The Game Awards revealed its 2017 nominees today, and that upcoming show from media personality Geoff Keighley has broken the seal on a contentious Game of the Year conversation: is PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds eligible for end-of-the-year awards if it is still in the Early Access program for unfinished games on Steam and not in its full 1.0 retail release?
Keighley’s award show nominated the last-player-standing battle royale shooter for Game of the Year alongside Horizon: Zero Dawn, Persona 5, Super Mario Odyssey, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The PUBG Corporation claims it will release a 1.0 version before the end of December, and that would make it a 2017 release. But few outlets will consider that version of the game for their awards.
And a lot of people have an opinion on whether it’s appropriate to consider PUBG for game of the year. The thread on Reddit “PUBG shouldn’t be a contender for GOTY; there should be full releases only” has 54,000 upvotes and 4,500 comments. USgamer editor-in-chief Kat Bailey calls it a “terrible idea” in an editorial. You’ll see similar arguing and rationalization from multiple sides on social media like Twitter.
The discourse breaks down into a handful of familiar points:
For PUBG as a GOTY contender:
- If a game is available for purchase of any kind, you can consider it for game of the year.
- Early Access doesn’t really mean anything. Plenty of games come out and continue to change and grow for months or years.
Against PUBG as a GOTY contender:
- It isn’t finished. Early Access isn’t representative of what the game is really like.
- (Bailey brought this up) If no reputable site will give it a scored review, we shouldn’t consider it for GOTY. Everyone seems to know it isn’t ready for an official review.
Let me say two quick things before I dissect why this is even a question at all. First, this doesn’t matter. We’re all just making up rules for an intangible concept that doesn’t mean anything. Second, GamesBeat will consider PUBG eligible for all of its end-of-the-year awards.
We discussed this on the GamesBeat Decides podcast this week. You can watch the segment right here:
Game of the Year is about games, not products
I agree with the sentiment that if you can buy it for the first time in 2017, then it is eligible for game of the year. But it’s a lot more fundamental than that, and it stems from Bailey’s point that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has zero scored reviews on Metacritic. Hell, I’ve even reviewed the game but refused to put a score on it because it is in Early Access.
I see a distinction between what the game is now and what it is once it enters its full retail state, but the reason I won’t give it a score yet still plan to talk about it for our top 10 list is because I see a major distinction between a review and a game-of-the-year list as well.
Games are always both a product and art (except for Frog Fractions). For most outlets, including GamesBeat, reviews deal with the ramifications of both of those considerations. Is this worth your time and money, and does it add anything to the medium? And while PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is still in Early Access, I’m uncomfortable with reviewing it as a product. It’s the product that is in beta.
But like football before the forward pass, PUBG is not going to turn into a game some day. It will just change.
Everything is already in PUBG for it to function as an interactive activity with rules and mechanics. That is a game. It could change or collapse, but I don’t think anyone would argue it is less of a game than What Remains of Edith Finch or chess.
And while I didn’t score my review of PUBG, we have published a lot of critical analysis of this sensation since it debuted earlier this year. A game of the year list is similarly concerned with a critical approach as opposed to product evaluation.
I think you could separately choose the game product of the year, and PUBG probably wouldn’t qualify for that. But I don’t need The PUBG Corp to come tell me that it is finished to know how I feel about how it played and felt in 2017.
If this were a Peanuts special with Charlie Brown, right here is where Linus would say: “Game of the year is a magical time of year. It’s a moment when you get to look back at the last 12 months and throw away the commercial side of industry. It gives you the chance to strictly consider games as games, and you shouldn’t ruin that for yourself by bringing in product baggage into it.”
I think we should all listen to Linus.