In an interview with Game Informer, DICE general manager Karl Magnus Troedsson stated that the beta process for future Battlefield titles may resemble an Early Access release. “We have nothing to announce, but we are having discussions when it comes to [early access]…It comes not from a business perspective, but more from a perspective of if it would help us have a stable launch of the game.” The joke writes itself, of course, given the many complaints about Battlefield 4’s various issues at launch. Is this just a branding exercise that aims to legitamise the unstable first months of a game’s existence or would it be a useful learning experience for the developers. Probably a bit of both.
DICE aren’t the only major studio considering some form of Early Access. Turtle Rock told Gamasutra that Evolve had (ahem) evolved a great deal during development and that they “lamented the fact that we couldn’t take the community along on that ride.” Nex time, maybe.
It isn’t difficult to understand the attraction of Early Access. DayZ, Rust and The Forest have rarely slipped outside the top 10 sellers list on Steam since they launched, or rather signalled their intention to launch at some point in the distant future. Having thousands of people playing a game for hundreds of thousands of hours in total is a fine way to spot bugs and hardware incompatibilities. It’s also a neat way to rake in piles of cash while development continues.
Your personal reaction to the news that 2K and EA published games may take the Early Access route may depend on which of those two things you see as more important. Would you rather have seen Battlefield 4 clearly labelled as incomplete so that you could hold off until it was solid? Early Access might be a good thing. But if you see released yet unfinished games as existing in a sort of limbo where the money rolls in while little progress toward completion is made, the idea of wealthy publishers pushing their products out in such a state might justifiably cause the vein in your forehead to throb unhealthily.
Admittedly, I assume that most Early Access games will either remain unfinished forever or will have many of their promised features cut or radically overhauled over the months. In the vast majority of cases, I’d rather wait and see the finished product rather than the interior of the sausage factory. And if I do have to watch a sausage being made, I’d rather it were a tiny chipolata than one of EA’s honking great overstuffed Blutwurst.