Judges will have tough time naming Game of the Year

More than a month ago, Slumdog Millionaire won the best-picture award and seven other Oscars, securing a spot in movie history. But in the video game world, it appears there will be no consensus on the best release of 2008.

Another major awards presentation, the Developers Choice Awards, occurs Wednesday at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, but it is unlikely to offer a decisive vote. That's because so many of the awards given out over the past few months have been sprinkled across several top releases such Grand Theft Auto IV, Fallout 3, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots and LittleBigPlanet.

That's supposed to be a problem? Not to Simon Carless, who is the chairman of the conference's awards advisory committee. "In the game industry, there's lots of different styles of games and each has its proponents," he says. "If you look at the game-of-the-year awards, it also depends on who is voting for it. It does seem to be somewhat different than the kind of consensus you see sometimes in the final movie industry awards."

While Slumdog was accumulating nearly all of the top film awards, Grand Theft Auto IV staked an early claim to being the year's best at the Spike Video Game Awards in December. But as recently as last week, Bethesda Softworks' post-apocalyptic action role-playing game Fallout 3 captured the top prize in the Game Critics Awards.

The other three nominees for the respected Developers Choice Awards' Game of the Year —Fable II, LittleBigPlanet and Left 4 Dead— have also posted wins. Among the games not nominated for this award, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots has won other best-of awards, while Gears of War 2 and Dead Space earned multiple top game nominations and won many other awards, too. Gears, Fallout 3, Fable II and Left 4 Dead are also game-of-the-year finalists in Canada's Elan Awards (theelans.com), to be given out April 25.

Rather than cause concern, this lack of consensus can be seen as a strength because there were so many praiseworthy games released. "We commonly see some overlap between award recipients … (but) the issue we're seeing here is that 2008 was an embarrassment of riches on all fronts," says Scott Steinberg, publisher of DigitalTrends.com. "From a creative standpoint, you're practically looking at a virtual renaissance."

In effect, Steinberg says, game developers continued what was begun in 2007 with top titles such as BioShock, Rock Band and Portal. "It's safe to say that 2008 was, hands down, another banner year for gaming," he says. "Across the board, from overall caliber of play to online connectivity, cinematic storytelling and high-definition audiovisual impact, developers did their best to push the medium to the next level."

And the bounty pleased consumers as well as critics. Led by GTA IV's blockbuster success — 5.3 million copies sold in the USA so far, according to The NPD Group — most of the other acclaimed games sold well, with only LittleBigPlanet selling less than 1 million copies (714,000).That modest sales figure won't stop the developer types voting on the awards from giving the Developers Choice top award to LittleBigPlanet, Steinberg says.

But Official PlayStation Magazine editor Rob Smith thinks GTA IV may have the combination of technical achievement and commercial appeal to prevail. "That's my guess, but I had really hoped it would be Metal Gear Solid 4," he says.