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Car Crash: Why VGAs are in a serious need of change

Monday, 12th December 2011 06:54 GMT By Johnny Cullen

The 2011 Spike VGAs were meant to celebrate the year’s best games and hype future releases. Instead, Johnny Cullen argues, they played to stereotypes in the worst possible way.

For every step Sunday night took forward – Miyamoto, Blizzard, some of the unveils – the VGAs took 20 back. We’ll still be getting up in the middle of the night for the announcements next year – every games news journalist will – but there needs to be change. A re-run of this year’s show would be less than welcome.

On Saturday night – early hours of Sunday morning UK time – Spike held its annual Video Game Awards in Santa Monica, promising its usual mix of world premieres and accolades.

It delivered on the former. The awards themselves? Not so much.

Given previous form this isn’t much of a surprise, but 2011′s VGAs took stereotypical stupidity to an entirely new level. Put it like this: I don’t want to see Felicia Day doing some silly gimmicks; I don’t want to see some dude who ripped at last year’s awards on YouTube turn up and trash talk at a Spike exec as if he was cutting a WWE promo; and I don’t want to see a bunch of kids from some unknown TV show shout about what they won before showing a new game (the group I’m referring to introduced Alan Wake’s American Nightmare).

I don’t care about how much LL Cool J likes Mass Effect, and I sure as hell don’t care about teabagging live on stage. Was there any need for it? If there was one thing that stood out, that played right into mainstream gamer stereotype. We don’t need these things in a gaming awards ceremony. A bit of humour in a show is fine, but this was beyond cringeworthy.

Hollywood Invasion

Do we need celebrities in game award ceremonies? Do we really need Hulk Hogan, will.i.am, Charlie Sheen and others presenting awards and unveiling games?

On the one hand, we want to see the developers get their 15 seconds of fame rather than those who’ve had it for most of their lifetime. On the other hand, the majority of the VGA audience probably isn’t that well versed in the industry. They won’t know – and in all likelihood, care – about the Ken Levines, Hideo Kojimas or Cliff Bleszisnkis of the world as much as the hardcore does.

I’m still undecided on the subject, but there needs to be at least some sort of balancing act. On Sunday, we didn’t get it.

And what about the actual awards? This was a shambles. Very few of them got handed out on stage. By my count, there were only three: Rocksteady appeared for Batman; Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer for Modern Warfare 3; and Bethesda Game Studios for Skyrim to pick up GOTY. For everything else, it was held either pre-event or shown in a quick edit.

Fair enough; there won’t be time to do all of the awards on stage. That’s the reality of it, as is the case for most ceremonies. But you have a big gaping problem if you go through a majority of them before and during the show and have them run in a montage to secure more time for announcements and stupid antics. The “awards” part of this year’s Video Game Awards was an afterthought.

In fact, it was something picked up on by Batman: Arkham City VOs Mark Hamil and Tara Strong. Both nominated for their roles as Joker and Harley Quinn in the Best Performance by a Human Male and Female categories respectively, the pair lost out to Stephen Merchant and Ellen McLain of Portal 2 for their roles as Wheatley and GLaDOS.

Hamil said in one tweet: “Weird VGAs! Don’t mind losing but I’d like to know when it happens. Did I miss something? Award given off-camera? Tara and I in lousy seats – BOO!”

Spike Video Game Awards

Saturday marked the eighth VGA event since its debut in 2003.

The show is fronted by US journalist and GameTrailers TV host, Geoff Keighley.

Skyrim, Batman: Arkham City, Uncharted 3 and Portal 2 were the big winners this year.

Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, Metal Gear Rising from Platinum Games, Epic’s Fortnite and BioWare’s Command & Conquer: Generals 2 were the major announces.

Strong then added in another: “I’m sorry, but to have @HamillHimself sit way up in the bleachers and not even MENTION his nomination? Shame on VGA…”

But here’s the kicker: Strong’s category – which McLain picked up in person – was awarded at the pre-show, streamed online on Spike’s website. Meanwhile, Hamil’s nomination was mentioned in a quick montage.

It’s an awards show. It’s in the name: Video Game Awards. You either do the awards or you don’t.

Or here’s a better solution, seeing as the ceremony itself seems to be a event for unveils and trailers rather than awards: hold a separate showcase. One weekend in December, hold two separate events and air them on Spike and online.

On the Saturday, have the Video Game Awards, but without the announcements. No celebrities; just let the developers host the awards, categories and let them do their speeches. Let them have their limelight for creating the best games of the year.

A great example of that is Machinima’s Inside Gaming Awards. Held the night before the VGAs, the mainly YouTube-fronted network focussed on awarding the games rather than make a song and dance about other things. OK, there weren’t any developers to MC each category – only Machinima personalities – but the IGAs format of focussing on awards clearly works.

And then on a Sunday, hold a showcase for announcements and trailers. Have a mix of developers and celebrities. Satisfy more people in the process.

The only genuine moment of decency on the night was Miyamoto’s appearance for Zelda’s Hall of Fame induction. I don’t think anyone was expecting him to appear personally. Considering the recent retirement speculation, it was lovely and heartwarming to see him on that stage with all his trademark enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, just as we were building a rosy glow, we realised Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of some of the best-loved characters, franchises and games in history, was sharing the same stage as Charlie Sheen.

Professional courtesy

And there were Blizzard’s three co-founders – Mike Morhaime, Frank Pierce and Alan Adam – getting their Gamer God award. No doubt deserving. Why am I griping with this? It was presented by American Pie’s Jason Biggs and Shaun William Scott, who appeared to punch Biggs in the balls after signaling Morhaime, Pierce and Adam to the stage. Stay classy, guys.

Given we had ball-punching, it was no surprise the press was also sidelined. It’s just a shame that 25 of America’s most prominent games journalists – including Brian Crecente and Stephen Totilo of Kotaku, Chris Grant of Joystiq, Andy McNamara of Game Informer and OXM US EiC Francesca Reyes – picked the best games of this year, only to have their work overshadowed by teabagging, reenacting Fruit Ninja and too many unveils.

The saddest thing? This is all being organised by one of those 25 journos. Geoff Keighley has said countless times that this is a serious awards show for gamers. If that’s the case, I sure as hell didn’t see it on Sunday morning.

Just no.

I met Geoff briefly at gamescom earlier this year on the way to the Sony press conference, when myself, Alex Donaldson and ex-VG247 contributor Joe Anderson were chatting to him about the work he’d done on The Final Hours features with Portal 2 and Metal Gear Solid 2.

Don’t let the awards fool you: Keighley is certainly worth his weight as a journalist. He can write some astonishing stuff, as you’ve probably seen with the Final Hours of Portal 2, can be hard-pressing in interviews – as you’ll see in this interview with Reggie Fils-Aime of Nintendo at E3 about Wii U – and he is, obviously, a well known face in PR circles.

How else could he get exclusives for GameTrailers? How else was he able to get the unveil of Naughty Dog’s new IP? How else was he able to get Kojima to announce Metal Gear Rising was now in the hands of Platinum Games? And BioWare with C&C: Generals 2 and Epic’s Fortnite?

Yet, for all his worth, Keighley organises an event that fails at its most basic level.

We need mainstream ceremonies that take games seriously. Do you see teabagging at the Golden Globes?

For every step Sunday night took forward – Miyamoto, Blizzard, some of the unveils – the VGAs took 20 back. We’ll still be getting up in the middle of the night for the announcements next year – every games news journalist will – but there needs to be change. A re-run of this year’s show would be less than welcome.

[Miyamoto Pic]

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30 Comments

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  1. Ireland Michael

    The Spike VGAs have *always* been a lowest-common-denominator “awards” show aimed at the dreaded “casual” gamer. The kind of people whose entire knowledge of gaming extends to the release schedules for the FPS and TPS games, and little else.

    As long as it continues to pander to that kind of an audience, it will never be taken seriously. How can Geoff even try to suggest that it’s a serious awards show when one quick glance at the nominee lists shows nothing but gross lack of acknowledgement for the wider breath of games in the industry?

    Yes, Geoff can be a great journalist, no denying that. The problem with Geoff is that he’s almost a complete whore merchant. The guy is either a genius when it comes to generating hype, or he doesn’t actually realise he’s doing it. I’m veering towards the former though.

    #1 3 years ago
  2. Bam007

    I agree with this article. While they tried to be funny and make the show enjoyable to watch, it was not about the awards. Can’t remember exactly which award it was (maybe for Portal 2?), but in between that and the previous award was a good 15-20 minutes of nothing.

    This is the night of nights for video games and complete randoms (as noted in the article) take the stage.

    #2 3 years ago
  3. OrphanageExplosion

    Keighley doesn’t organise the event and his input into the tone and content is limited – his unenviable job is to get the “premieres” and to sell the event to the industry – and in a truly credibility-challenging task, to sell it to gamers. If you want to understand Keighley, watch his brilliant event coverage where nobody – and I mean, nobody – does it better.

    To understand the VGAs you need to spend some time watching Spike TV and to see how it fits into the schedule. It’s almost exclusively retarded, adolescent nonsense aimed at mentally sub-normal teenage boys. In this respect, the VGAs are masterpieces.

    It’s down to developers, publishers and sponsors to realise that video games are now a mainstream property not compatible with the Spike demographic, and to withdraw support from this horrific spectacle.

    #3 3 years ago
  4. KAP

    Your right it was all over the place, that’s the Americans, they must of loved that format.
    It’s not aimed at us low key, tea drinking, soccer playing, people such as our selfs right? Lol

    I for one liked it, apart from the awards bits. Lol

    #4 3 years ago
  5. WFMMK

    No wonder the awards were undeserved half of the judges are Xbox fanboys…

    #5 3 years ago
  6. ASBI

    @5 I wouldnt say undeserved :/

    lets just say there were far too many good games that were overshadowed by batman + skyrim + portal 2 :/

    #6 3 years ago
  7. mathare92

    Yup. Like someone tweeted yesterday, it’s a legitimate shame that someone like Charlie Sheen was invited to speak on the same stage Miyamoto had just occupied.

    Alex Navarro pretty much summed up everything that was wrong with the show in his scathing Giant Bomb piece.

    Nothing’s going to change. If you want a real video game awards show, I can only recommend the Tim Schafer-hosted GDC awards. The sad thing is, a show like that would never make it to tv.

    #7 3 years ago
  8. Freek

    For all of those things to happen it needs to be NOT on TV. If it’s on TV it needs to be low brow MTV bullshit to justify it’s existance.
    And those awards actually exist already. Peer reviewed and classy. They’re handed out during GDC and nobody knows or cares about them.

    #8 3 years ago
  9. SplatteredHouse

    Interesting you mention Jason Biggs in your article. He was responsible for one of my low-lights from the VGAs. To suggest that guy was just there to collect a cheque would be too complimentary. He was utterly vacant and disinterested. At least Scott took the effort to turn up in character. I got the impression even he wasn’t too impressed with his co-star’s attitude that left him having to save their appearance.

    #9 3 years ago
  10. mojo

    i dont like to be so stereotypical but what do u expect?
    its the american way of artificialy bloating events to the point where u need to be super-mainstream to enjoy them.
    just look at theirs sports events.
    ur going to a show, not a match. and ur also going to a show, not an award cerenomy.

    #10 3 years ago
  11. Erthazus

    Hardcore-mainstream?

    LOL. There is no hardcore-mainstream. There is mainstream and there is Hardcore. Nothing in between.
    Just because you played Skyrimn for 4-15 hours does not make you a hardcore gamer.

    Show is trash and thats why we have GDC. End of story.

    Besides, VGA is actually better than E3. Why? Because there are more surprises than at E3.

    #11 3 years ago
  12. mojo

    u misunderstood me.
    i didnt use it in a gaming related context.

    edit: i changed it

    #12 3 years ago
  13. DSB

    Really, the most futile thing you can do is critisize one of these things.

    An awards show is not made to be fair, or tasteful, and it’s not made to pay tribute to it’s medium or it’s artists, it’s purely an industry putting in a little extra for an evening of high exposure. It’s the same as the Oscars or the Grammies, where good movies and good music also mean absolutely nothing.

    I think those priorities are more than obvious. Especially once they start adding showcases for future products to the mix. How can there be any doubt? I don’t watch any of that crap for the same reason – it’s advertising, not tribute – but this sounds absolutely par for the course.

    Quite obviously they’re doing everything they need to do to gain exposure. They’re going for a young audience, and they’re paying for every pseudo-celebrity under the sun. Like the MTV awards.

    #13 3 years ago
  14. mongbatstar

    Oh Erth, your desire to cause controversy where there is none never ceases to amaze. I think it’s pretty obvious what “hardcore-mainstream” meant in this context. He has a valid point too.

    #14 3 years ago
  15. WFMMK

    E3 has way more surprises than VGAs. At least for Playstation fans it does.

    #15 3 years ago
  16. YoungZer0

    Why did you people even watch this? That’s the big question.

    #16 3 years ago
  17. absolutezero

    WORLF EXCULSUIVE.

    that and so bad its good. Kojima, Miyamoto being kicked off stage and Seth Greens sheer disgust at everything made it worthwhile.

    I enjoy the industry making fools of themselves, reflects the majority of games rather well, also pretty well relfects what they still think the main audeince for games is.

    Actually thinking about it most games are developed with a teenage male audience in mind anyway.

    #17 3 years ago
  18. freedoms_stain

    Lets be honest now, gaming has risen from a profitable niche hobby 10-15 years ago to a gigantic mega-business. and when you become a gigantic mega-business you have to crowd yourself with a load of bollocks, because that’s what the fat cats who’re now running the mega-business think the mindless plebs they’re looking to bleed cash out of want.

    And maybe that IS what the lowest common denominator want, they’re where the money is so they will always be pandered to while the rest of us who don’t fit into that category will feel ostracised because we’re no longer being pandered to.

    #18 3 years ago
  19. viralshag

    I didn’t watch it… was this worse than the Grainger Games debacle a few months ago?

    #19 3 years ago
  20. Johnny Cullen

    Oh good god no. I think I can safely nothing will EVER top the GMAs. EVER..

    #20 3 years ago
  21. TD_Monstrous69

    All I can say about this is what’d you expect from a network owned by Viacom? Most of the programming on their network is complete shit, that playcates to the stereotypes of douchebags, “angst-ridden and sex-crazed” teens, and glorifies problems that many people face everyday, without network money backing them from behind the scenes. I don’t mind the celebrities too much at these shows, but I can’t say that they’re needed (though I will say, the people who were there at this year’s VGA’s were better than last year). Though after watching this, all I can say is that though games have come a far way into the main-stream pop-culture subconscious, they still have a way to go until they’re truly taken seriously by network TV (outside of G4 that is).

    #21 3 years ago
  22. IL DUCE

    @Johnny Those guys who announced Alan Wake aren’t unknown to most Americans (especially young males prob 15-30)…they were relatively big on the net before they got the show Workaholics which is a Comedy Central show that is actually funny as hell…so give the guys some credit, no need to randomly take shots @ people for no reason…

    And while Felicia Day’s gimmicks were stupid…she looked fine as hell when she announced that new BioShock Infinite trailer…

    The whole VGAs were completely underwhelming though…reveals and trailers weren’t even that big or impressive whatsoever besides The Last of Us and the Mass Effect 3 trailer…and while the Rainbow 6 Patriots trailer was cool also, the Hitman trailer on the pre-show was probably better than the rest of the trailers shown…no surprises and was therefore, very disappointing

    And maybe they should focus on actually giving out some more awards…I feel like they gave out 2 or 3 awards on stage the whole night

    EDIT: Ok, finished reading…as a whole great article and I agree with pretty much everything said

    #22 3 years ago
  23. HeavyD-Love

    I actually kinda enjoyed this years show. Thought they did a decent job given the subject matter and target audience.

    #23 3 years ago
  24. fearmonkey

    How can anyone be shocked at what SpikeTV has done with the VGA’s?
    The VGA’s have always been like this. I watched the first or second VGA’s, and it made me feel embarrassed as a gamer, and I have never watched it again.
    What can we expect from a channel that has Manswers in it’s lineup, they are catering to the low brow demographic, and so is G4TV with a few exceptions.
    I miss the days of TechTV and G4 when it really was about games and serious about them, not about sex, Ninjas, wrestling, and titillation.

    #24 3 years ago
  25. Ireland Michael

    @19 The sad thing is, the GMAs themselves are infinitely better when it comes to genuinely awarding the industry for its efforts and achievements. The Grainger Games debacle was just a very unfortunate situation.

    #25 3 years ago
  26. HighWindXIX

    Any chance they’ll start streaming the GDC awards online so we can have an actual awards show that non-industry folk can enjoy?

    #26 3 years ago
  27. Phoenixblight

    @26

    No because that is how the company that does the show gets money is through the tickets and the attendees.

    #27 3 years ago
  28. Johnny Cullen

    @26, @27 GameSpot streams the GDC awards every year.

    #28 3 years ago
  29. Phoenixblight

    Hmm must of not saw them when I was volunteering because the rules were said that no one can record any of the conferences or sessions, guess that rule doesn’t apply to the awards.

    #29 3 years ago
  30. bluemanrule

    First off, Johnny, great write-up. Secondly, @ #3, Keighley has been the producer the last two years and has petitioned that he does, in fact, organize the content on the show. I really agree with Johnny and seems like I caught the only three award presentations of the night by chance.

    I really like the DICE awards and hope that, one day, its format will expand beyond G4-only broadcasts. I’ll take that show over this one any day.

    Again, great article Johnny. I’m also really impressed with level of maturity on these comment threads. Well done.

    #30 3 years ago