Editorial: Spike made headlines this year when it announced it was pressing the reset button on its yearly video game awards show, rebranding the event the Spike VGX, taking it off cable TV, and claiming to overhaul the show in such a way that games--above all else--would be the focus. But was any meaningful progress made?
For what I wanted from an awards show that claims to “celebrate games,” it still wasn't very good. It sent the message that we're an industry that celebrates b-roll and explosions over meaningful discourse. And if Spike doesn't care about its awards show, why should we?
This isn't to say that genuine progress wasn't made toward growing the show and bolstering its credibility and appeal. Spike certainly made strides this year, none more important than changing the format from a painfully on-message over-the-top made-for-TV spectacle to a more direct, straight-to-the-gamer approach. I commend Geoff Keighley and the team at Spike for this and I look forward to how they approach the show in 2014 (if there is a show in 2014).
In the past, my biggest criticism with the show was how it put celebrity ahead of content. So in the days leading up to this year’s show, I was happy to hear a representative from Spike say, "We are stripping away anything that takes time away from world premieres and interviews with the community of game developers that the fans want to hear from."
No doubt people like Jack Black, Adam Scott, Samuel L. Jackson, Zoe Saldana, and Neil Patrick Harris helped give past shows the kind of mass appeal necessary for a cable broadcast, but their appearances came at the expense of games being front and center. Escaping from cable TV allowed this year's show, at least in theory, the freedom to go deeper with developers and talk more directly to gamers.
During the three-hour show, we got up close and personal with a handful of developers like the dynamic duo of Abbie Heppe and Vince Zampella from Respawn Entertainment (Titanfall) and Sean Murray of Hello Games, which may have stolen the show with the upcoming sci-fi game No Man's Sky. To some, video games may be a simple product, something that’s created and sold because there’s a business opportunity to do so. But for most players, video games are more than that; they’re the product of creativity and passion. And anything that highlights and promotes that enthusiasm in a meaningful way is OK in my book.
But Spike failed to deliver on the promise of remaking its show with the interests of gamers in mind. The entire event still felt like a commercial. And it sent the message to the masses--because like it or not, this is the show the mainstream audience associates with games--that we still have a lot of growing up to do. That may be true--and the game industry is only but an infant compared to music, movies, and TV--but there are smarter ways to grow up.
Co-host Joel McHale of Community fame did not help the cause. He looked and sounded disinterested throughout the entire event, and at one point, he even said, "[If] I could go home early that would be great." It was a joke, sure, but there's truth in all comedy. Some of his ad-libbed jokes, concerning the female orgasm, Ryan Seacrest, and references to his own genitalia, both didn't fit and fell flat. (Check out this entire NeoGAF thread for more).
Games like BioShock Infinite, Gone Home, and The Last of Us, which took home awards this year, are thought-provoking and mature games that are worthy of celebration on a more profound level than jokes about penises. Not all jokes are going to land with everyone, of course; that would happen regardless of the host. But is it too much to ask that a co-host care about what he’s doing? I’d suggest getting Chris Hardwick to co-host next year. He knows games, has experience in a hosting capacity, and is genuinely funny.
Spike's annual awards show also suffers from a multi-faceted self-created identity crisis and this year's event brought that issue to the fore. Is this an awards show? Is it a news event? A trailer extravaganza? These are all things gamers would conceivably care about independently, but put together in this way, the elements combine to create a bit of a convoluted hodgepodge.
Spike seems intent on combining the parts to create a more compelling whole, but the result leaves each segment feeling instead like an incomplete part.
And for an event featuring so few bombshell announcements to make the time investment worthwhile, three hours seems excessively and unnecessarily long. I'm curious to know how many people streamed the show for more than 2 hours continuously. I think a more compact and focused program in the 90-minute range would be ideal. Trim the fat, and let the substance thrive.
The show wasn't a bastion of brilliance by any stretch of the imagination, but it did improve upon the borderline-unwatchable shows of years past. Still, I can’t escape the feeling that this year's show was one step forward, one step back. And standing still gets you nowhere.