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Indie games took home most of the prizes in tonight’s 14th annual International Mobile Gaming Awards (IMGA) ceremony. Titles like Tender Claws’ meta adventure Virtual Virtual Reality won alongside Timi Studio Group’s blockbuster multiplayer hit Arena of Valor, which Tencent publishes.

The IMGA jury did not award a Grand Prix prize, though in previous years, it recognized Ustwo Games’ Monument Valley and Niantic’s Pokémon Go. It’s only the second time IMGA hasn’t handed out a Grand Prix award, which acknowledges games that showcase significant innovation and have impacted the mobile landscape.

IMGA Global considers games from all over the world, but throughout the year, the organization also hands out regional awards. It has competitions in China, the Middle East and North Africa, and Southeast Asia. It will also soon be in South Korea. As the oldest mobile games competition, its sponsors include studios such as Rovio, Supercell, King, and Chinese tech company Baidu‘s game publishing arm, Duoku Games. It’s also supported by the city of Helsinki, which IMGA founder and CEO Maarten Noyons says is significant in part because it’s “the city of Nokia.”

“Nokia funded the development of a lot of games that were from Rovio, from Digital Legends, Jade Stone, other companies. Sega,” said Noyons in an interview with GamesBeat. “That really had an impact on the creation of the whole infrastructure here in Finland that’s grown so much. That’s the historical reason. The other reason is, still, right now, Finland is playing a major role compared to other European countries, in the mobile games industry.”

The third reason is that, according to Noyons, Finland is “a country that’s very much looking to the future, not so much looking to the past.” The country is participating in VR First, an initiative to increase virtual reality and augmented reality education at universities around the world. Finnish company Varjo raised $8.2 million last year for its cutting-edge mixed-reality headset. And its national telecom carrier Elisa announced plans last month to roll out a 5G network in Turku, Finland by the end of May.

Noyons founded IMGA in 2004, but his interest in mobile games started as early as 1998 as mobile internet became more widespread. He started the organization to satisfy his curiosity of how the industry would progress, both in software and hardware. In the past, he cites major sea changes like the rise of the iPhone and proliferation of the free-to-play model. And in the future, he believes 5G access will lead to longer playtime on mobile and artificial intelligence will drive enormous change.

“The biggest impact, not only for games but everything in technology, is AI,” said Noyons. “AI is going to change everything. It’s going to change game analytics. It’s going to change the box. It’s going to empower the way we play against computers. Your computer is going to learn from you. It’s going to be frightening. It’s going to change the way we do esports, the way we do multiplayer. It’s going to be everywhere. It’ll be the main driver of change in games in the next couple of years.”

IMGA acknowledges China as a hub of innovation — it’s a mobile-first country that was first to messenger games, doesn’t shy away from mobile esports, and is the biggest games market in the world. Earlier this month, it hosted China Game Day in Helsinki, a two-day event that featured Chinese publishers and platforms like Duoku Games, Oppo, Vivo, and Tencent that are seeking Finnish developers to come to China. Facilitating these conversations is part of IMGA’s transnational ethos. It’s looking toward the future of its industry, though Noyons has also toyed with an idea of starting a museum that will showcase the evolution of mobile games through the years.

Noyons says the competition is on the lookout for excellent games from anywhere in the world, though some invariably slip through the cracks. The awards organization’s mission is to be a global discovery platform.

“Every region is now developing its own game culture,” said Noyons. “They’re looking at the Japanese games, because it’s part of their youth, their game education. They see what’s happening now. They see what’s coming out of the U.S., what’s very popular, and they create their own style. If you look at the Middle East and southeast Asia, which are emerging markets, they take different things and combine them in very interesting ways. I’m sure that the next big hits will maybe come from these countries, and not so much from Europe or the U.S.”

The 2018 International Mobile Games Awards winners are:

Best virtual reality game
Winner: Virtual Virtual Reality (Tender Claws)
Runners up: Eclipse: Edge of Light (White Elk Studios)

Best quickplay game
Winner: Tiny Bubbles (Pine Street Codeworks)
Runners up: Sonic Forces: Speed Battle (Sega), Frost (Kunabi Brother)

Guilty pleasure
Winner: Death Coming (Next Studio)
Runners up: Hidden Folks (Adriaan de Jongh)

Excellence in visual art
Winner: Tokaido (Funforge Digital)
Runners up: Old Man’s Journey (Broken Rules), Hidden Folks (Adriaan de Jongh)

Excellence in audio
Winner: Virtual Virtual Reality (Tender Claws)
Runners up: Hidden Folks (Adriaan de Jongh), Frost (Kunabi Brother), Opus: Rocket of Whispers (Sigono Inc.)

Excellence in gameplay
Winner: Framed 2 (Loveshack)
Runners up: Iron Marines (Ironhide Game Studio), Frost (Kunabi Brother), Art of Conquest (Lilithgames)

Most meaningful play
Winner: Bury Me, My Love (The Pixel Hunt, Figs)
Runners up: Recontact: Istanbul (Eray Dinc)

Excellence in Innovation
Winner: Splitter Critters (RAC7 Games)
Runners up: Virtual Virtual Reality (Tender Claws), Hidden Folks (Adriaan de Jongh)

Best multiplayer game
Winner: Arena of Valor (Timi Studio Group)
Runners up: Art of Conquest (Lilithgames)

Best upcoming game
Winner: The Enchanted World (AI Interactive)
Runners up: Death Coming (Next Studio)

Best storytelling
Winner: The Witch’s Isle (COCOSOLA)
Runners up: Bury Me, My Love (The Pixel Hunt, Figs), Opus: Rocket of Whispers (Sigono, Inc.)

Best port to mobile
Winner: The Witness (Thekla Inc.)
Runners up: Life Is Strange (Dontnod Entertainment), To the Moon (Freebird Games)

Jury’s Honorable Mention
Hidden Folks (Adriaan de Jongh)

People’s Choice Award
Life is Strange (Dontnod Entertainment)

Game Artist of 2017
Winner: Clemens Scott for Old Man’s Journey (Broken Rules)

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