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Developers are wanting more than The Game Awards are delivering

Developers are upset that The Game Awards featured very few awards or opportunities for winners to celebrate their achievements in favor of ads and celebrity guests.

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Graphic of The Game Awards trophy, a winged woman stretching her wings behind her head against a black and gold background.
Image: The Game Awards

Game developers have a problem with this year’s Game Awards.

While the awards part of Geoff Keighley’s Game Awards has increasingly become vestigial to the ads, teases, and trailers for games both out and coming soon, this year, that disparity was more keenly felt.

“Every year, [The Game Awards] seems to be becoming more and more a platform for revenue for its production house rather than a celebration of game development,” said Nazih Fares, head of communication and localization at The 4 Winds Entertainment and member of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) board of directors, in a statement to The Verge.

“The speed-running through awards was flat out insulting, and only giving the actual devs 30 seconds to speak while prioritizing Hollywood actors being on stage was so gross,” Kayla Glover, a game producer at Bungie, told The Verge.

The Game Awards isn’t the only video game award show in existence; it’s not even the video game equivalent of the Oscars or the Emmys. That distinction arguably belongs to the DICE Awards, which is organized by the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, a nonprofit professional organization analogous to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) or the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS) — the professional academies that oversee the Oscars and the Emmys, respectively.

There are also the BAFTA Games Awards, the Golden Joystick Awards, the Game Developers Choice awards, and a host of smaller, regionally focused award shows.

But The Game Awards eclipses all of these shows by several orders of magnitude.

This year’s VOD has already racked 6.5 million views since its December 7th premiere. In contrast, the 26th annual DICE Awards VOD, posted in February of this year, sits at about 2,800 views. Basically, The Game Awards has all the prestige and viewership numbers of the Oscars and Emmys despite being the purview of one man: Geoff Keighley.

It began over 20 years ago as the Spike TV Video Game Awards, or VGAs. The show was produced by Geoff Keighley — host of GameTrailers TV a video game show on the Spike TV network — and was aesthetically, “what if the MTV Video Music Awards but video games?”

And it’s never really lost those roots as an award show meant to entertain first and award prestige second. Only increasingly, the developers and other talent the show is meant to praise would like to share some of the stage rather than be totally overshadowed by Muppets.

This year’s Game Awards featured a bunch of celebrity appearances, including Matthew McConaughey, Anthony Mackie, Simu Liu, Timothée Chalamet, and the muppet Gonzo. Viewers noticed the preponderance of time given to celebrities, interviews, and comedy bits, while awards were given away in bulk bursts.

Josh Sawyer, director of Pentiment, posted on X (formerly Twitter), “This year’s The Game Awards is an embarrassing indictment of a segment of the industry desperate for validation via star power with little respect for the devs it’s supposedly honoring.”

There was one developer who had all the time in the world at The Game Awards, though: Keighley’s longtime friend Hideo Kojima. The Death Stranding developer was there to promote his newest game, OD, along with Jordan Peele. Altogether, his portion of the show ran for about five minutes. Riley Macleod over at Aftermath calculated how many developer acceptance speeches could have been heard in that time: “13.5.”

“Only giving the actual devs 30 seconds to speak while prioritizing Hollywood actors being on stage was so gross”

For the award winners who did get the chance to speak, some found their speeches cut short, cut off, or drowned out by music designed to get them to speed it up. Neil Newbon, who won best performance for his portrayal of Astarion in Baldur’s Gate 3, had a portion of his speech covered up by the “wrap it up” music. The music cut on just as Newbon was expressing his thanks to the Baldur’s Gate 3 players who shared with him how the game gave them hope.

Later in the show, as representatives for Baldur’s Gate 3 accepted the award for Game of the Year — the last award of the night and ostensibly the most important one — a “wrap it up” message popped on the teleprompter just as Larian CEO Swen Vincke dedicated the award to Jim Southworth, the lead cinematic designer who died in November.

Allotting only 30 seconds to acceptance speeches seemed to be an overcorrection from last year when Christopher Judge, who won best performance for his role as Kratos in God of War Ragnarök, took nearly eight minutes for his speech. In a post on X after this year’s show, Keighley acknowledged the issue, saying, “I do agree that the music was played too fast for award winners this year, and I asked our team to relax that rule as the show went on.”

“Fallout” Cast And Creator At The Game Awards
Photo by Anna Webber / Getty Images for Prime Video

But developers’ issues with The Game Awards aren’t limited to what happened during the show. What didn’t make it into the show was just as upsetting — because the general refrain of 2023 is that it’s been an amazing year for the quality of games released but awful for the folks who worked on them as an unprecedented number of layoffs has seen over 6,000 people lose their jobs. Ahead of the ceremony, Keighley asked on X if anyone had any tips for him for the show. Among calls for increased security and fewer celebrities, people also asked him to acknowledge those layoffs.

“It was disgusting to see the idolatry of Kojima and the other Geoff friends and the courting of Hollywood stars.”

“While it’s been a brilliant year to play games, please take a moment to acknowledge the roughly 8000 hard working members of our industry who have sadly lost their jobs this year,” wrote Harry Wrzyszcz, a vehicle artist at Rockstar North, on X.

Game makers were hoping for some kind of recognition of the industry’s layoffs during one of the last highly visible gaming events left — especially now since E3 is officially dead. They were disappointed when that didn’t happen.

“As someone who is part of the video game layoffs, I was disappointed,” wrote Duane Jeffers. “It felt like a giant middle finger to devs and everything we’ve had to endure this year. It was disgusting to see the idolatry of Kojima and the other Geoff friends and the courting of Hollywood stars.”

This wasn’t always the reception for Keighley and his friendship with Kojima. The high-profile relationship actually highlighted Keighley’s affection for developers back in 2015, when Konami barred then-employee Kojima from attending the awards. During the broadcast, Keighley was visibly upset by this news and tweeted to Kojima in solidarity afterward. Then, in 2016, when Kojima returned to accept his industry icon award, Keighley called what happened the previous year a “tragedy.”

Dillon Sommerville, a senior environment artist with eight years in the industry, recalled this high-profile example of Keighley’s support for a developer and expressed disappointment when that same public support wasn’t extended to developers at large this year.

“I’m incredibly disappointed in Geoff Keighley for his silence on the state of the industry this year after being so willing to publicly call out Konami in 2015 on behalf of Kojima for mistreatment,” he told The Verge. “It sends a clear message that Geoff is more interested in recognition from a certain class of developer, or even Hollywood actors, than he is interested in helping everyday, hardworking developers.”

US-TECHNOLOGY-INTERNET-GAMES-AWARDS
Video game auteur and GBFF (Geoff’s BFF) Hideo Kojima.
Photo by Frederic J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images

Even those who are still employed by the industry felt disillusioned by Keighley’s lack of recognition of layoffs.

“The feeling is bleak,” said a developer at Sega who wished to remain anonymous. “I couldn’t even take a break from all the crunch we’re currently facing to watch our nominated categories or our major Sega announcement.”

The disappointment in The Game Awards extended to Keighley’s own Future Class members. Last month, a cohort of The Game Awards Future Class members, an organization of “individuals who represent the bright bold and inclusive future of video games” chosen and sponsored by The Game Awards, signed an open letter addressing Keighley and The Game Awards.

At the heart of the letter is the war between Israel and the terrorist organization Hamas. On October 7th, Hamas launched an attack that killed an estimated 1,200 people. In response, Israel launched its own assault on Gaza that has killed an estimated 17,000 people — many of them children.

The letter called out the video game industry’s apparent lack of recognition of the war, which is seemingly at odds with how the industry responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. Even The Game Awards posted about the Russia-Ukraine war, both in a now-deleted tweet celebrating the resilience of Ukrainian developers and in one about Epic’s efforts to raise money for those affected by that war.

“I don’t know, I was naively expecting something”

The letter finally urged Keighley to acknowledge the ongoing humanitarian crisis. It asked him to call for a ceasefire and express support for the protection of Palestinian human rights. The members of the Future Class who signed the letter and spoke to The Verge understood that it was unlikely that Keighley would have done what they asked.

“I am disappointed but not surprised,” said JC Lau, 2022 Future Class member. “What I think hurt more was attending an event that claimed to celebrate games completely divorcing the game from the people that made it by not giving them space to celebrate their work, acknowledge their peers, or share their thoughts.”

“I was hoping for the bare minimum, maybe a one minute motivational speech about how they know it was a tough year for us but they see and appreciate the hard work and passion we put into our games,” said another member of the Future Class who wished to remain anonymous, as they feared they were risking their job for speaking out in support of Palestine. “I figured it was unlikely that Palestine would be mentioned, but, I don’t know, I was naively expecting something.”

So far, neither Keighley nor The Game Awards’ official account has acknowledged the Israel-Hamas war or efforts to raise money for its victims. The Verge has confirmed that, as of publication, Keighley has not yet responded to messages in the Future Class Discord asking for acknowledgment of the open letter. The Verge has reached out to The Game Awards for comment.

If one were to mash together all the winners’ speeches, it would only make up about 10 minutes’ worth of airtime

The “awards” part of The Game Awards is made up of 31 categories. During the show, only 10 winners had the opportunity to speak onstage and were then only given 30 seconds for their acceptance speeches before music started to play them off — oftentimes interrupting heartfelt messages. If one were to mash together all the winners’ speeches — as The Banana Slammas did on YouTube — it would only make up about 10 minutes’ worth of airtime.

The Game Awards were three hours long.

Keighley kicked off the 2023 Game Awards saying, “Together we are gonna recognize outstanding creative work in games in 2023.” He spoke about the transformative power of video games and the talent of those who make them. The actual recognition part of the event — the stated reason for its existence — barely accounted for 20 percent of its run time.

“We make the games,” said the anonymous Future Class member. “But at the Game Awards it was like we were invisible.”