Amidst this year’s award show season, the question on everyone’s mind isn’t who will win big, rather, it’s: will anyone care? From the Oscars to the Tony Awards, many major award shows have been steadily losing viewers. This said, one standout award show has been able to not only shake off the pandemic’s effects but grow its audience over the past couple of years: The Game Awards.
At a glance, The Game Awards is very similar to its competitors. It’s an award show for video games. But there are several inherent advantages to the program. For one, the show remains unique in that its viewership numbers over the past couple of years have been trending up, rather than down. The reason? The Game Awards isn’t afraid to sell out.
The program is less of an award show and much more of a trade show. In addition to regular commercial breaks, the show is often interrupted with surprise “world premiere” footage of upcoming releases. In general, there’s much more willingness to corporatize the event. In the past, segments have been sponsored by Verizon and Subway, and last year’s show even featured public sweepstakes, with one viewer winning a Steam Deck console every minute of the show. This model guarantees that even if someone hasn’t played a single nominated game, they’re incentivized to tune in.
This idea has been toyed with by the Oscars as well, but not to much success. Whereas The Game Awards features big-name announcements, the most notable trailers from recent Academy Awards have been the likes of “West Side Story” and “Lightyear”, which both underperformed at the box office.
The general public’s apprehension towards corporatization is understandable, as it can risk delegitimizing a show. Award show organizations are typically non-profits, after all, they exist to honor the greats, not to rake in the dough.
Still, the strategy employed by The Game Awards is important because it recognizes that an award show on its own isn’t enough anymore. In the age of the internet, everyone’s a critic, making even the most prestigious voice just one in a massive discourse. Simply Googling “best video games of 2022” nets well over four billion results. The Game Awards will never be the foremost authority on video games, they aren’t trying to be. They recognize that in the internet era, that authority is subjective.
Ironically, the way forward for award shows is to be less authentic. The opportunity to delegate what may or may not be the best song, TV show, or movie, is no longer possessed solely by the Emmys and the Oscars. Instead, the best way for awards to continue thriving as celebrations of their respective medium is to look less at last year, and more at this year.