Tales of the Rampant Coyote

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Early Access Done Right?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 14, 2014

Brad Wardell of Stardock Entertainment has some experience with “Early Access” games… and some real success stories. After some of the discouragement and bad examples going on last recently, I’m glad he’s chimed in about what – in his view – Early Access should and should not be.

5 Things about Early Access You Should Know

The big change-of-perspective here is that, in his view, Early Access should not just be cheap pre-orders with alpha access. To me, I think the early access customers should be the ones committed to the project and interested in being involved, in their own, small way, with the development of the product

But that seems to be exactly the opposite of how it’s being treated these days by most developers. Too often – and admittedly, out of desperation – early funding is treated as the sole source of revenue, and an actual “release” is treated as an afterthought.

I guess we can blame Minecraft for that. That’s actually a compliment to Minecraft – up through the release (and for a while afterwards, but I haven’t kept up-to-date on it lately), it really did everything right. It was already very playable and fun with its first ‘commercial’ pre-release, and kept improving regularly. If all early access games showed this kind of progress and dedication, I’d be all for them.

And really – my attitude towards early access and crowdfunding is a lot like my attitude towards premium downloadable content (DLC). I think they are great ideas, but easily (and often) abused.

Filed Under: Game Development - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

  • Silemess said,

    I’ve back a few early access games, and usually it’s because there’s something there that I can get behind. The game has progressed to the point where there is “a game”, even if it’s just a pale shadow of something to play compared to the big idea expressed in the campaign.

    I buy in on the premise that what is there already is worth playing, and the hope that the future updates will make the game even better.

    I’ve gotten burned on occasion by a project that failed. But largely I feel as though I’ve gotten my money back out of the projects just by the time spent on them, even if they never achieved (or are still working to achieve) their original lofty goals.

    That said… I would not say that all early projects are legitimate. There are many that I have passed on because they haven’t made something “playable.” Simply because I can’t see how they intend to deliver on their promises if they can’t even make something that functions.

    So it’s a mixed bag. But go in with an open mind, actually look at who is proposing it, what’s already available and how actively they’re working to support it. Buyer Beware still rules, but there’s hope that you can actually find a legitimate development if you look.

  • Xian said,

    It depends on the game. Minecraft is probably the best example of Early Access done right, but it has limitless replayability and variety. To me, that is the criteria where Early Access works. On the other hand, I mostly play RPGs and I rarely replay one, so I do not want my one experience to be with an unfinished product. The RPGs that I have played more than once have that replayabilty. For example, it was enough for Diablo to have randomized dungeons and different character types to make me want to play it more than once, even if the story line was unchanged between different games.

  • Anon said,

    While I’m a bit sceptical (and not hysterically optimistic like some people) about crowd-funding I’m not generally against it. But there’s a difference to early access: With crowd-funding you usually get the product when it’s done – and it then hopefully works out.

    On the other hand I absolutely see no value in early access. In fact I see way more problems than advantages for the customers.

    But my personal big #1 reason I don’t do early access (and usually don’t participate in crowd funding) is very simple:

    => I don’t have the friggin’ time to get hyped up that much any more!

    Just last week I intended to continue a game I had put back into the shelve for some reason I don’t know anymore.
    Then – bang! – I get the info that the new Tex Murphy game is out! I had read about it at least six months before and instantly knew that I wanted it – so I stopped following the news. I simply buy stuff when it appears or when it gets the nice price treatment.
    As the new Tex Murphy got good reviews from players and came in with a good price I immediately got it and shelved the other game again.

    Now: Where in the world can I get the time to play everything that interests me?
    I even largely stopped watching TV because of it and only have some binge viewing events every now and then to not fall behind too much…

    Thus I don’t see the slightest chance to get “religious” about any single game and closely follow it from inception to launch, let alone pay for it until it is ready for prime time.

    It’s ironical though: When I was way younger and much more susceptible for hype – about 20 years ago – the main reason for all those funny new marketing techniques didn’t exist (the internet) and therefore most of my money was saved as I could only buy the odd magazine.

    I practically lived in a world of (more or less) finished products. Obviously, I’m getting too old for this sh*t… đŸ˜‰