What does it take to win a Game of the Year?

What does it take to win a Game of the Year?
Million Dollar Question: What does it take to take home a Game of the Year statuette? Is there a winning and universally valid formula that pushes a title to establish itself in the rankings of the most popular experiences of the year according to experts?

In early 2020, Nathan Lee of Business Insider published an interesting article that posed the same demand within the confines of the Hollywood market. What does it take to win an Oscar? Analyzing the statistics of the event set up by the Academy, a rather precise, almost mathematical architecture emerged, a structure common to all the great winners of the event.

In the last 90 years of cinematographic history, for example, never before has a sci-fi or horror film won the most coveted statuette, while films such as Hitchcock's Psycho and Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey didn't even deserve the nomination. Here is the identikit of the winners: 93% of the awarded films are children of the macro-genre "drama", obtained an evaluation by critics and audiences that exceeds 80% overall satisfaction, and in most cases count in credits for personalities who have already taken part in a work awarded with the "best picture".

Geoff Keighley's The Game Awards are today the most important GOTY ceremony of all. According to Lee, this trend led to a crystallization of the "winning formula", outlining a situation capable of negatively influencing the entire film industry, leading it to reserve a preponderant space for the usual suspects in the category. In essence, the culture of the Oscar winner would push producers to fossilize on a single dimension, on the same names and on experiences that are mostly similar to each other, effectively hindering creative progress.

And in the world of video games instead? Is it possible that something similar is happening? Before continuing, it's worth taking a look at the last eleven Game of the Year winners at The Game Awards, Geoff Keighley's celebrated December event that attempts to mediate between the preferences of the many critical actors on the jury.

Starting from 2010, when it was still the Spike VIdeo Game Awards, to bring home the highest recognition were, in order, Red Dead Redemption, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, The Walking Dead, Grand Thetf Auto V, Dragon Age Inquisition, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Overwatch, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, God of War, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and The Last of Us Part 2.

Blizzard Entertainment's Overwatch is the only GOTY of the decade not to be story-driven. From this roundup of titles one can immediately draw a series of rather evident conclusions; the first that catches the eye is the dominance of action-adventure video games that offer third-person view, a structure that is repeated in at least seven out of ten cases. Similarly, nine predominantly story-driven titles have earned a statuette and, more importantly, all the winners adopt a playful and creative architecture that revolves entirely around "violent" mechanics.

This last point makes you think: despite the videogame experiences have matured enormously over the last few years, it is still very difficult, if not impossible, to find yourself in the presence of a colossal that is able to go beyond a double-linked gameplay formula. thread with violence, obviously understood in a broad sense. Attention, our aim is absolutely not to make easy moralisms, but it is inevitable to see what is a real lack of the video game industry. If for a film like Titanic it was very easy to win the box office and get maximum recognition from critics, in 2020 it is still unthinkable that something similar will happen in the world of video games.

Leaving aside this reflection, which in any case deserves an analysis in its own right, the most apt criticism that has been addressed to the incredible work of the Sony Interactive Entertainment studios is undoubtedly that of staging titles that are too similar to each other. The third-person action-adventure game tool that focuses on the narrative component proved to be an irreplaceable ally during the winning climb of PlayStation, earning creatives dozens of GOTY nominations; on the other hand, the exceptional staging of the aforementioned experiences inevitably penalized any kind of transversal approach.

Sekiro won in the year of Disco Elysium and Outer Wilds: the domination of the AAA cannot be achieved scratch. An interesting fact that emerges from the list of winners, in fact, is that in the last ten editions of The Game Awards there has not even been a fatigue of the Xbox Game Studios. Microsoft's studies seem determined to keep their distance from the structure preferred by the competition, indeed, it could be said that over the years they have tried to take some of the most innovative roads in the sector, unfortunately without being able to reap the benefits. Is it possible that keeping them behind is only the choice to carefully avoid the formula of the action in the third person?

Perhaps what is missing are the big names. Neil Druckmann, Cory Barlog, Hideo Kojima, Fumito Ueda, Hidetaka Miyazaki. If by Sony even an uninformed gamer knows the identity of most of the personalities at the top of the big productions, on the banks of Microsoft this does not even happen among the flagship titles, such as Halo, Forza or Gears of War. If we are to take Lee's statement about the Oscars for good, this feature could prove to be decisive even in the case of a 'young' award like GOTY.

Next to the weight of the big names, the one that stands out and is even more impactful of the reference financial dimension. In the absolute domination of the AAA model, Telltale's The Walking Dead was the only work capable of conquering GOTY by adopting a different formula. Of course, in recent times it has happened that equally noble ceremonies, above all that of GameSpot, came to reward titles from the independent undergrowth, but despite the amount of masterpieces constantly churned out by small studios, that of placing an indie on the roof of the world still remains. a taboo to break.

The Last of Us Part 2 is not debatable, but Hades is just the latest example of an indie scene that deserves more than it collects. It is as if we wanted to content ourselves with finding a Hades, a Disco Elysium or a Celeste next to the titans while reading the nominations, without being able to fully embrace the idea of ​​a concrete victory. The 2019 event was emblematic in this sense: Sekiro won the Game of the Year award, reaching a milestone that even Bloodborne and Dark Souls had missed, surpassing decidedly more ambitious titles such as Outer Wilds by Mobius Design and the aforementioned Disco Elysium by ZA / UM. The stars had aligned, but the lack of unapproachable competitors was not enough either.

Which is a real shame, because the boost in sales would be enormously more impactful for the small masterpieces initially intended for a niche, and often under the radar, compared to the usual blockbuster case. As for the Academy Awards, Lee found that it is practically impossible for productions that are highly regarded by small audiences to be able to conquer the top of the Dolby Theater, and unfortunately the same happens with the Game of the Year.

Emblematic, then, is the case of Overwatch by Blizzard Entertainment, which over the last decade represents the only title capable of imposing itself on the competition while deviating from the track of the story driven experience. Years of evolution in the reading of the medium have led to the constant search for the elements necessary to lead to a sort of "elevation" of the sector, elements that have come to coincide often and willingly with the writing sector.

Although perhaps it is not to be attributed to the GOTY, that of the standardization of video games is a real problem. Most read now

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If it is without a doubt correct to always reward emotion, great video games are not they are only those who tell great stories. Creativity, entertainment, challenge, competition: the videogame industry is a real creative kaleidoscope, and it is perhaps the very wording of "GOTY" that is unsuitable to guarantee the right artistic dignity to each facet.

It is true, the Game of the Year has never had the pretense of imposing itself as an objective and unquestionable evaluation tool in defining the greatest masterpiece of the year, but the homogenization that is characterizing modern AAA productions could find some kind of justification in the awarding of prizes. If this were true, there would be a real risk of identifying in the "GOTY model" the standard that any studio should aspire to, turning off the most innovative productions right from the moment of the concept.

Let's be clear, the last few years have raised the curtain on incredible experiences that we would not trade for anything in the world, but are equally overflowing with great works, often unique and ambitious, which have failed to obtain the recognition they deserved. Could the GOTY award have some kind of influence on the standardization of the creative process and critical thinking? We will probably never know for sure, but the phenomenon is worth paying attention to.

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