On Diana Jones and the ENNIES

Diana Jones award for what… or is it ‘who’?

I don’t follow award shows or prizes, but the Diana Jones award for this year crossed my stream and I noticed with interest the award going to the Actual Play Movement. It is an interesting thing that this award can be presented to an idea, and I was surprised and intrigued… and then I read the statement.

The reality was different than the headline.

Context: I support the underlying concept – that recorded and shared Actual Play in general, and its specific increase in the past few years – is a huge benefit for the people inside the hobby and those who are curious about it.

Context: The words chosen to express it leave me cold – particularly in two areas.

  1. I do not agree that these games are especially fun with “talented people,” rather they are especially fun with one’s friends.
  2. I do not agree that the announcement of the award to the concept of the actual play movement should be written as an advertisement for for-profit gaming in public when it could have instead been encouragement to be a part of sharing what we enjoy with others.

The confluence of these errors, as I see them, whether made intentionally or through overlooking what should be obvious, makes it plain that it is not the Actual Play Movement which is being praised, but those named shows which have neither pioneered nor shaped it, and have instead only been successful at drawing viewers and patrons.

If that is the case, would it not have been more honest and beneficial to those named shows, and for the Diana Jones Award organisation itself to have just given the award and praise to those people directly? What is the motivation for pretending the award is going to a movement, when it clearly is not?

The reason those large and successful streams are large and successful is because people actually play, actually want to play, and are willing to leverage new technologies as they appear to make play possible. The movement was first.

If you are unsure what I mean by the Diana Jones Award, the quoted text below is from their official website, captured on August 4, 2018.

About the Diana Jones Award
What is the Diana Jones Award?
The Diana Jones Award is an annual award created to publicly acknowledge excellence in gaming. The award was first made for the year 2000, and the first award ceremony was on August 4, 2001.

Why is this award different?
The Diana Jones Award is decided on merit, not popularity or commercial success. You may never have heard of some of the nominees, but you can be certain that they are all outstanding in their fields. What is more, because the winner is chosen by a closed, anonymous committee, it is impossible for a manufacturer or publisher to stuff the ballot or interfere with the voting.

What is ‘Excellence in Gaming’?
The Diana Jones Award is designed to reward any combination of achievement, innovation, and anything that has benefited or advanced the hobby and industry as a whole; or which has had the greatest positive effect on games and gaming; or which, in the opinion of the judging committee, shows or exemplifies gaming at its best.

The precise interpretation of ‘excellence in gaming’ is left to the discretion of the individual judges, who approach the subject from many different backgrounds and perspectives. Innovation, artistic merit, commercial success, cultural significance, longevity and several other factors are all considered.

What is eligible for the award?
Anyone and anything within the games industry and hobby is eligible to win the Diana Jones award. That includes but is not restricted to: individuals, products, publications, publishers, distributors, retailers, clubs, organisations, conventions, events, trends, innovations and concepts. It is possible that the committee may decide not to give the award if in their opinion nothing in the previous year was sufficiently outstanding to qualify.

Who judges the award?
The Award is decided by a panel of people working in all areas and at all levels of the hobby-games business, who have all distinguished themselves in their field. It is up to each member of the judging committee to decide whether they will reveal their membership, but the full membership list will not be made public. Most of the members of the Diana Jones judging committee are anonymous, but Peter Adkison, Matt Forbeck, John Kovalic and James Wallis have all revealed their membership. New members are invited at the discretion of the existing members.

During the nominations round, a complete list of all the suggestions received is circulated to all the judges. They discuss the list in secret and cut it down to a shortlist of four to seven which is usually announced in late spring. After further deliberations, discussions and playtests, the final winner is chosen from this shortlist.

When is the award announced?
A shortlist of nominees is announced in the spring of each year, and after the committee’s final deliberations the winner of the Diana Jones award are revealed at a party at the Gen Con game convention, where the trophy is presented.

How many winners are there?
There is normally one winner each year. However, there has been a tie in the past, and the committee allows for that possibility in the future.

If you are unsure of what the text of the Diana Jones Award for the ‘Actual Play Movement’ was, and why it inspired this blog post, you can read it below:

PRESS RELEASE

TO ALL MEDIA

2018 DIANA JONES AWARD GOES TO

ACTUAL PLAY

Global community wins award

for ‘Excellence in Gaming’

Wednesday 1st August 2018, Indianapolis

The winner of the 2018 Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming is Actual Play.

Actual Play is a movement within hobby games in which people record and broadcast their game sessions — particularly campaigns of tabletop roleplaying games — over the internet. Primary examples include Critical Role (a weekly show for Geek & Sundry), The Adventure Zone (a biweekly show for Maximum Fun), Maze Arcana (a biweekly D&D show featuring Satine Phoenix and Ruty Rutenberg), Acquisitions, Inc. (an irregular D&D show by Penny Arcade), the One Shot and Campaigns Podcasts on the One Shot Network (by James D’Amato and Kat Kuhl), and a variety of shows produced by Geek & Sundry.

This list could go on for pages. There are hundreds of these shows, each with a dedicated audience. Some are arguably more popular than the games their members play within them.

Actual Play shows — whether broadcast via audio, video or both — have done more to popularize roleplaying games than anything since the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, and in a far more positive way. They take RPGs out of the basement and put them on the world stage, showing a global audience exactly how much fun roleplaying games can be when played by talented people who are fully invested in their shared stories.

More than that, Actual Play can help gamers become better gamers. Game designers have long bemoaned the fact that it’s impossible to put themselves into the box to show people how to have the most fun while playing their games. Actual Play gives players of all skill levels full-bore examples of how to get the most out of their own games, presented in a format that’s easy to share and enjoy.

Actual Play puts the focus on the fun. It inspires gamers new and old to start up games of their own, or to improve the games they’re already running. Roleplaying game sessions have been described as twenty minutes of fun packed into four hours, but Actual Play demonstrates how players and game masters can become amazing and fine practitioners of this challenging and ephemeral art. They take what many of us have known in our private lives for years and make it obvious for everyone to see: gaming is perhaps the best kind of fun.

The Diana Jones Award Committee is proud to declare that Actual Play exemplifies excellence in gaming, and to award it our trophy this year.

* * *

THE AWARD PRESENTATION

The 2018 Award was presented at the annual Diana Jones Party, an industry-only event held at the Tin Roof in Indianapolis the night before the Gen Con games convention opens to the public. Representing the Actual Play community, Satine Phoenix, Ruty Rutenberg, James D’Amato, and Ivan Van Norman accepted the Diana Jones trophy from Adrian Swartout, who had accepted the trophy on behalf of Gen Con last year.

Awards

Let’s not stop with the curious case of Diana Jones, let us move on to the enigmatic ENNIES.

Context: Modiphius wins the Silver ENNIE for production values despite producing a product with significant problems that the consumer should rightly expect not to see in a final version. Yes, at first glance it is very attractive and the design aesthetic at work in how to combine the needs of the Intellectual Property of Star Trek with the needs of an RPG text works well on the surface, but then if you intend to play it, you encounter the problems of layout and organization of the text and that is a much less pleasant experience. Although the text is generally excellent – barring the errors which creep in from typing, revision, system changes, and so on, reading the book can be quite frustrating, and using it as a reference more so.
Core game concepts were presented inconsistently or incorrectly; key text was missing or core concepts and procedures were separated by large sections of the book; and basic typographical errors, which should never have made it into the layout text, remained in the final text for the print run – even in the Collector’s Edition. It’s attractive, but I do not think that list of problems is something which should be a part of a category for Production Values – despite the process of entrant selection in the ENNIES.

Context: If we believe the descriptive text for the ENNIES, the ENNIES also do not agree that a book with such problems should be in the running to win:
Best Production Values – Awarded for the book exemplifying the best production values, from graphic design and layout, editing, paper, binding; all the factors that combine to create the look and feel of the product.
  • Points in favor of Star Trek Adventures are initial graphic design, paper, art, and binding.
  • Points against Star Trek Adventures are the implementation of the graphic design, editing, proofing, and quality control. There are missing sentences. There are cut&paste errors, the usual errata, and there are organizational issues which conspire with the inconsistent use of terms for concepts (things which an editor and/or proofer should note in just reading the text, and playtesters should note in using the text) that make it frustrating to use the book to learn the game.
If you doubt this assessment, (and you should retain a healthy amount of skepticism) read the game and play it as written without and then with the series of errata produced in several waves after its release. It is great that these were made available to people who check the Modiphius site or DriveThru for such things, but for a Star Trek product, which presumably also had to go through approval from the license holder…?

There is an idea that forms from all of this that corners may have been cut, perhaps due to haste to adhere to a specific schedule.

It should also be noted that this all extends to the PDF version as well, which in addition to the problems of the print version, also had strange but semi-functional book marks in place, and then in successive revisions – lost them.

I am finding it hard to connect this list of production problems with an award for Best Production Values.

Context: I like Modiphius a lot. I like their games a lot. I think they have been a force for good in gaming, and fun, too. I think they have nailed the modern business paradigm for thriving as a games company. They are one of my favorite companies. I am not complaining about Modiphius, I generally think that they DO represent some of the best production values in the industry most of the time – just not this time. I am not railing against them. I am giving commentary on the ENNIES.

Further, I really like Star Trek Adventures and find that it produces a roleplaying experience that I enjoy. It works very well at bringing Star Trek to the table, the text shows that it was written with love and passion, and I will be using it for years to come. It is because I am so impressed with the game as intended, that the game as printed is a disappointment. My players expect an audible sigh each time I have to go into the book for something. That isn’t right.

Context: It is good to reward excellence. It is also good to not reward failure to reach the standards laid out for what excellence is.
Added Context: Delta Green won gold and is representative of the excellence this award seeks to reward. Rather than proving a positive case in favor of the ENNIES, however, it highlights how not holding all entries to the same minimum standards diminishes the overall value of this important award. (added August 6th, 2018)

Conclusions:
  • this suggest itself as evidence that the games do not get read or played by the ENNIES people, or their voters, but winning entries include nice and plentiful art.

  • As the ENNIES need games to be submitted in order for their process to function, and they need to give an award in each category in order to be of use to gamers, and as the publishers of those games need the recognition of the award to sell their games to gamers who…. will en masse not read or play them, the process is broken as it lends itself to becoming the choice of a popular and attractive book off of the pile of submissions.

  • Modiphius, even if it were a case of having better ‘production values’ than any other game in its category, did not deserve this award. While I can get behind the ‘best rules’ win, and will again in the future if each iteration of 2D20 can be taken on its own merits and is distinct enough in each game to merit having their own merits, this ‘production values’ win flies squarely in the face of reason, customer service, literacy, and those companies who have and care about editors and professional (rather than solely artistic) graphic designers.
  • This award did not need to be given out if no one met the qualifications, if no one bothered to fill the category with suitable entries, or if no one actually investigated if standards were met and exceeded. Picking the best from a pile serves a very different function and requires very different things than picking the best.

Take Aways:

  1. I am going to remember to continue to congratulate publishers who are happy to have won an ENNIE. While I have lost the little respect I had for the award, those who try to win it in good faith deserve better, and they rightly should enjoy the flush of excitement that comes from receiving an award like the one the ENNIES seem to represent. They toil in obscurity most of the time and recognition is limited. I think they deserve to be proud even though the award organization itself is letting them down.
  2. I am going to continue to ignore the ENNIES, not check if a game has won an ENNIE, forgo participating in the ENNIES, and avoid suggesting people should involve themselves in any aspect of the ENNIES.

Concern: I should be more active and vocal in the ENNIES process and build support in like-thinking individuals to make our voices heard in the ENNIES process so that despite themselves the quality must either improve or the organization must represent itself as what it really is.

Thought: the ENNIES organization does not merit this sort of interest from the people who seek to ensure quality stems from it. If that organization cannot exert the effort to maintain their own standards, then they have none.

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