Awards are important for all RPG publishers - particularly small, independent publishers. To illustrate why, it might be helpful to briefly describe my view of the wider industry.
Games sell by reputation. A small portion of people are willing to try new games and experiment, but the bulk of the market buy based on word-of-mouth. There are a couple of ways that you can generate 'buzz' to drive sales:
- use an established retail network
- leverage an established internet following
- demo it at large RPG conventions (which are almost all in North America or Western Europe).
- win, or be nominated for, a significant award
For self-publishers who aren't based in North America or Europe (like me) awards represent a significant opportunity to get much needed exposure. They also represent an important way to showcase diverse voices and encourage people to participate in the industry.
I've previously described the ENnie Awards as the beautiful agony. A self-publisher may be able to gain a nomination through the review of the judges - which is huge. But the chances of actually winning in any category but those of free game or supplement are remote, due to voting.
In some ways I like the idea of public voting for awards - after all what can be fairer than a democratic process? But there are obvious considerations. Awards can be divisive, particularly for those who feel their voices aren't being heard, such as in the case of the Hugo Awards.
Then there's the scale of competition. For example, let's imagine there are awards for soda drinks in the same way as the ENnie Awards. In 2010 Coca Cola released Coke Zero, Pepsi released Cherry Vanilla Pepsi, and Hosmer Mountain Bottling Company released Hosmer Dangerous Ginger Beer. All three are nominated for an award. Even if 90% of all the people who have purchased Hosmer Ginger Beer vote for it to win, they will be vastly outstripped if only 1% of those who have purchased Coke Zero vote for that. And based on market share in 2010, Pepsi will always come second.
Public voting will always favour bigger publishers, or those who have the ability to leverage large audiences. It may not reflect quality, innovative or important works. The ENnies do award the Judges Spotlight awards, which are awarded to products not nominated for an award, selected by individual judges. From the perspective of a small publisher these are actually better than a nomination where you have no chance of winning.
Public voting aside, there's also an obvious disparity in comparing a product which a single person has created, with something that has multiple writers, professional art and layout, and editing.
It's all well and good to critique something, but I always appreciate it when people provide suggestions at the same time, so here are my recommendations to address the above points:
- Retain Public Voting for Judges, Fan’s Choice - Best Publisher and create a new award for Fan's Choice - Best Product
- All other categories to be based on Judges deliberations (perhaps also include a judge who won an award in the previous year and has nothing in contention this year).
- Make a summary of the Judges deliberations available after the awards
- Create categories in some awards for small, mid and large publishers with guidelines based on revenue (i.e. small = less than $1,000 per year, large is $100,000 or more and mid is everything in between). Publishers pick the category when they submit.
- Create a new Award for Best New Talent, for anyone who hasn't submitted a product before, and ask those who wish to be nominated to submit a small bio.
- Create a new award for Services to Gaming to be awarded to anyone who has made a significant contribution, in terms of supporting diversity, promoting charity or doing good works in gaming.
Full disclosure: I've had products nominated for 6 different ENnie Awards and won a Judges Spotlight Award.