Last week was The Game Awards 2021, an event organised and hosted by Geoff Keighley that's supposedly designed to bring together the entire industry for a general celebration of video games — and some awards, too (after all, it's there in the name). Opinions will vary, of course, but perhaps for Nintendo fans more than others, it was a disappointing year which gave more weight than ever to the argument that the entire show is more advert than awards anyway.
The fact of the matter is that, while it's frequently compared to the Oscars, the events are really nothing alike. You don't watch the Oscars thinking you might catch the reveal of the next Marvel movie or Wes Anderson's latest, do you? In the case of The Game Awards, the 'awards' are a ruse to attract everyone's attention, companies and consumers alike; one of the factors that has enabled Keighley to make it such a big event — one that gives the outward appearance of the 'Oscars of games' — almost from inception back in 2014.
Keighley is wrangling the biggest names in an attempt to get juicy reveals that we gamers love so much... While it's nominally an awards show, for many gamers it's become a 'Winter E3' of sorts
The awards themselves are by-the-by, with the winners and losers feeling as deserving or otherwise as they do anytime shiny trophies are doled out. That's not to belittle the achievements of the developers who won, or the games themselves, but awards — all awards — are, by their nature, a bit silly and not worth getting upset about regardless of how they're voted for or whoever gets takes home the trophy. It's a little grating that, with 180 minutes to fill (and even the most ardent TGA fan would likely concede the show was overlong), various awards were squeezed into the pre-show segment.
But like I say, this isn't about the awards. Keighley is wrangling the biggest names in an attempt to get juicy reveals that we gamers love so much — the kind of announcements you'd expect from a platform-holder conference-style event. While it's nominally an awards show, for many gamers it's become a 'Winter E3' of sorts — especially with 'Summer Game Fest' now established as an affiliated and annual counterpoint. Geoff Keighley has found himself in the position of crossing his fingers and hoping that the big companies bring along a meaty reveal when they roll up to collect a gong and flog their existing wares.
Nintendo fans who sat through the whole show probably drew the shortest straw of all. Having looked back and analysed the pattern of Zelda and Smash Bros. reveals, I personally felt confident that Nintendo would bring something to The Game Awards. Metroid Prime 4? No chance. Breath of the Wild 2? A very long shot, certainly, but not totally impossible. Bayonetta 3? Probably not, although don't worry — we hear it's progressing well.
If, after all, The Game Awards is just a glorified set of commercials for video gaming's big companies, why not showcase an upcoming game or two? There's a global audience there for the advertising-to. Surely Nintendo would throw Keighley a bone?
What I actually thought we'd see is an updated Kirby and the Forgotten Land trailer with some new gameplay, perhaps, or the reveal of a new Hisuian form monster from Pokémon Legends: Arceus, or something from the delayed Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp to tide us over until 2022. Not a huge new announcement or bespoke CG teaser trailer, but a little exclusive extra for anyone who had tuned in to this event being streamed live worldwide. If, after all, The Game Awards is just a glorified set of commercials for video gaming's big companies, why not showcase an upcoming game or two? There's a global audience there for the advertising-to. Surely Nintendo would throw Keighley a bone?
Nope. Not a bean. Well, unless you count Nintendo of America's president turning up to personally accept the award for Best Action Adventure, primarily in order to plug Metroid Dread. For MercurySteam and the team behind that game, that's obviously a big moment and Doug Bowser's presence makes sense in an awards show capacity, but it felt odd when the expectations for (and reality of) the TGAs are so different. Yep, Bowser was the bone Nintendo threw Geoff this year.
In fact, with nothing else to show, his presence could be uncharitably interpreted as a cost-effective way to keep up appearances and avoid the look of hubris now that Nintendo is on a good streak. With no first-party announcements whatsoever, Switch-related announcements were left to a small handful of third-parties — Cuphead DLC, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, Monster Hunter Rise DLC details and amiibo. Perhaps the biggest Switch news was that Sonic Frontiers is coming to the console, which wasn't guaranteed.
In fact, the total lack of first-party announcements at TGA 2021 highlighted just how superfluous to requirements external events are to Nintendo these days. Lip service is paid to the importance of events like this and E3, but Nintendo simply doesn't need them anymore. It's less an issue of having total control over the messaging (although that is invariably a factor), and more that the company won't be rushed into revealing anything if it's not on their precise timetable. Even with the worldwide audience and all that Hollywood glitz, Nintendo deemed it not worth the effort to show up with first-party games or DLC of any kind.
Obviously, Nintendo isn't obliged to show anything, but there's an expectation — in this case, one that's been built up since 2014, and with two of gaming's biggest series, too. 2021's no-show is a far cry from seven years ago when we had Shigeru Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma sitting down for a genial chinwag with some Breath of the Wild gameplay on the TV. Of course, the Wii U was foundering at the time so the company was in a very different position; an opportunity to advertise that, hey, Nintendo is still here and Zelda is coming! wasn't something to be passed up.
It's just surprising how much of a turnaround this year's showing was after the support shown with reveals in previous years. There really was nothing in 2021: no DLC costume for Mario Golf, no Ultimate Edition physical release for Smash Bros. Ultimate that bundles in all the DLC — the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Ultimate Edition! — and no Ring Fit ad with Pedro Pascal and Carl Weathers. For goodness sake, give us a meme if nothing else! Nada.
It seems that Sonic came away as the winner of this year's TGAs. Sonic Frontiers filled the open-world BOTW quota (even if it looks a bit more like 'Sonic of the Colossus' from the footage), and the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 movie trailer looked pretty good — great, even. Yes, Sonic had a decent evening, although in truth he ran this particular race utterly unopposed.
And TGA 2021 wasn't all doom and gloom. A handful of smaller indie studios got attention that they could never otherwise hope to have. Notably, Game of the Year went to It Takes Two, a game which also walked away with the Best Family Game award leaving Nintendo looking like chumps in a category it usually has wrapped and bagged at the nominations stage. Perhaps Microsoft and Sony fans felt better about the show and the three-hour investment needed to watch it all.
Anecdotally, it feels like more people than ever skipped actually watching this year's TGAs, or — more accurately — they skipped it and don't feel like they missed anything.
Say what you like about Keighley (and how he addressed issues of endemic inequality and malpractice in the industry in only the vaguest manner possible), but he does have something of an impossible job with The Game Awards, even if he's painted himself into this particular corner. In order to attract the biggest announcements, he's forced to play ball when companies like Nintendo turn up with nothing, all on the vague promise that next year there might be a Zelda or Metroid teaser ready to go, so long as it fits the timetable.
Fair enough; like I say, no company is obliged to attend or show anything. They can do what they like, but it doesn't make for an engaging show for a viewer, however invested you are in the 'Oscars of games'. Anecdotally, it feels like more people than ever skipped actually watching this year's TGAs, or — more accurately — they skipped it and don't feel like they missed anything. That might not be a problem for Nintendo while it's riding the success wave of Switch, although it should certainly have Geoff Keighley thinking long and hard about next year's show.
So, back to waiting for a Direct, then.