It’s nearly that time of year again. The Game Awards are upon us. In some form, these yearly awards have existed for a long time now. Whether it’s the current awards hosted by industry veteran, Geoff Keighley. Or the previous incarnation known as the Spike Video Game Awards (VGAs). Yet, regardless of the name, one thing has been remained almost constant throughout the years. The lack of success for Xbox at the game awards. While certain Xbox franchises make appearances in specific categories, many still don’t. Despite being praised by gaming critics. So why is this the case? Is it simply just down to a lack of quality in the Xbox first-party line-up? Recent games like Gears 5 and Forza Horizon 4 were critically very well received. So there must be more to it than this.
What has Xbox succeeded at?
If we take a look back, we can see that Xbox games have had some limited success in the past. In 2010, Halo: Reach was nominated for Game of the Year (GOTY) at the VGAs. You can also count on the Forza series being nominated and often winning the best Racing/sports game category. Including the most recent two entries, Forza Horizon 4 and Forza Motorsport 7. Though it is strange that in spite of the rave reviews for Forza Horizon 4, it was not nominated for the GOTY award last year. Having titles like these nominated was great for the Xbox brand. After all, being nominated or winning an award lets the game and its developer gain recognition. The more this happens, the more interest arises in new players.
However, there have been fewer Xbox nominated games at The Game Awards this generation. It’s now more often the case that Xbox games would be nominated for awards in specific genres rather than GOTY. For example, this year’s award for best voice actor has a nomination for Laura Bailey, playing Kait Diaz in Gears 5. Though despite the positive reviews and 84% Metacritic score, Gears 5 was not nominated for GOTY. As mentioned earlier, this also applied to Forza Horizon 4 in 2018. Ultimately, critic review scores are not the entire picture behind a game being nominated. Among many reasons, this may be because of how games are selected to be nominees in the awards.
Why this could be….
At face value, you might think that it’s simply because Xbox first-party games don’t exude the quality they did in previous generations. For sure, we can say that there hasn’t been an exclusive game this generation with the impact of the original Halo or Gears of War trilogies. But as it turns out, the recent entries in these series are still doing pretty well with critics. Gears 5 especially. So what it comes down to is the nomination process.
Before November 15th, 2019, a total of 80 gaming outlets were asked to send their nominations for each category of awards this year. Games with the most total votes were then nominated for the relevant award. Fundamentally, this means that review scores and fan reception are not the entire reason behind a game being nominated. Instead, the games appearing in awards would be the ones enjoyed most by the 80 groups involved. So simply put, the judges involved had selected games from 2019 that they personally enjoyed more than Gears 5.
Not fresh enough?
It could also be an issue of perception in the industry. In recent years the games nominated for GOTY, have generally been of similar types. Third-person games with genres including action, RPG and platforming. There have been notable exceptions, such as Celeste last year. But generally, this could be why games like Forza Horizon 4 are not nominated. In spite of stellar reviews. Finally, timing is important. Games of high quality are now releasing more frequently each year than in previous generations. Making the competition all the more difficult. Amid so many great new games, it becomes hard for a sequel to stand out. Regardless of its quality.
So if Gears 5 was reviewed highly then why wouldn’t it be put forward for the GOTY award? From here we’ll speculate a little. I believe that it’s an issue of innovation that affects the perceived quality of a game. Games like Death Stranding are consistently in the mindshare of the critics and gamers for trying new ideas. In comparison, Gears 5 is fundamentally using the same basic gameplay mechanics from the original Gears of War. Albeit with a host of improvements and additions. As a result, the game simply doesn’t feel fresh enough for the industry anymore. It would be overshadowed by new ideas like the ones seen in Death Stranding. Without major changes, it’s harder for an entry in a long-standing franchise to make the same impact its predecessors did.
Awards in the future…
If innovation is the key to the impact a game can have, then the future might be brighter for Xbox’s first party. The new developers that have joined Xbox Game Studios over the past two years will surely influence this. After the success of The Outer Worlds, a sequel is likely to be in the works. Since The Outer Worlds is nominated for GOTY this year, a new entry with the backing of Microsoft could achieve this too. Importantly, while The Outer Worlds was a multiplatform release, its sequels might not be. Xbox Game Studio’s Matt Booty mentioned to Game Informer, that going forward the franchise would become Xbox exclusive.
At the same time, newly formed studio The Initiative is likely hard at work on their first exclusive IP (intellectual property) for Project Scarlett. Even studios already under the Xbox wing, have begun to take on new projects. Rare’s new game, Everwild, revealed at the recent X019 event in London might have great potential. And if the talented team at Playground Games are working a reboot of Fable, we could be in for a treat. What it all comes down to then is impact. The quality of a game can influence this, but so can innovation. Combining the potential innovation of future Xbox Studio’s titles, with the quality of recent games like Gears 5, could be the key to achieving this impact.