BAFTA Games Awards: What’s changed in the last five years?

This month saw the annual BAFTA Games Awards take place with gongs handed out to the great and the good of the gaming industry, but the 2017 ceremony raises a question: were there any games featured that really point us toward the future of the sector?

Five years ago, key BAFTA Games Awards category winners included two side-scrolling platformers, a first-person shooter, a first-person platformer adventure, a side scrolling exploration game and a mobile arcade game.

This year the award includes a side-scrolling platformer, a first-person shooter, a third-person action adventure, a third/first-person exploration game, a first-person exploration adventure, a multiplayer arcade game.

So far, not so different. Many of the award winners in 2017 could even have existed five years ago, so little have the formats for games changed. So, was there a game to point us towards a bold new future for the sector?

Well, there was. In the mobile gaming category. And that is the free-to-play, location-based, augmented-reality game Pokemon Go.

Yes, Pokemon Go is absolutely the stand out, genre defying (and diversifying) title that simply couldn’t have existed five years ago. But, in the year since its launch, 80% of its players have quit. While the same could be said for many games, Pokemon Go’s creators need to find more sustainable models that demand the level of loyalty experienced by the best games.

Of course, it’s a little over-simplistic to say none of the other winners or nominees showed progress of any kind. Indeed, they did. It’s just that it was progress of a different kind.
The multiplayer arcade title Overcooked stripped back all the fluff to reveal a barebones, utterly hilarious and addictive, multiplayer, family-friendly smash hit – and narrative games also showed real progression this year.

The side-scrolling platformer ‘Inside’, was a dark, twisted, mysterious tale of a child’s self-discovery; the first-person mystery adventure ‘Firewatch’ uses a narrative of two characters coming to terms not only with themselves, but with their growing attraction to one another.

In addition to these titles, the third/first-person exploration game That Dragon Cancer stands up well against Pokemon Go for pushing boundaries – except rather than technological boundaries, it was with narrative. The game features the coming to terms with the death of a child to cancer.

While Pokemon Go is the only title here that seems to show a generational leap in technical, boundary-defying progress, there is real evidence that games content is diversifying and developers are prepared to take risks with narrative as well as gameplay.

As a gamer, it’s a relief to know I won’t be playing the same old thing year in, year out. It’s also reassuring to see that progress – in all its forms – is being acknowledged and rewarded.

Now, if we could just invent some new formats…