The Golden Joystick Awards is among the most respected gaming events of the year. Not only is it the biggest publicly-voted awards show on the planet, peaking at a massive nine million votes in 2016, but it also acts as an important touchstone for the industry, marking the key trends and games that are pushing us all forward.
This year, the Golden Joysticks celebrates its 35th anniversary, and event organiser and GamesRadar+’s global editor-in-chief Dan Dawkins tells us there are plenty of surprises in store to make this year’s show bigger and better than ever.
“Because it’s the 35th anniversary, we want to theme the event around a sense of looking back and looking forward, and it seems like a good moment to do that,” says Dawkins. “Increasingly in the industry itself, there’s a sense of looking to the past, and quite often HD-updating the past, so I’m not saying it’s the HD-updated Golden Joystick Awards, but we’ve set off on a different path this year and we’re shaking it up a bit.”
That means an all-new venue, the Bloomsbury Big Top, and more bespoke content to suit those attending in person as well as those tuning in from around the world on the Golden Joystick livestream.
“In terms of the actual day, we’re trying to find the right way to strike a balance between a great day in the room and a good broadcast experience,” Dawkins continues. “One of our focuses this year is to make the room really fun again, from all the little details to all the reasons people attend, but also strike a better balance for those watching the livestream.
"We want to use more pre-created video that’s short and sharp, which will play out well in the room and on the stream. When we talked about Lara Croft being inducted into our Hall of Fame last year and we did a celebration of her legacy, that video really united everyone in just talking about Lara Croft, which was great, so we’re going to put the focus on delivering a little bit more video like that.”
Another top priority this year is giving developers the space to talk about their games on stage: “It’s the gamer’s chance to say thank you for all these brilliant games they’ve played all year, and I think seeing the people who made the games talking about what it’s taken to produce them, and for them to be rewarded for that, is really powerful,” says Dawkins. “For me, that’s a really big drive. I want to see developers on stage and, subject to event coordination and so on, I’d like to give them the latitude to talk about their games.”
We’re trying to find the right way to strike a balance between a great day in the room and a good broadcast experience.
Dan Dawkins, GamesRadar+
To that effect, the number of awards has actually been reduced this year, but that doesn’t mean the range of categories will be any less diverse.
“For some of the awards we’re dialling back on, we’re either turning them into essentially short video presentations, or we’re going to make them critically-voted, as we think that’s a good way to get more of a rounded picture [of the industry],” says Dawkins.
“It’s the industry’s and the gamer’s awards, and I want a show that reflects that. We had one esports category last year, but I think we’re going to have two this year, and we’re also going to introduce an Outstanding Achievement award for the UK games industry. That might be anyone from a developer to someone more in publishing, and we’d really like someone else of equal standing to give that award to them.
“Then the other big award we’re looking at introducing is a kind of Still Playing Award, which is increasingly in trend with the way people play games. Loads of my friends are still playing Destiny, Overwatch, FIFA, Hearthstone and League of Legends, but these aren’t games that are out this year or fall into the traditional Golden Joysticks voting period, so I think it’s only right to recognise where people’s time and attention is actually placed.
"Another award we’re introducing is a Community Creation award, celebrating things like the best YouTube video series around a game, or a user mod that’s blown up and done amazingly – anything that celebrates the amazing things people are achieving in video games that those who made the games probably never thought would happen.”
To help broaden the awards’ audience even further, Dawkins says his team will be utilising all manner of social channels as well as other gaming publications to get the message out.
“We’re looking to broaden the entrance to voting this year,” he tells us. “For example, using social networks as voting mechanisms as well as driving people to the [GamesRadar+] site. If you can make that process really quick and friction free, it’s more inclusive, so we’re definitely looking at ways to expand the ability to get involved, so you’re not just visiting GamesRadar+ or chasing social links through its various social channels.
“As part of the spirit of working a bit more agnostically with the industry, we’re also going to be working with Eurogamer this year to announce voting going live, and to do the final shortlist of the categories. We’re going to do a drinks mixer at the Eurogamer Expo, invite people in and announce a countdown to voting. I want that to be a kick-off for a more inclusive, exciting Golden Joysticks.”
Returning to host this year’s event is none other than Danny Wallace, who made a big impression when he last hosted the awards back in 2015.
“I thought he was a brilliant host two years ago, he knows his stuff, and he’s really accomplished,” Dawkins enthuses. “Just to work with him was great. He really engaged with the material and he really cared about what he said to the audience. He also did it in the year where the industry had gone mad and it was the year of Gamergate, so he did it in the most contentious year. I thought he did a brilliant job straddling that, so we’re really excited to have him back on board.”
Ultimately, Dawkins’ biggest ambition for the awards is to commemorate what makes games great, and “the more we can make it a celebration of those games and that talent, the more we’ll be able to create a forum for pushing excellence and pushing the industry forward,” he says.
“It puts you in a different space to, say, the BAFTAs. That’s very critical; it’s black tie, more formal, that sort
of thing. Then, you’ve got something like [Geoff Keighley’s] Game Awards, which is definitely all about the broadcast and big premieres. I don’t really think that’s the space we’re in. It’s about the gamers, and that’s what we want to celebrate. We want to celebrate game creators, the people in the room, we want videos to be made by people in the community, because we want to celebrate that side of the culture. And that’s the Joystick’s focus – it’s for the gamers.”