PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is a phenomenon, and one of the most talked about games of 2017 within and without GameSpot. Those who've taken the plunge into 100-player battle royale matches recount losses and victories with equal passion, because win or lose, the pervasive moment-to-moment tension is what makes PUBG so thrilling. One misstep or indecisive moment is all it takes for another player to end you. And as survivor counts and the boundaries of the playable area shrink, the final moments reach fever pitch as everyone vies for the ever elusive trophy--a hard-earned chicken dinner.
Given its popularity, we had to seriously consider whether or not PUBG, a game that has and continues to be sold as an Early Access product, should be considered for GameSpot's Game of the Year awards. After all, game platforms like Steam are evolving, and definitions are blurring in the process. If you can spend money on PUBG, isn't it technically "out"? Yes, technically perhaps, but labelling itself early access and entering into that particular ecosystem also protects PUBG from the same level of scrutiny that traditional releases face upon launch. There's a good reason the game was released in Early Access--it needed a way to excuse its glaring issues despite being on sale.
Had PUBG simply come out without caveating its in-development status, the history of the game's ups and downs suggests that reviews might not have been favorable across the board. The game was plagued early on with severe glitches that resulted in absurd physical reactions and often hilarious blunders; part of the fun, no doubt, but certainly not part of the plan. Likewise, the arrival of hackers has also hurt the game as evidenced by the latest round of user reviews on Steam. These are things that are fair to call out in a review, but when they occur while a game is in Early Access, they justifiably get a pass. You were warned that this game isn't ready to be released (in the traditional sense), after all.
There's a potential counter argument to all of this, which is that AAA publishers are increasingly releasing games that feel buggy or incomplete in some way, with patches and new content drops coming after launch. It's not a totally unreasonable point of comparison, but the idea that a publisher's need to satisfy investors and make money at predictable intervals (by releasing games that require obvious improvement) should somehow influence the discussion around what Early Access means is a false equivalency. Those same publishers knowingly accept judgment and critical punishment for their rushed releases, whereas a game like PUBG can hide behind the veil of "you've been warned." Discussing a game that gets a free pass and a game that risks ruining a publisher's reputation in the same breath doesn't feel fair.
We now know that PUBG will graduate from Early Access and launch on Dec. 20, just over a week from the date this article was published. When that day comes, we, and likely hundreds of thousands of other players, will be able to judge PUBG at face value. Despite the fact that it will still be within the calendar year of 2017, GameSpot's Game of the Year discussions and production schedules will have long wrapped--our cutoff date for nominees was December 1. PUBG will obviously be eligible next year, and before you worry that we will forget about the game if it should come and go in the meantime, we won't. In recent years, games like Bravely Default and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker won GameSpot awards in the year following their initial release.
Even though PUBG will have to sit out our site-wide awards this year, it won't go unrecognized. In reducing the number of ranked games from 25 to 10, we've opened up Editor's Spotlight awards, which gives staff members a chance to champion one game from 2017 that they love, that didn't qualify for or win an award. Rest assured, PUBG is a shoe-in.
Like every year, in 2018 GameSpot will re-examine our approach to Game of the Year awards, to make sure that our categories and selection processes are logically sound and culturally relevant. As a reaction to PUBG's success, we will also ramp up reviews of Early Access games moving forward, and score them like we would in a traditional review.
We have plenty of Best of 2017 content in the coming days and weeks, and you can check our full 2017 Game of the Year schedule for a complete rundown. In the meantime, PUBG deserves a round of applause, and we look forward to its official release in the coming days.