Video games get better and better as the years go by and we as consumers and fans reap the benefits of the advancements. However, as games continue to astound us and evolve, many problems begin to surface as well, namely how complete a game is upon launch. Since the inception of online patches and content updates, many developers have taken to release what is called “Day 1 patches” to their just recently released titles to iron out bugs and inconsistencies that may ruin a player’s experience. Furthermore, DLCs and expansions create an environment where developers could potentially release their base game with components missing just for the sake of marketing it as a DLC feature in the future. So it’s really unsurprising when you hear many gamers and consumers throw the word “incomplete” out there when talking about games that they suspect have these problems aforementioned.
This, however, brings us to the issue with today’s narrative when analyzing the content and quality of a game: We misrepresent said quality and content when we loosely throw “incomplete” as a part of our criticism. Now, we can safely say that there are several games recently released in the past year that are true to the definition of being incomplete, with No Man’s Sky taking the main spotlight, but many games which we misrepresent with being “incomplete” are far from it and are in fact just unpolished or just sloppy. The most controversial misuse of this language is most probably notable in Final Fantasy XV, a game that took over a decade to complete. Many fans and players found that the game’s story line was lack luster and the notion that content updates would be adding additional cut scenes and content to the base game to improve upon certain problem areas, specifically the game’s thirteenth chapter, seemingly made the game an incomplete disappointment. Now, although the notion of adding improvements to the base game through chunks of additional content that should have been in release may be a sign of an incomplete title, Final Fantasy XV in its entirety was far from incomplete. Although there were some serious plot holes that were encountered through parts of the game’s story, Final Fantasy XV still delivered a narrative that completely encompassed the adventures of the four protagonists. Sure, there were inconsistencies within their own stories, but the climax and conclusion gave closure to the overarching conflict of the story. The combat, although buggy and repetitive at times, provided a fast paced and complete experience altogether. The UI may have been somewhat sloppy, but gave the player a primitive sense of direction that lead them through the games various quests. “Incomplete” would definitely not be the word to be used, but rather an issue of lack of polishing and/or refinement; the game was sloppy with its story, but it was all there at least. You can even argue that the single player predecessor to XV, the Final Fantasy XIII series, was so horribly incomplete that it needed 2 sequels to give the players some semblance of closure.
It appears that the problem here is how much value we put into the quality of a game. If a game does not have X amount of features, or specific feature y, then the game is instantly a travesty and incomplete without said features. It is this kind of strange logic that forms the basis of No Man’s Sky controversial initial decision to not have an expansive multiplayer. Many felt, before the game was even released, that a lack of multiplayer instantly made No Man’s Sky a largely incomplete game. Now we know that, post-release, No Man’s Sky had a significant lack of core features aside from multiplayer that made the game the incomplete experience it was at launch, but even if all features were accounted for and the game was literally the console’s solution for the lack of Space Sim games, it would be considered an incomplete title purely because it lacked the one core feature that has been demanded of. Does a game deserved to be incomplete because of a developer’s choice to omit a particular feature? I would argue no because ultimately a game reflects the creative ideas of a team of people who wanted to manifest these ideas into their works. Of course player/consumer feed back matters, but to quickly shut down the content of a game by calling incomplete for the lack of seemingly arbitrary features seems a bit in the extreme.
To go back to the Final Fantasy XV issue, the problems with the game’s narrative may have been larger than what i previously presented, and the story related DLCs do not help this matter. Some players believe that the open endedness of the story were made deliberately in order to accommodate some kind of paid content that would fill those plot holes at a real world cost. If that were truly the case, I would still argue that this is a matter of shady business making rather than an incomplete content, mainly because most-if not all- aspects that would constitute a full game were there. Now we can argue the meaning of a complete game, but ultimately it winds down to a complete story (beginning, middle/climax, conclusion), the main mechanic of the game (in XV’s case it was combat and exploration), and stability (controls, UI, bugs or lack thereof). Of course, more nuanced concepts and featured also contribute to the complexity of a game, but for simplicity’s sake I would argue these 3 features existing in a streamlined and seamless manner would constitute some kind of complete gaming experience. Many games we dictate as incomplete are actually very complete titles that simply fail to have either meaningful content, or engaging story.
The real issue here is that some developers may be able to get away with their sloppy execution of their titles because they can back that sloppiness up with day one patches, DLCs that are either paid or free, or even entire sequels to improve on the failures of their previous ideas. Incomplete games are definitely a potential problem as well, but the number of titles one would consider incomplete seem to be moreso that those that actually are incomplete. The problem with this kind of rhetoric is that we immediate prescribe a biased mindset to others who want to experience the game potentially, which causes them to have very opinionated preconceived notions of a title without considering features in a more finite level. We don’t expect gamers to become academic analysts for each title, but there is a certain expectation to fully experience a game for the sake of the game instead of going into to said experience with some kind of expectation or hype that may be on the contrary to what the game actually is. This is possibly what contributed to No Man’s Sky, as the almost irrational level of media coverage the game had resulted in many creating huge expectations of a game that many forgot was made by a small team of indie developers. That does not excuse the game’s literal lack of features, updates, and news, but it does highlight the issue with how the gaming community tends to misrepresent games either through news or rhetoric or both.
Incomplete games exist and we should be wary and cautious of them. We should attempt to present the problems of these incomplete titles through our experiences and critiques, but we should also not simply throw the word “incomplete” around simply because some feature was not added or removed in the final product of a game. We shouldn’t immediately dismiss a game and call it incomplete because of sloppy or unpolished writing or story telling, but rather call out these flaws without imposing a mindset that a game is literally not a full gaming experience.