Rpgnews: We're here today with Charles Ryan, Chairman of the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Why don't we begin with a bit of what the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design does?
Charles Ryan: The Academy is the professional association for those involved in the creation of adventure or hobby games. It's a part of GAMA, the Game Manufacturers Association, which is the trade association for our industry.
The Academy serves to promote communication among our professionals, to heighten awareness of our accomplishments, and to assist in the professional development of game designers, authors, and illustrators.
Our biggest activity is the Origins Awards, which have been held each year since 1975. Through the Awards, we seek to recognize exceptional achievements and individuals--the best games and game creators of the year!
Rpgnews: How did the Origins awards originate?
Charles Ryan: They originated with Origins itself. Back in 1975, John Mansfield organized the very first Origins Awards as a straight popular vote taken among attendees at the first Origins in Baltimore. There were four categories, as well as a Hall of Fame induction.
That's how the Awards were handled for the first few years--gamers would come to Origins, and there'd be a ballot in the program book. But they grew quickly, and it was clear that to really recognize the best games of
an entire year, the process would need more time and more broad-based participation. In 1980 the Academy was formed as the official organization to manage the Awards. That was actually the first time they were officially called the "Origins Awards."
Rpgnews: How have the award ceremonies changed over the years?
Charles Ryan: Oh, have they! If you've ever been to a "panel discussion" at a small con, you can picture the Origins Awards ceremony of a decade ago. A handful of guys in jeans and T-shirts behind a folding table at the head of a convention meeting room, handing out little plaques with no ceremony and little in the way of prepared comments. Maybe a few dozen people attended, but half the Award recipients weren't even there to collect their Awards.
These days, the Origins Award ceremony has a little more pomp and circumstance--it's a little more of a spectacle. There's an MC (James Ernest of Cheapass Games, a very entertaining host) and celebrity presenters all in tuxes and evening gowns, AV, spotlights, a big stage. People laugh, people cry. People have a great time. For a lot of people, it's the centerpiece of the year in the game business.
Rpgnews: You premiered the Calliope Statue during last years ceremony but they were not ready to be given out during the ceremony itself. Will the statues be ready for this years Origins Awards?
Charles Ryan: Oh, yeah. Last year was really a preview--we didn't expect to have it ready in time, but when it turned out we'd have the statuettes within a few weeks of Origins, it seemed a shame to give out the little plaques.
Now we've already got the statuettes for this year (minus the engraving, of course--that doesn't happen until the very last minute when all the votes are counted).
Rpgnews: Do we have any new changes for this years ceremony?
Charles Ryan: Anyone who's been to the ceremonies over the past few years knows that they've been getting bigger and more exciting every year. The same is true this year. We expect standing room only.
Rpgnews: How does one go about getting their game nominated?
Charles Ryan: A designer simply goes to www.originsawards.com in the latter months of the year and submits it. It's that easy--there's an online form to fill out, it takes, oh, maybe three minutes. There's no entry fee, and the only restriction is that the submitter must be one of the principal designers of the game (or a representative of the publisher), and each submitter can only submit one game per category.
We generally see about 400 or so games submitted each year.
Rpgnews: Out of those 400 or so games the public sees perhaps three or four of them in each of the categories. How does the academy chose which games will go on the ballot the public will see?
Charles Ryan: We put all of the eligible products on a big ballot, and the Fellows of the Academy--the professionals of our industry--vote on them. Each Fellow votes in only a certain number of categories, depending on his or her
areas of expertise, but each gets to vote for up to three items per category. Typically, the top five vote-getters in each category are the official nominees.
Sometimes there's a tie for fifth place--that usually gives us more than five nominees. Likewise, if only three or four products in a category get a lot of votes, and all the rest are tied at one or two votes each, we'll only take the three or four. So it's not always five nominees, but that's the usual number.
Rpgnews: How does a game become eligible for the Hall of Fame?
Charles Ryan: For a game, it must have been out for five years at least. For a person, he or she must have been working in the industry for at least five years.
Every year the Academy Committee puts together a list of potential candidates--games and people we think have been influential. If we've had some feedback or suggestions from the Fellows of the Academy--or anyone
else for that matter--we add those to the list. This year I think we came up with about 70 on the list.
Once the list is completely brainstormed, we select ten people and ten games. These go on that same nominations ballot. When the Fellows vote for the nominees, they also vote "yes" or "no" for each Hall of Fame
candidate. Any candidate that gets "yes" votes from at least 65% of the voting Fellows is inducted.
Rpgnews: As a division of GAMA (Game Manufacturers Association) are you a part of the creation of the new, non-Wizards of the Coast, Origins?
Charles Ryan: The Academy has been participating in the growth of Origins for several years. Both the WotC show management and the new GAMA management view the Origins Awards as a focal point for the convention. So yes, we are a part of it, but we have been all along.
The WotC staff that has run Origins over the past has always worked closely with us and been very supportive of our needs in developing the Awards ceremony. The GAMA staff, I think, sees the ceremony as an integral and focal part of the convention--so I expect the support to grow even beyond what we've experienced before. And we in our turn are going to help the convention grow by putting on a show that every attendee will want to see, and will be talking about throughout the convention.
Rpgnews: Aside from the Origins Awards How do you "heighten public awareness of the community of talent existing in the industry?"
Charles Ryan: Right now all those efforts are tied to the Origins Awards. What we are doing more of, however, is promoting winners and nominees through other venues besides just the Awards ballot. You'll see posters promoting the
winners in game stores this summer, for example.. Also, we're putting more emphasis on the designers of nominees and winning games. In past years, the Academy might just announce the titles that get nominated or win. Now, we include the designers, the game line, the publisher, etc. in every press release, on the web site, and so on.
Rpgnews: It seems like the Origins Awards have come a long way. How soon can we hope to see them on TV? :-)
Charles Ryan:You may never see the Origins Awards on TV, but the Awards do bring our business and hobby some great PR.
Inside our industry, the Awards help focus attention on the designers and publishers that do great work. Most gamers don't pay much attention to names--few gamers will buy a product designed by a particular person, for
example, just because that person's name is on the cover. We'd like to change that--to see gamers start to recognize the names of consistently great authors and designers.
And outside of the industry, a program like the Origins Awards lends a little credibility to a hobby that many people don't understand. Believe it or not, the Awards get a substantial amount of coverage in the general media--coverage that is almost universally great.
Rpgnews: Do you have any final thoughts or comments?
Charles Ryan: We're really thrilled with how far the Origins Awards have come in the past few years. The Awards have a lot of supporters, but also a few detractors and a ton of people that have never heard of them, or given them much thought if they have. I really hope that those gamers who haven't thought much about the Origins Awards check them out (www.originsawards.com), vote, and come to the ceremony at Origins.