It’s awards season here in America. While most of the country is focused on the Oscars, the Grammys, and other mainstream awards ceremonies, the world of gaming has its own accolades to give out. This comes primarily in the form of the Independent Games Festival for Indie titles, and the Games Developers Choice awards for more mainstream works. Both organizations debuted their annual ceremonies a little while ago, so now is the perfect time to take a look at who won, who got snubbed, and which categories saw surprises this year.
First, a little background on each event. Both organizations are run by the Games Developers Conference, an annual meet up of games developers that tries to emphasize learning and networking with fellow game makers. The Independent Games Festival was started in the late 90’s to try and promote smaller indie games and help them grow, much in the same way that the Sundance film festival has helped indie movies. IGF winners typically benefit from a cash prize, which helps to fund these smaller companies as they bring out innovative new content.
The Game Developers Choice Awards are the IGF’s more mainstream counterpart. This awards ceremony targets the bigger AAA studios in the industry – if we were talking about movies, then the GDCA would be the Oscars. That’s not to say that smaller studios can’t still make a breakthrough in the GDC awards – in fact, there are a few arguably-indie studios represented in the winners this year.
All that being said, let’s take a look at the results! We’ll start with the IGF before moving on to discuss the GDC awards.
The top award at the IGF is the “Seumas McNally Grand Prize”, a $30,000 honor named for the famed founder of Longbow Digital Arts. This year, the winner of the McNally Prize was the game Quadrilateral Cowboy, by Blendo Games. This innovate first-person puzzle game featured the novel gameplay mechanic of having to type in actual computer code in order to hack various objects – making it a sensible choice for this prize. Quadrilateral Cowboy also took home the “Excellence in Design” award.
Other notable categories from the IGF include the “Excellence in Narrative” award, won by erotic visual novel Ladykiller in a Bind (Made by Love Conquers All Games) and “Excellence in Visual Art” won by action RPG Hyper Light Drifter (Heart Machine).
Over at the GDC Awards we saw a wider pool of categories and naturally a lot more titles that most gamers would be familiar with. The top award (Game of the Year) was won by Blizzard’s competitive team-based shooter Overwatch, a runaway hit that’s been lighting up gaming blogs and other news media since its release. Overwatch also managed to snag the “Best Design” award while it was at it.
I’m very pleased to say that one of my personal favorite games of this year, Firewatch (by Campo Santo) captured both “Best Narrative” and “Best Debut” this year. Meanwhile, Playdead Studio’s newest title Inside grabbed the well deserved “Best Visual Art” and “Best Audio” awards.
Perhaps one of the most shocking awards given at either ceremony was the GDC “Innovation” award, handed to none other than No Man’s Sky (Hello Games). This open world space exploration/survival game is infamous in the community for building up large amounts of funds via a crowdfunding campaign promising lofty and ambitious features, and then releasing a product that didn’t remotely live up to those vows. The whole game was a glitchy mess on release, and several key (and highly advertised) features were quite noticeably missing. In fact, more than one lawsuit has cropped up targeting Hello Games for falsely advertising the features of the game. Given all of this it’s a bit of a wonder how No Man’s Sky even got a nomination, much less an actual award.
Despite that one curious hiccup, overall I’d say it was a pretty good turnout for this year’s awards season. It’s great to see good developers get recognized for their hard work, and most of the category winners absolutely deserved their trophies. In the case of the IGF it’s also awesome to see newer studios granted with monetary support so that they can continue innovating and bring us fantastic new experiences. 2016 was an abnormally good year for gaming, but hopefully the trend will continue and when next year’s awards roll around we’ll see fantastic new content up for nomination.