Ahead of the 19th British Academy Games Awards, we caught up with BAFTA Head of Games Luke Hebblethwaite to talk about the importance of the awards and the BAFTA as a whole within the industry.
As a prestigious organization, BAFTA has a unique social appeal that can help highlight the gaming industry on a larger scale.
Hebblethwaite said: “We’re highlighting the best in gaming in ways that many people in the mainstream may not realize, the expertise behind them, the talent that goes into them, the diversity of people in the industry. We bring the kind of media reach that can cross barriers in ways that few other organizations can.
“Categories like Best Family Game and Game Beyond Entertainment show different aspects of what games can be, and I think they break some people’s ingrained understanding of what games are to them.
“As a prestigious institution for us, I think people understand what its role is within film and TV, and to see us choosing to recognize games in this way certainly crosses many of these barriers.”
Speaking about the treatment the team behind Returnal – which won Best Game at last year’s BAFTAs – received, he continued: “We invited Harry Krueger, the director of play, to BAFTA HQ to do a master class with Jane Perry, who had also just won lead performer, and I think he was slightly surprised both of them because they received this kind of full BAFTA treatment.
“Exactly the same kind of thing we would do for Margot Robbie or Quentin Tarantino if they came, so that even when people walk into BAFTA HQ there are games people in the pictures on the walls, so you see and understand that the games they are recognized that way.”
Hebblethwaite also hinted at how BAFTA brings the gaming industry into the wider entertainment scene: “We recently had a masterclass on The Last of Us for our connect members, so this is kind of people in the first couple years of the industry, but it was actually with the TV team, talking to the production designer, the designer of prosthetics and the clothing designer, talking about how they translated from the game to the medium of television and what the kinds of constraints were, but also how things were different.
“It was a really great opportunity to bring these two worlds of gaming and TV together, obviously the TV show is having a huge amount of success right now, but a big part of the conversation was also about those people in the TV industry who work on this game who actually they get their heads under the hood of games for the first time and understand the design choices that the clothes people wear in games aren’t just there by random choice.
“There’s a lot of consideration that goes into these in exactly the same way a costume designer would go into it for TV.”
Within the gaming industry, BAFTA works to facilitate growth and connections. Hebblethwaite said: “We’re really good at bringing the industry together to discuss and come together and create a sort of melting pot.
“We’ve had social events for games, the latest of which had 200 industry professionals, from BAFTA winners and household names to people just starting their own indie development studies.
“We bring people together and help make those connections that can change lives and generate those serendipitous moments where interesting ideas are generated; I know for a fact that people have gone off and formed partnerships with people they met at BAFTA.”
Hebblethwaite explained how these sessions help share knowledge and improve understanding across the UK: “Looking at MMOs, something that is very different from movies and TV, there is no real equivalent, and also very different from single-player games in the way they are created. I had a panel discussion with the Hyenas team at Creative Assembly , the Fall Guys community management team, and Space Ape’s Boom Beach Creative Director.
“Speaking of what the process is for making an MMO game, it’s a while before you know ‘What are your design constraints from the start?’. This will run on X number of servers, it has to have so many people and can only draw so many triangles or the server melts through the floor like an alien.
“We found this analogy that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, once we launch there are two tunnels. One is to continue development and continue to maintain what we have, and there is a second tunnel that is kind of like next year’s update, where do you want to go.
“You’re always competing with the challenges of a live community and an evolving game. Maybe it’s broken here, falling apart here, or players aren’t happy in this area. You’re constantly trying to maintain and grow, but then you also have long-term goals that you are trying to achieve at the same time.
“Having that discussion, if you will, almost put simply, to try and break down exactly what that means, was really eye-opening. A lot of people felt like it demystified a lot of what goes into that pretty opaque stuff.”
He continued on how winning a BAFTA award is invaluable to a studio’s reputation and future business. Hebblethwaite joked: “I’m sure it’s good for their sales. For sure, it brings a lot of prestige to those companies, whatever scale you’re on. It’s invaluable in terms of how that company is viewed by the industry, the people in the industry , from developers and other people they might like to work with.It’s an understanding that is a true recognition of the craft and experience that goes into and the kind of investment in things they care about.
“Probably for smaller publishers, it’s an incentive to consider games with different kinds of appeal, if you look at our Games Beyond Entertainment category and the games that are selected within it, there’s a lot of recognition that comes into that and I think , being that many smaller publishers are engaged in important conversations, AND defending many issues, is a nice way to help acknowledge them.
“It’s a huge accolade for the developers to win, winning a BAFTA is very difficult. We’ve had 248 matches I think entered this year and only one winner per category, so it’s a fierce competition, six against the biggest games in the world.
“So when people win, that BAFTA can open a lot of doors no matter the size of your company. For larger companies, it’s a recognition of the skills and talents that are there, and brilliant for recruiting.
“For small businesses, indie developers, that BAFTA opens up a lot of doors and a lot of opportunities for the future that help the conversations you have with publishers, with investors and all that sort of stuff. Indie development is hard work, and I’m sure BAFTAs are well appreciated by those who have them on their mantelpieces.”
“BAFTA being a prestigious institution, people I imagine understand what its role is within film and TV, and to see us choosing to recognize games in this way certainly crosses many of these barriers.”
BAFTA also organizes initiatives such as their innovative programme, the connect program and the competition for young game designers to foster the next generation of gaming talent.
Hebblethwaite praised these initiatives: “Basically in everything we do, it’s about creating opportunities to learn and increase your network and opportunities in the gaming industry for talent.
“Whether it’s young people who come through our network of young game designers who are winners or nominees, and we continue to connect with them throughout their careers, it’s a really beautiful and wonderful community building.
“We involve them in our businesses and they continue to land roles in the industry. For people in the early stages of their careers we have the whole connect programme, which offers learning opportunities both in terms of craftsmanship, but also in the fundamental skills needed to be successful in any job.
“Building simple but also sometimes structured ways to network and bring people together and meet people they might not otherwise have met is really important to overcome some of these barriers, we have all kinds of people in our network.
“Bringing these people together and sometimes letting them network, or other times bringing those people together specifically to engage in conversations and panel discussions, talk about industry issues or ways to help people is central to what we do and why we go about creating the content from alone.
“Hopefully, from these great ideas, brilliant new companies will be created, and fundamentally new games will be born from all of this.”
Speaking specifically about young developers, Hebblethwaite explained: “They’re amazing young people making amazing games, and it’s a really good vehicle to be able to talk about what happens in games and how they’re made, what goes on behind the scenes; the kind of stories those young people choose to tell in the games that enter the competition, All about social issues, their own personal identity, talk about climate change, talk about mental health.
“I think anyone who sees that competition and the results that come with it is very impressed to see the importance of that medium for young people and I think it changes the perceptions that people have, particularly in the older generation.”
The BAFTA Games Awards 2023 will take place on 30 March from 6.50pm BST onwards. You can tune in to watch the ceremony live via the official BAFTA Twitch channel.