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Commentary: 10 Ways to Fix VGX

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Posted on December 10, 2013 AT 03:50pm

VGX was supposed to be a new beginning for Viacom’s oft-mocked videogame awards, the former VGAs. It was supposed to just be about the games and gamers, moving away from the glitz and celebrity it had always tried to pair with the industry in the past.  It was supposed to be different, and it was supposed to be better. Well, it was at least different, I guess.

If you missed the constant stream of social-media vitriol toward this past weekend’s VGX, then you’re probably not concerned with videogames in the slightest. Even those with a passing interest would’ve been hard pressed to avoid seeing their Twitter feed or Facebook flooded with anger over yet another year of talking down to gamers and failing to provide us with a legitimate venue to celebrate an ever-growing pastime.

And while some of those new ideas might be the beginnings of a show turning in the right direction, just about everything else reminded me of the end chase scene in the 1980 musical comedy classic, The Blues Brothers, where more and more cop cars kept crashing into each other for no good reason. Every VGX segment was simply another one of those ill-fated cop cars.

Now, since it’s my opinion that the people who put this show on every year don’t get what we want to see, I’ve taken it upon myself to come up with 10 ways that they could improve and maybe, finally, give gamers the awards show they deserve.

1) New Hosts

Since at least 75 percent of the VGX hate on the Internet has been slung in the general direction of Joel McHale, this is the easiest—and first—fix. For three hours, it seemed like McHale’s sole purpose was to try to derail the show as much as possible while also talking down to his audience like we were a bunch of sideshow freaks who didn’t deserve him as a host. You’re right, Joel: We don’t deserve you as a host, but it’s not because we’re beneath you.

And I understand that Joel was brought in at the last minute, probably to infuse the show with a little of the celebrity of VGAs gone by in case some viewers still liked that idea. The problem is that plenty of other celebrities actually care about their audience—or are talented enough at least to hide their contempt. This is the second time I’ve seen McHale host a videogame function, and both times, he came off as a prissy little assclown who was just there to collect a paycheck.

And whether you like him or not, Geoff Keighley isn’t a bad host, but he was put into a situation where he was doomed to fail from the start. Every time McHale went off-prompter, Keighley was like a deer in headlights—McHale’s ad libbing was too much for him to keep up with. Keighley’s effort should be commended, since it’s never easy when your co-host throws you and your show under the bus every chance he gets, but it was frustrating to watch and created an awkward dynamic.

The easiest solution to this is simple. Either cut VGX down to a single host like most every other awards show, or bring in co-hosts that could actually work off each other. Plus, the hosts don’t need to be traditional “Hollywood celebrities.” There’s a wealth of videogame journalists and developers out there that have enough on-camera experience to hold their own and still provide entertaining commentary. Or, if you want to really show off some talent, how about the best of both worlds and having voice actors host? Who wouldn’t want to see Troy Baker, Jennifer Hale, and Nolan North talk about games and give out awards?

2) A Live Studio Audience

Another ridiculously awkward element of VGX was the lack of an audience beyond the production crew. The only time I actually laughed at something Joel McHale said was when he painfully mentioned, “And I’m the only one clapping…” after an award was announced.

Again, this seemed to be part of the movement away from the 300-plus-person live audience of years past, but not having anyone at all to react to what was going on left a lot of uncomfortable silence. All you need is 20 to 30 people applauding to really help transition everything smoothly, and the crew should have more important things to worry about than waiting for Joel’s cue to clap to fill what became an increasingly evident problem.

3) Rehearsal!

Back when I first started my media career, I freelanced for quite a few live and live-to-tape productions, so I know how difficult it is to pull off something like that—and most of those were only 30 or 60 minutes. So, I tip my hat to the cast and crew anytime something along the lines of three hours actually gets done. That being said, there were clear moments that made the lack of preparation evident—like when Camilla Luddington, the voice of Lara Croft, had no idea that Keighley and McHale were going to ask her to throw to a clip introducing Lara as one of the nominees for Character of the Year.

Of course, any live production is going to include elements that are simply out of a crew’s control, and no amount of pre-production can predict some untimely mishaps. That wasn’t the case here, though. Making sure all the talent is on the same page would surely be one thing the producers, a floor manager, or ANYONE on the crew (as, again, McHale pointed out live after Luddington’s face became a total blank by saying “I guess we should’ve told you we were going to do this”) could’ve done to make the overall production look a bit more professional. And, obviously, I’m not saying a somewhat off-the-cuff interview should’ve been rehearsed, but someone should’ve made Luddington aware of what was planned during her segment. A lack of organization will always find a way to make itself known, and this was only one of several instances where folks in front of the camera were in the dark about what was going on around them.

This is another easy fix. If you plan on doing something special or different with someone on-air, make sure they’re fully aware before the cameras start rolling.

4) Smarter Social-Media Interaction

Incorporating Twitter and Facebook into any live show seems to be a necessity nowadays, and VGX wanted to make sure it didn’t miss jumping on the bandwagon. The problem is—especially considering how obviously disorganized the show already was behind the scenes—utilizing something as unpredictable as social media effectively is a monumental task.

Many times, the questions tweeted in and read by Keighley and McHale were already asked by one of the hosts before the social-media segment started. Was no one screening these tweets? Of course, maybe there was so much hate directed toward VGX that the screeners just couldn’t pay attention to the live show while filtering out all the rage.

And having the order of your awards dictated by social media was repetitive, considering you already have the viewers voting on two awards as is. Nothing like coming up with scripts live while switching other segments on the fly. VGX should have simply included a scrolling ticker on the bottom of the screen, since Keighley and McHale didn’t need anymore help making this show a trainwreck.

5) No More Concerts

Game music should be celebrated any chance we get. When you look at shows like Video Games Live and other events dedicated solely to some of our favorites themes, there’s more than enough proof of why game music is an art form in and of itself. I don’t think anyone was clamoring for live performances of several songs from the hundred-song GTAV playlist, though.

I understand that part of it was because GTAV had won the Best Soundtrack Award (and deservedly so, partially due to the sheer size of the game’s playlist alone). But if you really want to celebrate the music, you should pick songs that are less likely to offend than “Hood Gone Love It.” Also, give every game’s music a little recognition. Do it like the Oscars and have bands or orchestras perform each game’s main theme over the course of the show. The concert was overkill and felt like nothing more than a desperate attempt to fill the last a half hour of airtime.

6) Don’t Give Out the Biggest Award in the Middle of the Show

This is just Awards Show 101. You’ve only got so many things people are looking forward to—especially with so many “reveals” being leaked early from various sources. By giving this award out at the halfway mark, you’re just asking for people (particularly a more casual audience) to close the video player. Whoever thought this was a good idea should be fired. Plain and simple: The biggest award is given out last.

7) Nix the Pre-Show

I didn’t even realize there was a VGX pre-show until I tuned in for the 3 p.m. Pacific start time. It was never promoted (and, if it was, no one I know saw it), so when I first came to the VGX website, there were already five or six videos that I wanted to see instead of the actual show itself. There was a world premiere and six awards given out before the show officially started. If you’re going to do a pre-show, you need to do a better job of promoting yourself—and, actually, this leads into my next point.

8) Give Out ALL the Awards During the Show

One of the longest-running complaints about the VGAs reared its head again this year: VGX still refused to give out all its awards during the show. Considering how much difficulty they had filling three hours of content—what with the clueless hosts, botched segments, and boring “comedy” sketches—there was no reason for all 21 awards to not be given out over the course of the show. Fighting Game of the Year, RPG of the Year, and more were relegated to second-rate award status, preventing these games from getting the proper recognition from the largest audience possible.  Nothing like disrespecting several gaming genres when putting on a show about gamers. This is another simple fix: Just give out the monkey trophy for every category you have.

9) Don’t Make Winning a Chore

It was an interesting idea to give the winners of this year’s awards the time to do whatever they wanted with their acceptance video. Mind you, it comes off like the devs are tired of making the trek to L.A., but without the pomp and circumstance of years past, I can’t blame them, either.

One thing could bring them back, though. Instead of boring acceptance speeches or “funny” videos, what if the developers sat down with the hosts afterward for a couple of minutes and talked about their game and how things may have changed for them since launch? Maybe a mini-postmortem. Work with the developers instead of making them do something. (They just won an award, and they’ve worked enough on their own already.) VGX would get content, viewers would get insight, and the creators could get the chance to talk meaningfully about something they put a lot of clear effort into.

Definitely don’t make them do something, though. No one needs another redubbed Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag cinema scene. 

10) Better Exclusives

With most of the VGX “reveals” already leaked the week prior—and the only three legitimate surprises including two from the same company—there’s some murmuring among the gaming community that developers have finally decided to start pulling out of VGX, since its demotion from primetime TV to web streaming puts the relevance at an all-time low.

Disappointing trailer after disappointing trailer was easily the worst part of the show. We could’ve tolerated McHale’s animosity, the awful concert, and the social-media stupidity if VGX gave us something truly awesome to look forward to. And while Telltale’s new games and No Man’s Sky raised our eyebrows for brief moments, they were nowhere near enough to save this show from itself. No elaboration on Uncharted 4, no big announcement from Nintendo, and nothing to get truly excited about to carry us into 2014. Those are VGX’s greatest mistakes of all, because this year, more than any other, the show came across as a waste of time.

Ray Carsillo, Reviews Editor
Ray Carsillo has extensive roots in geek culture, as he’s written about videogames, comics, and movies for such outlets as Newsday.com, ESPNNewYork.com, Classic Game Room on YouTube, Collider.com, and Comicvine.com before finally settling into his role as EGM’s reviews editor. His main goal in life? To become king of all geek media, of course! Follow Ray’s exploits on Twitter: @RayCarsillo. Meet the rest of the crew.

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