The National Academy of Video Game Testers and Reviewers (NAVGTR, pronounced “navigator”) has a different way of doing industry awards than what most of us are probably used to. I had the chance to learn how this non-profit organization does things while at a recent rooftop shindig on top of a swanky hotel in Dowtown Los Angeles, Calif. Voice actors Tom Sizemore and Tara Platt were on hand to announce this year’s nominees. Though NAVGTR is still working to gain more visibility — despite being around for over a decade now — the approach it’s taking toward video game awards easily distinguishes it.
1. A variety of industry professionals pick the nominees and winners.
One of NAVGTR’s strengths comes from the presumed variety of opinions from its diverse voter pool. The organization has over 600 members of the gaming press (including newspaper folks) associated with it who vote on which games they think deserve recognition.
How about all those guys in the "testers" part of "National Academy of Video Game Testers and Reviewers"? Executive Director Thomas Allen told me that only a “handful of testers” are part of that group to avoid potential conflicts of interests. “The reason we have both is so you get an industry perspective and you get the press perspective.” This way, they also avoid, in theory, having some of the more influential outlets having too much say and should end up with more “accurate” results.
2. It has interesting categories.
Perhaps the NAVGTR awards lose some mainstream-accessibility points for its categories. It highlights titles for their controls, innovation, writing, and even voice acting. “We just want to be unique, and it's maybe not unique from a Hollywood approach, but it is unique to the game side of things,” said Allen, referring to the novel categories. “As long as the nominations are good, I think it all comes out in the wash.”
3. It separates franchises and new intellectual properties.
One of the nicest aspects of the NAVGTR awards is its differentiation between established series and original ones. This way, the playing field is significantly more level for different titles (with different budgets) to compete. “It really was getting to be just skewed to the same type of thing every year,” said Allen. Big-budget shooters had a lock on certain categories in previous NAVGTR awards. So, for 2012, they’re splitting up the Use of Sound category to be more like the Game Design one (franchises compete in one section and new intellectual properties are in another).
4. It has a hardcore venue and process
In an attempt to stir up controversy and conversation, NAVGTR plans to host a panel either in or around the PAX East festival, this April in Boston, where seasoned game journalists can voice their opinions. "On that panel, we're gonna toss out the nominations to everyone and let them eat them up, debate, handicap!” Allen said. He would like “for people to engage in some handicapping,” that is, picking who should or is likely to win a category. Then, he intends to reveal the winners to see whether or not those predictions are accurate. From the venue to the process, the NAVGTR awards for this year sound like something that’s very for and by hardcore gamers…which I believe comes with a +10 legitimacy bonus.
5. It’s not a circle jerk.
One of the weirdest things about the Spike Video Game Awards show is how it centers around revealing new trailers for upcoming big-budget games, while pausing to hand out awards to similar, yet slightly older titles. The whole event can feel at times like a big shameless advertisement for the premier products of the most-profitable corporations in the industry.
At the same time, I find it a little odd to praise NAVGTR for not doing this at its award ceremony, considering it doesn’t even have one to begin with. Based on the system, priorities, and values Thomas Allen has in place for his non-profit, however, I can’t see things going down that commercial route, even as it grows.
NAVGTR might not yet be a household name, but its heart is certainly in the right place for advancing and legitimizing games as a respected medium.