Ste Pickford: Radical rethink of game BAFTAs needed

Indie developer sees the video game awards as biased towards AAA titles

Indie developer Ste Pickford, one half of The Pickford Brothers, has spoken out about the flaws he sees in BAFTA's video game awards.

"In video game awards, the equivalents to Transformers 3 win everything," said Pickford on Spong. He points out that while in the film industry it's the small budget films that grab the awards, in video games it's the big budget titles.

"The awards appear to be set up to help market successful AAA games, rather than to highlight excellence per se."

He believes one of the reasons could be the barriers to entry.

"For those of you that don't know how it works, BAFTA judges aren't tasked with seeking out interesting video games to bestow awards upon."

The awards appear to be set up to help market successful AAA games, rather than to highlight excellence.

Ste Pickford

"Games have to be submitted to BAFTA by the developer or publisher, for a fee of around £475 (which includes a £225 registration fee if it's your first time)."

He argues that this is a significant amount of money to small indie developers (and nothing to a big publishing house like Activision) and so the BAFTAs simply become a marketing exercise for the publishers.

The system of categorising games by genre also present a problem for small developers.

"To celebrate and encourage excellence we should be on the lookout for games that break genre rules and defy convention," he said.

"Categorising awards by genre deliberately excludes and marginalises such games, and instead celebrates more-of-the-same products, which is the exact opposite of BAFTAs stated aim of "educating and developing the taste" of audiences."

According to Pickford, categorising the games by platform is also biased, "ghettoising non-console games." And while there are awards for Design, Original Music, Performer, Story, these ignore the majority of people working on the titles, like level designer or programmer.

The Pickford Brothers will not be submitting their title to the BAFTAs this year.

"After a couple of days weighing up the pros and cons of submitting we decided to save our £475 and not bother this year, which is why Magnetic Billiards: Blueprint has no chance of winning a BAFTA."

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Latest comments (16)

Anthony Gowland Consulting F2P Game Designer, Ant Workshop6 years ago
Whether his game deserves one or not doesn't change his core argument of - "do the baftas well represent the pinnacles of achievement in the games industry".

I mean, it's easy to sidetrack the discussion with questions like "what envelope of game design did Arkham Asylum push?" but it wouldn't be very constructive.

I think Ste's arguing that the Baftas, by their own remit, aren't meant to be about rewarding stuff for being popular and having a big budget.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game6 years ago
Whether Magnatic Billiards deserves to win a Bafta, maybe not, but from the amount of time I've spent on it, I bet it is better than some games on the shortlist.
Putting the Pickford game and my mild addiction to it out of the equation, he has got some good points, the idea of only being elligable to be considered a top game if you have paid £500 is ludacrous, how can you say a game is better than the competion, because the competition didn't bung you a wad of cash, and then try to say the award is meaningful?
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Sam Cobley Director, Undrawn Reality6 years ago
I agree that BAFTA's always go to the same old predicatable best selling mainstream games. Creativity and innovation does not always go hand in hand with commercial success and the BAFTA's should reflect this.
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Show all comments (16)
Roisi Proven Designer, Supermassive Games6 years ago
@Tom I don't think the question of whether or not their game in particular deserves a BAFTA, but that the prohibitive cost of entering the awards puts many worthy indie titles off. You said yourself that you wouldn't be surprised if Bastion won an award if the entered , but do you really think an indie dev with one game out has the cash to splash in order to pay £500 for the chance to win something? It's a shame that they aren't even given the opportunity to compete simply due to the cost of entry.
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Lewis Brown Snr Sourcer/Recruiter, Electronic Arts6 years ago
Surely the obvious choice is to add another catergory to reflect the Indie scene. I dont hold regard these games in the same way as a Arkham city or BF3. Games such as Angry Birds etc.. can be well designed innovative and highly creative but are often far simpler and both deserve and should be in thier own category. This could then be added with a lower entry fee to allow more entries. Or is that too common a sense option? It seems very obvious to me?
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Andy Cowe Mobile developer, Moonjump6 years ago
The point is BAFTA awards should be about the best games, not the best games that have paid to be considered. The payment does not make a game better, so it should not be part of the selection criteria.
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Greg Knight Freelance Developer 6 years ago
The point is, is it just games that have to pay to be considered?
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Chris Kay Senior Level Designer, Crytek6 years ago
What Tom said!
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Simple solution? Find a sponsor for the indie category. That way the costs are covered for an indie game category and maybe then a small £100 fee is charged (to put off utter drivel being entered).

Indies need to be encouraged to shine, but it's just not worth spending that much to enter an award, with a small percentage chance of winning.

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Ben Lewis Associate Community Manager, UTV Ignition6 years ago
It should be pointed out that Pickford kicks off the article expressing his surprise/delight that the Scottish BAFTA for Best Game went to Quarrel, a somewhat smaller scale (but still original and highly-polished) iOS title.

Whether Quarrel, or a game like it, can take home a "real" BAFTA remains to be seen, though Quarrel's win should inspire hope to indie devs. Maybe a lower fee to enter into an "Indie" category is the next step.
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A real Bafta would be one whereby a steering committee looks at the best games in the year and through a peer review system undergo a scoring system to make it into the top 20. Thereafter, each game entree has to fight it out in a TF2 match to make it into the top tier.

Democracy in win no fee...
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Alex Hutchinson Creative Director, Ubisoft Montreal6 years ago
Compared to most indie games, most AAA games are the sistine chapel: unlike the movie industry, the indie gamne scene rarely pushes game mechanics, artistic direction or creativer achievement. They're usually SNES games with a new feature stuck on like a barnacle. Sadly it's the AAA games who not only have the production values but also take more risks.
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Richard Hill-Whittall Director, Icon Games6 years ago
Didn't rate the article, or the game in question - the piece came across as a little too bitter.

But the lower fee indie specific category seems like a very good idea and a solution for better recognition of smaller titles.
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Anthony Gowland Consulting F2P Game Designer, Ant Workshop6 years ago
AAA games take more risks? Hmm, I think I will have to agree to disagree with that statement. It's all anecdotal, but I can't remember the last time I saw one that did something new, rather than just doing more.
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Gregory Keenan6 years ago
Makes a good point. But entry fees are standard as far as I was aware to any major award.
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John Pickford Owner, Zee 36 years ago
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