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PUBG absolutely can (and maybe should) be Game of the Year (update)

Early access is a feature, not a bug

A screenshot of a sniper wearing a ghillie suit in Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds
Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds

Update (Nov. 13): Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds is one of the finalists for Game of the Year in The Game Awards, which has caused a fair bit of controversy due to the fact the game is still in early access. It’s worth revisiting these thoughts on why PUBG is fair game for this, and other, game of the year nominations. This post’s timestamp has been updated.

Original story: Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds is an Early Access release on Steam, which means players are paying their $29.99 knowing that the game is unfinished. It also means that the game is still finding its way, with things like microtransactions and the addition of vaulting potentially altering how the community interacts with itself. It exists, like many Early Access games, in a state of rapidly evolving experimentation.

The question is how Early Access games should be treated when it comes time for considering Game of the Year awards, and 2017 may be the first year an Early Access game is a legitimate — or at least arguable — frontrunner. But what if the answer is that the malleable nature of these games is an advantage, not a disqualification?

Hitting a moving target

Every update has the potential to alter how we play PUBG. Look at what happened when honking was added to the vehicles; the fans reacted, and now it’s a big deal. Why worry about winning a round when you can make your own game out of finding streamers and honking at them?

This is why PUBG deserves to be in the running for game of the year, if it’s not already a lock at many publications. It’s not just popular and influential, it’s fun. And the evolving nature of what makes the game fun doesn’t take away from its existence as an artistic statement, it adds to it. PUBG may be game of the year because it’s an early access title, a designation that means basic assumptions about how the game operates at all could change from one month to the next.

It’s hard to find anything that’s matched PUBG in hours played, streamed and discussed this year. Popularity isn’t a replacement for quality, but games that last this long on the playlists of so many players is certainly an indication of it. It’s unfair to disqualify a game for awards due to the fact that it might change later, as if most popular games these days aren’t always in active development.

Hell, Diablo 3 has changed so much since its initial 2012 release that it almost feels like a new game in its own right, and there’s an argument to be made that it could be in the running for game of the year again.

Dota 2 is another game that has been officially released for years while seeing constant updates and change. There is no World of Warcraft 2, but try comparing the game as it exists now to the game that was originally launched. Version 1.0 just doesn’t mean the same thing anymore, especially with so many games being patched on the day of release. No Man’s Sky was a very different game on the disc than it was on release, and it’s even better now.

We’re seeing assumptions about game pricing melt away as many admit they don’t know what a video game can or should cost in 2017, and the same thing is happening for release dates.

The reality is that PUBG is out; it’s a product you can buy in exchange for money on Steam. Being in Early Access is more about managing expectations than anything else. If you can pay money to play something, even if the developer doesn’t think its done, it’s out.

The fact that the game may behave in unexpected ways, or that players act in a specific manner knowing that opponents can’t jump over most fences yet is just a part of the temporarily established status quo. We’re all going to have to adapt once we can jump through windows or enter buildings from the second floor.

Will that make the game better, or worse? It’s hard to know, but it’s going to change things. And after that things can and will change again. It’s all up in the air, and that’s wonderful.

Being unfinished and rough around the edges is part of what makes the game so charming, and the unexpected nature of certain viral behavior is a big part of what fuels the game’s popularity among streamers and on social media. PUBG is a game that’s more liquid than solid at the moment, and it’s silly to think we have to wait until there’s some arbitrary finish line passed before it can start winning awards. The changing nature of play is part of what makes being a fan right now so rewarding.

2017 has been an amazing year for games, but the PUBG that people might be voting for as Game of the Year is the PUBG that exists in 2017. It’s a moving target, but even without knowing what exactly the game will become I know that right now it’s one of the best games of the year.

The fact that it isn’t “finished” is a selling point, not a limitation.

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