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Is 'Game of the Year' losing all meaning?

‘Game of the Year’ sounds like a pretty definite statement. ‘Game!’ (as in singular), it proclaims. ‘Of the Year!’, it quickly follows up (as in, the single defining title of a chronological mini-era of human history)

But it doesn’t work that way. Not in games retail. If you believe the boxes on the shelves, each 365-day, January-to-December period we collectively survive actually consists of around four or five parallel gaming universes in which four or five different games all win the ultimate accolade of ultimate gaming quality. Every year sees stacks of games claiming to be the official, uber-top title of their particular annum. It says so on their boxes, so it must be true.

The increasingly frequent, specially repackaged ‘Game of the Year’ special edition is a whorish concept, happy to peddle the wares of any product that wants it, however many others may be claiming the same thing. But at the same time, this madness is actually a legitimate practice. It’s a confusing situation, so what the hell is going on? 

The Origin of the madness

As far as our research indicates, the first game to get a Game of the Year edition was the original Half-Life. And at the time, that title made a lot of sense. After all, Half-Life was a quantum leap in design, the game disc containing not actual game code, but rather a program which turned your PC monitor into a fully-functioning time portal through which to gaze hungrily into the very future of FPS.

It changed everything, and so when it came time to release the special edition, ‘Game of the Year’ was a more than fitting label. It had, after all, won over 50 of said awards from the collected games press. It was a special case of unanimous, industry-wide mind-blowery, deserving of a specially-titled special box.

The whoring begins

But things have changed now. Half-Life’s GotY Edition (containing H-L and Team Fortress) came out in early 1999. By the mid-2000s, self-aggrandising industry hyperbole had kicked in (as it frequently does) and stomped all over the Half-Life phenomenon’s specialness like a jack-booted stormtrooper with a kitten allergy dealing with a room full of newborn felines.

 

Video game Special Editions and Collectors’ Editions had been around for ages, but suddenly that title just wasn’t good enough any more. Just as publishers now have breakdowns over any release that gets less than 127, 000% on Metacritic, seemingly every game now needs a Game of the Year edition, however split critical opinion might be, and however many other games have one at the same time.

How do they get away with it?

Easy. The internet. While Half-Life had the revolutionary design and universal appeal to garner a truckload of awards back in 1998, lesser or more niche games couldn’t hope to win the same sort of plaudits. But since the mainstream explosion of the ‘net, we have countless game journalism outfits specialising in every genre facet of the medium on every platform around, from hardcore PC gaming to casual iPhone trifles.

And as games have become more mainstream themselves, and the ‘net-driven boost in games-talk has made gamers more genre-savvy, annual GotY awards have become much more eclectic in their categories. All of that combined, along with the fact that you only need one GotY award from anywhere in order to legitimise putting the magic phrase on your box, means that saying your game is the game of the year is now about as difficult as boiling hot water in Hell.

Next: A few of the oddest games to claim to be game of the year, and what to do about all this nonsense.

46 comments

  • Sabtos - July 17, 2010 3:53 p.m.

    I do think that only the top two or three recipients of the highest aggregate reviews and the most awards for game of the year, such as Batman AA and Uncharted 2 sharing those accolades. I am against a laundry list of titles naming themselves GOTY. It makes saying "LBP GOTY edition is the definitive title, you should get it it has all the DLC and it says it all--it's the game of the year" seem totally worthless. recaptcha: Habib worship . . . wtf
  • kibbles0515 - July 16, 2010 5:45 a.m.

    Wow, I suck...Why did I type one word? I prefer to look at lists of contestants for GOTY. Then I make my purchase. I know that GOTY is just one person's opinion, so I prefer to look at all the games that are in the running to get a good idea about exceptional games.
  • kibbles0515 - July 16, 2010 5:44 a.m.

    in
  • Lurkero - July 13, 2010 10:28 p.m.

    They could just call it "enhanced" or some other variation like other games do. Game of the Year is completely unnecessary
  • babyhenchy1 - July 13, 2010 1:10 p.m.

    Game of the Year never had much meaning. It depends on different individuals. Sure, I see what different publications and sites call their GOTY but, it doesn't affect my opinion of the GOTY.
  • philipshaw - July 13, 2010 10:03 a.m.

    I see your point, it stuck me as strangw when I was reading that there was going to a Borderlands GOTY edition. Don't get me wrong it's a great game but GOTY in the year Uncharted 2 came out
  • reaperman22 - July 13, 2010 9:23 a.m.

    maybe we just need a better classification for game of the years that must be displayed on the box, for example GOTY- best wii puzzle game or GOTY- best ps3 action game and make the way GOTY awards more regulated in how they are given out by for example making an actual official GOTY awards thing that you must receive before putting it on your box instead of just being able to call it game of the year because one random website decided they liked it, at least with that official award idea the opinions would have to be pretty unanimous as they could use a combination of votes from the public and opinions from all over the net before coming up with winners. This is the only way i can think of that would stop GOTY from losing its meaning
  • ballplayer27 - July 13, 2010 8:32 a.m.

    I don't know... There are certain GotY games that give the title a good name. Morrowind, oblivion, and fallout 3 come to mind, recently. Yeah I am a Bethesda whore, get over it. I personally traded fallout 3 for like 10 dollars to purchase the GotY edition for full retail price. Maybe that is weird but with five DLCs with over 20 hours of gsmeplay if you just complete the additional primary quests, just the dlc compares favorably to many retail games, IMO. I guess the point would be that a game that good deserves the title and the fact that some other more niche games are trying to claim it as well doesn't really bother me. If you follow games and want the full experience of a remastered and expanded game, GotY editions can give great value, even if you already played or even own the original version.
  • ZenPhoenix - July 13, 2010 5:10 a.m.

    I don't really care. I'm buying the game for what gameplay it holds, storyline, etc. I don't base my purchases on big lettering telling me it's supposedly the best. That's my determination to make. Even critics can't find common ground on GOTY most times.
  • RebornKusabi - July 13, 2010 12:10 a.m.

    I honestly only buy a "Game of the Year" edition if, and only if, they actually include **** not found in the original retail release. Case in point, The Elder Scrolls series or anything that starts with the letter "Fallout 3". reCAPTCHA: store deject (hehe reCAPTCHA humor.)
  • kneehighsocks - July 12, 2010 10:27 p.m.

    I dont pay attention to a box that says Game of the Year (unless they are including downloadable content). I like to research games before I buy them.
  • JayBeat - July 12, 2010 10:27 p.m.

    I would love seeing 2 games released around the same time sitting next to each other both claiming to be the game of the year.
  • FunkSoulBrother - July 12, 2010 10:17 p.m.

    I thought this article was going to be different. Ah well it was good.
  • Rocker95 - July 12, 2010 10:04 p.m.

    I think that games need a definative group that decides the game of the year. Just like movies have the oscars, tv has the emmys, and books have the pulitzer. Gaming needs a group that everyone will accept to decide as game of the year.
  • D0CCON - July 12, 2010 10:02 p.m.

    GOTY stopped having meaning once hundreds of them started to be handed out. Even if there was only one of them, opinions differ so greatly that a GOTY for somebody would be hated by others. Although it is interesting looking at mediocre games with the goty symbol on them (or better yet, goty edition) and then wondering which website/magazine screwed up.
  • cart00n - July 12, 2010 9:41 p.m.

    I've long associated GOTY editions as being "all inclusive" editions, i.e. they include all the dlc/expansions + game for one low price...
  • tacoman38 - July 12, 2010 9:31 p.m.

    mostly, I just use the GOTY edition to get the expansions and DLC included in the main game.
  • bishopcruz - July 12, 2010 8:22 p.m.

    Does it really matter? Honestly, there are several best picture awards for movies. There are several book awards each year. Is it marketing? Yeah, but have I ever seen a truly awful game get a GOTY edition? Not that I can remember.
  • oryandymackie - July 12, 2010 8:22 p.m.

    Think about pop music. The artist which reaches Number 1 one particular week, by rights, is supposed to be the pinnacle of music released in that time period. But you can't just call everyone else's favoured artists inferior because they're not at the top of the charts. I guess you've figured out that my rant is not gaming related. God, I hate pop music...
  • OriginalJonty - July 12, 2010 8:05 p.m.

    Maybe all the editors of the big gaming websites/publications should get together and decide a definitive GOTY.

Showing 1-20 of 46 comments

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