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Evaluating Incomplete Games
by Justin Nafziger on 09/04/09 11:25:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Video games, exhibited at a convention [e.g. E3, PAX], will be in one of the various stages of development: recently shipped, shipping to stores, will ship in a few months, will ship over the holidays, are years away from release, or are a tech demo that will never ship in its current form.  This means that most exhibited video games will be in an incomplete state.

Incomplete games differ from released games in a number of ways.  The more incomplete a game is, the more likely it is to have serious bugs (I managed to crash and freeze a number of games at E3 this year).  Incomplete games will not have the prettiest of graphics.  They will be missing their polish.  They will be missing some of their content – an incomplete game might only consist of one actual level, bubble-gum, and bailing-wire.

Certain things can get better:

  • Performance (a.k.a. frame rate),
  • Stability (a.k.a. not crashing),
  • Graphics,
  • Polish,
  • Quality and quantity of content

These are the type of things that can be improved.  Complaints about presentation and resource aspects might be unfounded by the time the game is released.  These issues are worth noting in an objective preview, but not worth worrying about.  At least, these issues are not worth worrying about if there is a sufficient amount of time before the game is scheduled for release.

Certain things are hard to improve:

  • ‘Fun’ is very hard to correct.
  • ‘Controls’ can be tightened up, but are hard to completely change if they do not work.
  • ‘Theme’, ‘setting’, and ‘character’ are not going to change.
  • Gameplay modes (single player, multi-player, co-op) normally have to be designed from the outset – adding a new one, during development, is difficult.

Aspects that are hard to improve are less likely to change before the game is released.  That makes these aspects the best way to objectively judge an incomplete video game.


-- Cross Posted on my blog at: E3 2009: Evaluating Incomplete Games --

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Alexander Bruce
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I think this is an important issue that reviewers should take more seriously. There have been far too many cases of sites (IGN, for example), giving glowing previews to something and then smash it in reviews. Part of the reason is that you see comments like "controls weren't as tight as they could have been, but there's still time before it is released", which then becomes "controls are terrible", because although the game wasn't shipping for a while, schedules were already filled out with everything else that needed to be done in order for the game to be finished.

However, I'd say that your lists aren't as definitive as they should be. If anything, for an early game you should only really b looking at Fun, Theme, Setting, Character, with everything else in the "can get better bucket", but as you get closer and closer to release, you end up with a list of "hard to improve" containing almost everything you've mentioned, and Quality of content / Polish being the only remaining things in the "can get better" list.

I guess that's my main issue with previews. "Graphics were subpar in our preview, but the developer has plenty of time. Therefore, this game will rock." becomes "Graphics didn't improve as much as we had unreasonably hoped for by release. This game sucks"

James Hofmann
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It seems that pretty consistently, game previews exist in a completely different universe from the final review. It could be any number of factors at fault: the controlled environment, the reassurances of the developer or publisher, the journalist being unable to realistically extrapolate. But I have found that in accumulated decades of comparisons between previews vs. reviews, the same writer will sound like two different people, usually biased positive in the preview and biased negative in the review.