A few years ago, videogame awards shows were almost as irrelevant to the games industry as they were to players. Most considered community feedback and expert reviews to be more in touch with what mattered to gamers than a bunch of meaningless trophies handed out by panels of publicists. While films proudly displayed their nominations and awards on posters and DVD covers, videogame boxes remained bare, resigned to the fact that awards were unlikely to influence a gamer's purchasing decision. But with major institutions like BAFTA spending more time and effort to give their game awards an increasingly high profile, this may be set to change.
In a break from tradition, industry professionals are beginning to see these awards as useful in furthering their careers. Lucy Bradshaw, General Manager of Maxis and Executive Producer of Technical Achievement award-winner Spore, says their BAFTA brought recognition to the team. "The technology behind Spore was a major achievement in my mind," Bradshaw says, "and I love it when the team sees that the industry recognizes efforts like this." EA's Amir Rahimi, Senior Producer of Boom Blox, picked up the BAFTA for Best Casual Game at this year's awards. He says that the increasing regard that developers have for these awards is a sign that the videogame industry is really starting to come of age. Media Molecule Co-founder David Smith, who won the Artistic Achievement award for his work on LittleBigPlanet, says the best thing about winning a BAFTA is how well the award is known outside of the games industry. "Our friends and parents all understand what a BAFTA is," Smith says, "so it instantly has credibility."
The credibility and prestige of these honors are both key to the increasing role awards are playing in games marketing. The instantly recognizable brand name of an award such as a BAFTA gives a non-gaming audience something they can relate to more easily, and sanctions videogames as worthy cultural and media objects.
Perhaps more important than the prestige these awards shows bestow on a lucky few each year is the sales boost an award can give a product. Can the BAFTAs do for videogame sales what they and other awards shows do for films and music? On a trip through an outlet of U.K. retailer GAME, I found unusual stickers adorning a few boxes proudly announcing which games had been nominated and which had won awards in the 2009 Video Game BAFTAs. Terry Scicluna, COO of GAME, says that acknowledging these awards has created a "real buzz" amongst their customers. They're not alone: Play.com reported a 14 percent increase in new customer sales following the March 10 ceremony.
However, Media Molecule's Smith argues that there are plenty of critically acclaimed games that have poor sales, so there currently isn't a clear connection between awards and sales. Still, he's optimistic about the eventual effect these awards can have on game revenues. "Our sales figures are pretty healthy and are steadily climbing. Hopefully our marketing push can incorporate these awards to make the game seem more attractive to people who are less familiar with it."