Game of the Year - Why has the Sports/Racing genre never won the ultimate award?
The year of 2018 was a fine year for video games. We had the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2, God of War, Celeste, Forza Horizon 4, Spider-Man, Astro Bot: Rescue Mission and more. What I want to go back to here though is Forza Horizon 4. A wonderful racing game set in a beautiful representation of Britain with a handling model which was the perfect mix of arcade and sim. It engaged both the casual and hardcore racing fan audiences and is even considered by some to be one of, if not the greatest racing game of all time.
So why in the following year did it not receive any Game of the Year (GOTY) awards from major outlets? I’m not talking ‘Best Racing Game’ here, I am talking about the ultimate prize of ‘Game of the Year’ from the likes of BAFTA, Geoff Keighley’s Game Awards, Golden Joysticks or any of the major gaming websites.
It is not just Forza Horizon 4 or the racing genre in particular that I would like to bring up here, I am also talking about the sports genre too. FIFA, Pro Evolution Soccer, NBA2K, NHL and more. These are all series of great critical and commercial success over the years which have also been sorely lacking from being considered for gaming's most prestigious award.
This issue is not just restricted to this particular year either, looking through the nominations of Geoff Keighley’s Game Awards since their inception in 2014, a racing or sports game has never been nominated, let alone won the top award. For the BAFTAs, the last year to feature a sports game nomination was 2012 with FIFA 13 and shockingly the only racing game to ever be nominated was Mario Kart 8!
Looking through this list of media publications GOTY winners, some of which stretch back as far as 1988, the situation does not get any better. There was only one winner from either racing or sports genres and again that was Mario Kart 8 for Eurogamer in 2014. At a stretch you could also include a couple of wins for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 from Game Informer magazine in 1999 and 2000 respectively.
So the question I want to ask is whether this absence of sports and racing games is fair? Do not get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that there needs to be a racing game nominated every year or that those games which have been nominated or won do not deserve their accolades, but does it not seem unfair for some classics of the racing and sports genre to not even receive a nomination, let alone a win?
I have already mentioned Forza Horizon 4 as being one of the best in the racing genre, there are also the likes of Burnout Paradise, the Dirt series, Project Cars and Gran Turismo Sport. In the sports genre there are the glory days of FIFA from the PS3/360 era, the NBA2K games, the NHL games and arguably the greatest football game of all time Pro Evolution Soccer 6. Let’s take a look at a small selection of their Metacritic scores.
As you can see, critically these games are up there with the best of them and with scores as high as 96 and 97, they should have been cleaning up GOTY awards left, right and centre in their years of release.
So what is the issue here, why aren’t these games getting the credit they deserve in industry and media awards?
One factor could be that despite these games often being huge commercial successes, they perhaps appeal less to the core gaming demographic who decide on what should be nominated for these awards. Could it be the case that just not enough critics are interested in playing these games? I think that must be the case and whilst I would not begrudge any critic for not wanting to play a game that is not to their taste, I think more of an effort should be made to at least put these games in contention, instead of it just being the one racing fan in the office who votes for a certain racing game. Not all games are going to appeal to everyone, what makes gaming so great is the range of experiences on offer, I am not a fan of roguelike games but I would happily recognise that Hades deserved its place on many GOTY lists last year and I think the same approach should be adopted for any top quality racing and sports game.
Another factor could be the annualised nature of these games, with the argument being that these games do not add much or innovate enough from one edition to the next. This can certainly be the case with some entries in sports series in particular, but it would be unfair to point this criticism towards every game and series. Even FIFA has added huge new features and game modes over the years such as ‘The Journey’ game mode.
Unfortunately, I cannot see the situation changing for future GOTY awards unless a different approach is taken by media and industry bodies on how they nominate. As stated previously, a game should only be selected on merit and that should always be the case, but I think there is enough evidence to show that there is a problem somewhere when absolute classic games in the fields of racing and sports hardly ever win a GOTY gong or even get the courtesy of a nomination. One thing is for sure, when it comes to the FYV Gaming awards at the end of 2021, if there has been a top quality racer or sports game released in the past year, I will be shouting from the rooftops that we get it selected as a contender.