#1 Edited by ultraspacemobile (41 posts) -

With the oncoming feature "Unfinished," the question seems prudent to ask, what does the community feel is the proper referent of criticism regarding an unfinished game?

Before we can answer this question, it seems necessary to clarify, just what are unfinished games? I observe that the term "unfinished" suggests a standard by which we can measure a game's progress, viz. an ideal "finished" state. Yet, can we accurately say that such a standard exists? I do not think we can.

To expound, I assume (although I do not know) that game designers, as a subset of designers, tend to be attuned to the field of Design. The concepts "participatory design" and "rapid iteration" have a lot of cachet in Design today, and young designers likely apply them to their own efforts.

The "big idea" behind these terms is to offload some of the responsibility for good design onto the user. By offloading this responsibility, producers effectively transform products into services, obliging the user to constantly buy back into the product by assuming a role in a bi-directional supply chain. In purchasing, using, and, then, talking about the "unfinished" product, the user thereby contributes labor to the design process. Hence, user insights propel a design feedback loop, ideally increasing iteration speed and reducing the risk associated with introducing a fully formed new product into the market. This bi-directional model is in contrast to traditional supply chain models, which frame the user simply as the beneficiary at the chain's terminus.

In the case of unfinished games, I suspect the aforementioned terms have influenced the producers' business plans. The producers probably don't even really know what their game should be (what user needs or desires they aim to fulfill with it), but expect its intention to emerge from accumulated data as they observe user interactions with what is essentially a prototype masquerading as a product. In short, I suspect the designers of these games are trying very hard not to be creative. Rather, they mean to be good information processors. "Unfinished" games may simply be a form of exploratory research in the guise of "human-centered design," "democratization of the medium," or something of that cloth. In a way, the content of an "unfinished" game is not even part of the true product, but a means of discovering what that product should be.

So, is it right to criticize "unfinished" games as games? Or (as I mean to suggest), should we criticize them on their ability to elicit and incorporate user insights? If they are not properly games, but market research for an eventual game, should we not criticize them as such? As consumers, what object of criticism can we identify that, thus criticized, will lead to the best product, the most fun game for us to play?

#2 Posted by Veektarius (4147 posts) -

That was way more TL;DR than it needed to be. To answer your question, though, one should criticize an unfinished game through the same lens as a finished one, all the way down to the recommendation of whether or not it's worth buying in its current state. There's a difference of tone there, since you can't infer that missing features result from incompetence, but other than that...

#3 Posted by Sin4profit (2870 posts) -

If you're looking to buy, you criticize it the same way you do finished games, "is it worth buying in it's current state". The interesting thing about what GB is doing with their Unfinished videos is that they can come back to those games if they feel there's any significant change and then come back again to do a Quick Look at the final product if they feel the need.

#4 Edited by Video_Game_King (34613 posts) -

I'd say you should criticize it on an ideological rather than mechanical basis. Mechanics can be fixed (to an extent); ideas are harder to work with.

#5 Edited by ultraspacemobile (41 posts) -


You make a good point. It seems difficult, however, to distinguish criticism of ideology from criticism of genre or medium generally.

I would like to read some research on how the developers of unfinished games actually interpret data from user testing. What aspects of their games to they actually subject to tests, and what signifies a need to change? What would have to appear in the data to signify a change of ideology?

#6 Edited by ll_Exile_ll (1271 posts) -

It's quite simple, if they are asking you to pay them money for the product, it should be judged no differently than any other game that is being sold. It's not the responsibility of consumers or critics to make excuses based upon what stage of development the game is in or what design decisions still need to be made. If the developers feel comfortable charging money for their game, they should be ready for any and all criticism.

EDIT: I also forgot to mention that your original post is overly verbose and will likely preclude discussion by people unwilling to try and make sense of it.

#7 Posted by ultraspacemobile (41 posts) -


I agree with your sentiment insofar as criticizing unfinished games as if they were finished products is _fair_; however, even while it is fair, it might not lead to the best result, i.e. the most fun game. If we set aside, for the time being, the resemblance of unfinished games to games properly so called, then criticism might serve a more useful function, viz. to make them better research tools that probe deeper into the latent needs and desires of consumers.

#8 Edited by believer258 (11046 posts) -

Your prose is more purple than @beachthunder's avatar. Clean that shit up, it ought to be a paragraph long.

Anyway, this kind of thing has existed for quite a while. It was called a "beta" then, too. Developers would release parts of their games, either to lucky individuals or to anyone who signed up, and people would play it, and then they would send feedback. These days, people are just buying into betas (or alphas, in some cases) with the promise that they will own the game in question at no extra charge when it comes out.

So how should you criticize something that isn't an end product? Well, the same way you criticize anything else - you pick it apart, point out its issues, and then write about them. This is the point of a beta in the first place. It allows developers a much wider pool of feedback which they take and consider when doing further work on the game. Of course a beta isn't going to be as good as the final product will be, because it's still in development. Anyone participating in a beta knows that.

#9 Posted by Hailinel (22712 posts) -

If developers and publishers are voluntarily releasing beta or even alpha versions of their games to the public, they're expecting to receive criticism of some sort. Especially if the alpha/beta/demo is released in some form that people actually have to pay, or at least have the option of paying, in order to try.

#10 Posted by csl316 (7364 posts) -

I'm gonna look purely at potential. Since so many games come together at the end, I'll be looking at the ideas instead of the execution of an alpha.

#11 Posted by Hunter5024 (5174 posts) -

I think these videos are intended to be more about entertainment and information (Infotainment!), then about criticism. That probably applies to most of Giant Bomb's content actually.

#12 Edited by Gruebacca (406 posts) -

There is a difference in a critical approach. Giant Bomb's new feature allows them to basically cover an early version of a game as if it were a playable preview; however, because these "playable previews" are available to the paying masses, critics are still responsible for offering purchasing advice in relation to the game's current state. This too is handled differently. Instead of recommending games to us on the basis of whether or not they are good, they should use the basis of whether or not we are already hooked on an unfinished game's potential idea, as the certainty of the game's net quality over time is not affirmative.

It's a new category to think about.

#13 Posted by me3639 (1607 posts) -

Who cares, play it or dont. That was easy.

#14 Edited by noizy (637 posts) -

Here's my take. Keep it real simple. Game is "on sale". State the build #. Put a timestamp on the video. Say it's Early Access. Then review like a normal game.

If it plays like shit, say it plays like shit. If the frame rate sucks, say the frame rate sucks. If half the stuff doesn't work, mention it. People will need to start learning that this stuff will not necessarily be true if they watch it 3 months later. If I watch a QL about an Early Access, I want to know what it is like now, not what they predict it will be like in a year down the line. If they can make an assessment of how complete it feels, that's a bonus.

#15 Posted by LikeaSsur (1430 posts) -

@me3639 said:

Who cares, play it or dont. That was easy.

Apathy never helped anyone. The whole reason Early Access is a thing is so developers could test the water with what they have, and they want, no, need feedback in order to make their game the best it can be. They have a very unique chance in changing something that people don't like, even completely removing it if they want to. Think Blizzard during Starcraft and Diablo development - they reset the entire thing many times just to get it right. The same could happen here (though on a much smaller scale).

#16 Posted by Slag (3345 posts) -

while since other Alphas are in the wild now, I'd say there are fair comparables out there to set a baseline for fair criticism. Maybe some of the standards they should be measured to ought to be different, but if you are accepting cash your work is fair game.