There's a lot of debate raging around whether or not Ground Zeroes should be considered a genuine experience or a greedy cash grab and taking a moment to reflect it's hard not to see why. Many who play Metal Gear are in it for the story more than the gameplay, and from a story perspective there really isn't all that much to Ground Zeroes. Then there's a pricing which can range anywhere between a quarter to half the price of a full game, and if we consider to be a premium priced 60.00 game to be only worthwhile if we get thirty hours of gameplay out of it shouldn't something at almost half the cost give us at least half of that?
But like most things involving Kojima nothing is ever that simple and Ground Zeroes is certainly no exception. Beyond its story mode are features, mechanics, and a brand new game engine that are a pretty huge leap for Metal Gear as a franchise, and what MGS:GZ represents is an opportunity for players to not only become familiar with them but to also gain some footing on whether or not the upcoming full game will be worth the time investment.
This is of course what every demo should be, an opportunity for players to get their feet wet before taking the full dive. Growing up in a generation when gaming magazines were coveted for their demo discs the idea of paying for a test drive is a pretty hard pill to swallow, but there's certainly enough content in Ground Zeroes to consider the game worthy of at least a twenty dollar experience. Multiple missions, a large array of weapons, a sandbox environment, the opportunity to test various AI reactions; the core story may be short but the replay value here is rather incredible.
And it's not the first time we've paid for a Metal Gear demo either. What about Zone of the Enders, the fast paced mech game that wound up being rather amazing and innovative but also happened to contain the (initially) far more coveted Metal Gear Solid 2 demo? Sure the extra disc went right alongside a full game but that was more a justification most used to pick up the demo than anything else. Crackdown and the Halo 3 beta will tell you a very similar story.
What's interesting is the precedent being set here, that we can pay a lesser amount for what's essentially the core features of a game with some expansive replay value knowing full well down the line that a more robust version of the game is on its way. It's not quite what we would call a beta because the product is far from incomplete, but the release of Ground Zeroes will definitely buy Kojima the time he needs to deliver a more complete experience. It's not quite a demo, not quite a full game, but certainly other developers would benefit from the same kind of time extension that a title like this delivers.
How many games have been lost in the development process due to lack of direction, hype and funding? Would Kingdoms of Amalur still be around if players had been given the option to pay for an isolated ten hour snippet of the full vision? Should Disney have released a purchasable sample of Star Wars 1313 to gauge its popularity and perhaps ensure the jobs of those instead laid off from Lucas Arts? A lot goes into the creation of a game and the management of a development team, and there's certainly far more at play with these two examples than a simple demo release may have solved, but Ground Zeroes' release asks a lot of really great questions.
Call it what you will MGS:GZ does have a unique niche that hopefully will set a nice example for developers learning to buy themselves some extra time to draw out a quality product, instead of a half-finished work marred by excuses and regrets. Gamers, while impatient and demanding, will always prefer a more quality final product. The trick in this industry is knowing how to buy yourself enough time to be able to deliver.