Are there problems with GOTY, Top 10 lists, etc?

Waypoint has typically avoided doing the normal GOTY lists at the end of the year, with Waypoint High in 2016 and the Pantheon of Games last year. In the latter, Austin compares games to myths that held lessons and hope for old timey people before videogames.

The thing that’s been on my mind is how much this is just a fun way to mix things up vs a good way to avoid a bad custom. Not in terms of Waypoint specifically, but more generally. Review scores and the various methodologies and Metacritic-style unforseen consequences come to mind. Are there similar issues that stem from end of year awards? Does something like The Steam Awards, where the entire Steam userbase gets to vote on games, make things better or worse?

I think there’s enjoyment to be had in discussing the experiences that mattered to you throughout the year, and if games are something of importance to you it makes sense to talk about the games that stood out to you in one way or another. It can be cathartic to reflect on the year and use it to consider what’s to come.

The problems that arise in “game of the year” awards feel to me emblematic of other issues games face. The rampant commercialisation of these events by publishers or retailers looking to capitalise on the buzz, often which contributes to smaller games produced by smaller/marginalised creators getting passed over during this time. The reductive (and often heated) discourse born out of arbitrary comparisons between very different games all to define what the “best” of the year are. The lack of diversity in most of the publications that participate in the award stuff, and by that same token the homogeneity of a lot of the awards that are given out.

Were these events to disappear next year I don’t think these issues would cease to exist, they feel like problems for which “game of the year” is a vector. The established ritual of GOTY may embolden these industry-wide issues but in that I think there is an opportunity to break from the norm and try to push for more considered, diverse and critical discussion in your own input (or to simply not participate). I think things have changed in recent years, at least in the spaces I care to follow. For my part I have appreciated what the staff at Waypoint are doing with the end of year content, and on the forums we’re trying to play with the format in ways that encourage reflective, inclusive discussion. There’s always more to be done in that respect and I hope folks continue to push for change across all the aforementioned problems in the future.

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GOTY as a concept is less about celebrating the “year of games” or whatever as it is about popularity contests. Often on these lists what ends up showing up at the absolute top are 1) AAA games, that 2) usually released in the latter half of the year and 3) already had substantial marketing and hype built up around them. Pretty much every list this year is dominated by either Red Dead 2 or God of War, two massive prestige titles that already won over a very white male games press by being about either Sad Dads or See That Mountain? You Can Climb It mentalities. Last year it was Zelda and Mario (Nintendo is eternally popular) or PUBG (see that mountain? you can climb it as long as it’s in the ring - i know it’s not AAA but there are always outliers).

If you think about the now-infamous Crash victory at the Oscars it’s a similar story, where a movie was produced specifically to appeal as much as possible to the Oscars committee, and now Oscar Bait is a whole sub-industry within hollywood designed to just earn trophies. Obviously games don’t have a big central platform where they design themselves around earning gold medals like that, but the logic works in reverse where GOTY is usually awarded to a very specific kind of game, and the 2-5 positions are usually a very specific kind of game too (go count how many lists have Tetris Effect or Obra Dinn in that slot (seriously it’s like every list)).

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I think there likely are some bad outcomes along the lines that @Lilly mentioned – there are specific criteria of games that benefit from these lists traditionally, largely because few are willing to break that mould. Certain types of games ‘get’ to be at the top of the pile on most outlets (Waypoint has, this year, been a respite from the near-universal adulation to Axe Man & Cowboy).

However, the problems with GOTY, for me, have less to do with the concept (since I do feel it can be done well – and ‘X of the year’ is not uncommon for film reviewers either), but with how it seems to impact media outlets. The traffic incentives are such that sites are heavily encouraged to participate in producing these lists, which can feel lacking in authenticity. This only rewards that Lilly mentions above – marketing, recency bias, and game scope thrive because this is what folks remember and what audiences are most likely to agree with.

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This is definitely a big part of what led me to ask this question. I’m curious how it can be done better, or what are the biggest pitfalls to avoid. And I’m interested in these questions for Top 10 lists in general, but as always, gaming tends to give us the most hyperbolic concentrated version of them so it seems like a good place to learn.

Another thought I forgot to add. On Twitter, Austin made a reference to what he would try to push for if he was still at Giant Bomb. The strategic debate aspect of the GB system seems like a problem - louder, more stubborn voices are more likely to get their picks into the top 10 - until you think about how that same conversation is happening at most other publications that are picking site-wide lists. There’s something about making it into #content that seems like a decent counter to the “ugh [site] just loves [publisher]” reaction that’s so common.

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Definitely agree with @Emily that on a personal level, I really enjoy putting together my own top 10 list. It’s very cathartic for me and a way I like to take stock. Likewise, I really like seeing other’s individual top 10 lists, as I like finding gems I may have missed.

What a site, as a whole, says is their game of the year matters less to me simply because it is less personal. The nuance of what this or that game means to someone to be chosen gets lost. There’s also all the points that’s been above too. But it’s why I like the tactic waypoint is going with this year. It’s personal and considered.

Avoiding the recency bias is always going to be hard, though apparently Polygon tackled this problem with a “real time” best of list and then ordered them for their end of year content, which seems like a decent route to go.

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Fwiw, I think personal top tens are cool and fine as ways to parse what was special or important to you, but as a few other people have said, once it gets to outlets, even smaller indie ones, I feel like a lot of toxicity comes out because of gaming’s particular fascination with things being objectively good and worthy of praise, like that RDR2 piece that said if you didn’t play it you weren’t a real gamer. I’ve seen friends of mine get piled on on their own sites for disagreeing with what’s considered to be universally true about the AAA darlings of this year, and that completely sucks, on top of making for boring and predicatable coverage.

I think a way to avoid this might be moving away from awards and categories, and instead embracing the more conversational pieces and pods that get into the games people like, or didn’t, and why, without getting into proverbial pissing contests about what should “win”

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my opinion remains the same as it was a year ago, as documented in this thread which had a lot of constructive discussion imo. if you don’t want to click, the tl;dr is i’m a beautiful kind infallible genius and there should only be 5 new video games a year, all of which should be given to me free of charge.

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I enjoy the GOTY season because it’s my Christmas entertainment and my long-drive listening. I’ve never put any stock in it or made them consistently and I don’t think I played 10 2018 games this year. It’s comfort food and that’s fine. I think it says something that Waypoint’s GOTY content manages to continue to put forward great analysis while also being something I’ve fallen asleep to in a hammock.

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On a personal level the whole top 10 thing is a great way to organize my thoughts, dig into why I liked something and actually try and parse it into words - which can be hard! You find yourself just repeating taglines or breaking down things into components…so you erase and try and dig deeper

Also I miss so many games ( and other media) in a year these lists help me figure out what to catch up on.

Taking in this year’s Giant Bomb GOTY has left me feeling that, while I enjoy personal lists because they allow for greater expression, definitive publication-wide rankings are maybe dated and unhelpful.

There’s too much creedence paid to the idea of the “essential goodness” of Big Games and, as much as I think games criticism has improved greatly in the past five years, there still aren’t enough left-field voices at major publications, so many of the lists that get propped up are monotonous, not really challenging the way certain games are percieved. As mentioned earlier, a AAA game takes the top spot and the rest of the top five will be rounded out by smaller titles, because RDR2 (which I loved) and GoW MUST be good, just look at them.

In my opinion, if you remove the pressure to comply with the general consensus and lower the possibility of intimidating scenarios, like being the sole woman on a podcast who has to explain to her boss why Dad of War doesn’t do right by its female characters, you’ll get better GOTY content.

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I think that “Top X” lists work more as critical thought exercises than “which are the best ones, and which is the best best one” articles.

This is the first year that I’ve been A) engaging with the Waypoint forums and B) actually attempting to build my own Top 10 Games of the Year list (still need to… write that…) and it’s a really valuable thought exercise for me personally to try to define which games were most significant to me and, more importantly, why they were significant.

That said, I don’t think that site-wide top 10s are particularly valuable or even entertaining. I really enjoyed the format of Waypoint’s podcast content this holiday season because it did a good job reflecting individual experiences with games as well as shared and/or corroborated ones.

Ultimately, I think making a Top 10 list is a more valuable exercise for the list-maker than the average reader, but that’s okay. It’s great to try to justify why you liked things, and it’s especially cool if the things you liked include underappreciated or neglected titles. For example, Wandersong’s gonna be on my list and I’m excited to write at least a little blurb about why it meant something to me.

I guess what I mean to say is that Top Whatever lists are valuable because they make list-makers think about what was important to them and why. I don’t think they’re valuable for entire sites, though I like that Polygon made a Top 50 video that just like… pointed out a whole bunch of interesting games. And as a reader, these lists are more about entertainment and finding people making cases for games I missed or neglected. I think game journalism outlets can be responsible about how they influence games’ legacies if they just focus on their individual contributors’ Top Whatever lists rather than doing site-wide ones that demand consensus or favor already-popular games.

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Selfishly I like GOTY lists as it allows me to pick up things I’ve missed throughout the year although in that sense I would definitely like monthly round ups. I remember Pitchfork doing a mixes of the month thing that kept me going through my uni coursework but I think they dropped it.

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As much as I often find the Giant Bomb GOTY lists somewhat exhausting to listen to, at least it’s a pretty clear insight into how arbitrary those lists are–the whole point was always to let people hear how the proverbial sausage was made—obviously there’s some theatricality to it now that it’s extremely popular, but it at least seems transparent on its face.

And as a whole I like GOTY discussions because it’s a nice reflection on the year in games, and as long as people are given plenty of space to discuss, then you get some real great insights on overlooked games, and great insights into more popular games within that framework. I will say, however, that too often games already talked to death too often suck the proverbial air out of the room with all the ink spilled about them. Especially if those games are big—conversations around Red Dead Redemption 2 are exhausting and I hate them now.

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I don’t think that’s selfish! I know a lot of folks use lists this way and it totally makes sense since it’s basically a curated list from creators you like!

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I had a similar take on this last year, but GOTY is a nonsense term when applied outside of a single individual. Concensus is a popularity contest, and not in the fun way, but in the particular, knives out, harass everyone way that’s become endemic to the game “community”.

I find GOTY lists to be most useful when they introduce me to games I haven’t heard of. By definition, that can’t happen with a popular concensus list.

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actually what I will say is I enjoy Giant Bomb inviting a bunch of different people, sometimes from outside games journalism or even gaming as a whole, to write end of year pieces. I did like Keita Takahashi’s and Scott Benson’s entries as I could expect them to include little known things that touched them

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I don’t have anything positive to say about Giant Bomb except that these lists are a highlight of the whole GOTY business. It seems they encourage people to write and have fun with it, not just list some games.

Update: This problem has been solved. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRBCykRNqf8

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