Last Thursday were the Game Awards which are basically the video game version of the Oscars – a selected group of games journalists vote on the best games of different genres released over the year, along with other categories like vocal performances, soundtrack, etc. The Game Awards only loosely resemble the Oscars though as they are a work in progress. From 2003 to 2013, Spike TV produced the Video Game Awards (VGAs) and much like anything you’d watch off of Spike TV it was mostly a trainwreck every year. Spike “cancelled” the Video Game Awards in 2014, which led Geoff Keighley – a games journalist who usually produced and hosted the VGAs – to create and fund The Game Awards on his own. Since this is only the fourth year he’s done it, he is still working the kinks out of the system but it has gotten progressively more professional since Spike stopped being involved. Of course we haven’t reached Oscar level of professionalism yet though – for example, you’d never see this happen at the Oscars, but it sure did happen live last Thursday!
And while I could talk about the Game Awards themselves, they’re only the catalyst for this post as opposed to the subject. You see the majority of people that watched the Game Awards weren’t watching to find out who won. No, a lot of people who tuned in were only interested in the main draw of the show – trailers for upcoming games or announcements of new games that hadn’t been revealed yet. So while the Game Awards are supposed to be celebrating the past year in gaming, they almost paradoxically overshadow their own awards by showing off what’s yet to come in the future. Can you imagine the host of the Oscars just stopping in the middle of the show and saying “Okay, now here’s the never before seen new trailer for the upcoming Avengers movie!”
It’s a little bit of a disconnect.
After the Game Awards were over on Thursday, not a lot of people were talking about who won the awards. No, it was much more focused on “What is the new From game going to be?!” or “Holy crap they announced Bayonetta 3!” or “What the heck did I just watch in that Death Stranding trailer? Did the baby give a thumbs up?!?!?” All the talk was about upcoming games and barely any of it was about the winners. Just like that 2017 in video gaming was discarded in favor of what’s to be released in the future. This weird hunger for new games and new game announcements probably isn’t unique to the video game world, but it ends up driving video gaming fans in a very unique and strange way.
Every time there is a video game convention – whether it be E3, PAX, GamesCom, Tokyo Game Show, Paris Games Week, PSX, The Game Awards (that’s a lot of things I just named, eh?) – what video game fans expect are new video game announcements. Seeing a new trailer for a game they already know about is less exciting than a brand new reveal. Look at how people treated Sony – they basically showed the same games at both E3 2016 and E3 2017 and everyone thought E3 2017’s show was bad because they didn’t tease us with anything new.
There’s nothing more exciting than a world premiere of a new game.
This fervor for new content to swallow up is, in my opinion, bad for the industry and also a bad mindset for gamers in general. And I think it’s a by-product of the secretive nature of game development. Unlike movies, where the public can easily find out when a movie is shooting, who is cast, and what the projected date is (as, for blockbusters at least, they schedule big upcoming movies at least a year in advance) – game developers have little to no transparency. Any time we get information about a game outside of approved media (such as the above conventions, or through a games journalism website, or through official developer channels) it is considered a “leak.” When a script for a Game of Thrones episode ends up on the internet, that’s considered a leak. But literally ANY information – even a game’s simple existence! – can be a leak in the video game world.
Now it’s sort of understandable – big games from big developers can take multiple years to develop, so they don’t want to release information too early – especially when a project can be canned a year or more into development. And announcing something in 2016 but not having it come out until 2020 can cause inverted hype if you don’t manage your advertising right. But developers run such a tight ship that a development team can go dark for years and leave the public wondering what they’re doing. And, unfortunately, it is simple human nature to be nosy. That ends up leading to video game enthusiasts being even more eager to learn information about games that are under wraps – which leads to leaks, which leads to the general public learning about games before their “official” reveal, which leads to people not being excited about the “official” reveal when it happens because they want to hear about new games they haven’t heard of yet, which leads to more leaks…you see how this is a weird, perpetual cycle that video game players are stuck in?
The other big issue with video games is the rampant chomping at the bit for sequels. To go back to my earlier comparison – most of the award winning movies at the Oscars are standalone, original films. Look at some of this year’s Golden Globe nominees: Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, Get Out, Lady Bird, The Disaster Artist – there isn’t 2 or 3 attached to any of these titles. Now take a look at the nominees of the Game of the Year category from the Game Awards: Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Persona 5, Horizon: Zero Dawn, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Two original games, and three games from long running series. And I’m not saying the sequels are bad games at all – in fact Persona 5 is a contender for my personal Game of the Year – but there is just such a focus on more and more games in the same franchise. There are 10 – TEN – mainline games in the Assassin’s Creed franchise – with one coming out roughly every year since 2007. The only movie franchises that have 10 or more movies are either James Bond or Friday the 13th.
Gamers love their sequels. It’s almost ridiculous how quickly people will be wishing for a new sequel. Even for games that haven’t had a new iteration in 10+ years – video game players will still keep asking for another game in the universe. I’ve seen discussions about a game that was just released and they revolved around what could be improved upon in the sequel. This can happen barely a week after the game comes out. And despite the fact that these sequels will largely have the same general gameplay and game design, everyone will eat them up. A new Madden is released every year and it’s usually just minor updates and new rosters, but it’s almost always one of the best-selling games of the year. Same for FIFA (that’s soccer for those of you who don’t know) – it’s usually a very high seller in European markets every year.
Gamers end up always having their eye on the future – what’s next, what do I have to look forward to, what game is going to blow me away next year? It makes the video game world very fast-paced and makes developers fight hard for the mindshare of the video game populace. Take for example Lawbreakers – a game that released this year with little to no fanfare. It was supposed to be a big, multiplayer shooter in the vein of Overwatch or Quake, but everyone was too busy with other games and not interested, so it failed spectacularly (there was a point where it dropped below 20 concurrent users on Steam). If you don’t grab people’s attention, you get lost in the shuffle – which is just another reason why developers hoard information and want it released on their terms so they can put together the right amount of pomp and circumstance to get people excited.
And to answer your earlier question: yes, the baby did give a thumbs up.
So how do we fix it? How do we get to the point where the Game Awards slows down and only celebrates the games of the past year instead of barreling the discussion into the future? Well, I think there are multiple ways. A big way on the developer side is to try and scale back the technological arms race involved with video gaming. Computing technology is accelerating at a rapid pace, and as such PCs and consoles rapidly become obsolete as better tech comes out. As such, gamers are always wanting new hardware (people have been talking about the successor to the Playstation 4 and XBox One since they were released) which then makes them want new games that take advantage of this new hardware. Console life cycles should be slowed down and enjoyed, as opposed to discarded as soon as a breakthrough technology allows you to display in 4K instead of 1080p. Build a strong, large library of games that entices people to buy and use your console for long periods of time and cultivate your user base.
But more importantly on the consumer side, video gamers need to stop being greedy. It’s kind of harsh to say, but it’s a fact. I don’t see every movie that ever comes out – I don’t read every book or watch every TV show. I pick and choose how I want to entertain myself. But more importantly, I enjoy everything for what it is. Gamers are, in general, pretty gluttonous. Ask a PC gamer how big their Steam library is, and then ask them how many of those games have they really played. The Kickstarter phenomenon was a great example of how much gamers crave future games and sequels to games they never got. Capcom didn’t give us a new Mega Man, so we’re funding Mighty No. 9! Yeah, I totally didn’t fall for that….cough.
Gamers always want more. More more more. And if we don’t get more, we whine and complain. And when we DO get more, we complain that it’s not the right type of more. Or we complain that we don’t have time for all the more. Or that the more costs too much. And because we want more, we’re perpetually turned towards the future. Maybe what’s next will satisfy me.
And that’s a bad way to enjoy a hobby. As much as I love games, I’m going to be trying to scale back how many new games I get in the coming year. (Yeah, that’s a pretty bold stance for a guy writing a gaming blog, huh.) I’m going to try and start being as selective as I am with music, or TV, or movies, or any other entertainment. Lord knows I already own plenty of games I haven’t even touched yet. I could probably make it all the way to 2019 only playing and finishing all the games I already own. And I know one guy isn’t going to change how obsessed gaming culture is with the future, but maybe, just maybe, if I set a good example I can….oh, hey, they’re remaking Shadow of the Colossus for PS4? AND there’s a special steelbook edition?! Sorry, gotta go pre-order it! Bye!