Dead Island is set to be re-released in a Game of the Year Edition package next month, a fact that is the source of some complaints. It’s not so much that the game is being bundled with its DLC that is the problem; it’s the labeling of the game as Game of the Year, a title which many feel it is not deserving of.
It is completely understandable why a publisher would want a game re-release to be positioned as a “Game of the Year Edition.” That title carries with it a certain connotation of quality, that it was among the very best, if not the best, games released during the year it originally came out. Game of the Year Editions are commonly associated with the likes of Morrowind, Oblivion, Fallout 3, Red Dead Redemption, and other critically acclaimed games. There is a certain expectation that a GotY Edition consists of a terrific game and bonus content (be it downloadable content or expansion packs) that early adopters had to pay extra for, with all of this often coming at a sub-$60 price.
Whether this expectation will be met by Dead Island: Game of the Year Edition is a matter of some debate. It does tick some of the boxes of what you’d expect — it’s fairly cheap and includes both the game and DLC (the Ryder White campaign and Bloodbath Arena mode, the latter of which brings with it the Ripper melee weapon, formerly a pre-order bonus). The quality of the game itself, however, is suspect. It’s hardly a bad game — it received a B- in 1UP’s review — but the consensus is that it is not up to par with last year’s greatest. I hate to boil reviews down to a score, but looking at those Dead Island received — 3 out of 5 from Joystiq, 7 out of 10 from GameSpot, 8 out of 10 from IGN — you can see they are by and large not the types of scores you expect to see associated with something heralded as Game of the Year.
Of course, evaluating games is a subjective process and there are bound to be disagreements; those at GameCritics.com felt more highly about the game than many and named it their Game of the Year. It’s this award that is cited in today’s Deep Silver press release about the game’s re-release, so it isn’t as if calling it “Dead Island: Game of the Year Edition” is baseless. Is it disingenuous, though?
The fact that we often see more than one game receive a GotY edition in the same year is evidence enough that there is no single title which can claim to be the one and only Game of That Year. Every year there will be numerous candidates (last year had Skyrim, Portal 2, Batman: Arkham City, Dark Souls, Deux Ex: Human Revolution, and others deserving consideration) and numerous winners if you check with enough different outlets. Typically when a game receives a GotY Edition, it’s in response to winning many of these awards, not just one of them.
Is one Game of the Year award win enough to justify the use of the Game of the Year Edition name? It’s a question without a simple answer. I don’t like a game being portrayed as having received critical acclaim when it did not, but coming up with the parameters for what a GotY Edition should require is not easy. Do you need at least five wins? What if you get four, but they’re all from big-name outlets? What if you get six, but they’re all from smaller outlets most people are unfamiliar with? If it’s only one win you think should be needed, at what point is an outlet big or legitimate enough for its selection to warrant the GotY Edition usage?
(If there is anything positive to come of this, at least Deep Silver had too few awards — or more likely it was simply smart enough — not to mimic the design of Arkham City‘s horrific Game of the Year Edition box art.)
We all know publishers and public relations representatives love their BS (whether or not you feel this constitutes BS). That’s demonstrated nicely in a recent NeoGAF thread collecting people’s favorite PR spins, a list which includes gems like “Y’know, things break” (Peter Moore on Xbox 360′s Red Ring of Death), the supposed benefits of the PS3 being hard to program for, and controller rumble being a last-gen feature (which would later be added to the PS3 despite this silly claim). This may not be anywhere near as ridiculous, having actually won such an award, but a Game of the Year Edition release of Dead Island strikes me as misleading, which is often the problem with the spin PR tries to put on everything.
Being named Game of the Year by an outlet was not a precondition for this re-release. Were it to not have the award, we would undoubtedly still be seeing the exact same bundle coming on June 26, only it would be coming under a different name. Whatever that name would have been — the Bloodbath Edition, Survivors Edition, or the 8 Out of 10 Edition as one NeoGAF member quipped — it would likely have made no references to the game’s quality.
That’s the way this should have gone, as I’m not arguing that this re-release should not be happening; those who have not picked up the game on consoles are in for a good deal. (PC gamers, on the other hand, should check out Steam, where a sale is currently offering the game and its DLC at an even heavier discount than the GotY Edition.) However, it is worth noting such ‘complete editions’ are among the many factors which seem to be contributing to a declining interesting in buying games at launch. After all, who wants to spend $60 and then extra money on DLC (Ryder White and Bloodbath cost an extra $20 total) when waiting longer will get you all of that content for less money — in this case, for $30?
I can’t blame the marketing team behind the game for portraying the re-release in this light; we have long seen positive quotes from the press used on boxes to push the quality of the game. Calling this the Game of the Year Edition may convince some uninformed consumer to purchase it thinking it’s on par with games that have received Game of the Year Editions in the past. But if games continue to be re-released as the ‘Game of the Year’ when the consensus suggests otherwise, the combination of consumers feeling burned and the market being flooded with such editions could result in the title losing all meaning.