The games industry never stands still, there’s always a new franchise, a new platform, a new way to reach consumers, and endless new ways to entertain them. Over its relatively short history it’s fair to say that its constantly reinvented itself; with the old making way for the new over-and-over again.
However, there is one institution that’s lasted the test of time, for a whopping 36 years: The Golden Joystick Awards. And it's an institution we're now proud to call our own, as MCV joined organiser Future earlier this year.
The reason for the award's longevity is no secret. The Golden Joysticks are the original ‘People’s Awards’ where the winners are decided by the votes of gamers. And in an industry that increasingly wants to engage with and listen to its fanbase, that’s the crucial factor.
“As an industry we have an incredibly passionate group of fans, and the Golden Joysticks provides a platform that allows them to have their voices heard in a meaningful and positive way.” Square Enix’s PR manager Ian Dickson tells us.
While Rich Eddy, director of communications and events at Jagex, says “The Golden Joysticks is a key moment in the year when the industry empowers the players to have their say on the releases that were most entertaining, the most enjoyable and the most important to them this year. It’s player democracy and engagement that gives our audience a voice.”
And for organiser Dan Dawkins, global editor in chief at Gamesradar+, the public vote is hugely important, telling MCV: “Every year, people worldwide vote in their millions and we're always looking for ways to better reflect what – and how – people are playing, plus adapt to their feedback around the voting process and show itself.
This year, that means changes to the biggest award of them all: Ultimate Game of the Year. The Joysticks always happen immediately after the Q4 release flurry, November 16th this year, being perfectly timed to key in with the biggest few weeks of the industry’s year. However, that in itself is something of a problem, one that Dawkins is looking to fix.
“Traditionally, a number of huge games were released near the end of our regular voting window, and it became challenging to know whether to include them in our shortlists,” he reveals.
“The biggest change we've made this year is to separate out one of the most prestigious awards, Ultimate Game of the Year, into its own voting window at the end of regular voting,” he explains. That voting window will run as a one week special from Friday 26th October to Friday 2nd of November. “To give people more chance to play, and vote on, the year's biggest games.”
“We want people to make a more considered decision on the Ultimate Game of the Year,” Dawkins explains. And the new voting window will give gamers more time with the likes of Forza Horizon 4, Assassin's Creed Odyssey, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and, of course, Red Dead Redemption 2.
Other changes include splitting the Best Multiplayer Game award into 'Best Competitive Game' and 'Best Co-Operative Game’ in order “to better reflect how people play,” Dawkins explains. Plus there’s a new 'Outstanding Contribution' award “to celebrate games, people or technology that has changed our industry for the better and moved the medium forward.”
The awards for 2018 are returning for a second year at the Bloomsbury Big Top in the heart of London. However, it’s not just the industry in the room, with a huge audience spread across numerous platforms, whether that’s watching the stream, following on the Twitter, or catching up with all the results and highlights later that day. It’s something of a balancing act for the organisers, “our biggest challenge,” Dawkins agrees.
Suraya Adnan-Ariffin, SVP of communications at Green Man Gaming, comments: “With the industry as global as it is today, it can be a challenge sometimes to get everyone involved together physically for the ceremony in London. But having it live on Twitch is a great way to ensure everyone has a chance to be part of the celebrations.
“The introduction of streaming means we share the event live with a wide player base and really connect industry and players together,” Jagex’s Eddy adds. While Dickson agrees that “as each year passes the awards have continued to produce great content to appeal to the wider audience watching from around the world.”
We're always listening to feedback for how we can better manage our event and broadcast experience,” Dawkins tells us. This year “attendees can look forward to a remixed venue and – without giving too much away – a bigger after party, while broadcast viewers can expect a show packed with developer interviews, trailers and insight.”
It’s certainly still a work-in-progress, Dawkins says: “We're still working things out, but we don't think we'll be narrating over the awards themselves as we did last year. It was a fun experiment, but we're intending to have more developer speeches on stage this year, and welcome the industry's support in making this a celebration of everything that is great about video-games and the people that create them.”
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
The Joysticks is certainly something of a celebration. One made all the wilder by its Friday afternoon kick off time, with many a weekend’s plans thrown into array by a particularly ‘successful’ night at the ‘Sticks. Our MCV table last year rolled onto the pub, and then another pub, and then a bar… it gets a little hazy after that. Thankfully some others have better recall of previous years.
Eddy remembers “running through the south bank streets to Butlers Wharf with a whole bunch of industry chums to catch 2016’s boat to the O2 still sticks. Because we all want to be on a boat on the Thames in mid-November… Brrrrr.” Though at least the alcohol was flowing to warm things up. While Adnan-Ariffin also fondly remembers the O2, starting “with drinks before midday” and rounded off by “beating my colleagues at bowling” after a few more.
Of course, we urge everyone to please drink responsibly at this year’s event, especially if you’re potentially going to be on stage to receive an award (see The man with the golden ‘sticks, below).
For Dawkins, of course, overseeing the big day is something of a pleasurable ordeal: “One I was so emotional I left my bag and all my clothes in London. Then there’s the year I left my keys, leading to a 4am call out for the locksmith. I think there's a trend there.“
And finally, who can forget 2012’s Robot Stephen Fry, remotely controlled by the real Stephen Fry, not Ian Dickson for sure who describes it as “absolute nightmare fuel.” Available on YouTube for the curious among you.
A GOLDEN LEGACY
Back on more serious ground Dawkins tells us that this year “We're thinking carefully about how we support new talent, and how games can be a powerful force of community and positive change.” And getting the industry altogether is a great catalyst and motivator for that change, he explains.
“For example, last year, I got chatting to Jack Attridge from Flavourworks who used to read a magazine I edited, PSM2, when he was a teenager. That made me feel six million years old - but also reminds you that this is all connected; and a journalist's critique can (and has) informed the developers of today - hopefully for the better!”
And with that we’ll leave you, The Golden Joystick Awards 2018 is shaping up to be a sweet and memorable cherry on the cake of 2018. We hope to see you all there to celebrate what is turning out to be a great year - for the games industry at least.
And remember voting opens today, so please spread the word to your gaming community.
Plus for table bookings and sponsorship opportunities, please contact Tom Parkinson.
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ‘STICKS
Returning host, comedian Danny Wallace, makes light of our perfectly reasonable questions about this year’s Golden Joystick Awards.
The Joystick's are the 'people's awards', but after voting for both Brexit and Trump can we still trust in the will of the people?
Absolutely not. Which is why I will be checking and re-checking every vote that comes in. But I have heard that the Joysticks have employed a brand new security team this year to ensure the veracity of the results, from a very reputable firm in Moscow.
The event has to entertain everyone in the room and everyone watching online, does that make it something of a tough gig?
‘Everyone’ is a big word, and you’ve used it twice, which makes it twice as big. I will try. But ah, look, I have always had fun doing the Joysticks, because they mean something to me. I worked on games mags in the 90s, and the Joysticks have always been important and meaningful. It should be fun.
Any standout memories from previous years?
I remember seeing how happy someone was to win their award, and thinking I should allow them a moment to make a short speech, so I did – but then I realised he wasn’t ‘happy’, he was pissed, and that a moment in a drunk man’s mind is an eternity for everyone waiting for award 932. So this year every audience member will be breathalysed. I, however, will be drunk.