Game awards

Have The Game Awards peaked?

Viewership for The Game Awards has grown year on year, peaking at 85 million viewers for the most recent ceremony. But this year represents the smallest percentage increase yet, and you have to wonder when the ceremony will peak and what it can do from here.

In 2014, the inaugural ceremony attracted a relatively paltry 1.9 million, followed by a slight increase to 2.3 and then 3.8 million over the next two years. That’s already double the starting point, but it was the leap from 2016 to 2017 that marked TGA’s trajectory for the first time. 3.8 million nearly quadrupled to 11.5 million. From then on, the following three years saw it practically double year on year, from 11.5 to 26.2 to 45.2 to reach 83 million TGA last year – as much more impressive that those 83 million viewers watched the virtual event, which basically consisted of Geoff Keighley in an empty room interviewing people on Zoom.


Related: Slitterhead, A New Game From The Creator Of Silent Hill, Was The Reveal Of The Most Exciting Game RewardsThis year, back at Microsoft Theater with live appearances from Ben Schwartz, Ming-Na Wen, Giancarlo Esposito and Simu Liu, along with Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey, Guillermo del Toro and Carrie-Anne Moss joining via video and performances live from Imagine Dragons and Sting, viewership rose slightly from 83 million to 85 million. Granted, it’s an addition from the entire audience since the first ceremony just seven years ago, and a huge sign of how far TGA has come, but it also marks a considerable slowdown in the rapid growth the show has has benefited since 2017.

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There are a few factors to consider here, of course. Although the pandemic limited the 2020 ceremony, it did not have a major influence on the release cycle. In fact, 2020 is one of the strongest GOTY lineups in the history of the award, with The Last of Us Part 2 beating Hades, Ghost of Tsushima, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and Doom Eternal. Half-Life: Alyx, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, If Found…, Genshin Impact, Phasmophobia, Valorant, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and Microsoft Flight Simulator also launched that year and featured in several other categories.

This is not the case for 2021. Of the six nominees for most anticipated game at the 2020 ceremony, four of them (Elden Ring, God of War, Horizon and Breath of the Wild) are still not exited and reappeared in the category this year. A fifth, Halo Infinite, launched two weeks too late to be nominated for anything other than the Player’s Voice award, although it did end up winning that one. Resident Evil Village is the only game to have done so, and even though it was nominated for Game of the Year, I don’t think it would have done so against competitors like The Last of Us Part 2, Hades, Ghost of Tsushima, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and Doom Eternal.

I don’t think 2021 has been a good year for gaming. It is very good! We just had – and are actively continuing to have – a global pandemic, which has delayed several games. It Takes Two was delicious and a worthy winner, especially since it’s completely different from the grim blockbusters that usually win Game of the Year – but the pack was weaker this year. 2021’s top six don’t match 2020’s, nor 2018’s, which had God of War, Red Dead Redemption 2, Spider-Man, and Celeste in its ranks. In 2017, Horizon Zero Dawn, Persona 5, Super Mario Odyssey, and PUBG were finally beaten by Breath of the Wild. Hellblade, Cuphead, Nier: Automata, and What Remains of Edith Finch weren’t even nominated, though all but Nier took home smaller prizes. Not every year can be excellent – excellent means above average. This year, for obvious reasons, was not.

ellie covered in blood the last of us

But is that all there is to it? TGA is known for looking forward as much as it looks back, but has the balance gone too far? Several categories were completely skipped, including some pretty notable trophies like Best RPG. The Artful Escape has been nominated for three awards, but its name has never been read once. Best Debut Indie was completely ignored and heralded as Kena’s reps progressed to collect Best Indie, while Best Art Direction was reeled off among another win for Deathloop. The score and the music have been read, except not really. The nominees popped up on screen, but no one actually said the names, only the winner after a five-second pause so we could all read them. It Takes Two won three awards, but Josef Fares, the most entertaining guest, was only allowed on stage once. Who made this production decision?

Another impact on the future is that a lot of games just aren’t ready to stream. We had a teaser for Wonder Woman, a trailer for Sonic, gameplay for Suicide Squad, gameplay that was clearly mostly cutscenes for Hellblade, a reveal for Nightingale, and… was that it? A few other little touches here and there, but most of the world premieres were just new commercials for games we already knew, or for smaller games that may be cool, but aren’t going to excite us one bit. single look. While all of the trailers are basically commercials, there were also a bunch of direct commercials this year, with no excitement in mind. I understand the show is expensive and needs to be profitable, but I felt like it leaned too far on that this year, especially with a lack of time given to winners and nominees.

wonder woman

Maybe over 80 million is just a ceiling. The Emmys, held at the same venue, peaked at 21.8 million in 2000 and drew just 7.4 million this year. The Oscars, famously “kissed” by Fares, peaked at 57.25 million in 1998, and have steadily declined to 10.4 million at the most recent ceremony, the lowest since 1974.

I don’t know if The Game Awards should change. 85 million is a huge turnout, and next year will be bolstered by Halo Infinite, Elden Ring, God of War Ragnarok, Horizon Forbidden West, and a few brave little indies who might, who will be nominated in a bunch of categories but ultimately lose against a crunched triple-A game prompting the exact items Celeste and Hades have already inspired. Aren’t games wonderful?

Here’s to you, The Game Awards. I don’t know if you’re getting better, or worse, or staying the same, but I’ll be listening next year, so I guess you win.

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