Gamers Care More About The VGX Than The Show Did. That’s The Problem.

Gamers Care More About The VGX Than The Show Did. That’s The Problem.

The morning after the VGX, it’s striking to see gamers once again arguing, ruminating, caring so much about a spectacle that seems to care so little about them. Or, if last night was an indication, itself.

Ripping the Video Game Awards — which got a format and name change to “the VGX” this year, no explanation what the X means — is an annual tradition in hardcore, hyper-critical gamer culture. Each year seems to retread the sentiment that this show is the worst it’s ever been — except for the previous year’s show, which becomes the best ever.

The usual discussion hotbeds, NeoGAF and Reddit, are today full of earnest efforts to fix this program and make it show a little more self respect. Yeah, there will always be gainsaying and nitpicking of any show’s choice of host, and of the entertainment offered, some of which will hit and some won’t. The ongoing criticism of the lack of substance at the VGA/X is more valid, but it pushes the show in a direction in which it was never meant to go.

This is the fundamental “problem” we encounter every year when Spike’s awards program sends us all home feeling like we’re only valued for the eyeballs we turn to an advertisement. Deservedly or not, Spike’s awards program is taken by the mainstream to speak for this medium in the same way academies of film, television and music speak for theirs. And the show — which this year added taglines like “Binge Responsibly” — often sends the message that we’re easily enthused by the usual B-roll of fighting, explosions, robots, and fetishized environmental detail.

There are ridiculous, self-indulgent spectacles for industries other than video games of course. The MTV Video Music Awards and the ESPYs are perhaps bigger presences in their subjects than the VGX is to ours. But they’re not thrust into the same position of authority, of speaking for the best of the year and the best that’s yet to come.

At least in the cases of the VMAs or the ESPYs, there’s a recognisable constituency being served by the broadcast. The VMAs is purely a vehicle for provocative celebrities, a prime opportunity to become a mainstream trending topic for the next week or two. The ESPYs’ client is purely ESPN, never missing a chance to reflect on its own importance.

The client at VGX is … who again? Is it Spike/MTV Networks? Doubtful, as their ratings continue to slide and this year’s coffeehouse production was an obvious move to cut costs. If Spike really wanted to serve itself — without bailing out of the show altogether — why not do a year-end bonus of GameTrailers TV, doling out awards and, yes, cajoling publishers into participating in the same mini-E3 of hype trailers and announcements.

The client doesn’t appear to be publishers and developers, given how this year they seemed even less interested in participating than before. Ubisoft’s “Snowdrop Engine” trailer for The Division was a perfect example. This is a game people are fired up to see. How on earth is an engine demo going to do anything but make viewers’ eyes glaze? Even if Nintendo’s big announcement — Cranky Kong? Seriously? — hadn’t been leaked, it still would have been a terrible night for news. The “winner,” if there was one, was Hello Games, dropping jaws with a wildly expansive science fiction game, No Man’s Sky, that is being developed by just four guys. The difference between their enthusiasm and the boredom of the major publishers was palpable. And the audience responded in kind.

But the client doesn’t seem to be gamers, either. Last year saw a bold choice, honouring The Walking Dead with Game of the Year. The rest of the show was still a big advertisement, but the recognition of something so antithetical to the typical big-budget front-runner honored by the VGAs sent a message this show might be turning the corner.

Last night’s VGX instead retreated into a dissonant mix of trade-publication insularity and rote quips about geek culture whose lack of effort all but openly insulted the audience. Joel McHale, the actor and comedian, was a poor choice to accompany Geoff Keighley, whose role in years past was more in backstage interviews and news coverage. They had no chemistry, making their three hours together seem like six, especially through a painfully long fill of five extra minutes between the musical number and the night’s final trailer.

McHale’s fuck-it approach to reading his scripted lines was alienating; the rest of his material indicated he didn’t know the difference between laughing with someone or laughing at them. He made an indecipheral crack about “NBA 2K-oh-Five” when NBA 2K14 won best sports game (a category whose finalists — the usual four Good Sports Games of NBA 2K, FIFA, NHL and MLB the Show — show how little the genre had to offer this year). After Randy Pitchford of Gearbox Software and Kevin Bruner of Telltale Games revealed Tales from the Borderlands, and had a little mutual-admiration-society dialogue about each other’s work, McHale utterly bombed an ad-lib, asking if their new game would be available on the Atari 2600.

In fairness to McHale, though, I don’t know how I’d comment on the game without making some kind of inside joke like “Kenny will remember that.” It’s two studio heads talking about an upcoming project that doesn’t even have a release date. How often do you see actors and directors talking about incomplete work on a talk show, much less at an awards show? The choice to go in this direction paid almost no dividends, and were a fount of unintentional comedy and awkward moments.

With so few good moments, the show’s three-hour length became even more glaring. At times, Keighley looked like he wanted to disappear into the earth. McHale signaled his desire to be anywhere else so clearly he should have been holding semaphore flags. Why not, a prop joke wouldn’t fall any more flat than his others. The comedy sketches from Internet regulars like Pewdiepie and Mega 64 were shrill abuses of a single joke or theme; had McHale warmed up the room, maybe they could have gone better, but I doubt it.

Yet still, gamers care — they care what this show thinks of them, and they care what it thinks of itself, too. They care enough to offer their own show plans, ones that are a little more subdued, observant of the night’s ostensible purpose, and still deliver the extravagance of world premiere trailers and new announcements that are now an inextricable part of the VGA/X’s character.

McHale made a passive-aggressive remark about reading viewers’ dissatisfaction with VGX live over Twitter. His tone was unmistakable: I don’t care. That was the problem all night long. I don’t know how you put on a good show if you don’t care. Ordinary gamers do care. Maybe that’s why fixing the show seems so easy to them the morning after.


  • I still don’t get why people care about the VGX (VGA’s)… i stopped watching this trash in 2010. all i can imagine is that the whole affair was one long VG Commercial with a wooden host reading off a teleprompter while they messed up the name of games? how far off am i ? lol

    Edit: first bitly link doesn’t work

  • After watching videos of the event I have to say I think McHale was one of the few good parts. The entire thing felt like it was thrown together last minute and everyone involved was just phoning it in. McHale recognised what a trainwreck the whole thing was and openly acknowledged it. By doing so he managed to provide some humour to an otherwise cringeworthy and almost unwatchable show.

    • This. Him challenging everybody and forcing them to steer away from the prompters made the event more interesting. Had he not being there it would have been intensely boring. Him undermining Dorito Pope constantly and making him squirm was pretty good as well.

      Yeah his jokes were awful but who cares, it’s just making it abundantly clear to people that the real joke is the show itself.

  • Gamers also care more about videogames then publishers do. So I think everybody is already used to disappointment.

  • I’ve never understood why Keighley is apparently well regarded, from what I’ve seen of him he seems to vacillate between tedium & embarrassingly bad.

    Give me Charlie Brooker any day

    • The thing with Geoff is that he has those relationships with developers and publishers that make him able to tall to them better than most others. He’s a veteran journalist and while it seems like he’s bought out buy Doritos and Dew, he actually has a passion for the people behind the games.

      • Absolutely,

        Geoff is not the perfect presenter but he is IN with ALL of the developers. He’s THE video games journalist, matched only by Adam Sessler. And he’s got this whole interview the developer, give them a little bit of needling but keep them happy thing down.

        The show would have been far better with just Geoff handling it.

        And if they absolutely HAVE to have a comedian get a nice one. Even if they’re not funny, let them be nice and inoffensive.

        • Someone like Dara Ó Briain who manages to be funny and know his stuff when it comes to games

        • The show would have been far better with just Geoff handling it.

          Nope. It would have been insanely boring. 3 hours of Geoff interrogating developers with no charisma, split up with the occasional trailer. Would it have been better from a journalism point of view? Yes, but that doesn’t mean more entertaining and it doesn’t change the fact that none of the news was remotely exciting, and who cares about journalism when the content falls flat.

          I’m not saying Joel McHale is the way to fix the VGX’s but you need someone there with charisma or a genuine sense of humor, or someone who is at least willing to ignore the prompters for the sake of a more entertaining show. Otherwise, it will be three hours of this:

          • The best opportunity for the show was the guests that it had. They had the best, and because of that, arguably the most interesting people within the gaming industry at hand.

            Geoff knows how to get them talking about this or that.

            Is Geoff the most entertaining journalist in the world? No. But he knows how to get them talking and has their respect etc.

            McHale was just an ass, and basically shat on the best thing the show had going for itself.

            If Geoff was alone, and there was no McHale shat splatter, the show would have been better.

            I’m not saying that the show should have just been Geoff, but I’m saying if the choice was Geoff + McHale or just Geoff, then the better show would have been just Geoff.

            Well that’s my opinion. I guess we can agree to disagree.

      • Its where he started, technically not his primary focus but he’s a hell of a lot better than most games journalists

        • Well yeah he’s talented, interesting, funny – so hugely better than most. I didn’t know he once was a games journalist.

          • Yeah he used to write for PC Zone back in the 90s, seems to have been his first major writing job. Hell he managed to get two games docos on TV when no one wanted to produce even one

          • I just saw one doco the other day of his –

  • “And the show often sends the message that we’re easily enthused by the usual B-roll of fighting, explosions, robots, and fetishized environmental detail.”

    Given how many sequels there are to a certain few series, and how much money they make, they’re not exactly wrong.

  • Game Trailers has a few good things going for it: Michael Pachter and Kyle Bosman are good but for every one of them you get a hollowman like Keighly or a complete blowhard like Marcus Beer.

    Honestly I don’t know what the commercial links are that keeps the VGAs with Spike and GT but they should give it to Rev3 or someone who would treat it with respect

  • I’d watch this show if they hired the actors who play Skinny Pete and Badger and if they kept in character.

  • I’ve just watched a few vids about the VGX on YouTube – mostly highlights of the most cringe worthy aspects.

    The biggest problem about the VGX was McHale. He was horrible.

    It’s nothing new to have an unfunny so called comedian as a presenter. We’ve all seen that endless times. But he wasn’t just unfunny. He was unengaged. Unengageable. Insulting. Unoriginal (oh gamers are nerds that eat Cheetos are they, that’s news). Sloppy and just horrible.

    Poor Geoff. He’ll be soooo embarrassed.

    But another odd thing about the show was the lack of production values, and energy.

    OK so they’ve decided that having an arena based extravaganza is not the right format for the VGX, fair enough – but having a studio that was less impressive than the studio of Rev3 games, or Gametrailers, or any other of the larger games oriented internet/youtube based websites/channels was poor.

    This show deserved more production values than the Bonus Round.

    And the energy was horrible – but again that’s on McHale. He’s a succubus and Geoff didn’t stand a chance. I can only hope that Geoff didn’t hire McHale as if he did Geoff’s reputation just took a pounding.

    I suppose it didn’t really help that there wasn’t too many good games to talk about, and that no one really cares about this years contenders. Haven’t we all lost interest in Bioshock Infinite and Tomb Raider by now? Haven’t we all lost interest in current gen by now?

    Oh and Mega64. Come on. Can the internet please stop supporting people just because they’re needy enough to demand support. If they become funny, great, but if they continue with utter tripe can they just be left along in a corner please.

    Maybe I’m on a tangent here but I think a lot of the hype and excitement has gone out of the games industry. I personally feel all gamed out – in a way. My intention and desire for buying the latest and greatest games has completely evaporated. Sure The Last of Us will be enjoyable, and it will be next year too when it drops to $20 or appears free on PS+.

  • Owen’s criticising Joel McHale’s “I don’t care” approach is like complaining about Vader’s breathing being distracting. Clearly never seen anything that McHale’s ever done, you know, ever.

  • I felt the segment with matt stone and trey Parker was probably the most cringe worthy. They weren’t funny and them handing over the award was the weirdest moment in award show history. But somehow they have gotten a pass.

  • You know if everyone who can still bring themselves to care about this crapfest just all didn’t watch it next year we’d never have to put up with it again, and we’d all be happier for it.

  • Things that are needed to improve next year.

    New hosts – I think Adam Sessler would be a perfect host, better than Keighley and if your going to go for a celebrity host that has humor… Bring back Zachary Levi, that guy is a hardcore gamer, has humor and knows his stuff. Have both, Sessler can be the one to ask the main questions with Levi popping in a question of his own every now and then. Also Levi hosted the 2011 VGA’s which was probably the best one so far.

    Crowd – Have people from the industry or paying viewers to come to the event. Seriously, there was a reason handing over an award was so dull, as well as a new game announcement… There was no excitement and atmosphere in the room since the only people there were, the hosts, guests, camera and production crew.

    Reveals – Actual game reveals would be lovely. Hence why the 2011 VGA’s were the best ones, they had Bioshock Infinite, The Last of Us, Rainbow Six, Fortnite, Alan Wake American Nightmares and a few others. They showed off Metal Gear Rising Revengeance (the new unveiling), Mass Effect 3 and Hitman Absolution… They had a good mix of already announced titles that people wanted to see more of, but most importantly, they had surprising game announcements. Also don’t tell everybody what the show will consist of before it airs and definitely don’t hype it up to be something it isn’t (happened with the PS4 All Access event and now this).

    Live Music – How about instead of doing a 20 minute long concert filled with crap music from a crap soundtrack. Have a couple of different bands play here and there like in previous shows. Or another idea would be to have performances of memorable songs from games that came out in that year. I know I sure as hell would have preferred a performance from Troy Baker and Courtnee Draper doing “Will the Circle be Unbroken” or Sarah Greene (Anne Bonny from AC4) perform “The Parting Glass”….. Also somebody please kill those 5 annoying douchebags who knew nothing about gaming or GTA V for that matter and were somehow less funny than McHale.

    Seriously SpikeTV, make the effort… Or don’t make it at all. Us gamers are extremely critical about this sort of stuff. It’s why events like E3 and Gamescom are thought of as a competition for Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo now.

  • OMG Im so glad to see these articles.
    I love my gaming hobby so I watched the 3 hours but I was embarrassed for the whole industry the entire time. McHale’s delivery felt disrespectful the entire time. I kept hoping Keighley would punch McHale and take back the show on behalf of gamers everywhere. Adult diapers? Seriously?
    Award announcements fell flat in a room without an audience.
    Interviews with developers, even as limited as they were, were dragged further south by an McHale’s interest in dismissive humour and Keighley’s desperate push for a decent announcement.
    If writers responsible for those jokes, well I apologise to McHale for my very unkind thoughts. Maybe I would have treated the whole debacle with contempt if that was as good as I got.
    My first awards and Im not sure Id waste my time next year.

  • That ‘The Soup’ guy was a horrible co-host, a bad comedian, and generally made watching it painful. All he did was demonstrate that he didn’t understand the subject matter and that if his jokes aren’t pre-written by a team of E! channel writers, he’s not funny. Howe people like him are on TV I have no idea.

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