I’ve been an avid fan of The Game Awards since its inception in 2014 – more accurately, since creator and host Geoff Keighley built a solid reputation with the Spike Video Game Awards before that. His awards shows have always put the industry and its developers at the forefront while striking a pretty good balance with world premieres and exciting new reveals, never really tipping the scale in either direction. However, this year’s Game Awards event – while still high-energy and full of surprises – felt a bit off.
To its credit, The Game Awards 2023 was fast-paced and quite entertaining. It was rapid-fire announcements, celebrity guest appearances and an overall fun atmosphere that never let up, probably crescendoing with Alan Wake 2‘s whacky musical performance. In the midst of all of the excitement, you might’ve missed the all-important awards-giving aspects – that’s because The Game Awards flew right through them.
Looking back at last year’s show, there was a much better balance of awards being handed out with the world premieres that attract its record-breaking viewership numbers. Christopher Judge’s historically long acceptance speech might’ve been the butt of the joke this year, but I was glued to the actor’s really heartwarming, almost 8-minute love letter to the industry, to aspiring actors and developers and to the talented teams that work tirelessly to make these games.
Keighley let the winners talk and no matter everyone’s stances on overly long acceptance speeches, it felt like a true celebration of the craft. Now I’m sure you’ve already seen this year’s teleprompters hurrying winners to “please wrap it up” after one minute. Admittedly, I don’t envy Keighley in this position. He has to ensure that the show adheres to a strict length, keeping the momentum going while allowing other awards and announcements to share the stage at a brisk pace. It’s not an easy job but this year, it felt especially unbalanced.
Neil Newbon won Best Performance for his stellar portrayal of Astarion in Baldur’s Gate 3. Let him speak. Sam Lake and Kyle Rowley did an outstanding job directing the extremely complex Alan Wake 2. Let them speak. Hi-Fi Rush‘s sound team beautifully melded audio design with creative gameplay. Let them speak. The Game Awards is a stage for not only reveals but for the developers to have a moment in the spotlight that lasts more than 60 seconds. This is an industry that has a lot to say, a lot to celebrate and a lot to be proud of. Let them speak.
This year’s show was the first time that I noticed a distinct rift between the game reveals and the actual awards. Big categories like Best Action Game, Best RPG, Best Fighting Game and Best Score and Music were relegated to these strange rapid-fire announcements. Understandably, this was probably done to keep up the pace of the show but it came at the expense of those wins feeling like afterthoughts instead of defining moments of victory for these winners.
Just to clear the air, I had absolutely no problem with the games revealed and the winners announced. The world premieres were big surprises that would’ve snuggly fit into another event like Summer Game Fest or E3 (and stolen the shows in the process), while the winners of the night were all well-deserved. The problem is how the former was given notable priority this year than the latter which isn’t fair.
I love The Game Awards and I love to see hard-working talents given their spotlight moments just as much as I love those addictive surprise reveals. If the show must run for another hour to accommodate both, so be it. This is also an important moment for developers. However, I think the easiest solution would be to finally separate the awards from the reveals.
This might allow Keighley to plan a more concise, focused awards show while trimming the length, if that was a big concern this year (I’m sure a little surprise or two could still comfortably slip into the schedule). Thereafter, an entirely new end-of-year show is born that houses the bigger announcements to fill the gap until summer’s gaming events. This doesn’t need to be as meticulously planned as a big stage show either, as the past few years have proven that digital showcases can still easily generate hype and achieve the same results.
The Game Awards is now the most-viewed awards show in the entire entertainment industry, amassing millions upon millions of viewers each year. Naturally, separating its two biggest attractions wouldn’t seem feasable, especially at this height, but this year has only shown that one can overshadow the other to the point where it almost devalues the purpose of the event. I want to see The Game Awards continue to thrive but this is coming from a place of constructive criticism for the future: please give the developers the time they deserve.