Hot-button awards

Vidgame biz twitchy on recognition

Videogames are a $6.5 billion-a-year business. But when it comes to honoring their own, the industry is still looking for a golden pat on the back.

There’s certainly no Oscar equivalent in the joystick realm, no single award that is widely recognized as the mark of vidgame excellence.

In Hollywood, there’s a clear pecking order among the various kudos — all the ceremonies get at least some press coverage, and studios artfully plan market-ing and distribution strate-gies to take advantage — but such a hierarchy hasn’t yet taken root in the relatively young vidgame biz.

Gamers have two major kudofests — the 10-year-old Interactive Achievement Awards, held each Febru-ary, and the seven-year-old Game Developers Choice Awards, held in March — that honor developers. Both can mean a lot to the win-ners but they’re virtually unknown outside the indus-try.

While there are two tele-vised kudofests — G4’s Gphoria and the Spike TV Video Game Awards — both feature minor stars with no connection to vidgames, and the kudos aren’t regarded by those in the biz as anything but a marketing vehicle.

“We don’t have a direct broad-based equivalent to the Oscars, Emmys or Grammys yet, though I think we’re on our way,” says Joseph Olin, prexy of the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sci-ences, which puts on the IAA kudos.

Backers of the IAA and GDC nods each like to think they should be the vidgame equivalent of the Oscars, with the other regarded as on a par with the Golden Globes.

But while their voting memberships overlap to a large extent, the two have significant differences.

The key difference: In order to qualify for most of the IAA awards, the publisher or developer of the game has to be a dues-paying member of the Interactive Academy. The GDC, by contrast, has no submission process and considers every single game released.

The IAA set-up can re-sult in some embarrassing omissions: Because Japanese publisher Capcom doesn’t belong, its widely honored title “Okami” didn’t get any IAA recognition this year. But it’s tied for the most GDC noms.

The IAA boasts 30 cate-gories, resulting in a wide array of winners, but the GDC limits itself to just eight.

Backers of the two ceremonies also disagree as to whether they should be courting attention from the mainstream.

IAA tapped comedian Jay Mohr to host its ceremony and pushes hard for publicity. GDC, on the other hand, is being hosted by developer Tim Schafer.

“It took decades before the Oscars broke through to become something more than industry insiders in a hotel on folding chairs,” says Jason Della Rocca, exec director of the Intl. Game Develop-ers Assn., which runs the GDC kudos. “Unlike others, I’m taking the long view.”

That’s unlikely to change, however, until the game industry itself starts supporting the awards. That’s not the case yet, because publishers don’t see dollar signs.

“In Hollywood, you have so many secondary markets where you can make money for an ‘Academy Award winner,’ but the game industry has a two- to six-week release window that has passed by the time awards come around,” says Della Rocca.

As a result, publishers don’t tend to support the awards beyond issuing a press release touting their winners.

That could change as game distribution increas-ingly moves online, where a title can easily be pushed back to the front of the store at no cost after winning “game of the year.”

But for now, awards are mostly a point of pride, as well as a way to earn cred among those who know what GDC and IAA mean.

Recalls Schafer, head of developer Double Fine, whose 2005 release “Psychonauts” won two GDC awards but was a commer-cial flop: “We had a hard time in the marketplace, but for our next game every publisher still wanted to talk to us.”

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