What is Early Access
By now the whole gaming community, at least the PC one, is familiar with Early Access titles as the Steam online store is bursting with such games. Early Access is a form of funding a product that is still in development. Users can opt-in to buy the unfinished game and play it while it’s still in development, giving them a chance to experience core elements of the environment and mechanics and can even influence, to some degree, the outcome of the final release. This in turn allows developers to secure funds for the game’s development that they otherwise wouldn’t have until launch day.
This mode of development has advantages and disadvantages, some of which are fairly obvious and some are more obscure. Should you want to document yourself further on these traid offs you can read the following gamecademy.com article: ADVANTAGES/DISADVANTAGES OF STEAM EARLY ACCESS
There are many split opinions in the gaming world regarding this form of purchasing and development, some considering it highly beneficial while others trying to boycott it all together.
However this article focuses on a more pressing issue, how “Early Access” is influencing the future of game development and game titles.
The convenience factor for devs
It’s a good idea for an Indie company to receive funds early in order to develop their game, funds that they otherwise wouldn’t have and the lack off would stop the game from ever existing. A serious developer would present their game idea in detail and provide the game itself in early stages of development to the backers, with sufficient details for these individuals to make an informed decision if they wish to support its creation or not.
This model of funding has taken flight and has brought us a wealth of good games like Kerbal Space Program, Prison Architect, Space Engineers and Day Z. However for every good game created this model has also sent twice or more of those games to their grave (I’m looking at you Starbound).
With no pressure, contract or SLA (Service Level Agreement) put in place it is extremely easy and convenient for a dev to just ask for backings and then never complete the project. Because of that, its also gaining the attention of AAA developers as well and that’s where things go down really badly.
AAA developers are a business above all else, their main objective is to maximize profits while minimizing efforts. Because of this one rule, early access is very appealing to them as it provides a quick influx of cache with no obligation to provide a finished product. It’s the holy grail of business.
The (in)convenience factor for customers
It is such a convenient model that a developer after receiving all the necessary funds no longer feels obligated to actually finish the game. The backers heavily rely on the developer’s trustworthiness to finish the work and honestly, in this capitalist world, that is unacceptable. These sort of releases require some rules and regulations set in place that would outline penalties for unfinished products and would guarantied the backers their money back if certain clauses are not met.
Far worse it would be if the AAA developers manage to start utilizing this model on a regular basis. We would be buried in a slew of unfinished buggy messes of games, abandoned by their companies that now, having the income secured, are no longer obliged to keep their end of the deal. Although this view may seem drastic to some, remember that micro-transaction-based games on mobile platforms are primarily made by gaming giants. The Simpsons: Tapped Out, Real Racing 3 and Plants vs Zombies 2 are all made by EA; Candy Crush is made by King, FarmVile was made by Zynga. These companies are also the ones that transformed good single titles into franchises in order to milk their audiences for more money on a yearly basis. One needs not look further than Assassin’s Creed Unity. This is a prime example of a game, rushed into release in order to meet income quotes that was nowhere near ready. Another great example is The Sims 4 – this title lacks features that were found even in The Sims 1, features that will be gradually added as DLC for a surplus charge.
Tactical third-person shooter Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Online will be available for Windows PC via Steam Early Access, Ubisoft announced today.
Ghost Recon Online is a team-based shooter in which players participate in 16-player matches. The game is available through Early Access in Canada today; a worldwide release is expected this spring. According to producer Corey Facteau, bringing Ghost Recon Online to Steam has been the team’s goal since the game’s inception. (www.polygon.com)
How do we stop this?
I’ll start now by saying DO NOT BOYCOTT EARLY ACCESS, it has enabled the creation of awesome experiences that otherwise would not have existed. The model isn’t at fault, it’s the people. We need, as consumers, to stop spending money recklessly on titles that just seem cool and we need to hold the developers accountable for their promises.
THINK! before you spend. Research the game you want to back THOROUGHLY! A good title in early access will have a wealth of information about new features and future releases, extensive and detailed change logs and constant community engagement from the developers in a civilized and intellectual manner. Does the game you want to back tick these boxes? If yes then you can back with confidence, as that developer cares about their creation. Also remember to check when the game was last updated and if at all possible have a look at the frequency of updates – this is also a good indicator if the dev team is hard at work creating new features and content.
The more reckless we are in our purchases the more useless junk we receive. We as a gaming community we need to force this model into submission by demanding information and updates on our purchases, quality work and accountability for our backings.