a game that tries to entertain me for 100+ hours? Is it fair to make selections having never touched up to 50% of what a game has to offer?

Some designation is necessary in my opinion. They could be separated by genre, average play time or even platform. We can even have a combination of these strategies. In this way, a reviewer will have fewer games to play. Some can be responsible for Platformers/Shooters/RPGs genre only or they could be limited to mobile games alone. Another option is to keep the melting pot but change the calendar – Choose games form September of one year to September of another. This will give reviewers the doldrums of the summer drought to sit down and play games more fully without having to rush through games released for that years Christmas season.

While I applaud reviewers for their attempts to democratize the process of Game of the Year, variables such as time to complete a game and the skewed release calendar in gaming means that they are propagating a flawed and unfair system. Gaming has grown rapidly over the past few years and while it is admirable to want to include smaller devs as well as mobile devs on equal terms, the entire process may be better served with some alterations to the current approach.

Wni03616d ago

I think you are right about the biases that are placed, imo, (with some exception,) the game which does the best it can, for what it is trying to do - should win, regardless of its publisher.

For instance... LIMBO > Red Dead Redemption, because LIMBO was sublime from start to finish. /// Read Dead was the better game overall, but it had some mediocre mission structure and level design.

Games like Skyrim, and Infinite shouldnt be placed on any GotY lists...

Roccetarius3615d ago (Edited 3615d ago )

Game of the Year, at least to me, has been a joke for a long time now. There's no game of the year above all else, but there are best games in their respective genre.

I think it's more work than they're willing to put in it, so games can 'win' their genre in that year. It most likely brings them more traffic as well, if they're giving GotY to a walking simulator like Gone Home.

And yes, i don't think Skyrim should've won 'Game of the Year'.

coolbeans3609d ago

While I appreciate what's attempted to be presented, I can't say much of what's presented has really swayed me. You're right about how the influx in game during a calender year can influence some things, which has bugged me for quite some time. We can't even get through the year without some GOTY awards being passed around! It'd be great to see something closer to YMS' structure be used. Waiting months after the year's over inclines that more of the year's "vault" has been scoured through to discover the best and brightest.

"Is it truly fair to compare the efforts of a team trying to make a 4 hour game to a game that tries to entertain me for 100+ hours?"

Considering what generic/uninspired stuff may be stuffed in that 100+ hour game, I think it's totally fair. It opens up two competing mindsets when determining the winner that people can learn from. Which does what it sets out to do better: the smaller, tightly-focused game with a greater consistency across the board (writing, gameplay, innovation) or the broader one that captures the essence of epic scale? Giving those kinds of options for a game critic to decide is a great thing by my estimation and gets us farther away from the dreaded Oscar bait mentality that pervades the film industry.

"Is it fair to make selections having never touched up to 50% of what a game has to offer?"

Due to how long that would take every critic to skim through those kinds of games to get 100%, absolutely. It would take hundreds of hours to get through all the best-ranked RPG's have to offer.


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