Winners of a the games BAFTAs are announced at a glitzy ceremony tonight.
But as much as the debate will be about 'Why did Game X win?' as many people will ask 'Why didn't Game Y win?'
The answer is a stringent judging process BAFTA puts each nominated game through.
We had a chance to ask the BAFTA committee how this process works, and how a game goes from being sent in for consideration, on to a long list, then a shortlist decided by the juries assembled for each award, who then also vote on the winners.
Our panel included…
Harvey Elliott - BAFTA Games Committee Chair and managing director of Marmalade
Georg Backer - Hotsauce Interactive
Andy Payne - Chairman, Mastertronic & Chairman, UKIE
Paulina Bozek - CEO & Co-founder of INENSU
Imre Jele - Bossa Studios, Co-founder, Creator-In-Chief
What's the initial process in getting considered for a BAFTA? How has this process changed year on year?
Harvey Elliott: To be considered for a BAFTA, you must first enter it for consideration. This year we introduced a new structure whereby the first title entered is free (there is a small charge for each subsequent title entered). This ensures that more games are entered into the process and help make the awards more hotly contested.
The process has evolved this year. In addition to the free entry, we also introduced a campaigning and screener programme, which enables entrants to contact our membership directly to highlight their particular titles, and in many cases to ensure they have a copy of the game to play.
With so many titles released in a given year, these additions have really ensured that great games get surfaced to the membership as a whole.
And how does that very long list get shortened down to the shortlist for each category?
Imre Jele: The very long list of games submitted by their creators is presented to all eligible games voters within the BAFTA membership. The members' votes at this early stage define the shortlist for each award category, which is then presented to a specially selected jury for the category.
BAFTA’s 6,500 voting membership comprises the industry's most talented and accomplished individuals within their fields, who must have made a significant contribution to the games industry – a minimum of minimum of five years – before they can apply. This guarantees that BAFTA is measuring games against the highest standards of the industry, whilst representing the core values of BAFTA as an organisation.
How are the nominees for each award decided?
Imre Jele: A specialist jury is put together for every award category. Each jury is unique and created specifically for that specific category; this guarantees that each and every jury has experience relevant to the category, and that it is highly focused on that element of the games it is asked to evaluate.
This passion and care is exactly what makes narrowing down to the award nominees very hard. The discussion is often passionate, and highlights the latest trends and hidden tensions of our ever-changing industry. Ultimately, every BAFTA member understands that its objective as a juror is to create a list of nominated games that represent the highest standard of creative excellence and craft.
The nominations in the Debut game category are particularly interesting this year, as they contain a wide variety of genres, platforms and team sizes. This hugely exciting – it is a perfect representation of the industry, and proof that new initiatives can blossom despite the economically challenges we all face.
What does each jury member have to do before the judging session, and during?
Georg Backer: First of all, each jury member is carefully selected to ensure that the combined jury contains the expertise, experience and insight, but also balance.
Each jury member is sent the shortlist of games, all of which need to have been played ahead of the jury meeting. Depending on the category, a jury member might also receive additional material, e.g. a soundtrack CD, or an art book or detailed notes about character and story development.
It's really important to spend enough time with each game to be able to come to an informed opinion on it. Each juror needs to be very thorough, and take detailed notes - after all, we're looking to reward excellence, so it's important to scrutinise every entry within a category.
During the judging session, the jury chair ensures that each game gets an equal, and fair, amount of time in which it is discussed. The discussion is the most important part of the session: it allows the chosen jury members – the experts – to voice their opinions, compare their research and collectively ensure that each entry has been discussed and examined thoroughly within the requirements outlined for the category, and within BAFTA's remit to reward excellence.
There are strict rules that ensure each game is judged on its own merits, regardless if it’s a debut game or the 10th successor in a big franchise IP.
Once all the games have been discussed thoroughly, it's time for the voting process. Voting is the last part of the jury session, and can take several stages as there are very strict rules to ensure fair treatment and correct procedure. Through the process, the jury members determine nominees and then the winner in a secret vote.
BAFTA's rules and safeguards ensure that there are no conflicts of interest between jury members and the games throughout the whole process.
Why opt for the smaller juries instead of a wider vote of BAFTA membership?
Andy Payne: All eligible games voters within the BAFTA membership vote to create the jury shortlists for each category.
It’s worth noting that the categories themselves, and the definitions of what they are rewarding, are reviewed every year for relevance. For example, new categories are introduced and old ones are retired.
Once the shortlist for each category is compiled, the juries take over.
The use of juries ensures that everyone taking part in the process has played all the games within a specific category; these are kindly supplied by the entrant. Unfortunately, we don’t have the provision to send games to every voting member of BAFTA at this time but, with the introduction of Awards campaigning, we’re looking into it. The important part is making sure jurors are familiar with the games, and played them enough to enable fair evaluation between them.
The BAFTA Games Committee has the option, at the jury shortlist stage, to add up to two games in any category if it feels they have been overlooked, or not entered, in the first round. This is to ensure we are genuinely rewarding the best games of the previous year.
Every member of the Committee gets to chair a jury, who selects the members of that jury and clears it with the Committee’s Chairman. Jurors are games industry professionals, from development, publishing or the media. Jurors have very strict terms of reference, but in my view this system allows for fantastic debate and each game gets a proper hearing.
Jurors have to have played every game in their category thoroughly, and it’s the chair’s responsibility to ensure this happens. The mix of democratic discussion and voting will always be better than a simple open vote, in my view.
Does this process differ from the way the other BAFTAs, for TV and Film, are decided?
Ray Maguire: BAFTA's charitable remit is the same for all sectors so no, there similar in the respect that the long list is voted on by all members of the Academy with relevant experience.
However, as there are subtle differences between the three sectors, the committees constantly review the awards each year to ensure they reflect the changing face of the industry.
What kind of discussions takes place at the jury sessions?
Andy Payne: I have chaired four juries and each of them has been a remarkable experience, with most running to three hours. There is always vibrancy around the debate which is robust, considerate, informed, passionate, reflective, and ultimately really constructive. We always start by discussing the merits of each game individually, allowing plenty of time for this.
This is an open and inclusive process. Focussing on each game rather than on its comparative merits is key. What innovations has the team made in gameplay? How good is the art? Does it have a great story? Is the music and sound incredible? What about character? Does the tech blow you away? Is it fun?
Once each game has been fully discussed, we then need to determine the nominations list of six games.
Ultimately, this is down to a private and a confidential vote by each juror. When we get the six nominations, we then discuss them again, perhaps more comparatively this time, and then when the discussions come to an end, the individual jury members vote for the game that he or she thinks is the best. No one outside of the chairman of the jury, and the Academy’s appointed scrutineer, knows the winner until the Award is presented on the night of the ceremony.
I have to say this is an amazing process and one that I truly believe is unique in games.
What happens if the jury can't reach a decision swiftly?
Andy Payne: See above for the process. In my experience on juries, there is normally one or two that naturally fall away from the leading pack. Debate is pretty lively, and getting a balance and ultimately a consensus is essential. But when it comes to the voting, it is democracy in action. Each juror’s vote counts. We have the first round of voting to get to the six nominations, and if there is a tie, well the jury will go back and continue the debate and ultimately the chair will make a casting vote if required. In four years of doing this, the nominations have always come together democratically.
Further debate takes place before the final vote for the winner, and only in the event of a tie does the chair cast his or her vote. Fortunately, I have never had to do this!
What kind of people are on these panels?
Paulina Bozek: BAFTA’s juries – or panels – are drawn from people working in the games industry with extensive experience and passion for that category. They tend to be those people who really love deconstructing a game and discussing at length what makes it great or how it can be improved. They are both experts and players.
Are you happy with the make-up of people on them?
Paulina Bozek: Yes, because BAFTA ensures the panels have a good balance of creators who have made games and this makes for very thoughtful discussion and review. The panels have both celebrated individuals and lesser known, behind-the-scenes stars, and the decision making is taken very seriously by everyone because we all know what it means to win a BAFTA.
A lot of games industry execs who are members of BAFTA get to vote in the Film Awards, so how far off are we to getting big names from that world mucking in as a games judge?
Harvey Elliott: Voting rights are given to a BAFTA member based upon his or her contribution to that genre, so if someone works across film and games, then – providing they meet the criteria – they would be allowed to vote in both.
They say that it's the taking part that matters. During the jury discussions, what if a juror thinks that 'allowing a game to make it as a finalist can be as much a reward as winning'. Do you agree?
Harvey Elliott: Not entirely, no. I think that winning a BAFTA represents a real career highlight for anyone who does so. To be recognised so visibly by your peers for having achieved such a high standard in a given category is something that is very hard to match elsewhere. What people don't necessarily realise is that often a category has hundreds of eligible games, so to receive a nomination is still hugely valuable and deserves to be recognised. It certainly is great to be nominated, and a phenomenal achievement for anyone, but winning has to be one step better.