The Game Awards 2020 Wrap Up - Will I Return to This Nightmare?

By now one would assume that I was done with this madness. Yet I continue onward. The only thing that holds my interest in this event is counting the "World Premieres." That's it. It's a silly task that amuses me. Per tradition I did a live-tweet to keep up with the tally and post any quick remarks on what was happening with the event.

For those new to the blog, The Game Awards is something I tolerate. It's not "wow this is amazing." It's barely groundbreaking. It falls into a number of the same issues that SpikeTV's Game Awards faced. The show is more of an E3 mini-clone than an award event.

One thing that I will give credit for is the show incorporates a number of smaller developers to highlight their games, as well as marginalized, under-represented groups from the gaming community. It's putting everyone on the same platform as AAA announcements, and that's an exciting thing to be a part of. I see that The Game Awards is trying in this area, and it's appreciated.

But unlike in years prior where I ho-hummed my way through the show, this one felt disappointing. It's due to the same issues this show has always held, but more prevalent than before.

For 2020 the show went fully digital due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For nearly 4 hours, the pre-show panel, pre-show, and real show slap-dashed it's way through award announcements and overdosed our eyes with new game trailers. With a digital only format, you'd think the event would have been more efficient in it's presentation. Instead it enhanced issues that have been there all along.

Let's begin with the innocuous criticism of this year: the canned audience applause after ever winner announcement. We knew it was fake. We knew people were not there. It was weird and unnecessary, breaking the flow of the scripted host dialogue. At times it was a bit cringy. Please don't do this unless it's with an intentional comedic effect.

Next more major issue is the closed captioning cut out during the pre-show and never returned on YouTube. With this being vastly pre-scripted, there was an assurance that closed captions would be available. But just before the first musical act in the pre-show, performing a song from an upcoming Persona album, the captions dropped and never reappeared. While some may not see an issue with this, for those with hearing impairment this was a problem. Some people noted to me in the tweet storm the same issue. Basic troubleshooting did not resolve it, so we were stuck with audio only. Not the most friendly of circumstances and something that could easily be resolved next time.

Best Ongoing Game continues to be a joke category. This is an area I have been annoyed with for years because it always ignores MMO's, except for Destiny 2. I have had people argue with me that Destiny 2 is not an MMO but an FPS multiplayer. Regardless, Ongoing Game is exactly what it sounds like - a game that continues to provide outstanding content and development over time. I'm not a fan of World of Warcraft, but why does this title not quality? Or The Elder Scrolls Online which has seen much improvement over the past year in it's design and development to reinvigorate the player base. It doesn't make sense why this type of game is excluded. This isn't to dismiss the games selected for the category, but year and year the ignorance of MMO's is astounding. 

My biggest negative criticisms are two major aspects of the show that seemed much more blatant this year thanks to the lack of a live audience and random non-sequiturs from presenters: the presentation of awards and the drawn out self-indulged praise to whichever The Game Awards considers to be their top title. Let's tackle the first one.

The Game Awards has always been about 85% World Premieres and 15% awards. I'm being generous with those numbers.

It's not uncommon for Geoff Knightly or another presenter to rush through 4-5 winner announcements in 60 seconds before turning back to 10-20 minutes of World Premieres. For a show meant to celebrate gaming and the accomplishments of the year, it is rare that time is given to developers what-so-ever. Unless it's a major category such as Game of the Year, or if The Game Awards "top game" is on the ballot (I'll get to this in a moment). The amount of rushing through awards was more blatant this year than any other, further exasperated by the canned audience applause. At least a real audience would allow for a little bit of breath to give the game/team a few seconds to relish in their in win. With the 4 hours of content, it is astounding that a show with 30 categories can't figure out how to properly balance awards and acceptance speeches with World Premieres. The Academy Awards has just under 50 categories. The Primetime Emmy Awards at just under 30. They manage fine and still have a slew of other content in-between.

There is no other broadcasted award show that speeds through winner announcements like The Game Awards. Both in the main show and pre-show (who else hands out awards at a pre-show?) It is disheartening and unsatisfying. These teams deserve a moment to say thank you. To give their fans and co-workers a chance to celebrate all they have achieved over the past year. Instead, The Game Awards allotted 2 minutes and 12 seconds to a bit with The Swedish Chef.

The show's priorities are focused on pushing out game announcements. Not celebrating the community or the developers for their achievements.

Which leads us into when The Game Awards does give the spotlight on a particular winner, it's always one that involves the show favorite. This year it was The Last of Us 2. Last year was Death Stranding (it did not win Game of the Year but was a heavy favorite). 2018 was God of War (the shinier remake). 2017 was Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. 2016 was Overwatch. These games were given way more screen time than any others. With additional stage presence allotted when accepting awards, skits, unique musical numbers, voice actor cameos and presentations. The Game Awards goes all out for whichever title is their chosen one, ignoring the other winners in the process.

When one thinks of The Game Awards, it's about the World Premieres, the weird cameos of unaffiliated mascots such as the Schick Razor Hydrobot (yes, I will bring this up every time), voice actor appearances, musical numbers, and self-congratulatory speeches for Game of the Year. I remember very clearly when the voice actors for Kratos and his son appeared on stage in 2018. I can still hum the musical numbers for Legend of Zelda in 2017. I vividly recall the constant praise of Blizzard for Overwatch in 2016.

But the other on-stage content? It's a bit of a blur. Some of it was too fast to fully process, or was a quick gimmick. If I didn't have my years of overviews, I would have forgotten about the laser light show in 2014. I can't remember if any other games during each year were given as much stage time as the "favorite." If asked right now, I couldn't tell you who the other nominees were.

I'm a nerd about movies and I do watch the Academy Awards intently every year. I can remember the nominees in several categories going back a decade, at least. If I enjoy a show the content sticks with me.

When it comes to The Game Awards, I've been actively searching through past videos and clips to see what stage shenanigans occurred with the other nominees. I'm coming up empty. And that's the problem. The Game Awards makes a clear association of which title is their favorite, and they will promote it with the most stage time regardless of who else is on the ballot.

It was incredibly blatant with The Last of Us 2 last night. Nearly every award Naughty Dog won, they were given several minutes to speak. Laura Bailey, voice actor for Abbey, was given lengthy time to speak about her role and Naughty Dog. There was a 2-3 minute introduction by Troy Baker  (voice actor for Joel) that praised everything Naughty Dog and led into a song from The Last of Us 2 sung by Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. Whom then had a 2-3 monologue afterword also saluting Naughty Dog.

No other game was given this same treatment. No other Game of the Year was provided more than a passing glance by comparison to The Last of Us 2

To be clear I have nothing against the voice actors. They all do wonderful work. My issue is there was an obvious focus on these individuals because they were involved with Naughty Dog. What about the voice actors from the other nominated games?

This was the first time where I was aghast at how upfront The Game Awards was being in showing favoritism. And it's always been there, but hidden decently enough by a bustling audience, outbursts from presenters, and the indie winner that gives a heartwarming speech (when they are allowed to speak at all). Having the show more heavily scripted this year highlighted this issue for the world to see.

Full disclosure: I did not like The Last of Us 2. I found it had a number of narrative flaws that destroyed the characterization of Joel and Ellie that made the first game feel meaningless. I understand some people do not agree with that, and you can hold that opinion. Objectively TLOU2 was not a good story. It had lovely graphics. The accessibility options were good and should be standard in games so more people can play. And I could have been okay with the story on paper, but the execution was awful. The easiest fix would have been to flip the sequences; no spoilers for those who haven't played - but if you have, you know what I mean. Not that the issues would have been completely resolved, but it's a start.

With that out in the open, I'm not making this criticism because it's The Last of Us 2. If it were Hades or Ghosts of Tsushima, I would state the same concern. The blatant affair of The Game Awards highlighting their personal favorite every year is alarming. If this is truly meant to be an award show to celebrate the achievement of games, it needs to be inclusive and involve every nominee as much as possible.

Ultimately all of this leads into the biggest problem with the event. It's still a close-knit, small group of people within the industry that are friends with one-another and have final say on what's what. The body of gaming outlets and influencers choose the nominees for the year based on what they have played. A judging team of gaming outlets and executives select the winners and have 90% say in the vote, while the public gets 10%. The industry is very much geared towards Western media and action/adventure shooter narratives. The lack of diversity is still apparent everywhere you go. The voices of the independent developers and gaming outlets are going to continue to be drowned out by the elite few at the top.

Because of this year, I don't think I can watch The Game Awards again. I'm willing to give up my silly World Premier tally.

I can see the trailers another time. Someone else can do the count for me. Unless the show realizes that this format is counter-productive to their initiative and enacts real changes, I'm not going to support it with my views.

For changes what I mean is a more diverse body of gaming outlets, not influencers, from marginalized and non-comedic websites that provide valuable insight to video games. A new voting group not made up of an elite few. Giving all of the award winners a chance to say thank you on stage/screen (this one is a very easy fix). And to stop playing favorites with 1 game or 1 developer - spread the love to the entire industry, per the mission statement.

There are more problems that need to be addressed, but this would be a huge leap forward in improving the event.

Keeping up with tradition, here is the World Premiere final counts for the drinking game:

Show: 32
Pre-Show: 14
Total: 46

I was slightly off my prediction for the show, but if Knightly has reigned it in a little on his vocab, I would have had it.