Missing out on E3 Critics Awards

So, I’m kind of surprised that the nominations haven’t sparked the usual firestorm of “This game shouldn’t be on there” and “They missed this game”, but I actually have a slightly different angle that I’d like to take.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m working on Titan Quest, and we didn’t make it into the RPG nominations for the official critic’s awards, and also didn’t make it onto many of the individual site award lists. That’s fine. I’m not going to try to argue that we should have been included. These people make the calls; that’s their job, and there’s no point in second-guessing them.

What I’d like to learn, though, is why. Were the competitors in the RPG field just that much better? And if so, in what ways? Was it because we’re so close to release? Because we’d already sent out preview code, so there weren’t any big surprises? Because the demo on the floor wasn’t compelling? Did people not see it? Was there not enough buzz about it? Did the PR people not bend enough ears? Are people just not excited about it? Does it not come across as innovative enough?

What’s done is done, and no use crying over it. What would be useful would be understanding what goes into these kinds of decisions so that in the future, I can help position other games to better take advantage of these kinds of opportunities.

So, any insights people would like to share, publicly or privately, would be appreciated.


Best of Show? Remove Wii or Assassin’s Creed and put Supreme Commander up there. Sure, personal bias is involved with my input ;)

Production values.


edit: And big names, and marketing push.

Also, I fear my original post may have come across harsh, which is not how I meant it. I meant it more in the sense that the games that always dominate awards are the ones that have all the flash and forced buzz. Not to say that nominated games aren’t good, often they are. But the barrier to entry seems to be, often, the size of the budget backing the game.

So, is Assassin’s Creed hitting all these awards lists because the press got to see it and we didn’t? All I saw was some CG video.

Were you guys highly visible on the show floor? I was at E3 representing The Witcher, and I know that the fact we were down in Kentia really played against us. We did get a few awards (PC RPG at IGN, Finalist for RPG at GameSpot), but it’s pretty hard to get recognition from the official judges if you don’t have a “blow me away in 5 minutes” demo… particularly if you’re not being repped by a huge publisher in one of the main halls.

Also, unless you’ve got a huge presence at the show, or are with an already-successful developer, you’re going to rely on word-of-mouth to win the site awards. You’ll usually get stuck with just one editor from each outlet (if that) coming by the booth to check out the game. So when they go back to the office and talk about “which games were awesome” and there’s only one guy piping up in support of your game… tough to win anything like that. To be honest, I was a bit surprised we got any awards with The Witcher, for the reasons I’ve mentioned above.

There was a behind closed doors demo for press. Most of the gaming sites have written about seeing it in action.

I’m certainly no expert, but I have played the Titan Quest demo so I suppose that qualifies me to toss in my two bits.

In a general sense, I think that TItan Quest didn’t get the nominations because the demo, while technically well done, and certainly fun to play, wasn’t flashy. I mean, Hellgate:London has Cabalists sucking psychic energy and causing demons to explode; the WoW expansion has a built-in 5 million fanboy base who can’t wait to make Blood Elves and tell them to /dance; FF XII has … well, plenty of people who live from FF to FF release - Titan Quest has you whacking a pig with a rusty copper dagger (I’m assuming people at E3 played essentially the demo for Titan Quest). So in a sense, I think you hurt your own cause by having a demo which was representative (as opposed to something over the top or something with tons of superfluous spell effects).

Also, if I had to mentally lump TQ into a bin it would of course be the “Diablo Action RPG” camp. The good part about lumping a game there is it’s a popular genre, and you don’t have to spend much time explaining what you’re about. The bad part is that, well, I don’t think the gameplay is gonna surprise anyone. Hold down the Alt key to see loot… shift key attacks without moving… red bar… blue bar… yeah, it’s all here. The fact that so much of TQ appears to be a known commodity works against you getting in any “best of lists” in the same way that technically well done (but conventional) movies tend to not make the best of lists for movie critics (ok, so you can say “why does Hellgate:London make it then, since they’re the same genre?” to which I say: partially because they’re still a ways out, and so people will make allowances for imperfections they see - plus being furher out, that allows for a bit of handwaving by whoever’s manning the booths. And in addition, the setting in HGL is more ‘edgy’ than TQ’s which I think wins them some brownie points).

As for wowing the public (no pun intended) with the product: were you able to show some of the more unique aspects of the game? For instance, were people able to fight some of the Annubi in Egypt (like the movies on the website show)? Did you show off the China setting? Did people have the ability to use the level editor? To me, those are the elements of TQ that could make it shine.

All that said, I think (and hope) Titan Quest is going to sell well. I’m certainly getting a copy, and I have a number of friends who are also. The demo was a great deal of fun and did a good job of showing off the game mechanics and graphics. So while it might not have been the best kind of presentation to get on those “Best of” lists, I think it does a good job of selling the product.

I guess if you boiled it down, Titan Quest seems like the girl next door. When you’re sowing your wild oats, you ignore her and go out with that sleazy chick down the street, but when it comes time to settle down, the girl next door, who seemed really boring a year ago, starts to really appeal. So while people are gonna date all those other programs, I think they’ll be taking Titan Quest home to mom.

Ok, gotta stop, my metaphor-o-tron just broke.

Like everyone else has more or less said, these awards are like judging books by their cover. It’s all about having a really pretty hardback cover. It has nothing to do with the actual text contained within.


Is the publicly available demo more or less the same as what was shown at E3?

As a general rule, it is very hard for any upstart to catch the attention of the press, much less stand out enough to earn a “Best of Show” award. Despite occasional pretenses to the contrary, the gaming media is usually quite conservative in their choices: generally speaking, the lists are dominated by major sequels and franchises; or by games from companies with proven track records (e.g., Bioware, Irrational) or spinoffs from successful developers (e.g., Flagship Studios, makers of Hellgate: London, was formed by ex-Blizzard employees). They’re the ones with both the reputations and the marketing dollars to draw attention to their efforts.

So right out of the gate, a new company like Iron Lore is struggling to draw people’s attention to itself and its first game. While Age of Empires is certainly a major player in the market, “Brian Sullivan” is not as well-recognized of a name as, say, “Sid Meier.” And the fact Brian is branching out into a different genre means that even among those who respect his AoE credentials, there may be skepticism that he can translate that into a successful action RPG.

The other major problem TQ faces, IMHO, is that it screams “Diablo clone.” Now, on the one hand, Diablo is still massively popular and there are far worse games to ride the coattails of (which, after all, stood on the shoulders of giants before it). OTOH, there is such a thing as being too derivative: from the basic gameplay to the isometric perspective to even the fonts you use on your website, it’s hard to tell what makes you guys different. If I’m a Diablo fan, I’m thinking: looks great - so what’s new about it?

Personally, I’d spend more time focusing on the elements which make TQ unique. Show off all three historical settings - especially Egypt and China, which haven’t gotten nearly as much attention as Greece, IMHO. Got a really cool character customization system? Spend more time hyping it. Can I do nifty combo attacks? Show how that works. And as I believe Kieron Gillen has said in the past: don’t be afraid to look for gaming journalists who might like your game and approach them directly; get them excited about your game and they’ll transmit that excitement to others.

While you’re at it, ask yourselves what you can be doing better than everyone else. Personally, I think it’s ridiculous for any game to be released without an inventory auto-sort feature these days. :-) Oh, and while I’m at it, people like being able to customize the appearance of their characters: I certainly hope the final game offers a lot more options than the demo does on that score.

Just my two cents. Best of luck finishing the game. :-)

I can’t speak to the awards, but i’m dying to play more TQ. I loved the demo.

Was it because we’re so close to release? Because we’d already sent out preview code, so there weren’t any big surprises?

I wouldn’t be surprised if it factored in to a certain extent at least. Games that will not be released within the near future, games that didn’t have a public demo version yet may be more salient to the attendees, something they may pay more attention to because they know they’re not going to get their hands on it within the next weeks or month. In the case of TQ they knew that a review version or at least the demo was waiting for them whenever they get back. If one’s short on time at the show, one probably tends to focus on other games then.

Of course, there also are likely to be background deals we wouldn’t know. ;)

Wouldn’t have minded to see a nod for Paraworld, but without an official publishing deal or a good standing that wasn’t to be expected.


EDIT: Heh, I just took a look at the E3 2005 awards…

Special Commendation for Graphics
(Guerilla Games/Sony Computer Entertainment Europe for PS3)
Every E3, a demo comes along that exceeds our expectations of how compelling and engrossing a game can be. This year we tip our hats to Sony. Not only did it manage to keep PS3 under wraps until its press conference, but it also concluded the event with an awe-inspiring video of the next Killzone. The action was frenetic and over-the-top: ISA soldiers engaging Helghast forces in a war-torn urban city. Vehicles exploding. Rockets firing. Your fellow comrades screaming in agony. We were speechless. Has gameplay finally matched the visual splendor of cinematics? After speaking with Sony, this was indeed only a demonstration of what can be expected of PS3 – a visual target. But if it is any indication of what games are going to look like, all we can do is wait with bated breath and hope for greatness next year.

“Production values??”

“Tits. And ass.”

Not necessarily true, though. We won RPG of show with Neverwinter Nights in 2002, just a month and a half before release.

RPGs are a pain to demo. Particularly if someone only has five minutes, it’s nearly impossible to make a great impression… unless you have an amazing visual engine… which does not necessarily mean you have an amazing RPG. But that’s how it goes. You essentially need to get a long demo (ours for The Witcher this year was too long at 40 minutes), allowing editors to get a good look at why it’s a good RPG.

Not necessarily true, though. We won RPG of show with Neverwinter Nights in 2002, just a month and a half before release.

I didn’t say it was the sole reason. ;)

RPGs are a pain to demo.

Yep, had great fun doing that at the Games Convention 2004. That happens to be a crowded consumer show, which means that the booths are being flooded by an immense amount of people, all of them having an attention span shorter than 5 seconds.


We did special demos that included Egypt/Asia for people that asked about the game and showed off the cool stuff (like the cross-skill-tree characters and big, flashy bosses), but if you wandered into the booth and just started playing, you got an experience that was pretty much the same as the demo. We probably needed to do a better job of distilling the cool stuff into a 5-minute experience and making sure people saw it, but it’s difficult to do when you’re dealing with the depth of content and gameplay that we’ve got. I wonder if we wouldn’t have been better served releasing the demo after E3, as well.

Thanks for the feedback, guys. It’s been an uphill struggle, fighting both the “new studio/new IP” and the “Diablo-clone” wars, which we’ll only have to do this once, but there are good lessons here for projects facing similar challenges in the future.


P.S. As to what we’re doing “better”, I think the graphics speak for themselves. :-) The rest of it really does take hands-on experience to understand.

P.P.S. Character customization and the inventory system aren’t going to change in release from what was in the demo. We have our reasons.

RpG’s usually have pre-rendered pretty scenes of some dude chopping up an ogre in matrix-slomo, because anything less (PR assumes) couldn’t convey the excitement they’re trying to generate. It’s kinda sad that flashy but empty games can generate the buzz deep, atmospheric titles fail to pull off because of the time needed to invest in them.

If it’s any consolation, a bunch of us tried the demo and liked it quite a bit.

Maybe you didn’t win because you won the “Best of 2005” award? ;)

I love how “Gran Turismo HD” got a nod for Best Racing Game, when it’s not even a real game. It’s GT4, running in HD with some HD menus. The creator of the series from Polyphony Digital even said that it’s not the next Gran Turismo and that GT on the PS3 will be much better.

Not to mention, it wasn’t even good. It still had the same crappy collision physics of GT games on the PS2, no damage modelling at all, no smoke or dust from tires (even on the dirt track!), no persistant skid marks…

It was simply a tech demo of the PS3 doing something in true 1080p, because none of the “real” PS3 games are actually rendered at that resolution (and they probably won’t be, due to memory bandwith limitations, and that memory/bandwidth being better used for textures/models/normal maps/etc).

Even funnier is that gt4 for ps2 can in fact already run in HD resolutions just fine, 1080i and everything. So what the hell was it if it was just gt4 in hd? they bought some monster cables for their ps2?