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Game of the Year

January 24, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

It’s been the month for deciding Game of the Year by major (and minor) gaming and associated publication across magazines and the web. The award intends to show that the recipient is the best gaming had to offer and should go down in history as the crowing achievement for that year of releases. The winner then goes on to re-release a “Game of the Year Edition” to show off to the rest of the world just how good it was.

And then you go to the place where you buy video games (I use a retail store, others use internet sites, it doesn’t matter) and you might notice that there is more than one game boasting a GotY Edition.

Simple answer: as you you’re no doubt aware, there are MANY gaming publications. And all of them, to show some degree of professionalism, are offering their own version of the award. All awarded through different criteria, a different panel of judges, a different mechanic of choosing the winner.

In 2009, Uncharted 2 won over 100 awards related to Game of the Year. That’s as many as ten tens.

And that’s terrible.

Because this year the awards appear to be being handed out to a more diverse range of games. I’ve seen Red Dead Redemption, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Mass Effect 2, Alan Wake, CoD: Black Ops, Minecraft and Starcraft 2 win a GotY award from someone for 2010. That’s already seven titles which are going to be re-released in retail shops boasting to be the best game of 2010.

Who is the market for this? The people who die-hard-have-to-have-it pre-ordered for bonus content, and got it on launch. The people who were fairly interested in getting the game got it in the month or so after it was released. After about 4-6 months, most sales have already been made. There are only two types of people who buy games after this cutoff;

1. The people who buy used games or from bargain bins. GotY doesn’t really interest them, they are the ones who wait for price to fall – they had decided they wanted it long before buying it, but were biding their time. A brand new GotY edition is going to lose to a second-hand copy, which doesn’t benefit the developers at all.

2. The people who buy games but don’t actually play them – parents. In which case, a gaming retail store isn’t even designed to find the right video game for the person you are buying it for. The shop is designed to show off a few key titles that the store is currently marketing, and then have walls and walls of information designed to overwhelm the customer into buying something and leaving quickly. The displays are to make shoppers with no idea pick titles the store wants to get rid of. How does GotY help – with multiple games boasting the same thing, it doesn’t help make a choice between them, especially an uninformed choice.

My local EB Games is designed this way. Two LCD screens to show trailers quickly and without sound – which I ignore because it has no recognizable entry point. I don’t know who those people on the screen are, and I have no sound to tell me what I’m looking at. It’s mass of quick cuts and primary colours. There are several display racks near the door, selling pre-orders for games that aren’t out yet. There’s a massive bargain bin, always surrounded by older shoppers, filled with games that are either over half a decade old or just plain bad games. The walls are lined with titles facing the centre the shop wants to sell, while at the bottom are rows and rows of cases with their spines sticking out.

When I do visit, I check the PSP section (being the only proper ‘console’ I own) and am always disgusted at the range of title facing me. Last time I went, there was Dissidia and Metal Gear, and the rest were various junk from across the PSP’s entire library. The gems were hidden down at the bottom of the rack. Clearly, customers are expected to buy the crap off the shelves at shoulder height to save them the effort of bending down to have a closer look, just because EB needs to get rid of some stock.

Game of the Year isn’t important to the retailer. And with so many titles claiming to deserve it – what’s the point of the award? Bragging rights? But other people also won!

A game is usually released with several quotes on the box from various news sources claiming how good the game is – generally gathered pre-release. Even if it isn’t true (everyone knows what happened with Gamespot and ‘Kane and Lynch’ >_>) and especially when it isn’t good. It’s not a good idea to sell a game with “Average” and “Meh” as your best reviews and have them on the boxart. In a season, you can probably find games showing reviews from the same source, and at least you could judge those games against each other, but the best reviews don’t always come from the same reviewers. Same problem as GotY.

I suppose the problem is there is no Academy Award for video gaming. When the Oscars are announced, that’s it. It’s globally decided (Yeah – just the western half :P) that is the best award you can get for a film. If you get Best Motion Picture in Year 200X – you had the best film, period. Gaming doesn’t have this yet. It should.

And that’s not even getting into the fact that awards are just publicity stunts. I’m not going to touch that debate.

I’m awarding my own Game of the Year despite of this. The winner is Minecraft. Sure, it’s not officially released yet, but there are millions playing it and thousands of Youtube videos so clearly SOMEBODY likes it. It’s New!Lego, and what Little Big Planet wanted to be. It’s the ultimate in proof of concept. It does exactly what it set out to do. It lives on less through updates and expansions and DLC, and more through a creative userbase. It has great music. It has no tutorial, but there are tutorials out there so I don’t mind so much. My opinion matters as much as all those other sources boasting awards – equally, nobody really cares what we say. Most of us have already decided for ourselves based on the ones we actually played.

Fun story, but thanks to PC Gamer UK and Rock, Paper, Shotgun; Minecraft’s official release will come with Game of the Year awards already stamped on it.

I think the gaming community needs to get its act together and create a universal, solid awards ceremony. Enough of everyone and their mum handing out awards like candy at Halloween. We need some way to actually make this matter if we all want to continue with the charade.

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