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Are triple-A games losing relevance?

As indies steal thunder at the BAFTAs, CVG examines the future for big blockbusters

A few years ago it was little more than a token gesture.

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Journey picked up five BAFTA trophies

Squeezed somewhere in the schedules of awards bashes (from BAFTAs to VGAs) would sit a quiet, solitary nod to someone like Jonathan Blow. These were tangential trophies - prizes with meaningless titles like "best digital game" or "best indie", as if the likes of Braid couldn't compete on the same level as Mario.

Today it's a different scene entirely. In December, The Walking Dead scooped the VGA Game of the Year Award while, on Tuesday at the glitzy BAFTA event in London, the indies completely took over.

Only four traditional triple-A titles were handed the top prizes last night, dwarfed by smaller titles such as The Room, The Walking Dead, The Unfinished Swan and (in particular) the PS3 curio Journey.

As we applauded the Journey co-creators as they took centre stage to collect their fifth award of the night, one developer sitting next to me said "we've now probably spent more time clapping Journey than actually playing it".

Of course, whether one would classify Journey as an indie title is another matter entirely. After all, it was funded and published by Sony the same way Killzone is. But there was another, absolutely incredible moment that hit home the bigger issue. New Star Soccer, a beautiful iOS football game developed by one person (the widely loved Simon Reed) stole FIFA 13's thunder and took home Best Sports Game. David slays Goliath.

Celebrating indie games may have been a token gesture several years ago, but today some award shows would look out-of-touch if they didn't give self-published games a sizable platform. It's a situation that leads to a difficult question: Are triple-A games becoming irrelevant?

'A warning shot'

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Microsoft was left empty handed despite nominations for its flagship title Halo 4

"I think last night was a warning shot over the bow for the bigger publishers," says Ian Livingstone, a games industry ambassador and investor.

Livingstone, a man who once earned his crust by heading up Eidos, said modern-day publishers must awaken to the new forms of games that people are enjoying.

"BAFTA did a great job in celebrating the craft, and the art form, and all the new ways of playing games. When you look at the awards last night, and who did and didn't win, yes I do think it's indicative of the winds of change.

"We live in a new age of digital distribution, new pricing models and new IP and I think the major publishers need to start adapting to this."

While Livingstone wants the bigger publishers to break free of old habits, he said the Game BAFTAs was a positive event for the industry as a whole, because it flaunts a breadth of talent and ideas.

"This isn't a revolt to kill off console gaming - I just think the new games are a breath of fresh air"

"This isn't a revolt to kill off console gaming - I just think the new games are a breath of fresh air. These developers are finding new ways to express themselves and create interesting and unique content.

"But triple-As aren't going away completely, they will continue to drive the industry in the same way that Hollywood blockbusters drive film."

Michael French, a games expert who edits the industry publication MCV, is more sceptical about how much the BAFTA night reflects the wider picture.

"It's a good snapshot of what's happening right now in the short-term, especially since there's not a lot of boxed games out there, while there are a lot of good indie and self-funded games have been released," he explained.

"But if the voting process was different, I don't think the indie games would have won as many awards. I mean, I'm personally a delighted that Simon Reed won Best Sports Game because he's a lovely person and his game is fantastic, but could you really look someone in the eye and say that FIFA 2013 wasn't the best sports game?"

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