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TGA’s Geoff Keighley Weighs In On Dave The Diver Nomination Controversy

There’s a reason why diving sim Dave the Diver, from a massive publisher, got nominated

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Two people look at each other in Dave the Diver.
Image: Mintrocket

An intense debate ignited November 13, when The Game Awards host Geoff Keighley announced the nominees for this year’s trophy ceremony. While some folks were surprised Pikachu face by Starfield’s absence, most people were shook by one particular title offered up for the “Best Independent Game” category. Now, after a couple weeks of silence, Keighley has tossed his two cents into the discourse.

You might remember that Dave the Diver, a very popular adventure game about catching fish and cooking sushi, was one of five titles nominated for the “Best Independent Game” award. The action management sim has a lofi, pixel-y aesthetic that fits right in with how many indies look these days. However, when the nominees were announced on November 13, many folks online pointed out that Dave the Diver wasn’t, in their opinion, an indie game, despite looking like one. And during a November 26 Q&A, Keighley broke down how the game got nominated.


TGA’s juries consider Dave the Diver an indie game

During the Q&A hosted on Twitch, Keighley took some questions from chat about The Game Awards, the nominees, and what to expect from the ceremony. After answering chatters who asked about security and world premieres, Keighley was then taken to task regarding the rationale behind Dave the Diver’s nomination. Although he waffled quite a bit answering the question, he did go pretty deep into the jury’s stance on Dave the Diver and the issues surrounding the discourse. Jog the vid below to 27:05:

“Look, it’s a great question,” Keighley said. “Independent can mean different things to different people and it’s sort of a broad term, right? I mean, you could argue ‘Does independent mean the budget of the game? Does independent mean where the source of financing was? Is it based on the team size? Is it the kind of independent spirit of a game, meaning kind of a smaller game that’s different?’ Everyone has their own opinion about this, and we really defer to our jury—120 global media outlets—that vote on these awards to kind of make that determination of is something independent or not. You know, in other industries, sometimes there are [determining factors]. I think in the film industry there’s like, ‘The budget can’t be above this amount of dollars [if it’s an independent film].’”


Keighley then mentioned two games that people consider indies: Larian Studios’ Baldur’s Gate 3 and Kojima Productions’ Death Stranding, the latter of which, he quickly noted, was funded by Sony. And there’s the rub. For him, questions around financing and publishing complicate the indie classification.

So yeah, Dave the Diver. That game is made by a group named Mintrocket, [so it’s] a smaller game from a smaller group, but [Mintrocket is] part of Nexon. They’re employees of Nexon, which is a very large publisher. So, I think it’s a fair debate and discussion about is that game truly independent or is it not. You can argue it either way. It’s independent in spirit and that it’s a small game with a—I don’t know what the budget is—relatively small budget, but it’s from a larger entity whereas there are other games on that list from much smaller studios. Even like Dredge or something I think is published by Team17, so is that independent or not because you have a publisher? It’s a really complicated thing to figure out and come up with strict rules around it, so we let people use their best judgment. You can agree or disagree with the choices, but the fact that Dave the Diver was on that list meant that, out of all the independent games the jury looked at—or what they thought were independent games—that was one of the top five they looked at this year. So, yeah, I think it’s a good question.


Keighley also touched on Thatgamecompany’s narrative adventure game Journey, which won an award for Best Independent Game during the 2012 Spike Video Game Awards show, further highlighting how perplexing the category is, considering that game and studio are tied to Annapurna Games and PlayStation.

“I think it’s fair to say, like, what does independent mean,” Keighley said. “To me, why I like that category—the other thing is you could get rid of the category, right?—but it’s usually like five or six different games that are in that category. And there have been years where—like Celeste that was up for Game of the Year and I think won independent game of the show in 2017 or 2018—independent games are so good they can be up for Game of the Year, but typically, it’s a different set of games and I like that we get to recognize different games on our show and not just the same five or ten games nominated in all categories. So that’s why I like the idea of that category, but what the exact criteria is an open debate and discussion. A long, rambling answer, but hopefully that makes some sense.”


Kotaku reached out to Keighley for comment.

It’s an enthralling debate. By my estimation, the only true indie game in that category—that is, the only game funded, developed, and published by the same team—is Sabotage Studio’s JRPG homage Sea of Stars. While Dave the Diver may not be a true indie, TGA’s jury considers it one, and I guess that’s all that matters. Keighley did say, however, that the sister category—”Best Debut Indie Game”—is something he’s really proud of because it highlights a team launching its first-ever game. He said these are “often really, really independent studios that are just starting out,” so if you’re looking for true-blue newcomers you’ll find them nominated there.


Below, for your consideration, are this year’s “Best Independent Game” and “Best Debut Indie Game” nominees:

Best Independent Game

  • Cocoon (Geometric Interactive/Annapurna Interactive)
  • Dave the Diver (Mintrocket)
  • Dredge (Black Salt Games/Team 17)
  • Sea of Stars (Sabotage Studio)
  • Viewfinder (Sad Owl Studios/Thunderful Publishing)

Best Debut Indie Game

  • Cocoon (Geometric Interactive/Annapurna Interactive)
  • Dredge (Black Salt Games/Team 17)
  • Pizza Tower (Tour de Pizza)
  • Venba (Visai Games)
  • Viewfinder (Sad Owl Studios/Thunderful Publishing)