Should Early Access Games be GOTY Contenders?
We at Player 2 don’t traditionally do an official Game Of The Year post because it’s a subjective topic and everyone loves different things about games – indeed, our editor is waiting for something to top 2015’s Tropico 5 and one of our contributors has threatened to give the accolade to Strange Brigade (a game which is still in alpha), just because he likes its Ripping Yarns aesthetic.
However it’s a common topic at this time of year and one certain title has games journos across the internet rummaging through their loot crates for a weapon to argue their case – the Battle Royale multiplayer extravaganza that is Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds – better known as PUBG – receiving a lot of the attention.
On screen, PUBG ticks all the boxes for a GOTY contender – it’s a lot of fun, it’s got solid gameplay mechanics, it’s got a huge player base, it’s enormously popular (it’s one of the top games on Steam in terms of concurrent players) and it’s generally very good at what it does.
Except technically it hasn’t actually been released yet.
PUBG is currently in what’s known as “Early Access”, in which players pay a reduced cost to get access to the “in-development” version of a game, on the understanding it’s not finished so Final Results May Vary, Pictures Are For Illustrative Purposes Only, 10c Refund in SA/NT, etc.
This, of course, is where things get problematic when it comes to deciding which games released in a given year are “Teh Bestest.”
There’s no arguing games – even ones purchased on a disc from a retailer – are increasingly released in a state which can charitably be called “still needs tweaking”, with Day One patches, gameplay adjustments, DLC and so on carrying on for long, long after the official release date.
But there’s a difference between saying “This game is done! Oh, wait, hang on, just let us fiddle with this bit for a sec…” and “This game totally isn’t done and we’re going to make a lot of changes between now and when it eventually comes out – which, incidentally, is something we haven’t decided on yet.”
PUBG has been mentioned by some gaming journos as a GOTY contender, which has sparked some involved discussion across the interwebs – and here at Player 2 – as to whether it’s appropriate or fair for Early Access games to be in the running for a GOTY award.
P2 contributor Royce Wilson says “No”, saying there needs to be something approaching an even playing field for deciding which games are the best in any given year and “actually had a definite release” is one of them.
“They don’t give out Oscars based on movies which haven’t finished post-production and the Nobel Prize isn’t awarded for research in progress,” he said.
“In the interests of having a fair starting point, I think a GOTY contender needs to have had an official release – that way there’s a baseline for deciding what’s in contention for that year.
“It’s also not fair on games which did have a proper release – and all the attendant effort that comes with getting their game out there as a result – to have something that’s clearly not finished, will change a lot and might not even ever get an actual release competing with them for a GOTY nod.”
Freelancer extraordinaire and friend of P2 Jason Imms said PUBG was an interesting case, particularly given its popularity.
“My 2c: PUBG is a cultural phenomenon, far and away the most popular game of the year, a massive financial success, and on top of all that? Just really really really fun,” he said.
“Doneness is arbitrary. Also, all reviews are inherently subjective, and via the transitive property so are GOTY deliberations.”
P2 writer Sarah Ellen also reckoned the whole thing opened up a particularly wriggly can of worms.
“Oh gawds; we are going to get into the abstract concept of when a game becomes a game and this is going to get horrid because early access and beta access are indicative that a game actually exists but is evolving,” she said.
“The notion of ‘wholeness’ is sort of ironic in a climate where games may be ‘works-in-progress’ purely by the necessity of patches or the development of shorter DLC.
“There is a question of whether PUBG would be on the list if it was perceived as a complete release though (this is based on the assumption that Early Access denotes that testing is still continuing). What if Batman: Arkham Knight was released as an Early Access – would the level of brickery be discounted? Has PUBG been provided a sweet inequitable ride simply by how it has defined its release?”
Some further insight was brought by P2 writer Ken Lee, who said it raised issues around how games journalists defined and used the entire GOTY concept in the first place.
“If thinking along the lines like the Time magazine Person of the Year, then a GOTY need not be the ‘best’ game, but a game that has an undeniable impact on the conversation about games that year,” he said.
“In this light, PUBG definitely qualifies – but if taken along the traditional GOTY lines of what reviewed best, then probably not.”
Echoing the idea that PUBG is a unique case, P2 writer Jamie Dalzell said it also helped that “it’s the best example of Early Access done right this side of…well…every other Early Access title, really”.
“If this were DayZ – which is practically starting fresh for the umpteenth time – then maybe I’d be singing a different tune, but that Battlegrounds just works is likely worth celebration alone,” he said.
P2’s Dylan Burns said both sides of the argument had points, and touched on other observations about the whole thing being subjective anyway.
“I can see both sides. Can a song demo win a Grammy? Can a sketch win an art prize? This is the real conundrum with early access,” he said.
“You’re never going to convince someone who has spent 236 hours playing a game that it’s not their GOTY.”
Ultimately there’s no real consensus on the issue at the moment, but as the line between “Early Access” and “Release” gets blurrier than the vision of a drunken uni student whose glasses are inexplicably covered in Vaseline, it’s something we’re likely to see a lot more debate on in the future…