Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 2, 2014
I used to be able to keep up with what I thought was a sizable chunk of at least what I considered “major” indie RPG releases in a year. Major meaning … like, not something a kid wrote in a week of owning RPG Maker and “released” via link on some forum post somewhere. Now I’d estimate five times as many releases on just the PC alone as there were five years ago. I could focus all my efforts just keeping track of them all (a task which, thankfully, Craig Stern seems happy to attempt over at IndieRPGs.com).
1) Count as an indie release,
2) Count as a role-playing game, and
3) Were released in 2013.
In the words of Doc Emmett Brown dealing with his own comprehension of events occurring in a given timeline, “Great Scott!”
The argument over what constitutes “indie” has raged for over a decade, and it’s not going to be concluded any time soon. If anything, it has gotten more confusing, as the whole “indie / non-indie” spectrum has broadened considerably, encompassing a dizzying range of ways in which games are made and brought to market. The argument over what constitutes an RPG has raged for even longer, although it remains narrower in scope. But the features making a game an RPG have always been a little vague, and game genres have interbred so much now that it’s really impossible to draw a clear line – it’s just something that has to be done by feel. That’s difficult to do without actually sitting down and playing a game – a game that sounds like an RPG on paper might not play like one at all, and vice versa.
So 1 and 2 are hard enough, but at least #3 can help narrow the field a bit, right? We at least know when a game has been released!
The last couple of years has seen a substantial increase in the number of games that are commercially released while they are still in mid-development. Dubbed “Early Access” on Steam, or “pre-release” or “beta access” or “alpha funded” or whatever the developer or distributor wants to call them, these are games released to the general public early before they are… uh, released. Before they are done. You can look at it a number of ways, from customers paying for the privilege of testing for the developer, all the way to the chance to get a game at a substantial discount and a chance to influence the direction of the final product. Both are valid. As a developer, it’s always nice to get some desperately-needed funding coming in the latter stages of development.
I don’t really want to label the situation as “good” or “bad” right now. Again, this isn’t something new. Spacewar! made the rounds in the university circuit in the late 60’s and early 70’s, constantly getting updated and tweaked by many different developers. It eventually some version landed in the University of Utah computer system and inspired one fellow by the name of Nolan Bushnell to create what would eventually become this whole video game industry in the first place. And anybody who has been a PC gamer for any length of time is familiar with the release / patch cycle. Many a company has released a game to the stores that wasn’t ready to be called “version 1.0” yet, desperate for sales revenue so they could actually afford to patch their product to a reasonable level of functionality. One could argue the whole “early access” thing allows companies to do the same thing more honestly.
It also sucks to have paid for a product that appears to have been abandoned.
So how much does it really matter when a game was “officially” released? Or whether or not a game is “officially” released right now?
For me – with the wall of unplayed games I’m facing right now courtesy of all of the special sales and bundles over the last few years – it’s unlikely that a game is going to get a second chance to make a first impression. If I play a game now that I’m not officially contributing to some kind of beta test for, it’ll either hook me so that I keep playing, or get discarded forever. It’s likely that I’ll overlook the improvements with future updates if the game didn’t excite me right off the bat. A game can go from “cool” to “more cool” in my mind with updates, but not from “lame” to “cool.” I’ll miss the move.
This is how I operate, and I know it. I’ve even avoiding playing some games that I already have “early access” to as a Kickstarter backer, unless I have been specifically asked for feedback.
It also erodes the newsworthiness of an actual, official game release. Stamping a game “1.0” is not much of an event when it’s already out and being played. But it’s most like the release of most indie games is anything most sites would consider newsworthy, anyway. And in many ways, the pre-release / constant update process is really more reflective of how games are really made, anyhow.
For me, it feels like the “cons” outweigh the “pros,” but that may be because I’m kinda stuck in the old way of doing things where things like official release dates actually matter, and labeling something as complete or “1.0” actually means something. They are handy for writing up retrospectives, game-of-the-year articles, or and comparing similar games that were released close together, but I’m not sure what else. Does anybody care when Chess was truly first invented?
Certainly, with my game-playing habits, I’m constantly playing games that range anywhere from just-released to twenty (or more) years old, and all that matters is that the game is new to me. Part of me says that this is the way things are going to keep going – getting more muddled – and I should just get on board and roll with it. After decades of being saturated with the marketing lie that newer games are somehow magically superior and more worthy than their predecessors, maybe this obscuring of the meaning of “release” is just what we need to focus back on the quality of the game, not its recency.
Filed Under: Indie Evangelism - Comments: 7 Comments to Read