The BAFTAs are one of the most prestigious awards shows for media on the planet, and the BAFTA Game Awards are arguably just as if not more iconic than glitzier industry-run shows like The Game Awards.
We got the chance to sit down with part of BAFTA’s game team at Develop: Brighton and ask them about the role the game awards play, and where mobile stands in the process. This included games officer Lewis Peet, games programme manager Grace Shin and the academy’s first ever head of games, Luke Hebblethwaite.
Wot, no mobile?
The British Academy of Film and Television Awards was established in 1947, and since then has spent its time promoting the cultural and artistic value of British Film, Television and more. But it’s not only what’s on the silver and small-screen, as starting in 1998-2003 with the BAFTA Interactive Entertainment awards, and from 2004 with the BAFTA Game Awards, we’ve seen the group promote and award games across all platforms, including on mobile. When we got the chance to sit down with part of the BAFTA team, we also got an insight into what goes on behind the scenes at this prestigious institution.
Naturally, the first question we had to ask was why the BAFTA Game Awards lacked a specific mobile category in their last few shows. That’s not to say mobile hasn’t been a perennial feature in the awards, with Poncle’s Vampire Survivors taking home Best Game at 2023’s show. But given the usual assignment of a specific category for mobile in other showcases, we wanted to know more about why this wasn’t the case for the BAFTAs. Especially as, up until 2021 the awards did indeed have an independent category for mobile gaming.
According to Hebblethwaite the answer is quite simple, and that’s that the BAFTAs are aiming to be completely platform agnostic, independent of console wars or other hardware arguments. “We don’t want to separate the great games design and work that goes into mobile games, the great music, the great animation, why should that not be able to compete against the best of all other device types? Look at Genshin Impact, Marvel Snap, Vampire survivors, these are all great games for mobile, these can stand against games on anything else,” said Hebblethwaite.
We don’t want to separate the great games design and work that goes into mobile games [from console and PC]
The team specifically point to multiplatform games as an example of how they’re seeing an increase in games that can’t be constrained to only one category based on hardware. It should be noted that there are no specific categories for PC or individual consoles (Xbox, Switch, PlayStation etc.) either. In-fact the multiplatform approach is so engrained in the BAFTAs that the juries who select the games are encouraged to try out multiplatform games through as many means as possible to get an understanding of how they perform overall.
The platform agnostic view may be frustrating for some mobile developers, especially as Vampire Survivors arguably made its reputation mostly on PC. But it also reflects a broader view within the BAFTA team about mobile standing on its own in terms of artistic value and gameplay depth. Hebblethwaite gave one example.
“Monument Valley is an outstanding game and well deserving of the BAFTA its won [Best British Game in 2014] and it’s perfectly formed on a mobile device, Genshin Impact is able to stand out across multiple platforms, we don’t want to separate those things from the inherent nature of those games.”
But what about what mobile games do that’s different to games on console and PC? Well, Lewis Peet offered his thoughts. “Mobile games are often a great introduction to the world of games, they’re obviously more accessible, and I think that sometimes that can make our role easier in terms of celebrating the cultural value of games outside the game industry,” he said.
Above all, that was something the team wanted to emphasise. Whereas groups like UKIE are aimed at promoting the game industry of the UK specifically in policymaking, government and regulatory cases, the BAFTAs fill a crucial role in pushing forward understanding and appreciation of games as a legitimate art-form and cornerstone of the entertainment landscape. Advantageous both for developers, publishers and indeed professionals within the industry, as the BAFTA awards are near-universally recognised as a significant marker of quality of many titles.
The importance of recognition
Awards shows, although not often seen as a vital part of promotional strategies, have nevertheless been key in some recent campaigns. Snowprint Studios for example, winners of the Pocket Gamer Award for best mobile game for their title Warhammer 40,000: Tacticus, feature this accolade prominently in their latest marketing to reflect the value and seal of quality awards can display to audiences. With live-service games becoming the norm, while monetisation and retention mechanics for console-quality games like PUBG Mobile are overtaking some commonly accepted mainstays such as IAPs and IAA, it’s clear experimentation is key both commercially and artistically, and the mobile gaming field becoming more vibrant than ever.
As Grace Shin noted, on mobile and on all platforms, “We’re seeing more and more challenging of conventional gameplay mechanics and subverting of expectations, we’ve seen the rise of wholesome games and more experimental games.” With this increase in games that challenge many players, even if they do well commercially there’s still a lack of appreciation from many members of the public who still grapple to understand Mario, let alone the fast paced gameplay of something like Vampire Survivors.
So will mobile find value in what BAFTA does to promote them and the wider game industry? Luke Hebblethwaite says yes, “BAFTA is here for all of the games industry and that includes the mobile ecosystem within that. With our program of activities and awards, we want to see mobile games and mobile game developers interact with BAFTA, participating in the things we do and feel that BAFTA is here for them, just as we are for any other part of the game industry.”
BAFTA is here for all of the games industry and that includes the mobile ecosystem within that.
Hebblethwaite was clear that the incredibly diversity and size of the mobile games industry means that they feel some may overlook the work that BAFTA does. However, he’s clear that for those who want to work with BAFTA on any level that all are welcome “We would never try and exclude them from anything we do.” The work that BAFTA does is not just something that designers should value, but also the wider industry in promoting titles that otherwise would go unnoticed by the public even if they’re fairly prominent on app storefronts.
While the placing of mobile on an even playing field with console and PC may have some issues.
The team was clear that when it comes to games, there’s no debate about their value at BAFTA, and there’s no question about mobile’s place in that ecosystem.
So will mobile fall by the wayside with PC and console no longer distinct from them? Or will they rise up to stand next to these commercially and critically successful titles on their own multiplatform merits? For the game team at BAFTA, the answer to the second question is a resounding, “Yes.”