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Nintendo Dominates “Best Family" Nominations at Game Awards

Image courtesy of The Game Awards

The odds seem unfairly weighted in Nintendo's favor, but is this justified?

Nominees for The Game Awards 2021 were announced yesterday and, for the most part, the categories didn't contain many surprises. Nominees for The Most Anticipated Game include the likes of Elden Ring, Starfield, and Horizon Forbidden West. Best Multiplayer sees New World, Back 4 Blood, and Valheim amongst the contenders. One category, however, has unexpectedly crept onto people's radars.

The nominees for Best Family game at first glance seem inoffensive, but paying a bit more attention to the games' publishers paints a slightly different picture. In the running we have: Mario Party Superstars from Nintendo, New Pokémon Snap from Nintendo, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury from Nintendo, Warioware: Get It Together from (you guessed it) Nintendo, and It Takes Two from EA. By pointing this out I'm not saying that any of Nintendo's games are undeserving of the nominations; all of these games have been hugely successful and very accessible. The issue, really, is how much of a hold Nintendo has on the Family genre. Other publishers have put out some great games that meet The Game Awards' requirements: "The best game appropriate for family play, irrespective of genre or platform." So why is it that they've been mostly overlooked?

Nominations for The Game Awards are chosen by "an international jury of over 100 global media and influencer outlets, selected for their history of critical evaluation of video games."

As written in The Game Awards FAQs, "Each voting outlet completes a confidential, unranked ballot based on the collective and diverse opinion of its entire editorial staff, listing out its top five choices in each category. Ballots are tabulated, and the five games that appear on the most ballots are put forth as nominees."

Perhaps it's simply that those who voted did so because Nintendo had more offerings that left an impression. They're certainly a brand that have almost become synonymous with family-friendly games. In my time working in video game retail, I’d regularly advise parents looking to buy their kid’s first console that Nintendo was the most accessible. Even those with minimal gaming knowledge recognize Nintendo IPs, and for the most part you know what you’re going to get. Really, what I meant by this was that you could walk into a store, pick up nearly any Nintendo game, and go about your day. Great family games, at least by The Game Awards' definition, are absolutely present on other platforms. The issue is that they often require a little more work and research to find.

This year saw the release of Activision's Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, Sony's Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, GameMill Entertainment's Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, and even Team 17's Overcooked: All You Can Eat. All of these games, bar Ratchet & Clank, feature multiplayer and some unique experiences for family-tailored play. It's interesting, therefore, to see these games absent from the Best Family category. Maybe the requirement for the category could benefit from some more clarity: does the game need to be tailored towards a younger audience? Are we assuming here that "family" only refers to adults with young children?

Arguably, Nintendo has proven themselves to be the most consistent when it comes to these types of games. Though to claim four out of the five nominations for a category seems a little unfair to other nominees. EA's co-op game It Takes Two is certainly a strong contender for a win, but in this list it feels a bit like David and Goliath. Perhaps as The Game Awards looks to its future, we'll start seeing some more regulation when it comes to its categories. It's a perfect way to shine some light on some other well-deserving games that perhaps don't have the behemoth that is Nintendo towering behind them.

The Game Awards airs on Dec. 9, 2021 live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.