ESA, Game Critics' Awards Debate "Best Of E3" Eligibility

A heated debate has erupted between the Entertainment Software Association and the Game Critics' Awards over the eligibility of games in this year's E3 Media and Business Summit. The dispute was prompted by Activision and Vivendi's recent departure from the ESA and, simultaneously, from the show.

The association assumed that the departed companies' games would no longer be eligible for any of the annual "Best of E3" awards, given out by an independent group of Game Critics' Awards judges at each year's show.

But Geoff Keighley, GameTrailers executive producer and co-chairman of the Awards, said that decision hasn't been made yet. The critics' group, of which Kotaku managing editor Brian Crecente is also a member, still needs to meet to discuss the issue and decide how exactly to define which games are and are not eligible.

"The fact that Activision is not a registered exhibitor for E3 has brought to light the issue of how to determine the eligibility of games," Keighley said.

At first blush, the issue seems clear-cut. Not in E3? No "Best of E3" award. But, said Keighley, "A precedent has been set that in the past, judges have voted on games that have been presented off the show floor at hotel suites and across the street from E3."

Adhering too closely to the rules might lead to problems, as with Capcom's disqualification from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences' DICE Summit awards show. Neither the critically-acclaimed and highly successful Resident Evil 4 nor the innovative fan-favorite Okami were eligible for any form of recognition, because Capcom had refused to pay membership fees to join the Academy.

"It would be a shame for me if the best game of E3 didn't win the Best of Show award because it was demoed across the street from the show floor," Keighley said. Capcom had no comment on the present issue.

Keighley's co-chair at the Game Critics' Awards, Rob Smith, said it's impossible to decide until the judges know what Activision and Vivendi have planned. At this point, neither of the companies, whose merger will soon be official, have revealed their plans for a possible summer showcase of their games.

"From Activision's standpoint, they were aware it could impact them. But their decision [to leave] the ESA is going to impact their business in a variety of areas," said Smith. "They're dealing with each of those on whatever basis they have to as an organization. They haven't lobbied us to ensure inclusion... the Game Critics' Awards wants to be able to recognize the most exciting games coming out this year, and the politics involved are not really a part of what we're about."

"That all being said... we really don't know what that means, because the game does have to be shown at E3, and nobody knows if they are."

Smith also said that he's yet to hear from either Sony or Microsoft regarding any possible award policy issues involving third-party titles. Neither Sony or Microsoft provided comment to Kotaku, either.

Activision itself declined to comment on the issue, but while the judges have their own criteria on which to make a decision, how do the other publishers feel? After all, all ESA member companies pay dues to the organization and incur heavy expenses to be part of E3. Should Activision and Vivendi receive the same considerations for E3 awards as the ESA's members do, even without being a part of the organization and, by association, the event?

While Electronic Arts, an ESA member company and a supporter of E3, sees that it is an issue, they remained impartial in their response to us.

"The landscape has changed considerably, obviously," said Mariam Sughayer of EA's corporate communications. "But the way we see it is that this is... a debate happening between the ESA and the E3 judges. We don't have comment on the way we think it should go, or which way is right."

"The dust is going to have to settle on this; there's a lot up in the air. We're letting the ESA decide it with the judges."

For its part, the ESA also declined to comment on the issue.

Making the debate somewhat more complex, according to the Awards' Keighley, is the absence of a financial component from the Game Critics Awards, which gives the judges latitude to make their own eligibility determinations.

"The fact we are independent awards [lets us] define our own rules for eligibility," said Keighley. As publishers revise their part on the E3 show floor, you have to consider the best way to move forward, to ensure we are rewarding the most creative and promising games that will shape the future of the industry."

"Our organization isn't for profit," Keighley said. "It's a volunteer organization, a consortium of journalists, so we can be pure."

Nintendo was unavailable for comment due to the Wii Fit launch, and as of press time we are awaiting reply from Vivendi.