26 October 2012

What Can We Read Into This Year's Golden Joystick Awards?

Unlike the BAVGA's (British Academy Video Game Awards) where only The One To Watch category is a public all but one of the Golden Joystick categories are open to public vote. Therefore we can perhaps argue that it gives a more accurate - if unreliable - reflection of the state of the average gamer's insights into the biggest titles to hit over the last year.

Most striking was Skyrim's dominance of the awards. Given the well publicised difficulties faced particularly by PS3 gamers it was remarkable achievement for the title to pick up gongs for Ultimate Game of the Year, Best RPG of the Year and Best Gaming Moment (the scaling of The Throat of the World). The problems indeed in the early days were, in some cases, crippling.

Skyrim's PS3 problems continue to this day with neither the Dawnguard or Hearthfire DLC's been released on the system. Indeed, it would have proven somewhat ironic if Dawnguard had taken the top spot in the Best DLC category as that particular award was sponsored by Official PlayStation Magazine UK (Dawnguard came second, behind Portal 2's Perpetual Testing Initiative).

Given this background PS3 gamers were either able to overlook the difficulties faced by the title and vote for it or there is a significant proportion of PC and Xbox 360 to more than make up for the difference. If so, and especially in light of the title's critical and commercial success, publishers will likely take note. Indeed, we've been informed that BioWare's Dragon Age 3 will take inspiration from Skyrim, among other sources.

The fact that FIFA 12 won Best Sport's Title and the FIFA series took the award for Outstanding Contribution to the Games Industry can largely be contributed to the British-centric nature of the vote - although the FIFA titles are actually developed in Canada.

Somewhat more surprising - at least to those in the audience - was that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 came as runner up in the Best Shooter Category. There were, in fact, audible gasps. There are several possibilities here; that Battlefield 3 (which took home the award) players were simply more enthusiastic voters or that Call of Duty gamers were complacent (this is a potential scenario, not an accusation).

There is also the possibility that this is a reflection of the long heralded decline of the series. Modern Warfare 3 sold significantly better than Battlefield 3 but interest in the title may not have been as strong as in previous years - possibly due to over-saturation. Though that is an argument for another article.

Regardless it will be interesting to see if Battlefield 3 beats Modern Warfare 3 at the American Spike TV Video Game Awards.

It was also noteworthy that Uncharted: Golden Abyss took Best Handheld Game, in spite of what has generally been lackluster sales for the PlayStation Vita and against stiff competition from established Nintendo DS and 3DS franchises.

In the RPG of the Year category Mass Effect 3 came second, as you will likely be aware the game was met with significant fan criticism over what many regarded as a poor conclusion to the series. This may mean that the Retake Mass Effect and Hold The Line movements were vocal minorities, or taken with Skyrim's success, may indicate that gamers are willing to overlook such problems when met with an otherwise excellent title.

Notable too is the fact that two of the finalists, including the winner (Civilization V: Gods and Kings), of the Best RPG category, were expansions highlights what seems to be continued difficulties in the genre though Rome 2: Total War and Europa Unverisalis IV may solicit some change in the market upon their release next year.

Finally, it was somewhat surprising that Grand Theft Auto 5 was awarded The One To Watch category by less than 100 votes. Ubisoft have done a superb job in marketing the game and building hype for it and while every indication is that upon the game's release on Tuesday it will be a phenomenal success (it is the most pre-ordered title in the publisher's history) yet there is very little chance that it will match, much less surpass, the sales set by GTA V when it is finally launched.

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