The Game Awards: What is the ‘Xbox Tax’

Bethesda /

If you’ve been browsing social media over the weekend, you may have seen something trending that refers to the “Xbox Tax.” Without knowing what this means, you may interpret it to mean that you are paying a hidden tax by gaming on Xbox.

But no, this is not the case. In fact, the Xbox Tax refers to something much different.

What is the Xbox Tax?

In actuality, the Xbox Tax refers to The Game Awards, and the perception that the annual Awards Show discriminates against Xbox titles. The perception is backed by the lack of Xbox games being nominated for Game of the Year.

In The Game Awards’ 10-year history, Xbox has never won Game of the Year and only one game from Xbox Games Studios (2021’s Psychonauts 2) has ever been nominated for the prestigious award. The lack of recognition has led many to accuse The Game Awards host and producer Geoff Keighley of being “anti-Xbox.”

Is the Xbox Tax real?

While I understand the perception could lead some to believe that The Game Awards is “anti-Xbox,” there’s no factual evidence. Nominees for The Game Awards are not selected by a single person, but rather a jury comprised of over 100 global media and influencer outlets “selected for their history of critical video game evaluation.”

As explained in The Game Awards FAQ:

"Each voting outlet completes a confidential, unranked ballot based on the collective and diverse opinion of its entire editorial staff, listing out its top five choices in each category.Ballots are tabulated, and the five games that appear on the most ballots are put forth as nominees. In the event of a tie, six (or more) nominees will be announced in a category."

And no, Geoff Keighley isn’t even a member of the jury, nor does he vote on the nominees or winners.

As for how the winner is selected, it’s based on a blended vote between the voting jury (90%) and fans (10%).

2023 Game of the Year nominees

The Xbox Tax perception really picked up steam this year as Starfield, one of this year’s biggest games, wasn’t included in the GOTY nominees. Instead, the six nominees for GOTY are:

  • Alan Wake II (Remedy Entertainment / Epic Games)
  • Baldur’s Gate 3 (Larian Studios)
  • The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (Nintendo)
  • Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 (Sony)
  • Resident Evil 4 (Capcom)
  • Super Mario Bros. Wonder (Nintendo)

Despite Starfield’s massive launch, it’s understandable, at least based on critics scores, why it was snubbed. Starfield scored just an 83 on Metacritic, while all of the other games on this list scored in the 90s (except Alan Wake II which scored an 88). If the media is voting on Game of the Year, and clearly felt Starfield was mediocre, well then it’s easy to see why it wasn’t voted as a Game of the Year nominee.

Now, there is some debate to be had whether a remake like Resident Evil 4 should be included. Or if Alan Wake II could’ve been swapped with Starfield, given the latter’s massiveness. But based on scores alone, I have no issue with the current list of GOTY nominees.

Could Starfield have made the list? Possibly. It was a huge game enjoyed by millions. It wasn’t perfect and I definitely don’t think it was the best game of 2023, but I do believe there’s an argument for it to be included.

Alas, though, it was not and thus we have the “Xbox Tax” trending.